It is true that sugary foods taste good and our brains need some glucose to function. However, the average American diet is laden with far too much sugar for our brains and bodies to process and perform optimally. In fact, the brain and body can become addicted to refined sugar, increasing the likelihood of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and other health issues.

All of this can make kicking a sugar habit difficult, with many people turning to artificial sweeteners. Unfortunately, artificial sweeteners come with their own baggage, making them a dubious alternative. It’s no wonder then that it can be difficult to find healthier sugar substitutes. So, if you are giving up sugar in the New Year, there are some important things to know when choosing alternative sweeteners.

What to avoid

Not all sweeteners are equal. Many artificial sweeteners are essentially chemicals mimicking the sweetness of sugar, dulling the body’s ability to detect and enjoy the natural sweetness found in fruit, nuts, and other healthy foods. Sucralose is a popular artificial sweetener with research linking its consumption to a decrease in rats’ healthy gut bacteria and a study which found sucralose can break down into harmful compounds and increase cancer risks when cooked at high heat. Aspartame, another common artificial sweetener has inconclusive and controversial findings with possible effects on blood sugar levels, diabetes, and weight management. When possible, avoid foods marketed as ‘diet’ foods which are often crammed with artificial sweeteners. Cutting out sugary juices, soda, and processed foods allows your taste buds to re-learn how to detect natural sweetness and cravings will diminish over time.

Look for natural sweeteners instead

Honey, molasses, and dates are great in moderation and can assist your transition from a dependence on refined sugar and artificial sweeteners. Consuming small amounts of raw local honey may even help lessen the effects of seasonal allergies as well as boost immunity. Molasses, which packs iron, potassium, magnesium, and more offers the highest in nutrients of natural sweeteners and is delicious in these almond molasses protein balls. Dates are high in fiber, calcium, potassium, and vitamins and they are ideal as a small snack or in pumpkin cookie dough protein bitesDates, especially Medjool dates are high in nutritional value and are ideal as a small snack or in pumpkin cookie dough protein bites.

Coconut sugar is another type of sugar derived not from sugar cane but from coconut flowers. While still a sugar, it has iron, vitamins, and some blood sugar regulating inulin which white sugar does not. Coconut sugar is an especially good substitute for brown sugar, offering a rich caramel flavor to baked goods or even stirred into coffee or oatmeal.

Erythritol is a naturally occurring substance in foods like pears, melons and grapes, as well as foods such as mushrooms and fermentation-derived foods such as wine, soy sauce and cheese. Because of its minimal caloric and glycemic effect, digestive issues associated with Erythritol are extremely rare and very mild. Stevia is another natural sweetener, derived from the stevia plant. It is a better alternative to maltitol and sorbitol because it does not cause gastro-intestinal distress and does not impact blood sugar or the glycemic index. Stevia, like Erythritol, is a sugar alcohol. Sugar alcohols naturally occur in fruit but are not an ethanol alcohol, meaning you won’t experience the attendant effects of ethanol consumption.

Orgain protein powder is sweetened with stevia and erythritol because they are easily digestible, offer a deliciously sweet flavor with a low-calorie account, and combined with 21 grams of protein and 5g of fiber, sugar levels are not affected in the body. This means you can still satisfy your sweet tooth for pumpkin spice lattes, hot cocoa, and even ice cream without riding the roller coaster of blood sugar crashes, sugar addiction, or digestive issues surrounding your favorite treats. Instead, you can keep pursuing your health goals with food that tastes and makes you feel great!