Natural vs. Artificial Sweeteners: What’s Best for Healthy Weights?

Agave versus honey, sugar versus high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners versus natural sweeteners, and where does stevia fit into the mix? It’s almost as bad as the margarine versus butter debate. What’s a girl with a sweet tooth to do?

Which Sweetener is Right for You?

Consider these three points to choose wisely.

Point #1: Understand the basic categories.

  • Nutritive sweeteners, such as sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave, all contribute calories.
  • Non-nutritive sweeteners, such as aspartame, acesulfame-K, neotame, sucralose and stevia, don’t contribute calories. Stevia is the only naturally-occurring sweetener in this crowd.

Point #2: Moderation is key to using them all healthfully, even agave which has gotten a lot of attention because it may produce less of an insulin response, important to managing insulin-resistance problems like type 2 diabetes and PCOS.

Point #3: Tune in to how different sweeteners affect you individually. Does sugar in your coffee leave you with cravings the rest of the morning? Do you get headaches after using artificial sweeteners? Did the switch to agave nectar produce the drop in blood sugar you were hoping for? Obviously, our answers to such questions give us a better idea of which may be the best choice for us.

Is the Most Nutritious Sweetener Always the Best Choice?

Taste plays a big role in the answer to that question.

A recent review published in the Journal of The American Dietetic Association found blackstrap molasses, maple syrup, honey and brown sugar won big over sugar, high fructose corn syrup and agave nectar in terms of antioxidant content. blackstrap molasses won the prize as the sweetener with the highest antioxidant activity.

But can we make a delicious cake using only blackstrap molasses? How would it taste in your morning coffee or tea?

Plus, it would take 32½ teaspoons of blackstrap molasses to get the same amount of antioxidants we get in one serving of nuts or berries. Uh, maybe the nuts or berries are a better route to getting the nutrition we need?

Natural vs. Artificial Sweeteners for Health: Which Is Best?

To answer that question, we’ll ask one of our own. Why not just cut back on the amount of added sweeteners we use instead of worrying about which one is the most nutritious or will have the least negative effect? Even people with diabetes can use sugar as part of their healthy eating plan if they don’t use too much of it.

  • Can we switch to water, tea, coffee, milk instead of sodas (regular or diet), sweetened juices, energy drinks, etc?
  • Can we reduce the sugar in favorite recipes (tip: experiment, starting by cutting back only a little at a time)?
  • Can we cut back on the sweetness we add to things like coffee, tea, pancakes (try a little plain yogurt or warm berries or sliced peaches drizzled w/ maple syrup – yum!), cereal (sweeten with berries or pears instead) or our pb sandwich (try bananas or raisins instead of jam)?

A big bonus: The less added sweetener we use – again, no matter whether it’s natural or artificial — the more we’ll appreciate the natural sweetness in foods like fruits, sweet corn, whole grain breads, sweet potatoes, and so on.

Summer is a fantastic time of year to healthy up our sweet tooth with all the wonderful varieties of fruit to choose from. The rest of the year, the grocer’s freezer case has wonderful options. So crank up your creativity and enjoy!

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