Natural sweeteners


So you want to be good and avoid having too much sugar. You’ve heard that artificial sweeteners are bad news and can adversely affect your health. And along come natural sweeteners, so everything’s all right and you can sweeten your coffee, desserts or porridge with something much healthier?

It’s not that simple unfortunately, Dr Marilyn Glenville, the UK’s leading nutritionist, author of Natural Alternatives to Sugar ( gives us some recommendations, which might surprise you.


Coconut sugar: also known as coconut palm sugar it is produced from the sap of the flower buds of the coconut tree. It is found in liquid form as a syrup, (also known as coconut nectar and blossom syrup) as well as crystals. It’s particularly rich in nutrients – B vitamins, magnesium, calcium, potassium, zinc, 17 amino acids, short chain fatty acids, polyphenols and antioxidants; plus it has a nearly neutral pH. It also contains inulin, which is a prebiotic and helps to feed beneficial bacteria. Marilyn Glenville suggests using organic coconut sugar.

Purchase: Cocofina Organic Coconut Sugar, 500g, £9.52 from Use Promotion code: HSoul1 to get 5% discount).

Palm sugar: is made from the palm tree (the palymyra) from its flowers. It’s used in Ayurvedic medicine and has plenty of B vitamins and a low glycaemic index so is good for eight loss. Marilyn Glenville thinks it’s a good alternative to sugar for both cooking and drinks.

Purchase:Biona Organic Coconut Palm Sugar, 250g, £4.81 from  Use Promotion code: HSoul1 to get 5% discount.

Maple syrup: needless to say this is very sweet but it has 34 beneficial compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It is natural and good for IBS sufferers, has 15 times more calcium than honey and is made up of sucrose and small amounts of fructose and glucose.

You must be sure to buy maple syrup, not ‘maple-flavoured’ syrup, Marilyn says, as this won’t be pure. Best to buy organic and use in cakes or crumbles.

Purchase: Acadia Syrup Maple Medium, Organic, 250ml, £7.49 from Use Promotion code: HSoul1 to get 5% discount.

Barley malt syrup: an unrefined natural sweetener produced from sprouted barley malt, which is dried and then cooked, sometimes called Barley Malt Extract. The liquid is then filtered and reduced down to the required consistency. It is thick and dark brown and makes wonderful flapjacks. It is a reasonably good source of some minerals and vitamins and contains almost no fructose or sucrose.

Brown rice syrup: a natural sweetener, also called rice malt syrup, contains three sugars – maltotriose, maltose and glucose. Dr Glenville advises using organic brown rice syrup and not the cheaper versions (which are made differently) and suggests it is best for crumbles, flapjacks or healthy granola.

Purchase: Clearspring Organic Rice Malt Syrup, 330g (pack of 3), £11.39 from Use Promotion code: HSoul1 to get 5% discount.

Yacon syrup: made from the sweet root of the yacon, which is a member of the sunflower family, also known as the Peruvian ground apple. It tastes like a cross between an apple and a pear. Yacon contains good amounts of a prebiotic, which helps to feed the beneficial bacteria in the digestive system, and vitamins and minerals. It has a low glycaemic index (GI) can help to lower glucose levels and is said to be fine for diabetics to use. It is traditionally made without chemicals using evaporation, and can be used instead of honey and in baking. Marilyn Glenville recommends the organic yacon syrup but it may not suit people with IBS, due to the high prebiotic content.

Purchase: Of The Earth Yacon Syrup, 170g, £8.72 from  Use Promotion code: HSoul1 to get 5% discount.
Stevia: comes from the Amazonian plant (Stevia) and has been used for centuries in South America. Approved for use by the EU it is 2 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar, but some products contain dextrose and flavourings. So go for product that is 100 per cent pure stevia, which is believed to have no calories. It could increase your appetite and cause weight gains too, so is best used in moderation. It doesn’t taste that nice, so people don’t really like it in their hot drinks.

Purchase: Canderel Green Stevia Sweetener, 75g, £5.79 from Use Promotion code: HSoul1 to get 5% discount. 

Not recommended: 

Fructose is naturally found in fruit, but when you buy it in the supermarket it has been refined, with all the goodness and fibre removed. While it doesn’t cause the release of insulin that sucrose and glucose do, it has negative effects on your health – it can make you gain weight because it goes straight to the liver, which then has to metabolise it. It also interferes with production of hormones, making you feel more hungry. So it’s not a good choice unless it’s from fruit.

Agave: is from the agave plant in Mexico, where traditionally the sap would have been boiled for hours to obtain the sweet syrup. Unfortunately, to cut the costs, to produce agave on a commercial scale, the agave is made from the starch of the root bulb and the final product is just refined fructose. The Groovy Food Company’s Agave (found in most supermarkets) is made in the traditional way and is delicious.

Honey: a lot of people use honey instead of sugar, and according to Marilyn Glenville it is a simple sugar made up of glucose and fructose, which is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, making it not suitable if you are controlling your weight or worried about blood sugar levels/diabetes.

Marilyn explains that the worst types of honey are “blended” or the “produce of more than one country” because they have often been heated so much that their natural goodness is destroyed. She suggests buying organic and using it sparingly.

Molasses: the by-product of the process used to extract sugar from sugar cane or beet. Due to the amount of boiling what is left over (the molasses) is lower in sugar but has plenty of vitamins and minerals, potassium, magnesium, manganese and B vitamins. Dr Glenville doesn’t recommend due to the pesticides and other chemicals used in sugar cultivation and processing, and its very strong taste.

Xylitol: occurs naturally in plants (corn cobs, sugar cane, birch), low in calories and doesn’t need insulin to metabolise in the body, so for diabetics it’s a good alternative. It also reduces caries and is therefore beneficial for our teeth. But it can cause diarrhoea and bloating as it ferments in the digestive system. But the downside is that it requires a lot of processing, according to Marilyn Glenville, which means it doesn’t end up as a natural product.

Sorbitol: a sugar alcohol used in foods for diabetics because it requires very little or no insulin. Made from corn syrup it is found naturally in stone fruits such as prunes, plums and dates. But it is heavily processed, can cause diarrhoea and worsen IBS, so Marilyn Glenville wouldn’t recommend it.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *