High-Fructose Corn Syrup
Berman believes in all things in moderation, and so moderate amounts of this substance are probably OK. But, she notes that products which contain high-fructose corn syrup are oftentimes already unhealthy for other reasons besides having the syrup.
Once marketed with the slogan "Made from sugar so it tastes like sugar," Splenda has really caught on in the marketplace. It's now found in everything from diet sodas to chewing gum.
Aspartame, commonly known as Equal, contains zero calories and does not raise blood sugar levels. It's also 200 times sweeter than sugar, says Berman, and can be used for cooking.
Products such as xylitol, maltitol, and erythritol are alcohol-based sweeteners that contain zero calories and are commonly found in products such as chewing gum, breath mints, & toothpaste.
Stevia is a sweetener that comes in various forms and is derived from a plant that grows in South America. Berman says that it doesn't raise blood sugar at all, but because it comes in various forms.
According to Frayser, agave nectar does raise blood sugar, but not as much as table sugar – it has a lower glycemic load.
Honey is all-natural, but it raises blood sugar in the same way as regular sugar, says Ellison. So, you'll probably want to use this sweetener in moderation as well.
Better known as Sweet'N Low, Saccharin is 300 times sweeter than sugar.
Coconut nectar isn't in Wal-Mart yet, unlike agave nectar, but it can be found online, in health food stores, and in local co-ops.
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As is often the case in life, you don't get something for nothing — and sugar substitutes are no exception. Finding the "best" sugar substitute isn't just a matter of finding the best-tasting, least unhealthy option. In fact, what we found was that there wasn't really such a thing as "best" — perhaps, the more accurate way to put it would be that we found the "least bad" sweeteners, and which ones are "least bad" will differ from person to person depending on their goals and what sort of compromises they would be willing to make.
So we enlisted the help of a diverse array of experts to help sort through the confusion. Shane Ellison is the author of Over the Counter, Natural Cures, which advocates natural medicine as the first line of defense against the leading major illnesses in America, including heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Ellison holds a master's degree in organic chemistry from Northern Arizona University, where he specialized in drug design, and has 15 years of experience in the field. Ellison brings his invaluable experience and sheds light on the different alternative sweeteners from a scientific perspective.
Rachel Berman is a board-certified nutritionist affiliated with CalorieCount.com and member of the American Dietitian Association. She holds a bachelor's in nutritional sciences from Cornell University, and conducted her dietetic internship at North Shore LIJ Health System in Long Island, New York. Berman was kind enough to provide us with the pros and cons of each sweetener from the health perspective.
Last but not least, Andrea Frayser, author of Deliciously Satisfying Vegetarian Recipes and The Pennywize Vegetarian, and host of Healthy Cooking with Mama Renee, shared a few bits of advice on which sweeteners were "best" for certain types of cooking and why. She says that no matter which sweetener you choose, make sure to "give it a chance." Spend a few weeks using it in place of sugar to see if it really works for you and don't "yo-yo" back and forth between your substitute and table sugar.