As more and more people are becoming aware of the dangers of sugar, it's not surprising that more and more sugar "replacements" are being marketed, but are they really all that much better for you than real sugar?
We now know that artificial sweeteners such as aspartame are possibly even worse for you than real sugar, but what about the "natural" sugars you hear about everywhere these days?
Today I'm going to reveal the truth with a quick rundown of the top 6 natural sugars on the market right now, and how they compare.
Refined white sugar is, indeed, a "natural" sugar - at least, in the sense that it is not artificially made from chemicals. However, it's not all that natural when you consider the fact that white sugar is quite far from its natural state, and has been basically stripped of all nutritional value. White sugar contains plenty of calories, but very few nutrients, and thus it spikes your blood sugar very quickly. Furthermore, more than 65% of the white sugar available commercially in the U.S. is made from GMO sugar beets - really something we don't want to be consuming much of on a regular basis. When at all possible, you should try to avoid refined white sugar.
2. Brown Sugar
Most commercial brown sugar is nothing more than refined white sugar with some molasses added back in for color and flavor. Don't be fooled by the brown color into thinking it's not as refined. When it comes to your health, it's just as bad as the white stuff - just stay away!
3. Evaporated Cane Juice (A.K.A Cane Sugar)
Cane sugar is made from sugar cane instead of sugar beets, and it is slightly less refined than white sugar. This is why you may see a slight difference in its appearance. Cane sugar retains a bit more of the color, flavor, and nutrients from the sugar cane, but other than that there's not a lot of difference. Evaporated cane juice or cane sugar is only slightly less refined than white sugar, and it still has the same harmful effects on your health.
4. Raw Organic Cane Sugar (A.K.A. Demerara Sugar or Turbinado Sugar)
This type of sugar goes through even less processing, and still contains some of the original nutrients from the cane juice, such as amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and possibly some antioxidants. Buying organic also means you are avoiding the pesticide residues that may be present in commercially grown sugar, as well as GMO varieties, which are not allowed under the USDA organic definition. I also find it to be a lot tastier and more flavorful, and if I'm going to use real sugar in cooking or baking, this is the kind I choose. Still, we need to remember that while this may be a better choice than refined white sugar, it's still sugar, and should be consumed only in minimal amounts.
4. Agave Nectar
Agave is a very popular new natural sweetener, but while some may tout it as a "healthier" alternative, most agave syrups on the market today are really not much healthier than cane sugar. Not to mention, the agave plant is becoming somewhat endangered due to aggressive harvesting, so this is not a very sustainable or environmental form of sugar production.
5. Coconut Sugar
A relative newcomer to the "natural sugar" scene, coconut sugar is naturally extracted and evaporated juice from the coconut plant. This is a much more sustainable method of sugar production than some other methods, and it also contains a bit of fiber and a few other nutrients, as well as a lower percentage of fructose than many other natural sugars. It may be a bit healthier than some of the other options, and may not cause blood sugar to spike quite as dramatically.
Honey may be considered the "original" sweetener, having been eaten by humans for literally thousands of years! While the body does recognize it as a sugar, and it does have similar effects on blood sugar, honey in its natural state does have some potential health benefits. Raw, unfiltered honey contains fairly high levels of some nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, and it also has some antimicrobial properties. This may be why honey has been used for thousands of years as a natural remedy for a number of different ailments. While these uses may not have been yet proven by modern science, there are still those who swear by honey's healing properties. Plus it just tastes good! :-) There's really nothing that matches the flavor of pure, raw honey!
However, most commercial honeys out there are pasteurized, which destroys many of the valuable nutrients that honey naturally contains. Unfortunately, some commercial honey producers also feed their bees sugar water, instead of allowing them to collect nectar from flowers naturally. This means that the "honey" you think you are buying is pretty much just sugar syrup! To avoid these issues, be sure to purchase only locally produced wildflower honey from small farms you can trust, and always choose raw honey when you can find it.
Bees have had a hard time of it lately, with pesticides and other problems causing a decline in their population. But when farmed using sustainable and organic methods, honey can be a very sustainable product. (Read more information on honey here.)
So there you have it! If you're wondering which forms of natural sugars are best for you - or at least, not quite as bad as some of the others - you have some options to choose from.
To your health,