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What Is a Safe, Healthy Sweetener?

By Sarah Billian

If you are looking to make easy changes on the road to losing weight and or achieving optimal health, you may be thinking of lessening, if not eliminating, your use of refined sugar. While for some this change can be as easy as taking one teaspoon instead of two in their morning coffee, others look to change from refined sugar to sweeteners like honey, the increasingly popular agave nectar, and low- and non-caloric sweeteners like stevia and Splenda.


Honey has 25 more calories per tablespoon than sugar, but its taste is much sweeter and thus less can be used. Honey contains equal parts fructose and glucose, as well as antioxidants and a variety of vitamins. Darker honey contains more antioxidants than lighter products.

Agave Nectar

The popularity of natural sweetener agave nectar has grown significantly in recent years. Consumers are increasingly making the shift from refined sugar to the nectar in part because agave falls much lower on the glycemic index than sugar, with a GI value about five times less than that of table sugar. As detailed in an article in "Eating Well" magazine, foods higher on the GI may induce a more substantial surge of glucose in the blood, increasing the amount of hormone insulin circulating in the bloodstream. High-GI foods are digested more quickly than low-GI foods, making you hungrier sooner post-meal. Agave contains more calories than sugar, but less is needed because of its comparatively sweeter taste.


Stevia, or rather an extract of the stevia plant, was approved in 2008 by the FDA for use as a sweetener in beverages and foods. Stevia is, in fact, an herb native to South America and has been used by the native population there for years. Stevia tastes far sweeter than sugar and provides zero calories. Stevia may be an appealing choice for people with diabetes because it does not affect blood sugar.


As acknowledged by the National Institutes of Health, the artificial sweetener sucralose, brand name Splenda, is considered by the FDA to be safe for consumption. While some reports have argued that certain artificial sweeteners carry significant health risks, in particular a higher risk of cancers, the FDA, American Dietetic Association and National Cancer Institute have concluded that there is not enough evidence to merit these claims. While approved for use by the public, artificial sweeteners will not in and of themselves lead to weight loss, and those interested in introducing Splenda into their diet should consult their doctor with any concerns.

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