Are Natural Sugars Really Healthier Than White Sugar?

Ever hear that natural sugars are better for you? Or that they have vitamins and minerals, so they’re healthier? There’s a lot of misinformation about natural sugars, but at their very core, they are made up of the same stuff as granulated, white table sugar.

The biggest misconception is that natural sugars have fewer calories than table sugar, but this is false. All sugar—regardless of where it comes from—contains 4 calories per gram. So whether you sweeten your tea with a gram of honey or a gram of table sugar, it will have the same amount of calories.

Another misconception is that natural sugars contain vitamins and minerals, unlike table sugar. This is true… if you’re going to consume a cup of maple syrup or molasses each day. In reality, the amount of natural sugars you would use to sweeten a beverage or use in a recipe would provide a negligible amount of micronutrients and minerals, per serving. So if you think the maple syrup you used in that pancake recipe will provide enough calcium for the day, you’re better off enjoying some milk or yogurt with your breakfast.

Let’s move on to another example such as dates. They are a fruit, all natural, plus, they have tons of fiber—12g in a cup, to be precise. And compared to a cup of apples and strawberries, typical smoothie ingredients, which have 4.4g and 2.9g, respectively, it seems like a good choice for a sweetener. But how much sugar and calories are in a cup of dates? Full 93g of sugar and 404 calories.

So yeah, it’s important to weigh these other factors when deciding if and how you want to sweeten your favorite dish. You’re better off adding some other fiber rich foods to that smoothie, like oatmeal, chia seeds, or raspberries, which will have a lower calorie-to-fiber ratio.  

So exactly what’s the point of using natural sugars if they are comparable to table sugar? Well, that’s easy! Preference. There’s nothing wrong with preferring agave to sweeten your yogurt, but just be realistic about it. Natural sugars aren’t better for you, they’re just an alternative.

If you’re looking to use natural sugar, check out our list below, which gives a quick overview of five of the most common natural, caloric sweeteners.

Caloric and sugar content of five natural sugars

Calories and sugar will be for one tablespoon. A tablespoon of white, granulated table sugar contains 13g of sugar and 48 calories.

 

Calories

Sugar (g)

Notes

Honey

64

17

The flavor of honey will depend on the type of flower that bees pollinate; this results in different varieties of honey including clove, blueberry, strawberry, and more.

Honey has some food safety concerns. Honey can contain bacteria that cause infant botulism, so children younger than 12 months should not consume honey.

Maple Syrup

52

14

Coming from the sap of maple trees, maple syrup contains vanillin. Also a component of the vanilla bean, it is used as a food ingredient to produce vanilla flavor.

Agave

63

14

Agave comes from the same plant that gives us tequila. Agave is high in fructose—90 percent to be specific—compared to our other examples, which are about 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose. But not to worry: As long as you consume it in moderation, like all other sweeteners, you will be fine.

Dates

9

6

Dates come either as the dried fruit. or dried and ground into a powder. In moderation, their fiber content is negligible. Unlike the other sweeteners, dates cannot be used in baking because they cannot dissolve, but they work well mixed into yogurt or oatmeal.

Molasses

58

15

Molasses can be made from citrus, wood sugar, sugar beets, or sugarcane, but most of the molasses sold in stores is a byproduct of sugarcane. With a strong flavor, it is added to white sugar to make brown sugar. 

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