If you’re like me, when you think about dieting, you think about the villain sugar. We’ve been told over and over that sugar is horrible. So naturally, we look for alternatives hoping they’ll be healthier. So I decided to take a look at three of the most popular sugar alternatives. But just remember, no matter what sweetener you use, it’s all about moderation.
Sugar – 45 calories per tablespoon
60 calories per tablespoon
It might seem strange to you that agave nectar would be consider a healthier alternative to sugar as it has 50% more calories than sugar. However, agave is also 50% sweeter causing you to use less of it – this makes the calorie difference a non-issue. So why is it marketed as a “healthier alternative”? This is because it has a low glycemic index. The low glycemic index is because agave nectar is 90% fructose. This is WAY higher than table sugar, 50% fructose, and high-fructose corn syrup, 55% fructose. So what does this mean? Well, it all goes back to moderation; too much of either agave nectar or high fructose corn syrup isn’t good for you. Too much fructose can lead to insulin resistance. Feel free to use agave nectar, but don’t over do it.
How to use: Use in baked goods, but substitute 2/3 cup agave nectar for 1 cup of sugar. Too much agave nectar will make your cake or brownies too moist and it won’t set.
64 calories per tablespoon
Even though honey has about the same amount of calories as agave, the chemical makeup is different. Honey contains a large proportion of glucose, the simplest form of sugar. This makes it a good option for post-workout snacks like smoothies. You may see raw or unfiltered honeys being marketed as superior to the stuff in the little bear, but don’t be fooled. Traditional honey goes through a heating and filtering process which increases its antioxidant capacity. Raw or unfiltered honey is recommended for those with allergies, but see your allergist first.
How to use: Mix honey in tea, yogurt, salad dressings, smoothies, sweet breads, and muffins. If you’re going to use honey in baked goods, use a substitution ratio of ¾ cup honey to 1 cup sugar.
0 calories per tablespoon
Stevia is a 0 calorie sweetener made from the leaves of the Stevia plant. Stevia is 300 times sweeter than sugar, so you’ll need to try it a couple times to find your desired amount. You’ve probably seen ads for stevia; it’s popular because it’s considered all-natural and is calorie-free. You may see it advertised as having a good effect on blood sugar and blood pressure. However, as WebMD reports, “Researchers have also evaluated the effect of chemicals in stevia on blood pressure and blood sugar levels. However, research results have been mixed.” Stevia wasn’t approved in the US until 2008 and in the EU until the end of 2011 due to concerns about it potentially being pro-carcinogenic.
How to use: A little bit goes a long way because stevia is so sweet. Follow the manufacturer’s directions when using it in place of sugar in recipes.