Natural ways to satisfy your sweet cravings

by Shaan Lalwani 

Most of us may know that processed sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup or glucose are bad for us and that sugar in general, no matter what the source, is something we should limit. But when we have that craving, what’s the best natural sweetener to satisfy that sweet tooth?

There’s much confusion over sweeteners on the market today. As a horticulturist I have seen sugar processing first hand, which is a highly pollutive process.

A 2004 report by WWF, titled “Sugar and the Environment,” highlighted that sugar may be responsible for more biodiversity loss than any other crop, because it contributes to habitat destruction to create large scale plantations. It also makes intensive use of water for irrigation, synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, whose runoffs lead to polluted water. Wastewater is also discharged by sugar production factories.

Overconsumption of white sugar has a lot of detrimental effects on your health. Dr Mercola outlines 76 ways sugar can harm your health including suppressing one’s immune system, obesity, and premature aging.

An even worse enemy of the environment than sugar is now emerging to be corn, which is grown in large scale industrial farms, often using genetically modified seeds in the US and Canada. Corn is the hidden ingredient in many artificial and chemically synthesised sugars that are used in processed foods throughout the world, and comes under various names such as High Fructose Corn Syrup(HFCS), glucose, malt syrup and the like.  Researchers at Princeton University have found that HFCS prompts considerably greater weight gain.

What I look for in a sweetener is not only how many calories it has which I would seek to lessen, but also whether it has nutrients. If I’m going to eat something sweet, I want to make sure that it’s minimally refined and that I’m getting some sort of nutritional benefit.

Table sugar provides you almost nil nutritional value and adds empty calories to the plate. Recognizing this fact, more and more people are turning away from table sugar and going towards other sweeteners.

At the same time, many artificial sweeteners have been found to have a number of disadvantages including having ingredients which are suspected carcinogens. These artificial sweeteners are used in abundance in almost every “diet” drink, “lite” yogurts, puddings, and ice creams, most “low-carb” products, and almost all “reduced-sugar” products.  Most protein powders are loaded with artificial sweeteners too.

Splenda is probably one of the worst offenders of claiming to be “healthy” as they say that it’s made from real sugar. Don’t be fooled! It’s still an artificial substance. What they don’t tell you is that Splenda is actually a chemically modified substance where chlorine is added to the chemical structure, making it more similar to a chlorinated pesticide than something we should be eating or drinking.

Of late, the rise in popularity of Stevia got me thinking, about other plants that can be used as natural sweeteners. I am listing some freely available plants which are as sweet as they come healthy, non fattening and absolutely safe for diabetic patients.

Plants that can be used as sweeteners:

1. Perilla frutescens:

Family :Lamiaceae

Origin: Himalayas, India

Other local names:  Chinese basil , Banjara perrilia mint.

Uses:  The oil is used in perfume industry and sometimes as a spice in cooking.
Its flowers are used as a coloring and pickling of fruits.

Medicinal value: Diaphoretic, sedative, anti inflammatory, used for treating cough.

The plant Perilla frutescens is 350 times sweeter than sucrose and originated in the Himalayas, India. Today it’s widely grown in East Asia and USA. It is used as a condiment and seasoning in Chinese and Japanese cuisine. In Japan it is called Red Shiso and used to sweeten tobacco. The essential oil of this plant is used as a food flavoring in candies and sauces in the United States. The bitter after taste and low water solubility are some of the plants drawbacks.

2. Lippia dulcis:  

Family: Verbenaceae.

Origin: Central america

Other local names: Sweet lippa, Mexican lippa

Uses: A good natural cure for cough,cold bronchitis and asthma




Lippia dulcis is a fast growing plant and spreads like a weed. This plant is a potential natural substitute for sugar since it is 1000 times sweeter than sucrose.  However the only issue of this plant is its bitter aftertaste due to the presence of camphor. This bitter component has prevented scientists from developing this plant as a possible sugar substitute on a large scale.

3. Stevia rebaudiana:

Family: Asteraceae

Origin:South america

Other local names:  Stevia, Honey herb, Yerba Dulce, Sweet herb.

Uses:  Used in treating among other conditions obesity,dermatitis, mouth sores, low blood pressure. It is a natural low calorie sweetener.

Stevia rebaudiana is a slender erect plant that grows to a height of about a feet and a half. It is indigenous to the northern regions of South America. The indigenous peoples in Brazil and Paraguay used the leaves of Stevia as a sweetener as well as for medicinal purposes. The leaf has anti bacterial properties and is used to treat digestive problems, mouth sores, hypertension, fatigue, depression, sweet cravings, and infections.

Use fresh whole stevia leaves which are safe to use. If they’re not available, try growing the plant, or you may want to source whole leaft stevia powder or whole dried leaves. White stevia powder or liquid stevia drops are highly processed.

4. Glycyrrhiza Glabra:


Family: fabaceae

Origin: Mediterranean region

Other local names: Licorice





The plant Glycyrrhiza Glabra is used as a natural sweetener in food and the pharmaceutical industry. It is diuretic, laxative and a stomachic agent. It is almost 100 times sweeter than sucrose. It has a very slow onset of taste and a long lingering after taste

5. Hydrangea macrophylla:

Family: saxifragaceae

Origin: Japan

Other local names: amacha

Uses: Decreases high blood pressure. Has anti allergic properties.

The leaves of the plant




Hydrangea macrophylla is traditionally made into a tea and consumed once a year by the Japanese during Buddha’s birthday. Hence it’s also called ‘Buddha tea. The leaves of this plant are extremely sweet. The tea from this leaves can be drunk on its own or can be used to sweeten other teas and drinks.

6. Agave:

Family: Liliaceae

Origin: Mexico(Spanish and Portuguese explorers probably brought agave plants back to Europe with them)

Uses:  making of tequila, making of agave nectar.



Agave is native to Mexico. Agave nectar has a low glycemic level and is one of the alternatives to table sugar. Agave has a high content of fructose and because fructose is sweeter than table sugar, less is needed in your recipes.

A Note of Caution about Agave Syrup: Remember that Agave Syrup is highly processed and does not bear much resemblance chemically to the plant.

“Agave Syrup is advertised as “low glycemic” and marketed towards diabetics.  It is true, that agave itself is low glycemic. We have to consider why agave syrup is “low glycemic.”  It is due to the unusually high concentration of fructose (90%) compared to the small amount of glucose (10%).

Nowhere in nature does this ratio of fructose to glucose occur naturally.

Fructose appears to interfere with copper metabolism.   This causes collagen and elastin being unable to form.  Collagen and elastin are connective tissue which essentially hold the body together. A deficiency in copper can also lead to bone fragility, anemia, infertility, heart attacks, and ironically an inability to control blood sugar levels.” [From Living-Foods.com


Other Alternative Sweeteners:

For those who are not diabetic, here are some natural alternatives, though overall limits should be observed in one’s diet.

1) Honey:

Sweet syrupy fluid made by bees from the nectar collected from flowers and stored in nests or hives as food. Even though it is high in fructose (about 50%) and glucose, it is naturally occurring.

Honey tends to be low-glycemic. You can comfortably use this to sweeten your beverages.

However, It has high-calorific value and is high in carbohydrates, so use sparingly. It is not a vegan option.

2)Barley Malt:

Barley Malt syrup is a sweetener made from sprouted barley. It is made up mostly (about 65%) maltose, the rest being complex carbohydrate (30%) and protein (3%). It has about half the sweetness of sugar, somewhere between dark molasses and honey. Barley malt works well in baking and making smoothies. The bonus in this natural sweetener is that it has several vitamins and minerals.

3) Coconut Sugar:

Traditionally coconut sugar is used in East Asia for cooking and medicinal purposes. It is made from coconut sap. Though it very much resembles cane sugar, coconut sugar is very low on the glycemic index . Coconut sugar is considered to be a very healthy alternative as it contains sulfur, healthy micronutrients, potassium and magnesium.

4) Palm sugar

It is extracted from the sap of the sugar palm tree, which is usually found in tropical countries. The sap is boiled and then cooled down to crystallise into a solid.  It’s commonly used in South-east Asian deserts such as black rice or tapioca pudding.  Read the labels, and make sure it doesn’t have added ingredients.

Palm sugar, like agave syrup, has  low glycemic index (around 35),  except that its better in the sense that it does not contain high amounts of fructose. In India, palm sugar (in the rock-sugar jaggery form) is actually used in traditional medicine, since it contains many minerals and has been found to heal throat and lung infections.

5) Maple syrup

Maple trees are mostly found in countries with a temperate climate. It was first collected and used by the indigenous people of North America, a practice which spread to Europe.  Maple syrup is made from the sap of  the sugar maple, red maple or black maple trees and is high in ‘sucrose’ content. It has several beneficial compounds which contain anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties including manganese and zinc.

It’s most commonly used in pancakes, cakes, waffles, toasts and oatmeal porridge.

6) Raw Sugar cane juice                                                                                                                                                                               

Raw sugar cane juice is nutritious and alkalizing to drink, and can be quite refreshing on a hot day. It has a low Glycemic Index, and is a good source of chlorophyll, minerals and proteins, and anti-oxidants. It’s freshly made, and needs very little processing except being crushed in a sugar cane press by the juice vendor.

It can’t do away with the environmental issues related to sugar cane production, but does the solve the ones with factory processing. To be consumed in moderation.

7) Dried Fruits

A great way to sweeten up your smoothies, juices, porridge and cereals is to add dried fruits such as raisins, dates, figs, apricots and the like. These are rich iron, vitamins and minerals.

Disclaimer: Always use sweeteners in moderation. Consult a doctor if in doubt. Nothing mentioned in this article substitutes for medical advice.

Artificial sweeteners to avoid

1)Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal, Canderel)
3)Sucralose (Splenda, Altern)
4)Acesulfame-K (Sunette, Sweet & Safe, Sweet One)
5)Refined Sugar


 About our Guest Writer:

SHAAN LALWANI is the 25 year old owner of the rapidly expanding  Vriksha Nursery, which is based in Mumbai, India . This nursery was passed down to him by his parents who fully supported him in getting his B.Sc degree in Horticulture and in attending one of the best landscape schools in the world for an M.A. in landscape management at University of Sheffield,U.K.

Shaan is available through his blog Vrikshanurseries.blogspot.com where you can get weekly updates. For any questions regarding the gardening world, he may be contacted at  +91-9820704069 or at shaan_lalwani@hotmail.com.


Further links you may be interested in:

EWTT: Six Beautiful Balcony Plants to Control Mosquitoes

EWTT: How to Grow Fresh Air Using Houseplants

EWTT: How to Compost at home using Container Pots


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Posted by on Sep 2 2011. Filed under Food, Green Consumption. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

1 Comment for “Natural ways to satisfy your sweet cravings”

  1. Thank you for this great article!

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