Is one type of sweetener better than the other for my body and the way my body processes them?

Your question can be answered in a variety of different ways. First, in terms of overall nutritional quality, it's always better to get your "sweeteners" as part of whole, natural foods rather than separately purchased products that you add to your food.

We realize that many people simply have a "sweet tooth" and are accustomed to sweetening a good number of foods and beverages. However, the routine use of added sweeteners can sometimes detract from the naturally sweet flavors of foods.

Carrots, for example, are a naturally sweet vegetable. They're about 15% sugar in terms of total calories; they contain an array of sugars including sucrose, glucose, and fructose. However, to many people carrots do not taste sweet, and the reason sometimes involves the total amount of sugar to which a person has become accustomed. A larger carrot will contain about ¾ of a teaspoon of sugar at most. If you're accustomed to 1-2 teaspoons of any added sugar in your coffee or tea, or as an added glaze on an entrée, your carrot may no longer be as enjoyable to you because it may seem non-sweet by comparison.

Second, in the same way that we prefer natural foods as a source of all dietary sugars (please see our carrot example above), we also prefer natural sources of extracted sugar products. For example, agave nectar is a sweetener extracted from the agave plant, and it contains a variety of nutrients that are naturally found in the agave plant. While these nutrients are found in relatively small amounts in agave nectar, this sweetener is still a better nutritional choice because of this natural diversity. Agave nectar is about 70% fructose in terms of its sugar composition. However, this abundance of fructose is not the reason we favor its use as an added sweetener for individuals who have decided to use added sweeteners. The reason we favor its use is because agave nectar is more natural and less processed than many other available sweeteners. Table sugar, for example, provides no nutritional variety whatsoever, even though it originates in a natural plant (sugar cane).

Your best choice of sweeteners always involves those sweeteners that are most natural and least processed. This is the reason we like whole, natural foods as the source for sweetness in a meal plan. However, for individuals wanting added sweeteners, our top choices would be honey and natural nectars, including agave nectar. You'll find a detailed profile of honey on our website in our WHFoods A-Z list. We strongly recommend the purchase of organic honey, since bees can inadvertently pick up pesticide residues and other potential contaminants while gathering pollens in any pesticide-containing environment. Organic agave nectar would also be our recommended choice for this sweetener.

When it comes to dietary sugars, the key to supporting your body's metabolism is moderation. Any dietary sugar can disrupt your body's metabolism if eaten excessively. We don't believe that the research supports intake of any added sugar in large amounts, regardless of its "naturalness" or degree of processing. We also don't believe it makes sense to focus on the exact composition of sugars within a natural food or within a natural, minimally processed sweetener. Different foods have different sugar composition, and we believe that these differences are healthy provided that the foods are organically grown, and are consumed as close to their whole, natural condition as possible.



Kay’s Note:  Agave nectar is not SCD legal. The main carbohydrate is a complex form of fructose called inulin or fructosan.