Alternatives to Sugar – The Pros and Cons

There are often disagreements about whether some sugar alternatives are actually good for you. To make the decision a little easier we’ve gathered some pros and cons of a few of the sugar alternatives that are available; Honey, Agave Nectar, Stevia and Xylitol.

Honey

Pros

  • Honey is naturally sweet.
  • Although it still contains simple sugars, honey is higher in nutrients than regular ‘table’ sugar.
  • It has antibacterial properties.
  • Honey also contains flavonoids and antioxidants, which help reduce the risk of some cancers and heart disease.
  • Its combination of fructose and glucose helps regulate blood sugar levels.

Cons

  • It depends on your own personal definition of the vegan diet but, insects are animals, and so insect products such as honey are often not considered vegan.
  • Over consumption of honey can start to affect your ability to absorb nutrients through your small intestine. You can read about the problems of overconsumption of honey here.

Agave Nectar

Pros

  • Agave nectar has a much lower glycemic index than that of sucrose. Glycemic Index (GI) is a number given to a type of food, this number indicates the certain foods affect on your blood glucose.
  • The syrup is around 1.5 times sweeter than sucrose, which means you don’t need to use as much to sweeten your food.
  • It’s a great vegan option for those who don’t want to consume honey.
  • Agave contains saponins which are said to have anti-inflammatory and immune system-boosting properties. Have a read about the benefits of saponins here.

Cons

  • There is no evidence that suggests agave nectar is actually healthier than refined sugar, agave nectar can still contain the same amount or perhaps a higher amount of calories.
  • Although it’s labelled as a natural alternative, with some brands it may still go through processing operations, this may cause concerns about whether the syrup is still completely natural. The process used to make agave syrup destroys the health promoting properties you get from the agave plant itself.
  • It can still contribute to weight gain and tooth decay if it’s consumed in high amounts.
  • Agave nectar has a very high fructose content. Dr. Robert Lustig has shown that fructose can also be quite harmful – Here’s an interesting article about the problems of fructose in the food industry.

Stevia

Pros

  • Stevia is a herb that does not contain any calories, this gives it the ability to sweeten your food without adding calories to your diet.
  • It’s a very natural sweetener – if you like, you can just add some of the leaves to your tea for a tasty, zero-calorie sweetness.
  • It’s suitable for diabetics as it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels, some studies found that Stevia can also lower blood pressure. This study tested the effects of stevioside (a stevia extract) on type 2 diabetics.
  • Like agave nectar, it’s sweeter than table sugar, so you won’t need to use as much.

Cons

  • There’s a debate around whether Stevia may be a carcinogen. Some studies show that it could transform into a mutagenic compound which could cause cancer.
  • Similar to artificial sweeteners, it’s not recommended that pregnant or nursing women consume Stevia. This research study provides some information on the consumption of sugar substitutes during pregnancy.
  • Stevia often has a bitter after-taste – making it not such a great alternative if you wanted to use this sweetener in a baking recipe.

Xylitol

Pros

  • Xylitol looks and tastes similar to table sugar, this makes it more convenient for an alternative in baking recipes, as it can be measured in the same way.
  • It’s lower in calories than table sugar too.
  • Regular consumption of Xylitol can help to fight cavities. It’s non-fermentable and so doesn’t feed bacteria such as plaque.

Cons

  • Xylitol can come from a range of sources however, as it’s the cheapest option, most of it may be produced from GMO corn.
  • Some may also be sourced from birch trees, making it harmful to the environment as the bark needs to be stripped from the tree.
  • This sweetener goes through a lot of processing in order to extract it from the source.
  • Xylitol is an alcohol sugar, these have been known to cause stomach bloating and discomfort as they aren’t digested properly.

You can read more details about the benefits of Stevia and Xylitol here.

We hope you find this list helpful! Here at the Nutribox we avoid any refined sugars, and the sweetness in the snacks we source is always natural, usually from the fruit in the ingredients. If you’re interested in a supply of natural and nutritious snacks you can find out more about or boxes here.

  • Maisie
  • 06 Sep 2016

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