Sweeteners; the good and the not so good

Brown Sugar Crystals

Brown Sugar Crystals

By Catherine Haug, May 18, 2015 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

Over the years since the 1960s, there has been much controversy over the healthfulness of sugar and other sweeteners. This all came to a head in the late 60s when saccharin was deemed unhealthful, despite no clear evidence to ban its consumption. (1)

Read on for more about natural and artificial sweeteners, and a discussion of which are the better options.

Types of sweeteners

Today, sucrose sugar is available in many different versions, in order of healthfulness, from healthful to harmful (2,3):

  • Most nutritious and healthful: Raw local honey;*
  • Minimally refined sugar cane juice and crystals commonly used in India for many centuries;
  • Moderately refined muscovado, turbinado and demerara sugars; maple syrup; blackstrap molasses;
  • Refined white, light brown, and dark brown highly refined cane sugars and the molasses that is removed from the natural sugar to make white sugar;
  • Least nutritious and likely harmful: highly refined white beet sugar (likely GMO); highly refined corn syrup, and high fructose corn sugar (HFCS), both likely GMO; highly refined agave nectar (likely GMO).

‘* NOTE: some honey is contaminated from GMO pollen of nearby GMO crops such as canola, soy and corn. Commercial honey likely contains added HFCS. Know your source!

Artificial sweeteners became popular in the 1950s as type-2 diabetes became common and people sought other alternatives to sugar. Aspartame, developed in 1965, is probably the most popular artificial sweetener in beverages, but it is not without controversy over its healthfulness. (4) Sucralose (e.g., Splenda) is a newcomer in the sweetener aisle and popular with home bakers, but is quite controversial because its structure resembles Agent Orange, and may have similar effects. (4,9)

Natural, non-sugar sweeteners such as stevia and lo han are increasing in popularity as people struggle with obesity and shy away from sugar and artificial sweeteners. Stevia has been used for over 1500 years in South America, but didn’t become generally popular in the US and Europe until the 1970s, when artificial sweeteners were deemed un-healthful and possibly cancerogenic.

Many sugar alcohols such as mannitol and xylitol occur naturally in certain fruits and other foods, but commercial versions are made from the respective sugars (mannose and xylose); others such as erythritol are made by fermentation of sugars. Sugar alcohols are poorly absorbed and may cause digestive distress.

Which are the better options:

In my opinion, the best option for most uses is powdered stevia herb, followed by stevia extracts. but a little tiny bit goes a long way (1/2 teaspoon of powdered stevia extract is equivalent to 1 cup of white sugar in sweetness). Some recipes, however, require true sugar for the proper texture.

Pure raw, local honey is also high on the list; some people have allergy to honey, but raw local honey may actually help with environmental allergies rather than causing an allergic reaction.

The next best option is minimally processed, unrefined sugar cane juice or crystals (Sucanat, or Rapunzel’s Pure Organic Whole Cane Sugar crystals (formerly Rapadura) and coconut sugar (made from sap of coconut palm tree)).

I avoid artificial sweeteners and overly processed sugars.

See also my Sweet Cravings series of pdf files:


  1. Wikipedia on saccharin history: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saccharin#History
  2. Wikipedia on sugar history:  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_sugar
  3. On brown sugars: Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_sugar; see also: thebabbleout.com/health/everything-about-brown-sugar-and-how-to-soften-brown-sugar/
  4. Wikipedia on Sugar Substitutes: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugar_substitute
  5. Wikipedia on Cyclamate: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium_cyclamate
  6. Wikipedia on Stevia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stevia
  7. Wikipedia on Sucralose (Splenda): en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sucralose
  8. Wikipedia on sugar alcohols: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugar_alcohol
  9. About the bad side of sucralose: articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/09/20/why-are-millions-of-americans-getting-this-synthetic-sweetener-in-their-drinking-water.aspx and thepeopleschemist.com/splenda-the-artificial-sweetener-that-explodes-internally and kingchiropractor.com/blog/splenda-cousin-to-agent-orange


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