Are these natural sweeteners healthier than sugar?

Are honey, agave nectar and similar products any healthier for you than sugar? We talked to Brooke Bulloch, a registered dietitian in Saskatoon, to find out

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Honey

Honey is less processed than white sugar, so it is a more sustainable, environmentally conscious choice. But calorie for calorie, it's about the same as sugar, and its effect on blood sugar is very similar. It is digested very quickly and will raise blood sugar quickly. Honey contains B vitamins and studies have shown that it may lower cholesterol and have antibacterial effects; however, you would need to consume way too much to get those benefits.

 

Calories per teaspoon (5 mL): 21

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Agave nectar

Made from the cactus plant, agave nectar is lauded for being higher in fructose (a sugar that naturally appears in fruit) and lower in glucose compared to white sugar. Some studies suggest that it has a lower glycemic index than white sugar, so it will not spike blood sugar as much. However, according to the Canadian Diabetes Association, while the increase is slower, it will still raise your blood sugar, and it has no advantage over other sugars for people with diabetes.

 

Calories per teaspoon (5 mL): 21

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Turbinado

Natural brown sugar extracted from sugar cane juice, turbinado is another less processed, often more sustainable, option. You may have heard that it has more vitamins and minerals than table sugar, but the difference is negligible: For example, in one teaspoon (5 mL) of turbinado, there are zero micronutrients. Manufacturers say you would need to eat about 30 teaspoons (150 mL) a day to reap any benefits.

 

Calories per teaspoon (5 mL): 16

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Coconut sugar

This is made from the sap of flower buds from the coconut palm. You may see claims that it has a lower glycemic index than sugar, but it is not necessarily a better choice for people with diabetes, or more healthful. The Canadian Diabetes Association recommends people with diabetes eat less of it, as well as other sugars.

 

Calories per teaspoon (5 mL): 15