There are many types of sugars and sweeteners out there, and almost every year that number grows. From natural to synthetic, some of our favorite beverages are enjoyed with such sweeteners. Some are considered “bad” while others are considered “healthy,” but they all have their pros and cons. This article aims to put some of the pros and cons into perspective.
The pros: Sugar, both white and brown, are the most widely known and used sweeteners in restaurants. Though they gets a bad rep for being high in calories and a plethora of other health considerations, customers are likely to make sugar their top choice for sweetening drinks.
The cons: Sugar is quite possibly the dieter’s worst enemy. Studies have shown that the more a person chooses to consume fatty, sweet foods, the more he/she craves them. Sweetened beverages have shown a correlation with obesity, due to increased calorie counts in the resulting products. Sugar consumption has been linked with an increase in “bad” cholesterol levels. It is important to note that though these negative considerations are often reflected on white sugar, many other types of sweeteners, whether containing fructose and/or glucose, have the same effects. Despite the connotations associated with white sugar, it continues to be the go-to sweetener.
The pros: Though there is a conception that honey is healthier than sugar, it actually has more calories. However, since it is sweeter than sugar, less of it is usually used in drinks and recipes, which can lead to a lower overall calorie count. Additionally, many appreciate its “spiced” taste when compared to sugar.
The cons: In addition to its high calorie count, honey may contain a significant amount of pesticides. A 2010 study found that 98% of apiary-extracted bees’ wax contained pesticides. This is probably due to the concentration of the pesticides on the plants from which bees extract nectar. Another factor to take into consideration is young children. Parents are usually instructed to refrain from giving their babies honey, until they pass one year of age. Therefore, in a family-friendly venue, honey may not be the best choice of sweetener.
The pros: Agave nectar is slowly gaining ground as an all-natural sweetener. Though sugar is natural too, agave nectar is considered healthier since it is less processed. The reduced processing may yield a product with slightly more vitamins, minerals, and other healthful components. Its higher fructose sugar contents compared to glucose may make its breakdown easier, and also gives it more sweetness when compared to regular sugar.
The cons: Some studies show that fructose may have negative consequences on health. Additionally, though agave nectar is less processed, it may not have any other significant health benefits, despite its common associations.
The pros: Stevia is a no-calorie sweetener derived from a plant grown mostly in South America, specifically Paraguay and Brazil. In these regions, the bush has been used to sweeten foods for hundreds of years, and was even used in natural medicines with applications for burns, stomach problems, and sometimes contraceptives. It is about 200 times sweeter than table sugar, making it effective in small quantities. There is current research being done on possible uses for the plant in treating hypertension, but on a day-to-day basis it is mostly used by dieters looking for sugar replacements.
The cons: Stevia has yet to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a food additive. Concern have been raised about the effect of the plant on cardiovascular, reproductive, and renal systems. It may reduce blood pressure and interact with anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and other types of drugs. For those concerned with these warnings, products such as Truvia can be used as sweeteners, with the Rebaudioside A chemical, an FDA-approved chemical also found in stevia, used as a sweetener.
Splenda and Sweet ‘N Low
The pros: Some of the most famous diet sweeteners, Splenda and Sweet ‘N Low, are artificial sweeteners. Splenda and Sweet ‘N Low are made of molecules called sucralose and saccharin, respectively. The molecules are shaped to fit the sweet taste receptors on the tongue, but are not broken down by the body, creating a zero-calorie sweetener.
The cons: Despite the lack of concrete findings, there is speculation as to the safeness of the sucralose and saccharin as sugar substitutes, as well as aspartame, a chemical often used to sweeten diet drinks. In addition to these suspicions, such sweeteners have often been correlated with weight gain, and are thought to increase appetite when consumed.
The sugar and sugar substitute markets are huge. Studies show that Americans consumed an increasing amount of sugar each year, from the 1970s until 2000, and have turned more and more to sugar substitutes as health awareness rises. In 2012, the sugar substitute market was estimated to be worth $10.5 billion, and the percentage of the population turning to low or no-calorie sugar substitutes is rising.
The numbers demonstrate that there is good reason for restaurants, caterers, and other food and drink businesses to offer a few different sweetening options. The standard white sugar, brown sugar, and Splenda options no longer satisfy all customers. Depending on the type of venue, the ideal combination of sweeteners may vary. While tea stores may offer agave nectar, stevia, and honey in order to cater to natural-product loving customers, the typical family diner can usually cover all bases with white sugar and a no-calorie option.