Natural sweeteners offer an alternative to the refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup found in conventional products. They can be used in place of sugar or HFCS in any product, from baked goods and cereals to beverages and chewable vitamins.
Natural sweeteners include brown rice syrup, fruit juice, maple sugar, honey, and minimally processes sugar cane sweeteners such as evaporated cane juice, sucanat and rapidura. Many natural sweeteners have a low glycemic index compared to refined sugar or HFCS; they are processed more slowly by the body, thus avoiding refined sugar’s spike in blood sugar levels. Some also contain trace minerals, enzymes and micronutrients that refined sugar lacks.
Agave has quickly grown in popularity, and can now be found in many natural cookies, bars and beverages. Sweeteners derived from the plant stevia are also poised to make a comeback. Until recently, stevia was not on the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list for food ingredients, and could only be sold as a dietary supplement. Now, several large companies are developing stevia-based sweeteners. Because the substance is 300 times sweeter than sugar, it is generally mixed in a base such as inulin.