Sugar and Alternative Sweeteners, what’s good, what’s bad?

I believe my addiction started at around 7 years of age. I don’t think that’s particularly unusual either. I remember how I would roll out of bed and immediately go to the cupboard in search for my morning hit of the white stuff; sugar. To this day I remain an addict, with a particular soft spot for Cadbury’s chocolate. 

We’ve all seen the headlines about how terrible sugar is for our health. Worse than fat and more addictive than heroine. But despite knowing all that, I still can’t seem to kick the habit. I once managed to go 8 weeks without it, but it slowly crept back in. Now a days I don’t beat myself up about it, instead I try to make slightly healthier versions of sweet treats I love each week so I can at least avoid the most nutritionally void options. 

I’m not alone, many of us have swapped our sugar for some alternative hoping it’ll get us off cane sugar. One week Agave nectar is a must, the next it’s Stevia. But with the headlines changing every few months it can be near-on impossible to keep track of the debates around these sugar alternatives. 

I’m not one to preach, I like you to have the facts and make a decision that’s right for you. So I’ve written this blog with the help of nutritionist Chloe Manlay, to bring you the facts and let you make up your own mind! It includes my favourite recipes for healthy-ish treats at the bottom. 

With the rise of eating disorders such as orthorexia where healthy eating is taken upon the user as a mind-melting obsessive compulsion I believe it’s important we talk more openly about the grey area of nutrition, the healthy-ish options. 

Coconut nectar, aka coconut (palm) sugar or blossom syrup

Pros: contains nutrients, perfect replacement for cane sugar as it comes in the same form so it’s easy to swap it over in recipes by weight. Rich in B vitamins, Mg, Ca, K, Zn, 17 amino acids, SCFS, polyphenols and antioxidants plus inulin, a prebiotic fibre that feeds bacteria in your gut. 

Cons: spikes blood sugar levels. Mixed views on its sustainability and whether collecting the sap affects the production of our beloved coconuts. 

Maple Syrup

Pros: taken directly from a maple tree with little processing. Contains 34 beneficial compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, significant amounts of Zn and and 15 times more Ca than Honey. Mostly sucrose with very small amounts of fructose and glucose so a good choice for those suffering from IBS and SIBO. 

Cons: spikes blood sugar levels. Buy organic where possible. 

Muscovado Sugar

Pros: retains some nutritional value, tastes very rich like caramel. Sometimes brown is not always best!

Cons: I disagree with the above and would argue it has nutritional value comparable to table sugar,  no dietary fibre meaning will have high impact on blood sugar levels. 

Cane Sugar 

Pros: None

Cons: spikes blood sugar levels, devoid of nutrition and highly addictive. Also involved in unethical farming practices unless labeled otherwise with a fair-trade label. 

Whole Cane Sugar

Pros: Unprocessed sugar cane contains vitamins A, B and C, Ca, Chromium, Zinc and Mg plus antioxidant polyphenols. During sugar-cane processing, the molasses pressed out of the sugar keeps all nutrients intact, as not refined or subject to heat. Absorbed more slowly into the blood stream due to nutrient and fibre content. 

Cons: may be difficult to maintain, and questionable ethical farming practices. 

Agave Nectar

Pros: said to have a very low glycemic index making it safe for diabetics as it doesn’t spike blood sugar levels. 

Cons: Essentially refined fructose, made by a process similar to converting corn starch into high-fructose corn syrup, shown to be damaging to health. Expensive if produced in the traditional way by slowly boiling the sap. It’s made from the starch of the Mexican tequila plant. Could be up to 90 percent fructose!

Date Syrup

Pros: Using whole dates or Date sugar could make a better alternative. 

Cons: Dates are rich in nutrients such as Mg, Potassium and Calcium as well as dietary fibre, however the methods used to create the syrup (extracting the syrup from boiled dates) means the health benefits get left behind. High in calories and will spike BSL.

The Recipes

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Almond butter blondies

by My New Roots

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Courgette chocolate cake

by Riverford

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Date energy balls

by Deliciously Ella


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