As you know, the first pillar of The Myers Way® is to remove the toxic and inflammatory foods such as 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, including natural sweeteners. This is particularly important if you’re addressing gut infections such as SIBO and Candida overgrowth because the bacteria and yeast feed off of carbohydrates and refined sugars.
However, if you’ve completed the protocol, have worked your way down the autoimmune spectrum, and are living symptom-free, you might be ready to enjoy the occasional, naturally sweetened indulgence!
I want to set you up for success by helping you to make smart choices about including sweets in your AIP diet, including 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.
You can check out my cookbook, The Autoimmune Solution Cookbook, for recipes that incorporate all natural sweeteners to help you make The Myers Way® a way of life. Or make every day an AIP Snack or treat day with my delicious paleo protein. Now, let’s take a look at some of the best natural sweeteners for an autoimmune-friendly diet.
7 Natural Sweeteners for An Autoimmune Diet
Fortunately, there are plenty of natural sweeteners to satisfy your sweet tooth without contributing to inflammation. Some natural sweeteners even contain micronutrients that can add value to your diet.
1. Blackstrap Molasses
Although blackstrap molasses is made from cane sugar, it is much more nutrient-dense than cane syrup or even regular molasses. Blackstrap molasses provides iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamin B6, and selenium.
Selenium is one of four essential nutrients for patients with Hashimoto’s or other thyroid dysfunction, needed to convert inactive T4 thyroid hormones to their active T3 state. Selenium has also been shown to decrease thyroid antibodies in Hashimoto’s patients. By increasing their intake to just 200 mcg, patients were able to decrease their antibodies by 64%!
You’ll be surprised to find out that as a Peace Corps volunteer, I was making molasses with my Paraguayan family!
After cutting the sugar cane down with a machete, 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.
You can use blackstrap molasses as an all natural sweetener in many baked goods — it’s what gives gingerbread its characteristic flavor. However, it does have a strong taste and might be too strong for other recipes.
2. Coconut Sugar
Coconut sugar can be a good source of vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes including potassium, magnesium, and sodium. These keep your body’s fluid levels in balance and are important for a number of other functions as well. Coconut sugar is a natural sweetener that is lower on the glycemic index than regular sugar.
The all natural sweetener also contains inulin, a prebiotic fiber. So coconut sugar helps feed your friendly gut bacteria and stabilize blood sugar.
Coconut sugar is a raw food because it comes from dehydrated coconut sap. It’s an all-natural sweetener that can be included in a diet for those with autoimmune disease in small amounts. It’s an excellent replacement for brown sugar in baked goods.
3. Date Sugar
Date sugar is one of the best all-natural, AIP diet alternatives to sugar. It comes from finely ground, dried dates. With date sugar, you get all the benefits of whole dates, including 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!
Honey is an antioxidant-rich, whole-food, and autoimmune-friendly natural sweetener you can use in place of regular sugar. It’s a good source of vitamins and minerals including B vitamins, calcium, copper and various amino acids, making it a better alternative to artificial sweeteners or refined sugar. Honey has been shown to lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol. Honey also contains anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties which may reduce inflammation.
Each tablespoon of honey contains 17 grams of sugar, so use it sparingly, especially if you are diabetic.
Raw honey is pure, unfiltered, and unpasteurized. Unfortunately, most honey today is pasteurized, meaning it is heated and filtered. This robs honey of the natural sweetener’s incredible nutritional value and healing powers. Children under 12 months should not consume raw honey, however, raw honey is a great choice for older children and adults.
5. Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is not just for pancakes and waffles. It’s an excellent, AIP food swap for refined table sugar. This is one of the best natural sweeteners because it is full of B vitamins, vitamin C, iron, calcium, and potassium.
Maple syrup derives from the sap of maple trees. The thick, gooey syrup we know and love comes from the evaporated tree sap.
I use maple syrup as the autoimmune diet-friendly, natural sweetener in my Amazing AIP Lemon Bars. Maple syrup gives them their luscious, golden-brown color. It’s my all natural sweetener of choice!
When buying maple syrup, read labels carefully. Ensure that it’s real maple syrup, and not “maple-flavored syrup” or “pancake syrup.” These other syrups usually contain high fructose corn syrup and “natural flavors.”
6. Monk Fruit
Another one of the best natural sweeteners for the aip diet 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 zero-calorie, all natural sweetener that derives its sweetness from antioxidants in the fruit.
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. Yet you can still find it with trustworthy online retailers such as Thrive Market.
However, some monk fruit sweeteners are mixed with other sugar substitutes such as erythritol. Make sure you’re getting the pure form of monk fruit extract.
Stevia is one of my favorite all-natural sweeteners. I actually grew stevia when I was a Peace Corps worker in rural Paraguay. I even helped farmers export stevia plants to Japan and the U.S. This all natural sweetener has been grown in South America for hundreds of years.
Research shows that stevia doesn’t accumulate in the body and that it passes through the body during metabolism. Unlike other sugar alternatives, stevia contains zero calories and does not impact your blood sugar levels. Its leaves are 300 times sweeter than sugar, so a little bit of this natural sweetener goes a long way!
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 are blends of stevia 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 simply unable to tolerate it. If you suspect that you have a stevia sensitivity, try removing it from your diet for three days to see if your symptoms subside.
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. It can be tempting to start including more sweets into your diet, however, this could lead to more sugar cravings.
To keep sugar cravings in check, include some protein and healthy fats with every meal (and as a between-meal snack, if necessary) to keep your blood sugar stable and help you stay full and 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!)
And remember: you can enjoy your sweet treats — just save them for special occasions and celebrations.
For More Information
Celebrity fitness and nutrition expert JJ Virgin takes a deep dive into the glycemic index and discovers that we’ve been thinking about sugar all wrong. Check out our conversation about which types to choose and which types to lose.