Let's compare alternative sweeteners to refined sugar
There have been so many articles recently saying that sugar is to blame for a multitude of illnesses and issues: obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer's... The list goes on. Studies claim that, as a nation, we're addicted to sugar, and that it's as bad for you as opioids. But a recent article in The Outline called "Who's Afraid of Sugar?" discussed many common beliefs about how sugar is harmful and served to debunk—or reexamine—most of them.
This part of the story, in particular, caught my eye: "It’s a commonly held misconception that sugars from fruit are 'better for you' than sugars from, say, jelly beans, but that’s only because an apple has much less sugar than jelly beans. The simple sugars in each are metabolized in the exact same way. Your pancreas really doesn’t care where you get those sugars from, just if you’re getting them or not."
Sugar from fruit is no better for you than sugar from candy. Sugar's just sugar. Things that we think of as having refined sugar just may have a whole lot more of it. The story points out that an apple has 19 grams of sugar, while 100 grams of jelly beans has 70. So, it's still not the worst idea to look for sugar alternatives.
If you're someone who takes their sugar with a little coffee, there might be a better way to get that sweet stuff. Here are some common alternative forms of sugar, and how they differ from a spoonful of the regular stuff.
For comparison's sake, one tablespoon of standard sucrose—or white table sugar—contains 48 calories and 12 grams of sugar.
Honey has been a go-to sweetener and preservative for thousands of years—it's still being found in ancient Egyptian tombs. Of these three sweeteners, honey packs the sweetest wallop, with a tablespoon containing 64 calories and 17.3 grams of sugar. Honey also offers up a ton of essential vitamins, like B-6, B-2 and C, which keep your immune system in tip-top shape, as well as fluoride, to keep your pearly whites healthy. Like agave, it has been shown to have antibacterial properties.
Maple syrup comes from refining the sap of a variety of maple trees. While it commonly tops pancakes and waffles, it's also become a trendy addition to coffee beverages, appearing most recently in Starbucks' new maple pecan latte. One tablespoon of maple syrup contains 52 calories and 12.4 grams of sugar, roughly the same as table sugar. Maple syrup is packed full of essential minerals, like iron, potassium, calcium, and zinc, that keep you healthy and sharp.
Agave nectar, which comes from the same succulent plant as tequila, is a popular, vegan-friendly sweetener. While it was all the rage for a couple years, the sugar panic knocked it off its throne. Per tablespoon, agave nectar has 15 grams of sugar and 60 calories. It's thought to have immune-system boosting properties, and has been shown to be an antimicrobial.
So, surprisingly, standard sugar actually has the smallest amount of actual sugar. What it doesn't offer, however, are the vitamins, minerals, and other health benefits these alternative sweeteners do. Still, it's up to you and your doctor to determine what sweet stuff is best for you.