The Scoop on Natural Sweeteners

Natural sweeteners can help you satisfy sweet cravings and control your diabetes. Here’s how to choose one that’s right for you.

Rita Ross
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From agave to xylitol, all the choices in natural sweeteners are touted as healthy alternatives to table sugar. Fact is, they’re all still sugars. The key difference? Variations in calorie count, sweetness and taste—stevia even has a hint of licorice. And used wisely and in moderation, they can be a great way to satisfy those occasional sweet cravings. So what to use when, and how much to pour or sprinkle? Check this guide…and be sure to double-check with your healthcare provider or diabetes educator about what natural sweeteners may be best for you! And always remember to read the labels.

What it is: Popular since the days of the Aztecs, this nectar is collected from the agave plant. Its texture is similar to honey and it’s about as sweet.
How to use: Try using agave to sweeten tea or in a smoothie—use about 1 teaspoon per cup of other liquid. If you’re baking, use three-quarters of a cup agave for each cup of sugar in a recipe and reduce all other liquids in the recipe by one-third; also reduce oven temperature by 25 degrees and bake for about 10 minutes longer.
How it affects blood sugar: The jury’s still out on agave’s effect on blood sugar; plus, it has about the same amount of calories and carbohydrates as table sugar. Your best bet: Consider it the equivalent of table sugar and test your individual response to it.
Health bonus! The fiber found in agave helps boost the immune system, plus it enhances calcium absorption for better bone health. 

Date sugar
What is is: Dried dates that are pulverized into a fine powder.
How to use: Date sugar doesn’t dissolve well, so it’s not the best way to sweeten your coffee or tea. Use it, instead, for sprinkling on oatmeal or for baking. Since it’s sweeter than white or brown sugars, use only half the sugar called for in a recipe.
How it affects blood sugar: Use sparingly until you can gauge your response; some people with diabetes find that too much date sugar can trigger a quick spike in blood sugar.
Health bonus! Date sugar is packed with nutrients including iron, magnesium, potassium and B vitamins. 

April 2013