Do or don’t: 6 sugar alternatives

Decided to try and give up sugar? Heard it’s bad for you and now looking to replace it with a “healthier” alternative, like agave syrup or artificial sweeteners?

Hold the brakes! Before you do decide which sweet substance to go for, let’s discover whether the most common alternatives are really all that good for you. Read more to find out.



Fructose is often seen as the “good guy” because it’s found in fruits. While fructose in fruits should not bother you (see below), it can be harmful to your health in its synthetical form.

The synthetical version is found in processed foods and is also found in high amounts in high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), as the name suggests. HFCS is added to loads of different foods like breakfast cereals, soft drinks or cookies. Several studies showed, that fructose, is turned into fat even faster than normal glucose. Furthermore, when comparing normal glucose and fructose, fructose causes a lower feeling of satiety than glucose. For these reasons, fructose is called the “thickener No.1”.



It is true that fruit contains sugar, but it also comes with fibre, vitamins, minerals, trace elements and antioxidants, which are essential for your health. Furthermore, fruits have a low energy density, which means they have a relatively low number of calories in a large volume of food. This makes it difficult to overeat on fruit. Apricots for example, have only 0.8g of fruit sugar per 100g of fruit. Or bananas, 3.6 grams of fruit sugar per 100g.

What does this mean? In a nutshell, fruit is awesome. Tastes good and is essential for your overall health. Period.


Agave Syrup

You’re probably already familiar with this sugar substitute. Agave syrup is seen as the healthier alternative due to its low-glycemic index and therefore used as the sweetening ingredient in mans “sugar-free” products. But beware, because actually, it only sounds healthy. The reason why Agave Syrup has a low glycemic index is that it is largely made of fructose and you already know why fructose can be harmful to your health. It has even the highest fructose content of any commercial sweeteners. So best to steer clear of this highly processed food product!


Maple syrup

Maple syrup is a better alternative to agave syrup, because it is not as highly processed and has lower fructose amounts. Furthermore it has many nutrients, including manganese, riboflavin, and zinc.


Artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, acesulfame and sucralose are synthetically produced food additives that taste sweet while having zero calories. Sound too good to be true? That’s because it is. Studies have shown that artificial sweeteners can also cause people to gain weight. Those studies proved that consuming these sweeteners regularly, in diet coke for example, are far more likely to result in weight gain and the development of diabetes type 2. What’s interesting in this context is that the brain naturally responds to sweetness with signals to eat even more. Tasting something sweet without any calories, causes us to crave more sweet drinks and foods, which results in the consumption of excess calories.

Studies have also shown that artificial sweeteners can change the type of bacteria in your intestines, which also can lead to obesity.



Honey, is one of the oldest and long-standing food products in the world. It contains fructose and glucose, water, minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, pollen, enzymes and a tiny bit of protein.

Ever had someone prepare you a cup of hot tea with honey when you were ill? That’s because it’s been scientifically proven that the enzymes in honey have healing benefits. Furthermore, scientists have demonstrated antifungal and antibacterial properties. For these reasons it is a good alternative to white sugar. Nevertheless honey has almost as many calories as sugar, therefore should be consumed with caution.

Take part of the discussion

  • Nerida Bigcat Springett

    I would like to know your thoughts on xylitol? A product that comes from Birch trees (I think), where does that stand on the scale of other sweeteners please? 😊

  • Cal-I Jonel

    Great article. Thanks. I’ve recently started using crystallied coconut blossom nectar (as a sugar alternative). Any thoughts on this?

    • Santana

      If its not it its natural form, its processed. If its processed, its probably killing you slowly. Like the song. Sorry buddy. 🙁

  • David Greco

    Just avoid adding sweeteners all together! How hard is that for people to understand? Seriously if you want the results that you are after you’ve gotta just cut the cord and get used to it.

    • Santana

      preaching to the choir! Not that easy to break the habit though. Studies shown that sugar is more addictive than cocaine!!!

      • David Greco

        I disagree, change is hard but it’s just as easy to rely on crutches forever than to just figure out how to manage without them. In my opinion if you trade one for the other you’ll just continue trading as an excuse not to change. To each their own though.

        • Rob Dutch

          What could help in turning away from sugar is to eat more saturated fat. This is very satiating and is a good substitute for sugar. Soon, you will stop longing for sugar (as I witnessed myself). Btw, contrary of what is being said about saturated fat, it is very healthy, not fattening and does not contribute to heart disease. If interested, wait for the outcome of the possibly worldturning trial on this subject of professor Noakes against the health association: save the date April 24

  • Tanya

    What about stevia? In Russia it’s very popular now, any thought on it?
    I use banana and dates to sweeten my pancakes or to go with coffee.

  • Mauricio Quintana

    so why if the Agave Syrup is not as good as it sounds and we should steer clear of it, it is included in a wide variety of recipes on the Nutrition Coach?

    • David Harrison

      Wondered that myself…..

  • I heard agave syrup had a high glucemic rate. Great article.

  • Rob Dutch

    Nice comparison. I would add the following: fruit is ok, fruit juice releases the fructose and can be consumed in much higher quantities than a piece. So fruit juices (and smoothies) are bad! So eat an orange, stop drinking your fresh orange juice.

    The good effects honey may have will only become effective when honey is consumed in high amounts. So although honey can be favored over sugar, the bad character of its sugar content would still categorize it as bad.


    I have used Xylitol and it taste like any others but most of these aritifical sweetners are still known to cause problems. I have read studies that associate Cancer to artificial sweetners. Best advice, learn to eat things that aren’t sweet. It is against what most people want, and as humans we naturally crave sweet things but you can rewire your brain over time and get use to eating not sweet foods. Good luck!