Published May 11, 2012
Choosing a sweetener has never been stickier. Here’s a look at seven common ones.
What it is: A natural, granular substance distilled from sugarcane or sugar beets. Brown sugar comes from the same sources but gets its color from residual or added molasses.
Also goes by: Sucrose.
Where you’ll find it: In baked goods, cereals, ice cream, and bottled sauces.
Good to know: One teaspoon has only 16 calories. Aim to consume sugar on a near full stomach: This will help stabilize your blood sugar, since eating the sweet stuff alone can cause blood sugar to soar, then crash, leaving you tired and hungrier, says Michael Zemel, director of the Nutrition Institute at the University of Tennessee, in Knoxville. And, yes, brush after eating sugar, as it increases your risk for tooth decay.
What it is: A sweet extract from agave, a succulent plant (which also gives us tequila).
Also goes by: Agave nectar and agave syrup.
Where you’ll find it: Bottled, in health-food stores.
Good to know: Agave doesn’t spike blood glucose as quickly as table sugar does, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, a registered dietitian and the author of Read It Before You Eat It ($15, amazon.com). Plus, it’s about 25 percent sweeter. Add it to tea or coffee. Or, since agave tastes like honey, try it on Greek yogurt.
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What it is: An all-natural, no-calorie sweetener derived from the leaf of the stevia plant.
Also goes by: Reb A, rebiana, Truvia, PureVia, Enliten, and Sun Crystals.
Where you’ll find it: In protein-shake mixes and soft drinks; it’s also sold alone as a diet sweetener.
Good to know: You can bake with stevia, but it does best with medium temperatures. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration generally recognizes this group of sweeteners as safe, use stevia moderately, says Jennifer Nelson, director of clinical dietetics at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Consult your doctor if you’re pregnant.
High-Fructose Corn Syrup
What it is: An über-sweet liquid derived from cornstarch.
Also goes by: HFCS and high-fructose syrup.
Where you’ll find it: Almost everywhere, including processed foods, baked goods, and condiments.
Good to know: Studies suggest that, like table sugar, HFCS may cause you to overeat. This is because it causes your body to not fully release the hormones that tell you that you’re full (so you devour a box of cookies).
What it is: A safe-for-diabetics, calorie-free synthetic compound that includes sodium, hydrogen, and oxygen.
Also goes by: Sweet ’N Low.
Where you’ll find it: In the cult-favorite diet soda Tab, and in toothpaste and some medicines.
Good to know: This sugar substitute, which has been around since 1879, is 300 times sweeter than sugar and stays that way, even when heated, so it’s good for tea or coffee. But it can have a metallic aftertaste. And you may get so used to saccharin’s intense sweetness that you start craving sugary treats. While saccharin has been linked to bladder cancer in rats, experts have found no conclusive evidence of its correlation with cancer in humans.
What it is: Another synthetic, calorie-free option that’s safe for diabetics.
Also goes by: Equal and Nutrasweet.
Where you’ll find it: In diet drinks and sugar-free gum.
Good to know: Two hundred times sweeter than sugar, aspartame has a clean flavor that is well suited to berries or cereal. It breaks down with heat, so don’t bake with it. Some people get headaches from aspartame, but despite persistent rumors, there is no conclusive link between the sweetener and diseases such as Alzheimer’s.