Did you know that your brain uses about 25% of all glucose within your body? That’s quite a bit of sugar!
Sugar often gets a bad rap as being the culprit behind most diseases and weight loss issues.
While this isn’t wrong, not all sugars and sweeteners are made equally.
When trying to reach weight loss goals or manage your blood sugar levels, the type of sugar or sweetener you choose can greatly impact your success.
Here we go over 25 of the most common sugars and sweeteners, how they affect your overall health, and which ones are good choices for your specific goals.
Keep reading to learn all there is to know about these 25 sugars and sweeteners.
What Is Sugar and How Does It Affect Your Body?
Sugar is the name of a category of carbohydrates that taste sweet to your senses.
In scientific terms, these carbohydrates are called monosaccharides.
With the exception of manufactured sugar substitutes, sugars can be found in nature either from plant or animal sources.
Sweeteners and foods that are lower in their glycemic index, which rates how much they raise your blood sugar, are better for you overall.
Low glycemic index foods will have a GI score of 0-55.
Foods with a medium glycemic index will have a GI score of 56-69.
Foods with a higher glycemic index that should be avoided or consumed in tight moderation will have a GI score above 70.
Your Brain Needs Glucose
In order to think clearly and function overall, your brain needs to consume glucose.
About one-third of the glucose made in the body is fed to the brain, where your neurons use it for energy.
Without enough glucose in your brain, you may start to feel shaky, dizzy, and experience other symptoms often felt with low blood sugar.
Incorporating the right sugars in the right amounts in your diet is crucial to ensure you experience real health.
Sweeteners Made From Cane Sugar
Sugar cane has been used for thousands of years, originally chewed straight and prized for its sweetness.
Only through modern processing could sugar cane be altered to create its other forms.
As with anything processed, the more processing that occurs, the more problems a food can potentially create in your body.
The sugars in this category do spike your blood sugar quite quickly and aren’t good for healthy weight loss.
As such, they will increase your likelihood of developing metabolic issues like insulin resistance when used in high amounts in your diet.
1. Cane Sugar
Just like the name suggests, this sugar is made from sugar cane and is its least processed form.
You can find it easily at grocery stores, and it looks darker than the plain white sugar that most people use.
This is because sugar cane contains molasses in its natural state.
While molasses is usually separated from the sugar, with whole cane sugar it’s left in, creating a tan or beige color.
Because this is an easily absorbed sugar, your body will have no problem using it as fuel.
Too much in your diet, however, will cause problems for your health, and it shouldn’t be your main source of fuel.
Cane sugar has a GI score of 60, making it a poor choice for maintaining a normal blood sugar level or healthy weight loss.
2. White Sugar
White sugar, as the name suggests, is white in appearance.
This is the sugar many people grew up using, and it’s often referred to as table sugar.
Most white sugar will be a processed form of either cane sugar or beet sugar.
This type of sugar undergoes a washing process and further filtration to remove any color and other properties that might affect the flavor and appearance.
This means that while the main source of this sweetener is natural, because of the processing it undergoes, it’s turned into a product that isn’t naturally occurring.
Your body will use this sugar as fuel; however, white sugar has a GI score of 65.
As with many sugars that can quickly spike your blood sugar, too much of this in your diet will increase your likelihood of developing a metabolic disease.
3. Brown Sugar
Brown sugar is another common form of sugar that most people are familiar with.
It’s easy to be misled and think that this sugar is a natural form of cane sugar.
However, this type of sugar starts as white sugar, which is already processed.
Molasses is then added back into the white sugar to make it brown again.
Your body can still use this sugar as fuel, but it isn’t your best choice, with a GI score of around 65.
Sweeteners In Syrup and Other Forms
Sugars and sweeteners in syrup form are almost always processed and are unlikely to be a healthy form of sweetener or sugar replacement.
The rise of syrups came from the rise of commercial food production as a way to cut costs.
This forever led to changes in the human diet around the world.
Before the production of these cheaper sugars, fructose was generally limited to natural sources, like those found in fruit.
4. High-Fructose Corn Syrup
High-fructose corn syrup is widely known now to be a poor choice of sweetener and sugar substitute.
Created from corn starch, high-fructose corn syrup is a highly processed form of glucose and fructose that can contribute to an array of health problems like type 2 diabetes as well as fatty liver disease.
It’s good to be aware that this form of sugar is added to many processed goods as a cheap alternative to higher-quality sugars.
This sugar contributes to blood sugar spikes, and there are little to no benefits from its use.
Many studies have linked it to inflammation in the body, which can lead to more serious health risks.
High-fructose corn syrup has a GI score of about 56, but don’t let that fool you—this sweetener is absorbed into your bloodstream rapidly.
5. Brown Rice Syrup
Historically, brown rice syrup was made using an enzymatic reaction between barley malt and brown rice.
These days, however, commercial production of brown rice syrup consists of using a modified rice starch with multiple enzymatic reactions and processes to create modern brown rice syrup.
As such, brown rice syrup tends to be quite high in glucose, with a GI score of 98.
It creates a very high blood sugar spike and is generally a poor choice as your main go-to sweetener.
6. Fruit Juices and Concentrates
Sugars from fruit juices and concentrates can be a tricky area due to the wide range of qualities and added sugars that may be present.
Fruit juice and concentrates that are 100% juice with no added sugars can be a good source of added vitamins and minerals such as potassium and iron.
Because fruit juice tends to contain a natural form of fructose, its glycemic index will be lower than that of table sugar.
However, you should only consume fruit juices and concentrates in moderation, and they shouldn’t be relied upon for weight loss or blood sugar control.
Maltodextrin is heavily processed, and depending on how it is processed, it may be used as a thickener or a sweetener.
When it’s used as a sweetener, it’s referred to as glucose syrup and is an ingredient commonly used in baking as well as an additive in many processed foods.
Because of its generic nature, it can be derived from multiple sources like potatoes, corn, wheat, and other starchy crop sources.
This creates a higher risk of encountering contaminants, allergens, and genetically modified plant sources.
Studies have shown that maltodextrin may interrupt and inhibit healthy bacteria in your gut from thriving. However, our Maltodextrin is Tapioca sourced which is non-GMO and prevent blood glucose spikes.
8. Tapioca Syrup
Technically in the maltodextrin family, tapioca syrup is made from the cassava root.
While maltodextrin is usually heavily processed, tapioca syrup is actually less processed.
With a lower glycemic index and lower carbohydrate level than many other sugar substitutes, tapioca syrup can be a good alternative to just plain sugar as well as other sweeteners.
Tapioca syrup can also be a good way to add prebiotic fiber to your diet.
The fiber found in the cassava root has been shown to be a beneficial fiber that good bacteria within the gut like to eat, which has been shown to help prevent inflammation and promote overall health.
Although this may be a better alternative, people with sensitive guts and those on a FODMAP diet may want to avoid this sweetener as the fiber from tapioca can cause gas and bloating.
For those who need to watch their blood sugar levels, tapioca syrup may not be the best choice.
While agave may be a natural substance, the processing it has to undergo in order to concentrate its liquid into a sweetener not only destroys most of the beneficial properties it naturally contains, but creates mostly fructose.
In the end, agave syrup can be compared to high-fructose corn syrup.
Agave does have a lower glycemic index score of 11-19, depending on how it was made.
This can be a good choice for those who need to watch their blood sugar; however, it should be consumed in moderation.
Natural and Minimally Processed Sweeteners
There are many naturally sweet substances that are found in nature.
Each of these comes with benefits and drawbacks.
Choosing natural and minimally processed sweeteners can help you avoid sweeteners that have unhealthy and even toxic properties.
It should be known, however, that natural sweeteners may not be the best choice for blood sugar maintenance or healthy weight loss.
10. Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is the sap that is extracted from maple trees.
With maple syrup, you have to be careful and ensure that you’re actually getting high-quality maple syrup.
Because of the laborious process of creating this sweetener, maple syrup is often imitated with high-fructose corn syrup and other filler sugars as a way of creating a cheap alternative.
You should look for grade-A maple syrup, which has the most benefits and is filled with antioxidants and minerals.
Maple syrup has a lower glycemic index than table sugar does, with a GI score of 54.
When used moderately, maple syrup can be an excellent choice as a sweetener.
Honey kept raw and made locally can not only be a great sugar alternative, but also a great way to include the amazing properties that high-quality honey contains.
Used for thousands of years, honey has been prized across many cultures not only for the sweetness it contains, but also because of its ability to help promote wound healing.
Honey has also been shown to effectively lower LDL cholesterol levels by about 6%.
People who are allergic to bees may be at higher risk of reacting to honey.
People with this allergy should practice caution when it comes to honey unless they know it’s safe to consume.
On the flip side, eating honey can help with seasonal allergies, since it’s made from pollen.
Because of this, it can work to help acclimate your immune system to pollen.
When it comes to the glycemic index, however, honey isn’t that much better at keeping your blood sugar stable than plain cane sugar, with a glycemic index score of about 59.
12. Dates and Date Sugar
Dates and date sugar are natural sources of sweetness.
Using dates instead of sugar can be beneficial because it’s a sweetener that is minimally processed.
Dates contain prebiotic fiber as well as antioxidants and minerals that are a good addition to any diet.
For people who need to be cautious of their blood sugar, consuming the entire date is a better option than date sugar.
This is because although both contain the whole fruit, date sugar is often mixed with maltodextrin in order to give it its powdery form.
Depending on where and how the date was grown, dates have a GI score ranging from about 30-60, so it’s important to keep this in mind.
A naturally occurring part of sugar cane, molasses is often separated from cane sugar during processing.
However, high-quality organic blackstrap molasses can be a great sugar substitute.
You should look for blackstrap molasses that is unsulfured.
With a high amount of iron, calcium, and other minerals, it can give you added benefits that other sweeteners can’t offer.
Studies have shown that molasses can even help support bone health and help those who suffer from anemia.
While molasses has a lower glycemic index than sugar, it still has a score of about 55.
This means it still has the potential to spike your blood sugar.
14. Coconut Palm Sugar
Coconut palm sugar is a natural substance derived from the sap of coconut palm flowers.
Considered a low glycemic sweetener, coconut sugar has a GI score of 54.
In addition to containing a high amount of antioxidants and minerals, it also has a type of fiber called inulin that can help stabilize your blood sugar.
Calorie-Free Low Glycemic Sugar Substitutes
Sweeteners that are calorie-free and have a very low glycemic index are great choices for those who have healthy weight loss goals or need to support their blood sugar levels.
These sweeteners are naturally based and have many added benefits.
15. Monk Fruit
Monk fruit sweetener is a sugar substitute derived from monk fruit.
This sweetener is calorie-free and has a GI score of 0.
Monk fruit can be a great option for anyone trying to lose weight or support their healthy blood sugar levels.
When buying monk fruit sweeteners, you should note that they’re often mixed with other sweeteners like erythritol.
Despite this, monk fruit is a natural sweetener that doesn’t spike your blood sugar.
Derived from the leaves of the stevia plant, stevia sweeteners are another good option.
With no glycemic impact and no calories, stevia is about 300 times sweeter than regular sugar.
It is, however, heavily processed, and is often mixed with maltodextrin and erythritol.
With this in mind, green stevia, which is made directly from the dried ground leaves of the stevia plant, may be a better alternative.
17. Yacon Syrup
Yacon syrup is another sugar alternative that is derived from the tubers of the yacon plant.
This syrup is a great choice for people balancing their blood sugar levels due to its GI score of 1 and its minimal processing.
Because yacon naturally contains fructooligosaccharides as well as inulin, adding yacon to your diet can be a good way to help keep your blood sugar stable.
It’s also a good prebiotic, but people on a FODMAP diet may want to steer clear as it can cause bloating and gas.
Often found in gum and toothpaste for its protective properties, xylitol has many beneficial effects outside of being a sweetener.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol and has calories that you need to consider when adding it to your diet.
Xylitol can also contribute to gastric distress in sensitive individuals.
This sweetener has a GI score of 7-13 and is nearly as sweet as table sugar. This makes it a great sugar alternative.
You need to be careful when sourcing xylitol and ensure that it’s made from birch and not corn.
This way you’re consuming high-quality xylitol and reaping the benefits that it has to offer.
Xylitol contains no fructose and is a good sweetener for supporting a normal blood sugar level.
Another sugar alcohol, sorbitol is often found in nature within fruits like pears, peaches, and apples.
Commercial sorbitol is often made from potato, wheat, and corn starches, which is why you have to be careful and pay attention to where it’s coming from.
Like xylitol, it’s often used in alternative tooth products for its protective properties.
Sorbitol has a GI score of 4-9, which means it won’t contribute to a blood sugar spike.
Sorbitol can cause gas and bloating in people who are sensitive.
However, it’s a good choice when looking for a sweetener that helps support healthy weight loss.
Allulose can be found in nature within foods like raisins and other dried fruit, although only in small amounts.
Commercially-made allulose is typically derived from fructose and broken down by an enzyme into allulose.
Because of this, it doesn’t affect your body in the same way that fructose would.
Allulose has a GI score of 0, making it a great sweetener to choose when watching your blood sugar.
This sweetener is also quite low in calories, which makes it weight-loss friendly.
When sourcing allulose, you should look for non-GMO sources.
Sweeteners You Need to Be Careful With
The sweeteners discussed in this section are mainly artificial sweeteners, with the exception of erythritol, which can occur naturally.
Artificial sweeteners are made from chemicals and are thus heavily processed.
As always with processed foods, you will want to watch your intake as they carry their own risks.
By reading the labels of foods you buy, you can watch out for less-savory sweeteners and chemicals you may not want to put in your body.
Erythritol is a tricky sweetener.
While it is found in very small amounts in some natural sources like watermelon, the majority of what’s available to you in stores is made predominantly from corn.
Although erythritol is known as a sweetener that’s a good sugar alternative for those watching their blood sugar and calorie intake, recent studies are showing conflicting data for the use of this sweetener.
While no conclusive evidence has been found, you should practice mindfulness when using erythritol as your sweetener. Check out this video Dr. Livingood did addressing this topic:
An unnatural sweetener, aspartame has some drawbacks that you should watch out for.
When you eat aspartame, instead of working to raise your blood sugar, it can actually lower your blood sugar.
Because aspartame has a GI score of 0, it tricks your body into thinking that it needs insulin to take care of the sweetener; but instead of acting on the aspartame, it removes any remaining sugar in your bloodstream.
This creates a spike in insulin and lowers your remaining blood sugar, which can cause problems down the road.
That also makes it unfriendly to healthy weight loss as well as to maintaining a healthy blood sugar level.
With all of the possible risks that aspartame creates, there are many other sweeteners that are a better choice.
Sucralose is a synthetic sweetener that’s highly processed.
This sweetener becomes unstable when heated, such as when it’s added to coffee or used in baked goods, which may cause an increased risk of cancer.
As more studies come out about this sweetener, it will be clearer in the future as to what extent this sweetener poses health risks.
24. Acesulfame Potassium
This is another artificial sweetener that you may want to watch out for.
While studies are still looking into this sweetener further, there are studies that currently show that acesulfame potassium may increase the risk of cancer, disrupt the gut microbiome, and disrupt your brain function
As with most of the sweeteners in this section, there are many other low-calorie sweeteners that don’t disrupt your blood sugar, are naturally sourced, and are better alternatives for your diet.
Originally discovered from a coal tar derivative, saccharin was once one of the most popular artificial sweeteners.
Today saccharin is commercially produced from toluene, a highly toxic chemical.
There is a risk of irritation and allergic reaction that may be experienced when this sweetener is consumed.
Studies have also linked this sweetener to a higher risk of cancer.
Knowing how heavily processed this sweetener is, you would be better off trying other sweeteners that have a more natural manufacturing process.
Where Does This Leave You With Sugar and Sweeteners?
As with any sugar, moderation is key.
If you’re trying to reach dietary goals or need low glycemic sweeteners, there are many naturally occurring sweeteners that are sourced from non-GMO plants and aren’t known to cause harm to your health.
After you reach your goals, you can begin to incorporate more natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup back into your diet in moderation.
You should watch your intake of artificial sweeteners, and may even want to steer clear of these completely.
Ensuring that the sweeteners you use in your day-to-day life are protecting your health is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
If you’ve never paid much attention to the ingredient labels, trying to decipher the different names of common additives can seem overwhelming.
My book can help you through this process so that you can stress less and focus on experiencing real health.
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