The Difference Between Sweeteners

Where my fellow sweet tooth's at?! This email is for you!

Let’s face it, most of us have a sweet tooth (guilty!), we are actually designed to enjoy sweet foods! However, there is a difference between foods that have naturally occurring sweetness and foods that have added

sweeteners, like refined sugars. Because of its addictive properties, refined sugar has actually been called a drug, therefore the less refined sugar you eat, the less you will crave it. The more natural real, whole, plant based foods you eat, which have naturally occurring sugars, the more you will crave those foods instead. Any food with carbohydrates will contain natural sugars like, fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy.



When it comes to added sweeteners, there’s a lot of confusion, understandably so given there are so many of them now. I do recommend limiting your intake of added sugars/sweeteners as much as possible, as they can wreck havoc on the gut over time. However, if you are using a sweetener, some options are better than others.



Below, I’ve broken down the most common sweeteners and the pros and cons of each. I believe knowledge is power, so I hope by reading this you will feel equipped to make healthier choices when grocery shopping or ordering that latte. Read to the end to find out which sweetener I deem as the best/healthiest option!



HONEY:

  • About: a natural sweetener from bees

  • Pros: none to little processing (depending on where you buy it), lower fructose content, more natural than agave, more health benefits than agave, the darker the honey the more antioxidants it has however the taste will be stronger the darker, anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and can help reduce seasonal allergens

  • Cons: higher glycemic index than agave, higher calories than agave

AGAVE:

  • About: a syrup from the blue agave plant

  • Pros: lower glycemic index than honey and refined sugar, slightly lower calories than honey, vegan (not really a pro or con but if you’re vegan you can have agave)

  • Cons: more processed than honey, higher fructose content

MAPLE SYRUP:

  • About: derived from the sap of sugar maple trees. When buying maple syrup be sure to read the label to ensure you're getting real maple syrup and not just flavored maple syrup, which will contain lots of added sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup, meaning it’s not natural!

  • Pros: contains minerals and antioxidants but these don’t offset it’s high sugar content, more natural than refined sugar, lower glycemic index than refined sugar

  • Cons: high in natural sugar content

DATES:

  • About: derived from date palm tree

  • Pros: natural plant derived, whole food, excellent nutritional profile contains vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, low glycemic index

  • Cons: high in calories and natural sugars

STEVIA:

  • About: is a plant. Be careful with this one, there isn’t a ton of information regarding how to determine if a product has real stevia in it

  • Pros: zero calories, plant based, in moderation it’s a good alternative to sugar for weight management, low glycemic index

  • Cons: not a lot of clear research on health benefits and risks, much sweeter than refined sugar so you only need little bit

COCONUT SUGAR:

  • About: derived from coconut palm tree

  • Pros: natural plant derived, contains minor amounts of nutrients like minerals and short-chained fatty acids, contains a fiber called inulin which may slow glucose absorption, lower glycemic index than refined sugar

  • Cons: high in calories, high fructose content, overall not too different than refined sugar but is natural vs. processed

REFINED/CANE/WHITE SUGAR:

  • About: a processed sugar

  • Pros: none that we know of

  • Cons: eating too much sugar can cause several health problems, not a required nutrient in your diet, avoid foods with any of these listed in the label, brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup, cane sugar

SUGAR ALCOHOL:

  • About: hybrid of sugar molecules and alcohol molecules. Types of sugar alcohols include: Xylitol, Erythritol, Sorbitol, Maltitol. Erythritol seems to produce the fewest side effects.

  • Pros: low glycemic index, not artificial

  • Cons: fewer calories than refined sugar, can cause digestive problems and inflammation depending on the individual

BROWN RICE SYRUP:

  • About: derived from brown rice

  • Pros: 100% glucose, no fructose, health benefits such as dental health

  • Cons: high glycemic index higher than most other sweeteners on the market, little nutrients, high sugar content, arsenic has been found rice syrups and products sweetened with them

If I had to pick the healthiest option out of those listed above, I choose dates because they're a whole food and have the most health benefits. There you have it, I hope this helps!





Sources: Healthline, Food network, Livestrong, Live science, Harvard Health