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Are Natural Sweeteners Really Healthier Than Sugar?

By  ,  Onlymyhealth editorial team
Feb 28, 2015
4.8 / 5(4 Ratings)
Quick Bites

  • Natural sweeteners are sugar substitutes.
  • But even they undergo processing and refining.
  • They may seem healthier than processed table sugar.
  • But their nutritional content isn't significantly different.

More

Quitting refined sugar can be tough. But given how incredibly harmful sugar can be, it is definitely worth the effort. Luckily, there are quite a few sweeteners found in nature that are actually good for your health. They are low in calories, low in fructose and taste very sweet. But, are those natural sweeteners really healthier than sugar? Just FYI, 5 mL of sugar contains 19 calories.

Natural Sweeteners

Honey

Calories per teaspoon (5 mL): 21

Honey is less processed than white sugar, so it is a more sustainable, environmentally conscious choice. But calorie for calorie, it's about the same as sugar, and its effect on blood sugar is very similar. It is digested very quickly and will raise blood sugar quickly. Honey contains B vitamins and studies have shown that it may lower cholesterol and have antibacterial effects; however, you would need to consume way too much to get those benefits.

Honey

Agave nectar

Calories per teaspoon (5 mL): 21

Made from the cactus plant, agave nectar is lauded for being higher in fructose (a sugar that naturally appears in fruit) and lower in glucose compared to white sugar. Some studies suggest that it has a lower glycemic index than white sugar, so it will not spike blood sugar as much. However, according to the Canadian Diabetes Association, while the increase is slower, it will still raise your blood sugar, and it has no advantage over other sugars for people with diabetes.

Agave Nectar

Turbinado

Calories per teaspoon (5 mL): 16

Natural brown sugar extracted from sugar cane juice, turbinado is another less processed, often more sustainable, option. You may have heard that it has more vitamins and minerals than table sugar, but the difference is negligible: For example, in one teaspoon (5 mL) of turbinado, there are zero micronutrients. Manufacturers say you would need to eat about 30 teaspoons (150 mL) a day to reap any benefits.

Brown Sugar

Coconut sugar

Calories per teaspoon (5 mL): 15

This is made from the sap of flower buds from the coconut palm. You may see claims that it has a lower glycemic index than sugar, but it is not necessarily a better choice for people with diabetes, or more healthful. The Canadian Diabetes Association recommends people with diabetes eat less of it, as well as other sugars.

Coconut Sugar

Although natural sugar substitutes may seem healthier than processed table sugar, their vitamin and mineral content isn't significantly different from that of sugar. Honey and sugar, for instance, are nutritionally similar, and both end up in your body as glucose and fructose. Choose a natural sweetener based on how it tastes and its uses, rather than on its health claims.

Images: Getty

Read more articles on Healthy Eating.

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