you're sweet enough already.

True story. I have one tattoo.

That would be really lame if that was the whole story. I swear it’s not.

So I got this one tattoo that is basically never visible, and I told my mom about it. Because even though I’m almost thirty, I knew she would lose her mind if she saw it one day and it caught her off guard. And even though I told her about it, she lost her mind. I was somewhat prepared for this, though I’ll admit her reaction was a little more dramatic than I expected. There were tears, there was yelling, I was hung up on, the whole shebang.

Long story short, I capitalized on this moment because I’m a good little negotiator. We made a deal that I would never get another tattoo again - as long as she quit drinking Diet Coke. It’s the best deal I’ve ever made. I only wish I would have gotten a tattoo sooner.

You could argue that I should be able to get whatever tattoo I want because it’s my body and it doesn’t affect anyone. But some people would argue that she should be able to drink whatever she wants because it’s her body and it doesn’t affect anyone. And they would be wrong. Like so seriously wrong. Because it affects her health, which affects the lives of literally everyone in my family.

Maybe I’m a little dramatic too. Because I straight up agonized over my mom’s diet soda drinking habits. Or maybe I’m completely rational and I understand the negative effects that diet soda has on the body. I understand how aspartame - the calorie free sweetener used in most diet sodas - can ruin your body. Calorie free sweetener sounds pretty harmless, doesn’t it? And yet, this substance can cause a myriad of problems - including weight gain (kinda defeats the purpose of being calorie free), headaches, depression, anxiety attacks, vertigo, seizures, nausea, numbness, heart palpitations, tinnitus, hearing loss, memory loss, tachycardia, vision problems, irritability, muscle spasms, joint pain, difficulty breathing, loss of taste...I can literally go on but I think you get it.

So. How do you know what sweeteners are bad for you and which are okay? Use my guide to navigate which ones to stay far away from, and which you can totally invite into your cup of coffee.

Run, Don’t Walk Away from these Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners can cause a slew of health issues. They can mess up the balance of your gut microbiome, which can trigger autoimmune disorders, metabolic disorders, and diabetes.  Basically run from these.

  • Aspartame  - Equal, NutraSweet, found in lots of diet sodas/diet foods, even gum!

  • Acesulfame - also found in sodas, juices, and dairy products like yogurt and ice cream.

  • Neotame - basically aspartame. Found in food products.

  • Saccharin - Sweet‘N Low (aka Sweet n NO)

  • Sucralose - Splenda

Just Say No

  • Agave Nectar - I know everyone toutes this as “healthy” because of the lower glycemic index, but it is still high in fructose. This means that your liver still needs to convert that fructose into glucose, glycogen, lactate & fat - which puts strain on your liver and can lead to fatty liver disease and insulin resistance. In unrelated news, agave also makes tequila. Which is also bad for your liver. Pick your poison? Or don’t.

  • Brown Rice Syrup - There’s a couple reasons why this is on the naughty list. This syrup is made from brown rice and enzymes - often barley enzymes. Barley = gluten. So if you knowingly or unknowingly are sensitive to gluten, this could cause health problems for you. Reason number two, is arsenic. Studies have shown arsenic levels to be high in organic brown rice syrup. Limit your intake of foods that use this syrup as a sweetener.

  • Turbinado - AKA raw cane sugar. It’s not actually totally raw. It goes through some processing that removes nutrients and impurities. It’s not that bad for you per se, but also not so good.

The Good Stuff

  • Sugar Alcohols - For example: xylitol, sorbitol, and mannitol. These come from processing the carbohydrates in berries and fruits. These are natural and contain up to 3 calories per gram. Full disclosure, these are not for everyone. Your body doesn’t totally absorb these so they ferment in the large intestine - which can cause bloating and/or gas. They can have a laxative effect on some people and can cause digestive problem flare ups.

  • Stevia - When I first heard about Stevia I was a total skeptic. (To be fair, I’m always a skeptic.) But then I went to an herbal tincture making class and the herbalist literally had a stevia plant. I ate a little leaf and it literally tasted like candy. Her son called it “the candy plant”. So cute. So I became a (mostly) believer. Just make sure you are buying raw organic stevia. Otherwise it could still be bleached and contain harmful additives.

  • Monk Fruit - Sounds totally religious. I’m into it. But actually it’s just the fermented pulp of the fruit. This one has been used in Asian cultures medicinally for its anti-inflammatory properties. It also contains antioxidants, called mogrosides. Like sugar alcohols though, monk fruit can trigger digestive issues in some people. Always check the labels and make sure you’re getting pure monk fruit or you could wind up with harmful additives.

  • Maple Syrup - This probably goes without saying but make sure it’s pure 100% maple syrup. Maple syrup contains minerals like zinc, and polyphenol antioxidants. The darker the syrup, the sweeter the antioxidant content.

  • Honey - Honey contains tons of antioxidants, and bee pollen is amazing for your immune system. Definitely buy raw, and preferably local honey. Local honey is great for allergies since it exposes you to local allergens through bee pollen. Manuka honey from New Zealand has major antimicrobial properties and the highest nutritional content of all honey. Go New Zealand bees.

  • Dates - These are awesome to sweeten your smoothies, raw desserts, and honestly just to eat on their own. Or with almond butter. Or sunflower butter. Pro tip: take out the seed, replace it with a walnut, smother in sunflower butter, and eat. I consider myself a date eating pro, obviously. I don’t recommend eating a lot in one sitting because they are still high in fructose. But undoubtedly better for you than eating a box of Girl Scout Cookies.

  • Molasses - Molasses is made as a by-product in the sugar making process. First, raw sugar cane or sugar beets are crushed to remove the juice, the juice is then boiled down to produce sugar crystals. Molasses is what is left after the sugar has been removed from the juice. Blackstrap molasses is the most nutrient dense type of molasses.

  • Coconut Sugar/ Coconut Nectar - This option is still processed, but it does contain some nutrients like zinc, potassium, and short-chain fatty acids. So it’s not bad, but you can still do better. Coconut sugar comes from coconut blossoms, not coconut fruit.