Which is the healthiest sugar to use? Are alternative sweeteners safe? While new sugars regularly surface on the market, some basics remain. Sugars are a type of carbohydrate, providing 4 kcal/g. Sugars have many useful functions when it comes to food: sweet taste, desirable mouthfeel in candies and syrups, and providing volume and a golden-brown appearance for baked goods. However, the sweet taste often proves difficult to consume in moderation. The American palate has grown accustomed to a high degree of sweetness, making it challenging to appreciate the natural sugars found in foods, especially fruits. The added sugars found in many foods are often the culprits behind giving sugars a bad reputation. The high concentration of sugars in things like soft drinks, candy, energy drinks, and desserts provide empty calories, meaning we get calories without beneficial nutrients like vitamins and minerals.
To date, there is no scientific evidence showing that zero-calorie sweeteners (i.e. Splenda, Sweet ‘n’ Low, Stevia, Equal, etc.) cause harmful side effects. Likewise, sugar alcohols (i.e. xylitol and sorbitol) are considered safe to consume and provide roughly half the amount of calories (~2.6 kcal/g) of regular sugar.
Sweeteners such as agave nectar, honey, and Sugar in the Raw are often deemed to be healthier yet…they still provide 4 kcal/g. While some options may contain other potentially beneficial compounds or be slightly less processed, the amount a person would have to consume in order to experience any benefit is not worth the corresponding amount of sugar. The bottom line is to limit added sugars to less than 10% of total daily calories. For a 2,000 kcal diet, this would be 200 kcal or 50 g/day and would equate to one regular 2.17 oz package of Skittles or ¾ of a small McCafe Strawberry Shake from McDonald’s.