From molasses to monk fruit, nineteen different ways to sweeten your food.
Tiffany Gagnon and Nikki Donnelly 1 / 20
Whether it's cheat day or you're looking for a quick way to replenish glycogen stores after a crazy-intense workout, finding a smart way to indulge your sweet tooth can get confusing when there are dozens of sugars and sugar alternatives on the market, from agave to monk fruit to stevia to date syrup. Especially with this latest advancement.
“There's a new candidate in the century-old quest for perfect, guiltless sweetness,” NPR reports. “It’s called allulose.”
Tate & Lyle, the British company who introduced the sugar cube in 1875, followed by Splenda in 1999, invented the sugar substitute and presented it at the 2015 Institute of Food Technologists.
This rare sugar is found in nature and, chemically speaking, is almost identical to ordinary sugar. It has the same formula, only the hydrogen and oxygen atoms are arranged slightly differently from that of fructose and glucose. Because of this, your body won’t turn it into calories.
Tate & Lyle conducted a study and found two-thirds of their 14-person study group that consumed alluose excreted the compound in their urine without it being significantly metabolized. Basically, the sugar didn't ferment or break down in the body. Is this sweet, sweet news too good to be true? It’s hard to tell yet, but some say yes.
Once this compound enters your food supply, what does it do to your microbiome—the environment of microbes living in your gut—and what effect does this have on the rest of your body?
Stay tuned as the hunt for the ultimate sugar substitute continues. And in the meantime, take a look at other popular sweeteners circulating in grocery stores near you, and where they fall on the glycemic index. (The lower a food's GI, the less of an effect it has on blood sugar and insulin levels; pure glucose ranks at 100 and sits at the top of the glycemic index.) We've compiled the facts on what you’re putting in your body.
Honey has natural antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. Some raw honeys have a number on their labels; the higher this number, the higher the antibiotic properties. Local, raw honey might be useful in treating seasonal allergies as well.
Molasses has a high mineral content and one tablespoon contains 20% of the daily recommended value of calcium. It is often used in baking because of its rich, sweet flavor. It is also a natural energy booster, but be careful: eating too much can have a laxative effect.
Maple syrup is a great source of manganese and good source of zinc, which supports the immune system. Go for the organic maple syrup because most store brands contain artificial flavors and high-fructose corn syrup. Grade A is a lighter color with a more delicate taste. Grade B is darker and has a bolder flavor, but use a light hand because it's high in calories.
Agave nectar comes from the agave cactus. It has become a popular sweetener among health foodies and is a vegan-friendly alternative to honey . Some experts question its health value due to its high fructose levels, but because agave nectar has become so popular recently, it's being mass produced, resulting in some cases of questionable manufacturing processes that may contribute unnecessary chemicals. If you choose to use it, it is important to buy organic agave nectar.
White sugar (particularly glucose) is necessary to give your body energy, but it also spikes your blood sugar and can make you gain weight if it is consumed in excess. White sugar is the most processed form of sugar, so your body does not reap much (if any) benefit from consuming it.
Date sugar is the no. 1 sweetener in the antioxidant department, but be careful. Though dates are minimally processed, date sugar isn’t one of the lower glycemic alternatives. It also has a higher fructose percentage, and overconsumption of fructose has been linked to liver problems and weight gain.
Coconut palm sugar has gained popularity recently because it is low on the glycemic index and full of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. It's naturally rich in potassium, zinc, iron, and vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B6.
In its unprocessed form, stevia provides antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Because the human body can't digest the stevia plant, it offers close to zero calories and has a very low glycemic index. The fructose count also becomes negligible, and it doesn't affect blood sugar levels.
Popularly called "sugar in the raw," turbinado sugar is what’s left over after raw sugar cane juice has been stripped of its natural molasses and impurities. The term comes from the technique that is used during the process. It is slightly lower in calories than white sugar, but it spikes the blood sugar like its white counterpart.
Yacon syrup is made from the root of the yacon plant, which grows in the Andes region of South America. It has a minimal impact on blood sugar levels because it has a sugar polymer our bodies cannot digest, and is considered a prebiotic as it aids in calcium absorption. Try to get the raw form when possible.
Lucuma powder is made from whole Peruvian lucuma fruit that has been dried at a low temperature and milled into a fine powder. It contains many nutrients including beta-carotene, iron, zinc, vitamin B3, calcium, and protein. Yellow lucuma powder has a unique taste similar to maple syrup in powder form.
Monk fruit is a round green melon that has been grown for centuries in central Asia. Monk fruit extract is about 150 times sweeter than sugar, non-glycemic, and has zero calories per serving. Industry insiders have predicted that it will become stevia's fiercest rival.
Coconut nectar sap is very low-glycemic, contains 17 amino acids, minerals, vitamin C, broad-spectrum B vitamins, and has a nearly neutral pH. It is also nutritionally superior to agave syrup, and it is enzymatically active.
Splenda has gained a reputation as the "healthiest" of the artificial sweeteners. It's made with sucralose, which the body does not break down into calories for energy. However, it has been linked to cancer in some studies.