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. Hi there! Just wanted to say that I used to be an avid consumer of Splenda, quit for about three weeks, and one day when I decided to sweeten my morning cup again to satisfy my sweet tooth, I got the most HORRIBLE headaches. It was a funny feeling headache too, so now I've switched over to Stevia (I buy the trader joe's brand, one ingredient) and notice how this sweetener doesn't make me crave sweet things afterwards (as all those artifical sugars will do to you! They mess with your brain!) And I don't feel funny afterwards. It seems to be the safest and the sweetest, I also asked an Environmental Biologist about this and although she feels organic sugar is best, Stevia is the best of the fake stuff for us neurotic about sugar. Just thought you'd like to know :)
    1. Artificial sweeteners are awful! Good for you for kicking them! I have heard a lot about Stevia, but I have to admit, I did not personally like the flavor. It tasted too Splenda like to me. It seems to be a good choice for those folks that do like it though. I tried the powder, but I heard the drops have less of an after taste. It is pretty pricey though. I have learned to drink my coffee without a sweetener. When I cut it out of my coffee, I really thought I would miss it, but I prefer it much better without now.
    1. A few people have brought some other sweeteners to my attention. I am going to research those and then revise my post. Look for it in a few days. :)
    1. Coconut sugar, pure maple syrup and raw honey can all be bought at the health foods stores. I have also seen coconut sugar and maple syrup at kroger. You can also look to farmer's markets to see raw honey. The one here in Dallas does.
    1. I have heard mixed things about it. The studies are kind of inconclusive and I think more research needs to be done for me to consider it safe.
    1. It's on my to do list. Until then, I use coconut oil for baking and some cooking, walnut, toasted sesame and grapeseed oils for cooking and olive or avocado oil for cold dishes.
        1. I really like to use toasted sesame oil for sauteing. You can also use avocado oil or grapeseed oil because they both have a high smoke point. Some people use coconut oil to fry an egg.
  2. Thank you for this post, I am going to share it. Many of my friends that are RD's would be in agreement with you. One thing from my observation is that it is hard to find a zero calorie sweetener for diabetics that doesn't involve lots of processed chemicals. I am grateful to not have that issue and hate seeing others struggle with it. Thank you in particular for the info on erythritol, can you give me some info on where you got the list of potential side effects?
    1. Thanks for reading. I completely agree with you about diabetics. I feel for them as well and would suggest Stevia. If you grow it yourself, you will be able to use it in the less processed form. Here is the link to the side effects of erythitol. I guess I forgot to include that link and will edit the post now. http://www.livestrong.com/article/478893-erythritol-toxicity/
  3. I LOVE this post. Since I started switching to more whole food diet I've been amazed by how much sugar I've actually been consuming! We still haven't given up refined sugar. I too love to bake and a world without baking just wouldn't be able to keep me happy lol. This post has inspired me to pick up some coconut palm sugar. I wonder how it will work out in coffee?
    1. I ditched the sugar in my coffee, but I have heard from others that it works well. By the way, I love to bake as well and some of the healthier sugars work surprisingly well in baking recipes. I use the maple syrup the most when baking. :)
  4. Can you post a link to the homemade formula you make for your baby? Also, at what age did you start using it? Thank you!
    1. My daughter is kind of special. We give her blended food through a feeding tube. You can read more about her here. https://mywholefoodlife.com/olives-story/ I change up the recipe based on whatever I have on hand. We got the breakdown of her nutritional needs through a dietician and I make the recipes based on that. We started the blended diet when she was 17 months old, I think.
  5. And I'm so glad you are offering suggestions for so many healthier foods.There are very few processed or packaged products that I will use. I also don't use GMO foods, although I'm still researching for more supplements that are GMO free. I use a little stevia to increase the sweetness when using the low glycemic coconut palm sugar, which I love for it's similarity to brown sugar. I cannot use sugar alcohols as they go right through me but Erythritol does not do that if I just use about half and again add some stevia to up the sweetness. In a few things I like it for the texture) I'm learning how to adjust recipes as I cannot use most of these other sugar alternatives as they all trigger insulin resistance problems for me. (As well as any refined flours or white rice etc) I have found a couple brands of stevia powder that have no aftertaste so I often use it by itself depending on what I'm preparing. I too have a sweet tooth and am so thankful for these few options.
  6. I have cut way back on all sugar. This week a dietician introduced me to agave to try so I bought some. Is it at least better that sugar? Today i made your banana / peanut butter granola bars with it (replaced the honey) and they were delicious. Is it okay to substitute it in some things?
    1. I personally don't use it since it is similar to high fructose corn syrup. I am not going to tell you to toss it, but I would look for another sweetener in the future. Coconut sugar, honey or maple syrup are good choices.
      1. Wow... How come the dietician thinks its so great then? Is it at least better than granulated sugar and artifical sweeteners? I will make sure to not use any more once this bottle is gone. Thanks so much for all your healthy tips :)
        1. I think there is a lot of confusing information out there. It's hard to figure out what is the real truth. I think even the experts get confused some time. I am certainly not a dietician or a doctor, but I try to weed through the info and do what is best for myself and my family.
  7. This was so helpful! I go through so much honey using it for everything, so I've been looking into other healthier sweetener options. Thanks for this!
  8. I so wanted to try using coconut palm sugar. And I was looking for it on Tropical Traditions website, and then I read this.... http://www.tropicaltraditions.com/coconut_palm_sugar.htm made me think twice about buying it. Personally I love honey (raw when applicable), maple syrup, sucanat, molasses and the occasional use of organic more processed sugars when "necessary".
  9. Very interesting post! Thanks a lot for the summary! I have one question though - you mentioned that freezing fruit juice concentrates depletes the juice of nutrients. Would this suggest that *any* sort of freezing (i.e. veggies, etc) depletes the food of its nutrients? Thanks!
  10. Thank you for this post! This has been one of the most confusing points for me in switching to less processed foods. I tried coconut sugar, but my husband hates the taste of coconut. Are you familiar with dextrose? What are your thoughts on that?

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