You’d be amazed at the link between sugar and autoimmune disease. Sugar often leads to inflammation, which is the root cause of most of today’s chronic diseases. This is why the first pillar of The Myers Way® or any autoimmune protocol diet is to remove toxic and inflammatory foods. Some of these include sugar, alcohol, and processed foods that can damage your gut. 

While following the first 30 days of The Myers Way® Autoimmune Solution Program, I recommend avoiding all sugars. Yes, this even includes natural sugar sweeteners. However, if you’ve completed the protocol and worked your way down the Autoimmune Spectrum®, you may be living with little to no gut issues! If that’s the case, you may be ready to enjoy the occasional treat. What is the best natural sweetener to further promote gut health? I’ll get into that in a bit.

Before we dive into that, however, I want to set you up for success. I want to help you make smart choices about how to include sweets into your new lifestyle. Part of this includes choosing only organic, non-GMO, all natural sweeteners. Even the natural sweeteners listed below have GMO counterparts you need to avoid. Whether or not you have an autoimmune condition, it’s important to stay away from GMOs.

My cookbook, The Autoimmune Solution Cookbook, offers a variety of recipes that help you make The Myers Way® a way of life. You can also create fun and nourishing AIP friendly Snacks or treats with my delicious Paleo Protein powder. First, let’s take a look at how sugar can wreak havoc on your gut health, then I’ll share the best natural sweetener for gut health!

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The Negative Relationship Between Sugar and Gut Health

High sugar intake has long been linked to obesity, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes. When you eat sugar, your body produces cytokines. Cytokines are most known for regulating inflammation in your body. They’re proteins that function as chemical messengers telling your immune cells where to go and what to do, keeping your immune system in check. When experiencing a threat, your cells release cytokines to fight foreign invaders or repair tissues.1 One study found that high glucose intake promoted the production of proinflammatory cytokines.2 

It’s no secret that our standard Western diet—which consists of processed sugars and industrial oils—impacts your gut microbiota. Since sugar increases inflammation, this also changes your gut microbiome and can lead to SIBO and Candida overgrowth. Your intestinal wall also weakens, potentially leading to increased permeability and eventually leaky gut.3

Added sugars, such as sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners, are actively detrimental to your overall gut health. Your gut has a delicate balance of both good and bad bacteria. When you consume too much sugar, it can alter your gut microbiota. This disruption may feed yeasts and bad bacteria, increasing your risk of gut conditions such as leaky gut, Candida overgrowth, and SIBO. 

4 Best Natural Sweeteners for Gut Health

Now that you understand that processed, refined sugars lead to inflammation, it’s important to find healthier alternatives. Fortunately, there are plenty of natural sweeteners to satisfy your sweet tooth without contributing to inflammation. Some natural sweeteners even contain micronutrients that can boost your gut and overall health.

The Best Natural Sweeteners for an Autoimmune Diet – Infographic – Amy Myers MD®The Best Natural Sweeteners for an Autoimmune Diet - Infographic - Amy Myers MD® Best Natural Sweeteners for an Autoimmune Diet – Infographic – Amy Myers MD®

1. Blackstrap Molasses

Although blackstrap molasses comes from cane sugar, it is much more nutrient-dense. Blackstrap molasses is even better for you than cane syrup or regular molasses. Blackstrap molasses provides nutrients such as iron, calcium, and potassium. It also contains magnesium, vitamin B6, and selenium. These are all vital for gut health, which translates to immune and overal health4

Selenium is one of four essential nutrients I recommend for patients. It’s especially helpful for those with Hashimoto’s or other thyroid dysfunction. Your body uses selenium to convert inactive T4 thyroid hormones to their active T3 state. Selenium may also decrease thyroid antibodies in Hashimoto’s patients. By increasing their intake to just 200 mcg, patients were able to decrease their antibodies by 64%!

It might surprise you to know that as a Peace Corps volunteer, I got to make molasses with my Paraguayan family. Using a machete, we cut down the sugar cane. Then, we removed the outer leaves and ran the stalk through a hand-cranked press to extract the juice. We boiled this several times to make molasses. On the third boil, it became the dark, thick, blackstrap molasses you’re familiar with.

The best natural sweetener to use in many baked goods is blackstrap molasses. In fact, it’s what gives gingerbread its characteristic flavor. However, it does have a strong taste. That said, it might be too strong for some recipes.

2. Coconut Sugar

Coconut sugar is another natural sweetener. It’s a good source of vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes. Some of the key nutrients in coconut sugar include potassium, magnesium, and sodium. These keep your body’s fluid levels in balance. They also play a role in a number of other functions as well. Coconut sugar is a natural sweetener that has a lower glycemic index than regular sugar. 

One reason this is the best natural sweetener is that it also contains inulin, a prebiotic fiber5 That means coconut sugar helps feed your friendly gut bacteria. It also helps stabilize blood sugar!

Coconut sugar is a raw food because it comes from dehydrated coconut sap. It’s the best natural sweetener to include for optimal gut health. You can use it as a replacement for brown sugar in baked goods.

3. Monk Fruit

Another best natural sweetener for better gut health is monk fruit. Monk fruit is a type of sub-tropical melon. According to legend, monk fruit gets its name from the Buddhist monks who cultivated it over 800 years ago. Monk fruit is another natural sweetener that derives its sweetness from its antioxidants. 

Monk fruit has a glycemic index of zero. It’s an excellent option if you want to avoid the aftertaste of stevia. More stores are starting to carry this all-natural sweetener. You can also find it online with trustworthy retailers such as Thrive Market

However, some monk fruit sweeteners also contain other sugar substitutes such as erythritol. Make sure you’re getting the pure form of monk fruit extract.

4. Stevia

Stevia is also the best natural sweetener in my opinion. It’s also one of my favorites! I actually grew stevia when I was a Peace Corps worker in rural Paraguay. I also helped farmers export stevia plants to countries like the U.S. and Japan. This all natural sweetener has been grown in South America for hundreds of years.

Research shows that stevia offers quite a few health benefits. For example, stevia contains antimicrobial properties that can help balance your gut microbiome6 It can also help facilitate healthy cholesterol and inflammatory responses in the body. In addition to that, it doesn’t contribute to a leaky gut! Stevia also does not spike your blood sugar levels because it doesn’t accumulate in the body. In fact, it passes right through during metabolism.

I recommend purchasing 100% organic stevia in powdered leaf or liquid extract form. Brands such as Truvia and Pure Via are not pure stevia. These stevia blends are mixed with sugar alcohols, natural flavors, and other food additives. With the additional ingredients, their products are not all natural sweeteners.

While stevia is a great natural sweetener, some people are unable to tolerate it. If you suspect that you are sensitive to stevia, remove it from your diet for three days. See if your symptoms subside.

Cautionary Natural Sweeteners

You may have noticed I didn’t mention a few of the most common natural sweeteners out there. There are a few reasons for that. Some consider these the best natural sweeteners around. However, those with existing gut infections like SIBO or Candida overgrowth in the gut should stay away from these for now. This is because of how the sugars interact with the bacteria present in the gut. These sugars tend to feed the harmful bacteria, leading to more symptoms such as bloat, gas, and leaky gut.

1. Date Sugar

Date sugar is often touted as the best natural sweetener for anyone looking to improve their gut health. However, there’s a catch. First, let’s talk about where it comes from. Date sugar comes from finely ground, dried dates. Even in this form, you still get all the benefits of whole dates. This includes fiber, tannins, flavonoids, vitamins, and minerals. 

Date sugar does not dissolve in liquids, so this natural sweetener works best in baked goods. You could also sprinkle date sugar on foods or even add it to smoothies for a little extra sweetness! The catch here is that date sugar has a very high sugar content. This can feed Candida overgrowth in gut. It can also further aggravate symptoms of SIBO. 

2. Honey

Honey is an ancient natural sweetener that is rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. In fact, honey has B vitamins, calcium, copper, and various amino acids. Honey can help lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels. It also contains anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties which may reduce inflammation

The downside is that each tablespoon of honey contains about 17 grams of sugar. This amount is pretty high. For this reason, take precautions if you are diabetic or healing from gut infections like SIBO or Candida.

Raw honey is best when it’s pure, unfiltered, and unpasteurized. Unfortunately, most honey today comes pasteurized. Pasteurization uses heat and filtration to purify it, but this robs honey of its incredible nutritional value and healing powers. 

3. Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is not just for pancakes and waffles. It’s an excellent food swap for refined table sugar. This is the best natural sweetener because it is full of B vitamins, vitamin C, iron, calcium, and potassium. I use maple syrup as the natural sweetener in my Amazing AIP Lemon Bars. Maple syrup gives them their luscious, golden-brown color.

Even though it does rank as the best natural sweetener, be aware that maple syrup also has a high sugar content. This can feed Candida overgrowth in gut and irritate SIBO symptoms. Always make sure you are purchasing real maple syrup, and not “maple-flavored syrup” or “pancake syrup.” These other syrups usually contain high fructose corn syrup and “natural flavors.”

Natural Sweeteners Can Be Part of a Balanced Approach to Autoimmune Diets

The key to making all-natural sweeteners a part of The Myers Way® for life is to enjoy them in moderation. As your symptoms disappear, it can be tempting to start including more sweets in your diet. Remember, sugar and autoimmune disease have a strong association. Introducing refined sugars back into your diet could lead to more inflammation and a resurgence of health issues. This can be especially true of your gut, since sugar feeds Candida overgrowth and can exacerbate SIBO and leaky gut symptoms.

To keep sugar cravings in check, include some protein and healthy fats with every meal (and as a between-meal snack, if necessary). Adequate protein helps keep your blood sugar stable while helping you stay satisfied until your next meal. A protein shake with some added fat such as coconut milk or avocado, is a perfect way to beat sugar cravings. If you’re a chocoholic like me, check out my Double Chocolate Paleo Protein for a smooth, milky treat!

Remember, you can enjoy your sweet treats, However, just save them for special occasions and celebrations.

Article Sources

  1. Cytokines. Cleveland Clinic. Front Immunol. 2023.
  2. Effect of high glucose on cytokine production. Ronghua Hu et al.. Clin Immonu. 2018.
  3. Excessive intake of sugar: An accomplice of inflammation. Xioa Ma et al.. Front Immunol. 2022.
  4. Advances in the study of selenium and human intestinal bacteria. Jinzhong Cai Weizhu Su, et al.. Front Nutr. 2022.
  5. Coconut Sugar: Chemical Analysis and Nutritional Profile; Health Impacts; Safety and Quality Control; Food Industry Applications. Ariana Saraiva, Conrado Carrascosa, Fernando Ramos, et al.. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2023.
  6. Antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory potential of Stevia rebaudiana leaves: effect of different drying methods. Roberto Lemus-Mondaca, Antonio Vega-Gálvez, et al.. Journal of Applied Research on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, vol 11.. 2018.