Sugar has no nutritional value besides providing calories. Americans consume about 130 pounds of sugar every year which translates to a lot of empty calories from sugar. All forms of sugar provide ~4 kcal/gram. However, certain types of sweeteners provide other nutrients besides calories.
No matter what form of sweetener you choose, the amount you use is important. Using natural sweeteners that are good for you still provide calories and can negatively impact blood sugar when used in excess. These natural sweeteners provide additional health benefits compared to regular sugar, but still should be used in moderation.
Honey has been used as a natural source of antibacterial treatment for many years. Honey also has anti-inflammatory properties that can help fight inflammation in the body. Honey has been used to help treat inflammation of the stomach and small intestines.
Honey also contains antioxidants, which may be one way honey can work as an anti-inflammatory. Honey may be useful in soothing irritation from sore throats and coughs, especially in children.
Keep in mind more research is needed to understand the therapeutic benefits of honey and how the components of honey affect the body. There are different types of honey that vary in nutritional content.
Sugar is known to be pro-inflammatory, and inflammation is associated with the development of several chronic diseases. Switching honey for regular sugar could provide the body with some antioxidants instead of giving the body pro-inflammatory foods.
Pure, natural honey is hard to come by because honey bees have been dying off in recent years. Look for honey that says it is 100% pure honey, and buy from a local source if possible to ensure you are getting pure honey.
Another word of caution, do not give honey to babies under 1 year of age. Honey is a potential source of botulism which can be lethal to infants.
Maple syrup is similar to honey in that it is full of potential health benefits from antioxidants. In fact, maple syrup has as many antioxidants as some fruits and vegetables. Maple syrup also is a source of some minerals like zinc and manganese.
Most maple syrup is grown in Canada from maple trees, and many knock offs of pure maple syrup are available. Look at the nutrition label of maple syrup before purchasing. Does it contain 100% maple syrup? Or is it made mostly of high fructose corn syrup?
Pure maple syrup is more expensive than cheaper syrup alternatives, but the health benefits from pure maple syrup may make it worth the extra money. When baking with a liquid sweetener like honey or maple syrup, you may have to cut down on other liquid ingredients in the recipe.
Date sugar is made purely from dates; it is ground up dried dates. Date sugar provides more minerals and fiber compared to regular sugar because dates are high in fiber, iron, calcium, magnesium, copper, selenium and potassium.
Date sugar can be harder to find compared to other natural sweeteners, as some stores do not carry it. Date sugar is best used for sprinkling on baked goods or on top of yogurt, oatmeal. It does not dissolve in liquids, so it may not be the best for adding sweetness to drinks.
You can bake with it, but date sugar can burn easily. Monitor closely when baking.
Black strap molasses in particular is rich in iron, antioxidants, potassium, magnesium and manganese. Molasses is actually made from processing sugar beets for table sugar; it is the leftover waste from sugar.
Molasses won’t taste as sweet as other sweeteners, and some notice a bitter after taste to molasses. Because of this, it may work best to bake with molasses or substitute part of the sugar amount for molasses.
These four sweeteners can provide additional health benefits besides calories and carbohydrates. Although they may be a healthier alternative to regular table sugar, these sweeteners can still increase risk for weight gain and type 2 diabetes when eaten in excess.
Liquid sweeteners like honey, maple syrup and molasses provide minerals and antioxidants that white sugar does not. These liquid sweeteners can be used for baking or dissolving in liquids amongst other things.
However, use caution when purchasing honey and maple syrup. Make sure you are buying 100% maple syrup/honey and not fillers like high fructose corn syrup.
Date sugar may be harder to find in stores, but it is make entirely from dates. Date sugar provides more fiber and minerals compared to table sugar. It does not readily dissolve in water, and may be best used in baking or sprinkling on top of foods for a touch of sweetness.
The average American consumes about 130 pounds of sugar per year. Where can you cut out excess sweetness from your diet? Work on cutting down the amount of added sugar to your diet and replacing sugar with some alternative sweeteners.
References used in this article