A Breakdown of Sweeteners

A Word About Sweeteners

One question we get asked a lot is, what sugar is the best to eat.   Let me first start off by saying that all sugar should be consumed in moderation.  The sweeteners we like to use are organic raw honey, organic coconut sugar and organic pure maple syrup.  We chose these three because they are the least processed and they do contain small amounts of nutrients. Here is a breakdown.

Agave – Agave comes from a cactus.  The same one that tequila is made from.  It is sweeter than sugar, but not as healthy as some would like to believe.  It is very similar to high fructose corn syrup and very refined in most cases.  Agave can be up to 90% fructose.

Artificial Sweeteners -These sweeteners come under different names. Aspartame(Equal and NutraSweet) sucralose(Splenda) and saccharin(Sweet’N Low).  These are all chemicals that are linked to cancer, neurological problems, liver and kidney problems.

Barley Malt Syrup – This sweetener has a malt like flavor and it comes from sprouted barley.  It resembles molasses and does not work well in all baked goods.

Brown Rice Syrup – This sweetener is made from brown rice. It also has a malt like flavor, but a little more mild than barley malt syrup.  It is very mild in sweetness, but can be used in baked goods.

Brown Sugar – Brown sugar is not much different than cane sugar.  It is highly refined and gets its color from the presence of molasses.

Cane sugar – Most cane sugar is somewhat refined and it is high in fructose as well.  A diet high in fructose has been linked to obesity and metabolic syndrome.

Coconut Palm Sugar –  Coconut palm sugar is produced from sap that is created when the coconut palm flowers are cut.  This sweetener can be a great choice for many because it is very low on the glycemic index.  Coconut sugar produces a slow energy release so you will not get that sugar high/low.  It is minimally processed and does contain some trace nutrients.  It works great in baking as well.

Erythritol – Erythritol is another sugar alcohol.  It is also found in a lot of popular soft drinks and juices.  High intakes of sugar alcohols can lead to diarrhea, bloating and gas.  It provides a small amount of calories that can add up quickly if you consume too much. Personally, I stay away from sugar alcohols and try to use the purest and least processed forms of sugar.  All in moderation.  To read more on the side effects, click here.

Fruit Juice Concentrates – These also are not healthy sweetener options despite the name.  Fruit juice concentrates are made when fruit juices cook down.  Then they are frozen, essentially killing any nutrients that the juice may have contained.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) –  This highly refined sweetener is sweeter than sugar and cheaper to make.  It is in most processed foods and should be avoided.  It metabolizes into fat in your body.  It also does not send sensors to your brain that make you feel full.  Because of that, you end up eating much more to get satisfied.  HFCS has been linked to  diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome.

Honey – This is one of the sweeteners we use.  I know it is not for strict vegans, but honey, in it’s raw form, can offer some health benefits.  One of those is benefits is that it alleviates seasonal allergy symptoms.  Raw, local and organic is the best.

Maple Syrup –  Comes from the sap of maple trees.  It is one of the least processed sweeteners which is why we use it.  It is important to buy 100% pure organic maple syrup to insure that no chemicals have been used in the process.  Maple syrup works well in baking although you may need to reduce other liquid in the recipe to balance it out.

Molasses – Molasses is the by-product of refined sugar cane.  It has a mildly sweet and also bitter flavor that doesn’t suit well in all recipes.  It can be a good source for iron.  We use it in my daughter’s homemade blended formula because of the high iron content.  1 tablespoon contains 20% iron.  That is only in the blackstrap molasses.

Sucanat – Sucanat is an unrefined form of cane sugar.  Since it is unrefined, it contains trace amounts of nutrients.  It is probably a decent choice for a sweetener, but should still be used in moderation.  It has a darker color due to a high molasses content.

Stevia – Stevia comes from a plant that is native to South America.  It is 300 times sweeter than sugar.  It has no calories and has no effect on blood sugar making it safe for some diabetics.  Personally, I do not care for the taste.  It has a metallic aftertaste that many artificial sweeteners have, but it is a suitable option if you are okay with the taste.

Table Sugar – Table sugar is highly refined and can lead to a number of problems including, obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and liver damage.  It should be avoided at all costs.

Xylitol – Xlylitol is a form of processed sugar.  It is known as a sugar alcohol, or an artificial sugar.  It is made from xylan usually sourced from corn, so there is a GMO risk as well.  There are several forms of processing that happen to make xlyan into xylitol.  You can read more about it here.  On another note, Xlylitol is added to many toothpastes because it can help with tooth decay.

Quitting sugar may seem like a tough thing to do, but it gets easier. Before starting this journey, I had an insatiable sweet tooth.  If I can kick processed sugar, I know anyone can! 🙂 I challenge you to cut sugar out for two weeks.  I guarantee you will not miss it after a few days . To read more on sugars negative effects, click here.





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64 thoughts to “A Breakdown of Sweeteners”

  1. I fell off the vegan wagon hard and my sweet tooth has really taken control! These facts are a good reminder, but I could use some strategies to detox again.
  2. Just a extra note that Xylitol is deadly to dogs! Even small amounts can be disastrous. Another reason to read labels and not keep in the house if you have dogs. Thank you for the great article. I am still struggling to get all the sugar out of my life. I am almost there but not quite yet fully. Maybe this will help me with the last few things to cut out. Mocha Coffees and Chocolate!
  3. When you cut the sugar, did you still use/have these 3 types of sweeteners that you have mentioned? That's all I use too in being and cooking however I have gotten back into too frequently having chocolate bars and such.
  4. You have mentioned numerous sweetners but not all that are readily available. Where does sorghum fit into the various sweeteners?
    1. I have never heard of sorghum as a sweetener. I only know of it as a flour. What kind of sweetener is it?
  5. Thank you for the read. I am a sugar addict and currently in the process of cutting down, to eliminating refined/processed sugars. It is a challenge, but I'm up for it!
    1. You can do it! :) These tips helped me a lot. https://mywholefoodlife.com/2013/02/09/tips-on-quitting-processed-sugar/ Good luck Christine!
  6. Living this (again), so I have 3 thoughts -- 1. Could be beating the proverbial dead horse here, but scour labels for HFC and other corn syrups. It's in dressings and other foods a lot of folks new "whole foodies" don't expect. My mom bought a "healthy" loaf of whole wheat bread for my kids without realizing the SECOND ingredient was HFC. Yuck. 2. My personal experience is that it's easier for me to avoid sugary stuff if I make sure there's no MSG or similar products (yeast extract, glutamates, etc.) in what I'm eating. MSG is bad on its own, but it seems to trigger a "hey, eat more junk food" reaction in me. Google "MSG induced obesity in mice" and I suppose that makes sense. 3. We substitute in a lot of apple (or even banana carrot puree depending on the recipe) to replace some of the syrup/sweetener in baked goods. The fruit still has some sugar, of course, but it cuts down on it while adding some fiber and lots of moisture. I usually do 1/2 and 1/2, so if there's 1/2 cup of maple syrup in a muffin recipe I use 1/4 c. apple sauce and 1/4 c. syrup.
    1. Yeah, I have the same reaction. Sometimes I think it's better to abstain with very few cravings, than to cheat and crave all the sugar.
  7. "Agave comes from a cactus. The same one that tequila is made from." Agave nectar comes from the agave plant, which is actually not a cactus.

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