Are sugar alternatives healthy? Or are we being duped?

At present, the diet industry has a net worth of $72-billion. It’s therefore hardly surprising when food companies try to cash in on it. One common tactic involves using sugar alternatives to make treats seem healthier. For example, honey, maple syrup, and agave syrup. What food manufacturers often fail to mention is that sugar alternatives still contribute to your overall sugar intake. Is there a chance you’re eating hidden sugars? Let’s find out.

Which sugar alternatives are we discussing here?

The sugar alternatives we’re discussing don’t include sweeteners such as aspartame. Instead, we’re focusing on the ingredients the natural food industry cherishes. This includes coconut sugar, brown sugar, agave, syrups, and honey.

It’s often the case that these sugar alternatives are framed as a natural substitute for a product that is already natural. Sugar from sugar cane is no less natural than coconut sugar is. However, as food companies frame them as natural, consumers often believe they’re healthy. Unfortunately, you can consume liberal amounts of honey or coconut sugar and still experience a high free sugar intake.

Just how unhealthy are these alternatives?

To give you an idea of how unhealthy sugar alternatives are, it’s worth looking at how you may use them to sweeten your coffee. If you usually sweeten your coffee with a teaspoon of sugar and switch to honey instead (while filling that teaspoon of honey fully) you’ll eat 0.2 ounces of free sugar. But if you stick to using normal sugar, you’ll eat 0.14 ounces of free sugar.

If you tend to choose products because they feature sugar alternatives on the label, you’re possibly eating more of both types of sugar than you’d assume. Although food manufacturers will highlight honey or syrup as the primary ingredient in their products, that doesn’t mean all the sweetness comes from them. Some may feature 1.1 ounces of sugar, but only 4% of that comes from honey. As a result, you’re unwittingly eating more sugar than you thought, and your sugar alternatives aren’t good for you either.

Is it still okay to eat sugar alternatives?

As with any element of your diet, you can eat sugar alternatives in moderation and make them work for you. For example, some proponents of the paleo diet prefer coconut sugar for their sweet treats. But, those who follow the plan strictly will know that eating too many of those treats will derail their weight loss. As such, they use them sparingly.

There are even some legitimate honey benefits. For example, research shows that it can soothe your cough reflex when you have a cold. Pure products also have some antiseptic properties that can alleviate sore throat pain when antibiotics aren’t available.

If you enjoy the taste of sugar alternatives, eat them in moderation. But don’t make the mistake of assuming that consuming them in liberal volumes makes you healthier than when you eat normal sugar.


About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.