Natural sweeteners: Are they good for you?

They're sweet. But are they safe?

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Sweeteners provide a way to satisfy the sweet tooth, minus the calories. We take a look at some of the common natural sweeteners, whether they are actually better for us than sugar, and how to use them.

What are natural sweeteners?

Artificial sweeteners made from synthetic sugar substitutes became popular in the ‘90s, but many of the new generation of sweeteners come from plants. They contain no calories (or very few) and are extremely sweet, so you only need small quantities.

Are sweeteners better for me than sugar?

The key to both sweeteners and sugar is moderate consumption. If you’re looking to cut calories, but don’t want to miss out on the sweet stuff, sweeteners can provide a low or no calorie alternative. They also don’t contribute to tooth decay and cavities.

Are sweeteners suitable for people with diabetes?

Small amounts of sugar can be included as part of a healthy eating plan if you have diabetes. However, sweeteners like stevia can also play a helpful role, especially when replacing large amounts of sugar. Stevia has no impact on blood glucose levels. Try to reduce the amount of sweetener you use over time—your taste buds will gradually change and you’ll find the natural sweetness of wholefoods is enough.

How to cook with natural sweeteners

You can use natural sweeteners instead of sugar for cooking and baking, although the end results may not be identical. Sugar does more than just make foods and beverages taste sweet. In baked goods such as cakes, cookies and brownies, it helps add volume as well as trap and hold moisture. Natural sweeteners on the other hand don’t have the same properties as table sugar, so baking made with sugar substitutes may not have the same volume. Depending on the sweetener you are using, you may need to adjust the baking/cooking time and proportions may vary.

Three common sweeteners

Stevia. Stevia is extracted from the leaves of a South American plant, Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni, which has been grown for its sweetness and medicinal purposes for centuries. Stevia is thought to be 250-300 times as sweet as white sugar.

Monk fruit extract. This sweetener is created by removing the skin and seeds of the monk fruit and crushing them to create a juice that is dried into a concentrated powder. Monk fruit sweetener does not contain fructose or glucose and is 100-250 times sweeter than sugar.

Erythritol. Erythritol is a polyol or “sugar alcohol”, found naturally in mushrooms and certain fruits like grapes and melons. It’s also produced commercially by fermenting corn or sugar beets. Contrary to the description “sugar alcohol”, erythritol is neither a sugar nor alcohol.