Is your sugar substitute really better for you?

You may be heaping it by the spoonful, but your alternative sweetener could actually be hitting a sour note. Here’s what to try and what to avoid.

It goes by more than 61 different names, which makes sugar one of the most pervasive ingredients in the world. It’s also one of the most controversial, given the sweet stuff is said to cause everything from obesity to poor gut health.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Certain alternatives can provide you with the satisfying flavour you crave without the nasty side effects. Here’s what to try – and what to avoid.

As nutritionist Stephanie Malouf tells Body+Soul: “Xylitol is derived from chemically processing the carbohydrates found in fruits and berries. It has a similar sweetness to regular sugar, but contains 40 percent fewer kilojoules.”

Evidence suggests xylitol could prevent tooth decay, but it can also cause digestive upset, such as diarrhoea and bloating.

“While it is considered safe for use in foods, I’d encourage you to go without and opt for whole foods instead,” advises dietitian Melissa Meier.

Hit or miss? Miss.

Monk-fruit sweetener

Found in southern China, monk fruit is high in antioxidants, giving it a sweetness up to 200 times stronger than sugar. “These antioxidants are called mogrosides, and they have no kilojoules and no effect on your blood-sugar levels, reducing risk of type 2 diabetes,” Malouf says.

You can find monk-fruit sweetener in most health-food stores or online. But Meier warns some can be mixed with artificial substances, so read the label.

Hit or miss? Hit.

Coconut sugar

Made from coconut-flower sap, coconut sugar contains micronutrients, such as antioxidants, iron, zinc, calcium and potassium, which means higher nutritional value than cane sugar. The catch? You have to consume a lot to see benefits.

“Although it seems healthier, there is hardly any difference between coconut sugar and raw sugar when it comes to kilojoules and carbs,” Meier explains.

Hit or miss? Hit (in moderation).


This plant-derived sweetener has been popular since the ’80s, but it’s not perfect.

“You want to make sure you get organic stevia that’s still in its green form,” Malouf says. “Many conventional stevia brands can be highly processed and are often bleached, so you’re still exposing yourself to other chemicals and toxins.”

Hit or miss? Hit (if pure).

Agave syrup

It’s similar to honey, but agave syrup is more heavily refined. “Agave is often touted as a healthier alternative as it is low on the glycaemic index, but it’s also high in fructose, which places stress on your liver,” notes Malouf. Meier agrees, adding that although it’s better for blood sugar, it should be consumed sparingly.

Hit or miss? Miss.

Candy crush

Nix your sugar cravings with these expert tips:

Take it one step at a time

“Don’t wipe your favourite sugary foods off the menu for good,” says Meier.

“Instead, allow yourself some freedom to enjoy them occasionally so your temptation level doesn’t skyrocket.”

Balance your plate

“Keep your blood sugar stable by eating a mix of protein, whole grains, good fats, and fibrous veggies throughout the day,” advises Malouf.

Be sugar aware

“Practise mindful eating,” says Meier.

“Continually assess your senses while you eat, as well as your hunger and satiety cues.”