Everyone knows that a diet high in sugar is unhealthy. Excess sugar consumption can lead to weight gain and tooth decay, as well as increasing the risk of various conditions including diabetes and heart disease. Some studies even link it to a higher risk of developing cancer and dementia.
Sugar is addictive and most of us are used to having it throughout the day. Cutting down on it can therefore be extremely hard. One way to reduce your consumption of table sugar is to switch to sugar substitutes. While many of these substitutes are still not entirely ‘healthy’, they’re typically healthier than table sugar. But which sugar substitute is healthiest? This post compares some of the main substitutes and their benefits/weaknesses.
Artificial sweeteners provide the sweet taste of sugar without containing any actual sugar at all. For this reason, they are the best substitute for those that are trying to fight weight gain, tooth decay or diabetes. A drawback of artificial sweeteners is that they do not always satisfy the craving for sugar – while they deliver the taste, the body is likely to still yearn for the energy kick of sugar afterwards. Some studies have also linked heavy consumption of artificial sweeteners to headaches and a greater risk of various cancers. The key is to therefore not go too crazy with them.
Honey is basically liquid sugar (fructose and glucose) and has the same calorie count as table sugar. It does however have some health benefits that table sugar doesn’t have. It is rich in various vitamins and minerals that you don’t find in table sugar or artificial sweeteners, and it has antioxidant properties that can help reduce inflammation. There is therefore less risk of developing heart disease or cancer from honey, as opposed to table sugar (honey may even help to reduce the risk of developing these health problems). Raw honey as found at sites like Local Hive Honey is the healthiest option – reduced processing means that it retains more of its nutritional value.
Maple syrup is similar to honey in that it is essentially sugar (largely sucrose), but with added nutrients. Unlike honey, maple syrup contains less vitamins, but more minerals. It contains more fat than honey, but also contains a higher water content. Maple syrup has anti-inflammatory properties. Like sugar, this means that any risk of developing heart disease or cancer is likely to be cancelled out.
Agave nectar is a nectar found in the agave flower. It contains fructose sugar, and while it contains added vitamins, it does not quite have the nutritional value of honey or maple syrup. However, it is much sweeter than table sugar, so you don’t have to use as much of it. This allows you to reduce your sugar content while still getting that sweet kick, making it a good substitute for those wanting to beat diabetes or tooth decay.
Stevia comes from the stevia herb plant. It is a natural sweetener that is 40 times sweeter than sugar. Because it does not contain sugar, it does not affect blood sugar levels, making it ideal for diabetics. It also will not cause tooth decay or weight gain. Some people do not like the bitter aftertaste of stevia and others find that it makes them feel bloated and nauseous in high quantities. Consequently, while it is arguably the healthiest option, it may not be for everyone. Read more about stevia here at Livestrong.