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Examining natural sweeteners

Sugar has been prominently featured in the media as a possibly addictive substance that contributes to tooth decay, weight gain and health problems related to obesity.

Honey on burlap

According to a report by Statistics Canada, about 20 per cent of calories Canadians consume daily come from sugar, which is above the 10 per cent recommended by the World Health Organization. A large percentage of this sugar intake is from refined sugars, which is why many individuals are considering using natural sweeteners instead. But are natural sweeteners any healthier than sugar?


Honey contains around 20 calories in every teaspoon serving, which is higher than the 15 calories per teaspoon found in white sugar. However, honey is naturally sweeter, which means you might use less to make up for the difference in calories. Honey contains antioxidants and probiotics, both of which are essential in disease prevention. In addition, a 1990 study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics showed that this natural sweetener keeps blood sugar levels more stable, which helps prevent further sugar cravings and the post-sugar crash. Though eating honey will not help you lose weight, it can be enjoyed in small servings as a sugar alternative; use about 3/4 of a cup of honey for every cup of sugar called for. Just be sure not to give honey to any child under the age of 1 year, as honey contains a bacterium that may cause botulism in infants.


Agave is a type of nectar similar to honey but with a more mild taste. This nectar contains about 20 calories per teaspoon, making it more calorically dense than white sugar. However, agave is about one and a half times sweeter than sugar, so you can use less. Agave has a low glycemic index, which means it doesn’t raise your blood sugar as much as sugar does, making it a good sugar substitute. Aim to use about 1/3 of a cup of agave for every cup of sugar called for. Some people claim agave has immune-boosting properties. Agave is also vegan-friendly, making it a good alternative to honey.


Stevia is derived from an herb found in South America. Individuals trying to lose weight turn to stevia as a sugar alternative because it contains no calories. While more expensive than sugar, a little stevia goes a long way. Half a teaspoon of stevia diluted in water is equivalent to 1 cup of white sugar. Though stevia doesn’t contain antioxidants like honey and agave, it might be a good option for individuals who are looking to reduce their caloric intake as a way to lose weight.


Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol that is a good option for diabetics. There are about two calories in each serving packet of xylitol, making it an ideal sugar alternative for individuals who are trying to lose weight. Xylitol can be used for baking in equivalent measurements of sugar as long as yeast is not one of the ingredients. Use this natural sweetener if you have diabetes or are trying to lose weight. Some studies, such as one in 1993 by the University of Michigan, have shown that consuming xylitol also reduces dental cavities. Just be sure to keep this sweetener away from your pets, as xylitol is toxic to dogs.

More on sugar

How to cut down on refined sugars
What sugar does to your body
How to make your desserts healthier

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