Is one type of sweetener healthier than others?
Posted by Cathy Doe on August 08, 2014 (1 Comment)
There has been a proliferation of different kinds of sweeteners in the last few years.
Here are some of the most popular sweeteners, and their pros and cons:
Granulated sugar - Granulated white sugar is what most people typically think of when they think of sugar. Granulated sugar is made from extracting sugar from sugar beets or sugar cane, and then processing, crystallizing, and drying the sugar. Granulated white sugar is often regarded as one of the unhealthiest forms of sugar due to the refining process, which removes all nutritional benefits except calories. Granulated white sugar may also contribute to health problems such as diabetes, cancer, and infertility. Organic granulated sugar comes from sugar cane that has been grown without the use of chemicals or pesticides, and is not processed to the same degree as white sugar. It therefore retains some molasses content and tends to be light brown in color.
Brown sugar - Brown sugar is very similar to granulated white sugar, except that it contains molasses, which white sugar does not. In fact, brown sugar is often manufactured by adding molasses to refined white sugar. Dark brown sugar has a higher molasses content than light brown sugar. Because of the molasses, brown sugar contains small amounts of calcium, potassium, iron and magnesium.
Dried cane juice - Dried sugar cane juice that undergoes no further refinement is often referred to by the brand names Sucanat and Rapdura. Compared to granulated sugar, dried cane juice has a lower sucrose content, and contains minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin A. Dried cane juice can be substituted in a one to one ratio for granulated sugar, though you may experience some difficulty when baking with it, due to the different texture and higher molasses content.
Honey - Honey is made by bees using nectar from flowers. The taste and color of honey depends on the source of the nectar. Like granulated white sugar, the pasteurized, processed honey that is widely available has no nutritional value beyond its caloric content. However, raw, unprocessed honey is believed to contain antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, amino acids, enzymes and phytonutrients. Note that honey should not be fed to children under one year of age due to the risk of infant botulism.
Agave nectar - Agave nectar comes from a cactus-like plant called agave, which is also used to make tequila. Although agave is frequently touted as a healthy sweetener, it actually contains a very high percentage of fructose, and has more calories per teaspoon than granulated white sugar (though you should be able to use less agave because it is sweeter than sugar).
Stevia - Stevia is derived from a shrub native to South America. Stevia-based sweeteners have no calories and are much sweeter than granulated sugar, so it cannot be substituted in a one to one ratio for other sweeteners. There are some questions about its safety as a food additive.
Your best bet when it comes to sweeteners is to minimize your intake, and to choose the most unrefined sweeteners that you can find. Choosing organic sweeteners will also help ensure that you minimize your exposure to chemicals and pesticides.