Raw Honey: Honey is nature’s oldest sweetener, and, while it contains B vitamins and has some health benefits, it does have a similar calorie profile to regular old table sugar. At the first International Symposium on Honey and Human Health, speakers discussed that honey possesses a large amount of friendly bacteria, including lactobacillus, which helps regulate digestion. Honey may help regulate blood sugar as well and has been shown to boost immunity and heal wounds.
When buying honey, look for varieties that are milky in color instead of syrupy and that indicate on the label that they are “raw” and, ideally, organic. These varieties are thought to contain natural enzymes that can be beneficial to health. Also, buying local honey is thought to relieve allergies specific to your region. Just remember to never, ever feed honey to children less than one year of age.
Agave Nectar: Agave, which is most recognized as the plant tequila is made from, is a yummy sweetener that has the same calorie profile as sugar, spoonful for spoonful but is 25% sweeter, meaning less can be used. Also, the nectar is low-glycemic, meaning it prevents the spikes in blood sugar that other sweeteners can cause. Sugar without the crash, what could be better than that?
Stevia: Stevia is an extremely controversial, zero-calorie sweetener that I urge people to research on their own before they ingest. In my opinion, based on my research, it seems best for diabetics who can’t consume honey or agave and probably shouldn’t be fed to children. Many nutritionists and alternative practitioners have hailed stevia as nature’s perfect sweetener, and there are studies out there claiming it has anti-cancer properties, anti-microbial properties, lowers blood pressure and helps control glucose levels.
On the other hand, some studies say that stevia causes male reproductive problems, cancer and interferes with the absorption of carbohydrates. It has been used in Japan for roughly 30 years with no known side affects, and, in Canada, it is allowed as a supplement but isn’t allowed in foods.
Not to sound like a broken record, but, when purchasing stevia, look for organic brands.
Others: Sucanat, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, (make sure it’s organic—some companies add lard…) or Turbinado sugar are also better alternatives to white table sugar.
I hope this list can help you make better choices for you family when looking for sweeteners. Just remember: natural is better, organic is best, and, when in doubt, fruit is nature’s perfect candy!