There are many healthier, lower-calorie white sugar alternatives that won’t make you miss that sweet sensation.
The average can of sugared soda contains the equivalent of 10 to 12 teaspoons of sugar.
Our ancestors didn’t have refined sugar, which likely spared them many modern-day health issues brought on by our white sugar obsession. It’s not news that sugar contains empty calories and causes tooth decay; there is also convincing evidence that consuming too much sugar can increase the risk for obesity, type II diabetes, hypertension, bad cholesterol and heart disease. So how much sugar is too much sugar? According to the American Heart Association anything more than 6 teaspoons a day for women and 9 teaspoons a day for men. For illustration, one can of soda contains 10-12 teaspoons, 1 teaspoon equals 4 grams. Americans on average consume about 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day.
Consuming ‘food’ with the empty calories that sugar provides is even a bigger concern with children. Food high in nutrients and dietary fiber are crucial for the physical and even brain development of a child.
There are a number of healthier options, many of which have fewer calories and may even contain important nutrients. Here’s a list of sweet alternatives to white sugar: agave syrup, stevia, honey, maple syrup, molasses, rice syrup and xylitol. We provide a brief description of each below.
Eight best sugar alternatives
- Agave Syrup/Nectar
Agave Syrup/Nectar is made from the root bulbs of the Agave plant; this syrup is not as thick as honey but has a high fructose content (1.4 to 1.6 times sweeter than sugar) while maintaining a low glycemic index and fewer calories. Its subtle flavor makes it a favorite sweetener for cooking as it doesn't overpower other flavors. It's also commonly used as a vegan alternative to honey.
- Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is made from the sap of the Black or Red Canadian maple tree; contains fewer calories and a higher concentration of minerals than honey, is an excellent source of manganese and a good source of zinc (both important for your immune system); darker color equals more intense flavor.
- Rice Syrup
Rice Syrup is made from whole grain rice cultured and fermented with enzymes; a mild sweetener similar to honey in consistency as well as taste; acceptable for individuals with mild diabetes and for children due to its low glycemic index; doesn't affect the pancreas the way sugar does.
Bee honey is likely the oldest-known natural sweetener, dating back to the Stone Age. Today's honey is made from many sources, such as acacia, raspberry and linden. Besides its distinct flavor, honey has many health benefits, but only if it is consumed cold or lightly warmed, not heated. Opt for honey produced without use of antibiotics or added sugar for bees, or any chemical modification of the actual honey.
Molasses is a dark liquid byproduct of the process of refining sugar cane into table sugar; it's an excellent source of copper and manganese, a very good source of iron (particularly for menstruating women, who are more at risk for iron deficiency), calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Look for blackstrap molasses that is unsulphured.
- Fruit Syrups
Fruit Syrups are basically concentrated juices made from less expensive fruit such as apples, pears, or pineapples; can be used for canning other fruits and for salads or kids snacks.
Xylitol is a “tooth-friendly”, nonfermentable sugar alcohol; one gram contains 2.4 Cal. (sugar has 3.87 Cal.), has virtually no aftertaste, and is advertised as safe for diabetics and individuals with hyperglycemia for its very low glycemic index. Excessive consumption can cause digestive problems.
Stevia is a South American herb used as a natural sweetener for centuries. Its leaves have a refreshing taste, zero glycemic index, zero calories and zero carbs. It is 25-30 times sweeter than sugar, with far fewer negative health effects. Because stevia has a negligible effect on blood glucose, it is attractive as a natural sweetener to people on carbohydrate-controlled diets.