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Sweeteners: the healthy alternatives to sugar

Added sugar is probably the worst ingredient in our modern diet. It is associated with many serious diseases, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Moreover, most people consume far too much sugar and do not think about it. Fortunately, there are many ways to sweeten food without adding sugar.

Why sugar is bad for you

Sugar contains no proteins, essential fats, vitamins or minerals. In fact, it is not necessary in the diet. There is also a long list of reasons why you should avoid it. Sugar influences the hormones in your body that regulate hunger and satiety. This can lead to increased calorie intake and weight gain. It is also harmful to your metabolism, which can lead to increased insulin and fat storage. Many studies have even found a strong link between sugar and obesity. Simply put, people who consume the most sugar are much more likely to be overweight than those who consume the least.

So no sugar, but now what?

Sugar is incredibly unhealthy, but that does not mean that you can never enjoy sweets again. Fortunately, there are many alternatives.


Stevia is a natural sweetener extracted from the leaves of a South American shrub that is scientifically known as Stevia rebaudiana. It contains zero calories and so far, there are no connections with weight gain. Studies have even shown that stevia is not associated with adverse health effects. Not only is stevia considered safe, it is also linked to some health benefits. The two different sweet compounds extracted from the stevia plant (stevioside and rebaudioside A) have a slightly different taste. Usually available in powder or liquid form. All in all, stevia is probably the healthiest choice if you have to sweeten something. So buy stevia powder if you want to eat healthy but also sweet.


Xylitol is a sugar alcohol with a sweetness comparable to sugar. It is extracted from corn or birch wood and is found in many fruits and vegetables. Xylitol contains 2.4 calories per gram, which is 40% fewer calories than sugar. The most harmful effects of regular sugar are due to the high fructose content. However, xylitol contains no fructose and therefore has none of the harmful effects associated with sugar. On the contrary, xylitol is associated with multiple health benefits. Several studies show that it can improve dental health by reducing the risk of cavities and tooth decay. In addition, xylitol increases the body's calcium intake. This is not only good for your teeth, but also for your bone density. Xylitol is generally well tolerated, but overeating it can cause digestive side effects such as gas formation and diarrhea. It is also important to note that xylitol is very toxic to dogs. If you own a dog, you want to keep xylitol out of reach or not have it at home.


Like xylitol, erythritol is a sugar alcohol, but it contains even fewer calories. With only 0.24 calories per gram, erythritol contains 6% of the calories of regular sugar. It also tastes almost exactly like sugar, making it an easy replacement. Your body does not have the enzymes to break down erythritol, so most are absorbed directly into your blood and excreted unchanged in your urine. Therefore, it does not seem to have the harmful effects that regular sugar has. It is considered safe for human consumption and is very well tolerated. Studies have not yet shown any side effects of erythritol with daily consumption, although higher doses may lead to minor digestive problems for some people.

Agave syrup

Agave syrup (also known as agave nectar) is a naturally occurring sweetener that is similar in consistency to honey, although it is slightly thinner. It is extracted from various species of the agave plant, which grows primarily in Mexico and South Africa. It is easily soluble, which means that it is particularly suitable for use in smoothies, and thanks to its liquid form, it is often used instead of honey, for example by vegans. It consists of fructose and glucose, which means that it has a much lower glycemic index than conventional granulated sugar (sucrose). Agave is sold in bottles and in different shades and becomes stronger in taste as it gets darker. Agave syrup works well as a topping for breakfast cereals, pancakes or bread. It can also be used in place of honey in dessert recipes, although the difference in viscosity must be considered. Although agave has a low GI, it is about 30% sweeter than sugar, so you need less to achieve the same taste. Note that Agave nectar contains a lot of fructose, so always use it in small quantities and choose to buy organic, raw agave instead of the cheaper, highly processed version.

Other sweeteners and sugar substitutes

There are several natural sweeteners that health conscious people often use instead of sugar. Although these natural sweeteners may contain more nutrients than regular sugar, your body still metabolizes them in the same way. However, these natural sweeteners can be a little "less bad" than regular sugar.

Coconut sugar

Coconut sugar is extracted from the juice of the coconut palm. It contains some nutrients, including iron, zinc, calcium and potassium, as well as antioxidants. It also has a lower glycemic index than sugar, which may partly be due to the inulin content. Coconut sugar, however, still contains a lot of calories, with the same number of calories per serving as regular sugar. It also contains a lot of fructose, which is the main reason why regular sugar is so unhealthy in the first place. At the end of the day, coconut sugar is very similar to regular table sugar and should be used sparingly.


Honey is a thick, golden liquid produced by honey bees. It contains traces of vitamins and minerals, as well as an abundance of useful antioxidants. Eating honey can help increase the level of antioxidants in your blood. High levels of antioxidants in the blood are linked to a lower risk of disease. In fact, honey has been shown to improve various risk factors for diseases. But despite the fact that studies have shown that honey has some promising health benefits, it still contains fructose, which can contribute to a whole range of health problems. In short, honey is still sugar and not completely harmless.

Maple syrup

Maple syrup is a thick, sugary liquid made by boiling the sap of maple trees. It contains a fair amount of minerals, including calcium, potassium, iron, zinc and manganese. It also contains various types of antioxidants. Although maple syrup contains some useful nutrients and antioxidants, it is very rich in sugar. It has a slightly lower glycemic index than regular sugar, so it may not raise blood sugar levels so quickly, but it will still raise them.

Finally: sweetness is tasty but in moderation

The sweeteners listed above are good alternatives to sugar, although the key word here is alternatives. It helps if you use them instead of refined sugar. Stevia is probably the healthiest option, followed by xylitol, erythritol and yacon syrup. Less bad sugars such as maple syrup and honey are slightly better than regular sugar, but still need to be used sparingly. As with most things in food, moderation is the key.