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Types of Natural Sweeteners: Healthy Alternatives to Sugar

Updated on December 20, 2010

Honey – the first of all natural sweeteners. Since the dawn of civilization we humans, and more recently, Winnie the Pooh, have gone to great length to steal this sweet necar away from hardworking honeybees for our own consumption. Today, scientists have created artificial sweeteners to mimic the sweet taste of honey, and packaged them in convenient yellow, pink, blue and white packets. Folks, it's time we go back to our roots, and taste the sweet delights provided by nature. Equally as sweet and available, we are blessed with several healthy alternatives to the chemically engineered sweeteners.

honey - the original natural sweetener
honey - the original natural sweetener

Natural VS Artificial Sweeteners

What is the difference?

As the name suggests, natural sweeteners are found in nature. These are derived from natural sugars and starches found in living fruits, vegetables, fungi, seeds, nuts and roots. On the other hand, artificial sweeteners are synthetic. Produced in a chemistry lab by food scientists. They are made of chemicals like aspartame, saccharine and acesulfame potassium to mimic the taste of sugar.

Are artificial sweeteners bad for you?

As a rule of thumb, when it comes to what's healthy to eat; if you can’t pronounce it, it probably isn’t that great for you. There are three main reasons as to why artificial sweeteners are bad: One, many artificial sweeteners are high in calories and increase blood sugar levels. Two, aspartame. This is the chemical found in artificial sweeteners like NutraSweet and Equal (the blue). There have been studies showing how repeated use of aspartame can cause hallucinations, seizures and tumors. And three, sucralose. The chemical in Splenda (the yellow). Recent research shows this artificial sweetener causes enlargement of the liver and kidneys, shrinkage of the thymus glands and the cause of rashes, diarrhea, stomach pains...should I go on? In summation, yes, artificial sweeteners are bad. But good news, switching to natural sweeteners is simple and just as sweet.

Types of Natural Sweeteners

There is much more to the sweetening world than the blue, yellow, pink and white packets that line your local coffee shop's condiment station. With these artificial sweetener alternatives you can naturally add sweetness to your coffee and baked goods without boosting your blood sugar or caloric intake.


The original natural sweetener with around 64 calories. It’s derived from the nectar of various flowers, and produced by honey bees. It’s sweet, natural and comes in hundreds of types and colors. Honey is best used in beverages like tea. While it may have more calories than refined sugar, it contains healthy antioxidants.


Sucanat is the brand name for Sucre de Canne Natural – natural can sugar. Simply put, it’s dried sugar cane juice at 45 calories. Similar to brown sugar, only unprocessed and unrefined, so it contains more nutrients and is better for you.


A sugar alcohol derived from the fibers in things like fruits, vegetables and birch bark. Because it doesn’t cause tooth decay, it’s often used in products like chewing gums, toothpaste and mouthwash. It’s similar in appearance and taste to regular white refined sugar, only much sweeter. But eat too much and you’ll find yourself on the toilet with a serious stomachache.


Another naturally occurring sugar alcohol that won’t do damage to your teeth. Similar to Xylitol, Erythritol is found naturally in fruits. The difference here: eat too much and you'll be fine.

Agave nectar

This sweet nectar comes in syrup form. It's similar to honey in caloric content and taste, but different in sweetness and viscosity (agave being sweeter and thinner). It’s made from a variety of agave plant species found in Mexico, including the one used in producing tequila – blue agave. In addition, it’s sweeter than refined sugar and better for you. Use agave nectar to sweeten your next margarita or mojito and you will be pleasantly surprised.


Stevia is the name of a sweet herb existing in the sunflower family. The plant is found throughout North and South America, and distributed worldwide. The zero-calorie natural sweetener derived from stevia is much sweeter than refined sugar and lower in carbohydrates.


This is a thick and dark colored natural sweetener derived from beet or cane sugar. Molasses is the common ingredient in many baked goods and a necessary component in producing rum.

Maple syrup

Maple syrup is derived from the sap of maple trees - another brilliant discovery of the Native Americans. I know what you're thinking. Pancakes. Yes, maple syrup is commonly used on things like pancakes, biscuits and waffles, but it can also be used as a natural sweetener in baked goods.

The Best Natural Sweetener

Now that we know what's out there, which natural sweetener best? Each of these sweeteners mentioned have their positives and negatives, but all of them are better for your health than their artificial counterparts. Recently, sweeteners like stevia, sucanat and agave nectar have become increasingly popular and available to consumers. While sweeteners like maple syrup, honey and molasses have stood their ground as natural and tasty for hundreds of years. Whichever sweetener you end up choosing, make sure it's natural.


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    • intrepidgeezer profile image

      intrepidgeezer 5 years ago from Virgina

      This is really great and informative . We have so many natural alternatives to "artificial" sweeteners that are so much better for us. We just need to make the effort. In all cases they will taste better than their chemical counterparts.

    • profile image

      Tebello Aaron 5 years ago

      This sound marvelous, especially to a nutritionist like me. Thank you for the info.

    • profile image

      Sulagna Banerjee 5 years ago

      very informative......nice presentation..overall good job

    • Sun-Girl profile image

      Sun-Girl 6 years ago from Nigeria


    • jdaviswrites profile image

      Jeff Davis 6 years ago from California

      Emma Beth - Glad to hear I could add some new items to your list...Thanks for the comment.

    • Emma Beth profile image

      Emma Beth 6 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      Thanks. I've been aware of agave and honey as sweetners but not the others listed here.

    • jdaviswrites profile image

      Jeff Davis 6 years ago from California

      distractme - Thanks for reading. I'm glad you enjoyed!

    • distractme profile image

      distractme 6 years ago from USA

      This is a great hub! I love using honey in place of sugar. I even use it when I eat french toast. It's different, but good.

    • jdaviswrites profile image

      Jeff Davis 7 years ago from California

      dallas93444 - You're welcome and thanks for reading.

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Good information. Thanks for sharing.

    • jdaviswrites profile image

      Jeff Davis 7 years ago from California

      lilibees - That's hopefully what I'm here for. Thanks for reading!

    • lilibees profile image

      lilibees 7 years ago

      Wow very great information, tahnk you for this very insightful Hub!