If you’ve wandered into a natural food store lately, you might have noticed that the selection of sweeteners seems to have multiplied. Powders, syrups, and liquids with exotic-sounding names catch your eye, each claiming to be tastier, healthier, or more environmentally-friendly than plain old table sugar. But are they really any better? Is it worth the extra expense and hassle of deviating from the mainstream to try “natural” sweeteners? Whether you choose natural, artificial or conventional sweeteners is up to you. This article provides a rundown of the most common types of “natural” sweeteners you’ll find on the market to help you decide.

Sugarcane Sweeteners
Sugarcane is a tropical grass that has been cultivated by humans for thousands of years. Making what we know as table sugar from sugarcane can range from a relatively simple to a multistep process, and the final result varies depending on the specific steps in the process. Light and dark brown, powdered, and granulated white sugars are all highly refined, while others, like those listed below, are made with fewer steps on the processing chain. Fewer steps benefit the environment, because less processing means less environmental impact. It also means that more of the vitamins and minerals that naturally occur in sugarcane remain in the end product. All of these sugarcane sweeteners can be found in the baking aisle and/or bulk bins of natural foods stores.

Non-Sugarcane Sweeteners
Natural sweeteners are flooding the market these days. Here’s a rundown of some of the most common ones that are not made from sugarcane.

Here’s a chart of how these sweeteners compare with one another and with regular table sugar:

Sweetener

Serving size

Calories

Carbs

Other nutrients of note

White (table) sugar

2 tsp

33

8 g

None*

Blackstrap molasses

2 tsp

32

8 g

Manganese (18% DV), copper (14% DV), iron (13% DV), calcium (12% DV), potassium (10% DV), magnesium (7%DV), vitamin B6 (5% DV), selenium (4% DV)

Rapadura

2 tsp

30

8 g

None*

Sucanat

2 tsp

30

8 g

None*

Turbinado sugar

2 tsp

30

8 g

None*

Evaporated cane juice

2 tsp

30

8 g

Riboflavin (3% DV), potassium (1% DV), manganese (1% DV), copper (1% DV), iron (1% DV)

Agave nectar syrup

2 tsp

40

8 g

None*

Brown rice syrup

2 tsp

40

10 g

None*

Honey

2 tsp

43

11 g

None*

Maple syrup

2 tsp

45

9 g

Manganese (22% DV), zinc (4% DV)

*Less than 0.5% DV of any vitamins or minerals

The bottom line is that sugar is sugar. Too much sugar—whether it’s marketed as “natural” or not—can harm your health. Even sweeteners touted as natural or nutritious, like the ones discussed here, don’t typically add a significant source of vitamins or minerals to your diet. But in moderation, there’s nothing wrong with the sweetness that a little sugar adds to life. So if you’re going to eat it, eat the good stuff…just not too much of it.

reference:

SparkPeople’s Licensed and Registered Dietitian, Becky Hand, notes that published recommendations say to limit added sugars from all sources to no more than 10%-15% of total calorie intake, which is 120 calories (7.5 tsp) of sugar for a 1,200-calorie diet.