How 4 Natural Sugar Substitutes Stack Up Against the Real Deal

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  44 comments   :  40,939 Views

These days, sugar can seem like a four-letter word, especially if you're trying to lose weight or adopt a healthier lifestyle. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), an excess of added sugars is one of the main culprits behind not only weight gain and obesity, but also an increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The FDA recommends consuming no more than six to 11 teaspoons of the sweet stuff each day.
 
The problem is, the sweet stuff is practically everywhere, and it doesn’t always come in obvious forms, like when you sprinkle it in your coffee or drizzle chocolate sauce on strawberries. The practice of adding sugar to packaged foods is rampant—it can be found in everything from veggie snacks to juices and sauces.
 
As part of the anti-sugar trend, many people are turning to substitutes as a lower-calorie way to sweeten things up. But are sugar swaps any better than the real deal? SparkPeople nutritionist Becky Hand gives us the skinny on today's trendiest sugar substitutes.

Agave Syrup


Derived from the nectar of agave plants, this syrup can sometimes be sweeter than white table sugar, but it contains more calories (60 per tablespoon as opposed to 48). "The nutritional boost of agave syrup is very minimal," says Hand. "There are only trace amounts of iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium." In addition, while most sweeteners contain around a 50/50 mix of glucose and fructose, agave syrup is around 90 percent fructose—and some research has shown that high fructose consumption is linked to higher body fat and lower physical activity.

Coconut Sugar


Also known as coconut palm sugar, this sweetening agent is made from boiling down the nectar of flowers from the coconut plant. It contains the same amount of calories (16) and carbohydrates (four grams) as white table sugar.
 
Although it's touted as more nutritious than regular table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, Hand points out that coconut sugar contains only trace amounts of nutrients like zinc, iron, potassium, vitamin C and thiamin. It also contains almost as much fructose as regular sugar.
 
Is coconut sugar a good option for diabetics? According to the American Diabetes Association, it's fine to use coconut sugar as a sweetener, but it should be treated the same as regular sugar in terms of consumption.

Brown Rice Syrup


To produce this natural sweetener, enzymes are used to break down the starch in brown rice into simple sugar. The liquid is then boiled down into syrup.
 
Depending on how it's processed, brown rice syrup can contain anywhere from 55 to 75 calories per tablespoon. With only trace nutrients of magnesium, zinc and manganese, it offers little to no nutritional value.
 
Although brown rice syrup is made up of three different types of sugars, it is broken down into glucose during digestion, so it ultimately has the same effect on the body as regular sugar.

Date Sugar


Date sugar is different from other natural sugar substitutes in that it's not an extract, but is instead made by grinding dried dates into a fine powder. It contains the same nutrients as whole dates—potassium, calcium and several antioxidants—and has only 30 calories per tablespoon. Hand points out that under the latest FDA draft guidelines, whole fruit, fruit pieces and dried fruit don't fall into the category of added sugars.
 
However, Hand warns that date sugar has some restrictions. Because it doesn't melt well, its uses are limited. "It can primarily be used as a replacement for brown sugar in quick breads and bar cookies, sprinkled in yogurt, added to a smoothie or used to top a hot cereal," she says.

To Sweeten or Not to Sweeten?


While some sugar substitutes may be marketed as healthier or more natural than others, Hand cautions that the body can't distinguish between these and regular white table sugar.
 
"There is no nutritional boost to these sweeteners," she says. "If you like the flavor, then make the substitution—but don't assume that you're giving your body a health-promoting boost. Like the real thing, substitute sweeteners should be consumed in moderation."

What do you think of sugar substitutes?
 
Join us each month as we sift through the so-called life hacks and miracle cures to get to the bottom of the latest buzzworthy trend. Get the facts and decide for yourself if you should Spark It or Scrap It.


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Comments

  • 44
    I recently started eating agave in place of honey in my tea. I thought it was suppose to be lower glycemic?
    It says so on my bottle. Which is why I bought it because it wouldn't raise blood sugar the same way as honey or table sugar. I guess only one way to find out. Use a glucose meter. I do not have diabetes anymore but had it in the past so I always watch my glucose. - 10/17/2017   7:24:12 AM
  • 43
    I enjoyed the comments more than the article, though I thought the article was fine. The comments helped me see how others deal with finding sugar substitutes. Wish I could just quit eating sweetners altogether. - 9/29/2017   10:14:02 AM
  • 42
    This article is incomplete.
    The article should have included maple syrup and honey, as they are two sweeteners that do have higher nutritional value.
    Another annoyance is the only time the mention the calories per teaspoon is for date sugar. They also mention that date sugar is primarily glucose, and then continue talking about date sugar in a way that dismisses it, when it is the only sugar discussed that has far more glucose than fructose.
    D
    To be a good article, it should have include the calories per teaspoon and the proportion of

    I realize they were focusing on natural sweeters, but a discussion of sugar alcohols would have been helpful as well, though that could also reasonably be for a different related article. - 7/15/2017   1:31:23 PM
  • 41
    This is pretty frightening, because Melissa Rudy writes:
    "The FDA recommends consuming no more than six to 11 teaspoons of the sweet stuff [sugar] each day."

    Could you add this to your article as a point of comparison? - On their website, heart dot org, the American Heart Association has a graphic that shows they recommend a MAXIMUM of no more than SIX (6) total daily teaspoons of added sugar- for women - and a MAXIMUM of NINE (9) teaspoons for men. That's 100 calories for women and 150 for men. I'll go with the AHA, Am. Heart Assoc., but theirs are the UPPER guidelines. Even less is much healthier. Thank you for the article.
    - 7/8/2017   2:43:46 PM
  • 40
    Great article! Thanks - 6/19/2017   8:20:17 AM
  • PATRICIAANN46
    39
    Thank You for a very informative article. - 5/18/2017   9:31:15 PM
  • SUSANBEAMON
    38
    Instead of looking for a substitute, why not just decrease the amount of natural sugar that you use? - 3/20/2017   12:52:08 AM
  • SUSANBEAMON
    37
    Instead of looking for a substitute, why not just decrease the amount of natural sugar that you use? - 3/20/2017   12:51:19 AM
  • 36
    I am weaning off aspertame and it's a little difficult with the moods changes. Also I am no longer buying any product high fructose items. There are over 500 products on the shelves that use aspertame for a sweetener. Looking at other options. - 3/13/2017   11:32:38 PM
  • 35
    @archiefit: The title of the article specified natural substitutes. Splenda and Equal (sucralose and aspartame) are synthetic.

    That said, all of the listed sweeteners are or contain sugars of one sort or another; some even have a significant sucrose content.

    Where's the stevia? The monkfruit? The yacon syrup? The sugar alcohols, esp. erythritol? The chicory root/inulin based sweeteners? - 3/13/2017   10:01:16 PM
  • 34
    This article seems to have been written by someone living on another planet. Coconut suger, rice sugar what the?? Anyone hear of Splenda? Equal perhaps? When's the last time you went to a store and found coconut sugar in a small packet to put in your coffee? What a whacked and useless article. How about an article about which artificial sweetener is better Splenda or Stevia. Recently read Stevia could cause cancer and was banned for decades in America due to that, even though it was available in Europe in the '60's. So much for Stevia being the "good" one. I live in the real world and I'm sticking with Splenda, I think this is the safest of them all and all those sugars mentioned above in the article are real sugars, if you're diabetic forget about it. - 3/13/2017   5:05:18 PM
  • COACHSANDRALEE
    33
    Steva, Honey and Maple sugar should have been included. Then it comes down to how much you use. :D Too much of a good thing, is still too much. - 3/12/2017   11:57:10 PM
  • PRUSSIANETTE
    32
    Sugar is sugar--I don't really consider the above sugar "substitutes" since the nutritional label will still list list a sugar content on the sugar line item under "Total Carb". - 3/12/2017   8:39:07 PM
  • 31
    I prefer to use honey and brown sugars sparingly. I seldom bake, and reduce the sugar when I do. - 3/12/2017   3:27:58 PM
  • 30
    Glucose is good for the brain - 3/12/2017   2:57:21 PM
  • 29
    I like stevia, but there is a bit of aftertaste. Honey still my favorite. - 3/12/2017   1:00:30 PM
  • 28
    Why were honey and maple syrup included? I recently read an article that touted the benefits of maple syrup for people with diabetes. Is this true or just an ad for the sticky stuff? - 3/12/2017   12:59:17 PM
  • 27
    Good article--too bad honey was missing. :) I only use sugar when I bake--and never sweeten anything else. Quitting coffee saved me from a LOT of added sugar in my day! (Not to mention it helped me get rid of acid reflux, caffeine headaches, and IBS gut symptoms!)

    As a rule, sticking with natural-from-nature foods always beats fake, chemical & processed anything! - 3/12/2017   12:13:09 PM
  • 26
    I would have liked to see honey and pure maple syrup (two of the oldest sweeteners) in this article, then it would have been a complete comparison. I do appreciate the other comparisons, though. I stopped using most all of the ones you have listed years ago because they aren't any better than regular cane sugar and cost a whole lot more. I actually have them still sitting in my pantry-- I'm sure one of these days I'll just toss them. I may try the date sugar one day, but I have been cutting sugar from my diet as much as possible and eating only 1-2 servings of fruit a day for sweetness. - 3/12/2017   11:29:36 AM
  • 25
    I trust what God made more then what man made. I use hone most of the time - 3/12/2017   9:46:20 AM
  • 24
    I went away from artificial sweeteners to Honeys for the value of the nutritional value and the fact it is mother natures wonder food. I was disappointed they did not look at Honey for its health value, for allergy sufferers and the fact it is the purest of sweetening foods.

    - 3/12/2017   9:29:34 AM
  • 23
    Doesn't matter, real sugar, fake sugar, portion control, meaning less calories, causes weight loss, means you will lose weight......and getting tired of eating less so you go back to overeating, causes weight gain. It isn't the type of sweetner's fault at all! - 3/12/2017   5:42:53 AM
  • 22
    I remember a book I bought as a gag gift in the mid-80s for my father. At the time he still put salt&pepper on a plate of food before tasting it. The title was Killer Salt. Fad trends do not appeal to me.
    I am grateful for reading this article, and I may try the Date "sugar", but for everything else I choose to use Raw or refined brown or white sugar, or molasses for most of my sweetening. I use fruit a lot, esp'ly raisins, in cooking and baking. - 3/12/2017   3:34:55 AM
  • 21
    I don't use subs.... the 'real' thing works for me, I cook most of my meals, no processed foods. I cut out allot of sweetener in my 1 cup of coffee, I drink almost black, now. When I want something sweet, I eat raw carrots.... yummy! - 1/26/2017   6:03:38 PM
  • 20
    Last time i tried to lose weight i went with sugar substitutes and i did not feel good at all. When i stopped using them i felt so much better. I've just learned to slowly cut back on adding sugar to things...especially my coffee. - 1/25/2017   4:26:43 PM
  • KAREN2LOSE55
    19
    I've been working hard to wean myself off table sugar and that would be the answer for a healthier body for me. I don't care for hardly any substitutes, with the exception of a rare Diet Coke or sparkling waters. - 1/25/2017   2:45:12 PM
  • 18
    I must use care with substitutes due to allergic reactions.
    I can use Sweet 'n Low and Splenda so I do.

    I can use honey but still must count the calories, but at least my body is able to burn the honey better than the sugar.

    Since most of my allergies come from plants, I won't try Stevia and Truvia as they can be fatal for me.

    I kind of feel that people should do whatever works for them and am always interested in learning about new things. - 1/25/2017   2:18:24 PM
  • 17
    Try Monk Fruit to sweeten things! It is awesome!
    Also if you are craving something sweet look for Arctic Zero! Yes its ice cream but its healthy for you! Trust me you will thank me later! Its the best! (Arctic is lower then advertised ice cream Halo) - 1/25/2017   2:14:05 PM
  • NELLIEC
    16
    I use Stevia, no calories and it comes from a plant. - 1/25/2017   11:39:07 AM
  • 15
    I never use sugar or sweeteners in anythiing. - 1/25/2017   10:40:41 AM
  • 14
    If I want sugar, I use maple syrup as it is 100% real and is very little processed. I do not eat transformed or refined sugar so when I need it in a recipe, this is what I use! - 1/25/2017   10:07:27 AM
  • 13
    Just my own opinion, that I choose for myself. If I'm going to have sugar it's going to be the actual sugar. There's such an increase in cancer including my family. My Mom did all the substitutes and I choose again, my personal choice, to not do as Mom did. I have a friend in the medical field who did some in-depth research into how some of these products were discovered. A few, not all,,,are scary!! I only add sugar to cereal and it's an individual package a day, if I have cereal. It's not that much calories so it's not concerning to me, personally. Now why when I was consuming 6-8 regular pepsi a day along with at least a 1/2 box of Twinkies was the sugar? That WAS a problem. I hear my friends freaking out over a couple of tablespoons of sugar, I don't. - 1/25/2017   9:35:00 AM
  • 12
    Just my own opinion, that I choose for myself. If I'm going to have sugar it's going to be the actual sugar. There's such an increase in cancer including my family. My Mom did all the substitutes and I choose again, my personal choice, to not do as Mom did. I have a friend in the medical field who did some in-depth research into how some of these products were discovered. A few, not all,,,are scary!! I only add sugar to cereal and it's an individual package a day, if I have cereal. It's not that much calories so it's not concerning to me, personally. Now why when I was consuming 6-8 regular pepsi a day along with at least a 1/2 box of Twinkies was the sugar? That WAS a problem. I hear my friends freaking out over a couple of tablespoons of sugar, I don't. - 1/25/2017   9:35:00 AM
  • 11
    I use stevia for iced tea, but in hot tea I need the honey. For me, the stevia tastes like sugar in the iced tea, but funny in hot. I know that is strange. I was told today to have tea with honey in it to help get rid of my cold/stop the coughing. (that was by a physician's assistant). I just read something about some research showing the honey had the micro-nutrients, but that was good. At least micro-nutrients are more than plain sugar, aren't they? - 1/25/2017   12:18:57 AM
  • 10
    I don't think I could exist without a sweetener...I use stevia put out by Truvia. - 1/24/2017   4:38:31 PM
  • 9
    I use agave in my coffee usually only have 1 cup a day. Hot teas i usually go without any sweeteners or sugar. I just don't like the artificial or stevia ones so don't use them. I would rather do without something than have to use those. - 1/22/2017   3:41:43 PM
  • 8
    What about stevia? That's what I prefer to use if I use a substitute. - 1/18/2017   11:03:11 PM
  • 7
    I enjoy Stevia in my herbal tea, or home-made cacao drinks. I limit myself to 3 packets per day and normally don't go through more than one per day. - 1/17/2017   7:39:25 PM
  • LCALLIS
    6
    what about stevia? it can help repair your pancreas, which is what gets damaged by insulin. also theres conflicting research on fructose. i read that it had a GI of 27, according to the montignac method, and when i used it on my oatmeal, i suffered no ill effect. i.e. i lost weight and looked the best i had ever. - 1/17/2017   1:05:06 PM
  • 5
    I use brown sugar, honey or maple syrup for sweeteners, but I am not a sweets person, so very little of any of them, the date sugar sounds like it would be good on oatmeal or cream of wheat. - 1/16/2017   4:12:32 PM
  • TAMMMYK123
    4
    Has anyone tried Date sugar? It sounds like it might be an option. I have tried sugar alcohols- I find they and...I dont even know, I dont like them. They seem to make me crave sugar more than eating regular sugar. Stevia, I HATE the after taste!!! - 1/15/2017   8:47:39 PM
  • 3
    Personally, regarding weight loss, when I have used any type of sugar especially artificial sweeteners, I have gained weight and constantly stayed bloated.
    Excellent article! - 1/15/2017   4:19:03 PM
  • 2
    Odd that the article doesn't mention Stevia, Erythrinol, Xylitol etc (sugar alcohols). I listened to my body when I tried Agave the first time and realized I had the same "hit" as I did when I had foods containing High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)...that fructose is bad mojo for me... - 1/14/2017   6:03:15 PM
  • 1
    I'm a big fan of stevia - but I only add it in tea, or maybe yogurt. Not much else. - 1/13/2017   7:17:06 PM

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