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If you're looking to cut down on processed foods and need healthy alternatives to sugar in your coffee, I'm here for you.
For the better part of the last fourteen years I have focused on cutting back on processed foods and limiting sugar in my diet. American food leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, a large proportion of the ingredients allowed in our processed foods are illegal in other countries! This is sure to be a head scratcher. But one thing is for sure, we are on our own if we really want to eat better.
With self-service cafes on every corner, stopping for a coffee on the way to work is a doddle. But if you add a pump of this and a dash of this, just to top it all off with whipped cream, you have a shot of sugar in a glass that most people in other countries don't consume for a whole week!
The maximum number of grams of sugar the average person should eat in a day is 24 (or 100 calories). Most coffee drinks, especially mixed drinks, will far exceed this amount. Eating more sugar than your body can use leads to weight gain and health problems like diabetes.
So what is a healthy substitute for sugar in coffee?
Believe it or not, some sweeteners are easy on the body and even contain beneficial nutrients like potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and even fiber. Let's dive into some healthier options for sweetening coffee beans.
types of sugar
The truth is that the body does not know much of the difference between the different types of sugar. Once it enters the bloodstream, sugar is sugar, no matter what kind you used. But it's important to understand how sugar works in the body, and how we can sweeten our coffee in different ways to get different results and even some health benefits. So here are some different types of table sugar substitutes and why you might want to use them in your coffee instead of the white processed stuff.
Natural liquid sweeteners that are a healthy alternative to coffee sugar
While each strain has its own flavor profile, they can all be delicious in coffee.
- Maple syrup
- brown rice syrup
- coconut syrup
Honey is a natural sweetener produced by bees. It is processed minimally, if at all, and can be purchased "raw" as well. (straight from the honeycomb). While it affects your body in the same way that sugar does, it's important to note that honey contains many antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that regular table sugar does not. It's also lower on the glycemic index, with sugar at a 65 and honey at a 58 on the index scale.
Maple syrup is another natural sweetener that, although processed, is still a very natural product. It is made by boiling the sap of the maple tree until it becomes a syrup. There's more to it than that, but for the sake of simplicity we'll stick with that explanation. It has a slightly lower glycemic index of 54 than honey. But it's worth noting that it doesn't taste as sweet as honey. Therefore, you may end up using more of this milder sweetener to achieve your preferred sweetness.
brown rice syrup
Brown rice syrup is made by exposing brown rice to enzymes that break it down into syrup. It is a very thick and sticky natural product. But it actually does a pretty good job of sweetening the coffee. And like honey, it has many nutrients to offer. That means it's a whopping 98 on the glycemic index. So proceed with caution.
coconut nectar syrup
Coconut nectar syrup is made from the nectar of coconut blossoms. The only processing it undergoes is evaporation to thicken it and turn it into syrup. So it retains a lot of good nutrients and only ranks at 35 on the glycemic index!
Raw granulated sweeteners that provide a healthy alternative to sugar in coffee
These are closer to regular table sugar than liquid sweeteners. But not all are so cute.
This is a brand name for a sweetener that is simply evaporated sugarcane juice. Like sugar, it comes from sugar cane, but it's not processed as much as regular table sugar. Unlike regular sugar, however, it has a glycemic index of 55. It also contains more nutrients than regular processed sugar. While 1 teaspoon has around 16 calories, it's not as sweet as regular sugar, so you may need to add a bit more to get the desired effect.
This is a small fruit native to southern China. It is made through an extraction process that keeps it all natural. Monk fruit has been used for certain health problems for centuries. It is extracted and dried to make a granular sweetener. It has a zero glycemic index, making it a great choice for those watching their blood sugar, especially since it tastes many times sweeter than regular sugar. So you can use a lot less to get the sweetness you want.
Coconut sugar actually comes from the sap of the tree, not the coconuts themselves, it's simply boiled in syrup (like maple syrup) and then dried into crystals. It's a 54 on the glycemic index, but provides many more nutrients than table sugar.
Maple sugar is made by boiling/evaporating maple syrup until only granules remain. It is another naturally nutrient-dense sweetener. It is also slightly lower on the glycemic index at 52.
Calorie-free sweeteners that are healthy alternatives to sugar in coffee
If you want to sweeten your coffee without adding calories, this might be a healthy option for you.
Stevia is a calorie-free sweetener that is not sugar. It is a plant leaf that tricks your taste buds into thinking that you are tasting something sweet. It can be purchased in liquid or powder form. Both types are minimally processed and involve macerating the leaves to preserve their sweetness. It's a zero on the glycemic index.
Note: Some people experience bitterness or aftertaste from stevia. I used to be one of those people. But with continued use, it's gone.
monk fruit extract
As mentioned above, monk fruit is a fruit native to China. But it's also a calorie-free sweetener. And just like stevia, it has a zero glycemic index. And like stevia, it comes in liquid and powdered forms.
Sugar Alcohols: These are not generally considered healthy alternatives to sugar in coffee.
Both sweeteners are processed sweeteners. As such, they are not necessarily the best healthy alternatives to sugar in coffee. But they are worth mentioning here for those who need to closely monitor their blood sugar levels. While they aren't necessarily the healthiest products out there (the jury is still out on sugar alcohols), many people (myself included) use them as an alternative to sugar to enjoy the sweet stuff without the glycemic hit.
Xylitol is a 7 on the glycemic index. It is also often added to toothpaste because it helps fight cavities. And while it's not zero on the glycemic index like some sweeteners, it's definitely low on the scale. Since I don't fully understand the vocabulary in the description of the production process, I leave a quote from ScienceDirect.com.
„Currently, xylitol is produced by catalytic chemical processes primarily from xylose from hemicellulose hydrolysates from corn cobs and hardwoods.„ScienceDirect.com
Erythritol is different from xylitol, although they look almost exactly the same. It is made from corn by fermentation and enzymes. It's a zero on the glycemic index. And while it doesn't dissolve as easily as xylitol, it's still an option for many.
Sugar alcohols are highly toxic to animals. Animals cannot metabolize it like humans. So this will cause your blood sugar to drop to very dangerous levels. So if you have animals at home, be careful not to spill them where they might get in, or opt for a safer sweetener.
Additionally, excessive consumption of sugar alcohols can cause digestive problems, gas, and diarrhea. So for healthy coffee and sugar alternatives, use them in small amounts to start. Everyone will have a different tolerance level. So you need to experiment a bit first.
Sweeteners that are not on this list and why
Healthy alternatives to sugar in coffee seem to be plentiful. But there are some natural sweeteners that some people want to avoid. They are:
- agave nectar– (Also known as agave syrup) Although agave is technically a natural sweetener derived from the agave plant, it is actually highly processed. That means it's a 17 on the glycemic index. Then the choice is yours.
- Molasses– Although molasses is a good sweetener, in my experience, coffee tastes awful. Although I have heard of some people using molasses in their coffee and they like it. On the other hand, the choice is yours.
Natural ways to flavor coffee
Sweetening your coffee is not the only way to enjoy it. Here are some healthy, natural flavor ideas.
- cinnamon powder
- cardamom powder
- butter (mix with warm coffee)
- Coconut oil (mix into warm coffee)
- Unsweetened cocoa powder
- Vanilla extract
Avoid artificial sweeteners.
- sweet twin
- sweet bass
- High fructose corn syrup
- Corn syrup
As you can see, there is a world of natural alternatives to sugar. The only question you have to ask yourself is which one is best for you? While this question isn't always easy to answer, the good news is that many cafes now offer more natural alternatives.
But a word of warning. These seemingly natural sweetener packets can often be mixed with other not-so-natural ingredients. So be sure to read the ingredient list to see if this little packet is really what you're looking for. I often end up buying the packs I like at the store and carry a few in my purse or in my car. It just makes life easier and I know I'm doing something good for myself.
Homemade coffee drinks with healthy coffee and sugar alternatives
Would you like to try making your own coffee drinks at home? They're cheaper, healthier, and so portable in a reusable cup! Here are a few to try:
- mint latte
- Pumpkin Spice Latte
- Apple pie with milk and spices
- cafe dalgona
- Pumpkin Spice Chai Latte
- Orange Maple Frappuccino
Let me know what your favorite healthy alternatives to sugar in coffee are and why in a comment below!