Pro and Cons of Sugar, Alternative Sweeteners & Natural Sweeteners Explained - Which Should You Use?

Pro and Cons of Sugar, Alternative Sweeteners & Natural Sweeteners Explained - Which Should You Use?

Pro and Cons of Sugar, Alternative Sweeteners & Natural Sweeteners Explained - Which Should You Use?

Sugar has long been a staple in most households and the food industry, adding sweetness to our favourite treats and beverages. However, as concerns about its impact on health have grown, alternative artificial sweeteners have gained popularity. This article will explore the pros and cons of sugar and alternative sweeteners, helping you make informed choices about your choice of sweetener

Sugar: The Sweet Classic

Sugar, in its various forms, has been used by humans for thousands of years. Over time, table sugar, refined sugar, or sucrose, has become the most common sugar in most kitchens. Sugar is extracted from sugarcane or sugar beets and undergoes a refining process before reaching store shelves.

These are the current recommended daily intake levels for added sugars:

  • Children 2-19 years old: 6 teaspoons (100 calories)
  • For adult women: 6 teaspoons (100 calories)
  • Adults: 9 teaspoons (150 calories)

Unsurprisingly, Indians consume far more sugar than the recommended intake levels by the World Health Organization. Sugar-sweetened beverages like diet soda constitute a significant source of added sugars in our diets. They are also a source of major health concerns.


    • Sugar is a source of quick energy for our bodies. It is broken down into glucose, which our cells use to fuel their activities.
    • Sugar contributes to the taste and texture of many foods, making them more enjoyable.

While it can make dishes and drinks taste great, some significant adverse effects of using refined sugar in your diet are detrimental to the human body.


    • Weight Gain: Sugar is dense in calories and lacks essential nutrients, making it easy to overconsume. Increased sugar intake results in increased calorie intake, resulting in body weight gain and obesity.
    • Tooth Decay: The bacteria in our mouths feed on sugar, producing acids that attack tooth enamel and lead to cavities.
    • Blood Sugar Spike: Foods that contain added sugar cause a rapid increase in blood glucose levels because they are quickly digested and absorbed.
    • Increased Risk of Chronic Diseases: Studies have linked high sugar intake to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.
    • Nutrient Imbalance: Consuming sugary foods and drinks can displace nutrient-rich options from our diets, leading to deficiencies in vitamins, minerals, and fibre.
  • A major 2014 study in JAMA revealed a link between added sugar consumption regularly and an increased risk of heart disease.
  • It's a no-brainer that industrial fructose, such as table sugar and high fructose corn syrup, cause declining liver function.
  • Studies suggest even a 2-3% calorie sugar intake can significantly impact your dental and physical health.

How about Artificial Sugar Alternatives?

  1. Artificial sweeteners are sugar substitutes used as a food additive to provide a sweet taste without regular sugar's added calories or carbohydrates.
  2. Artificial sweeteners are typically sweeter than sugar, so only small amounts are needed to achieve the desired level of sweetness.
  3. Artificial sweeteners are often used in foods and beverages labeled as "sugar-free" or "diet." This includes diet sodas, sugar-free candies and gums, low-calorie yogurts, Flavoured water mixes, powdered energy drinks, and other processed foods marketed to individuals looking to reduce their sugar intake.
  4. They are also a severe health hazard besides empty calories with no nutrient value.
  5. Many artificial sweeteners are linked to increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and even cancer.

Let's take a look at some of those artificial sweeteners and the risks involved.

Aspartame is linked with an increased risk of hypertension and fibromyalgia.

Acesulfame can cause microbial alterations that disrupt gut health and DNA damage while increasing your chance of developing chronic diseases like Crohn's disease.

Cyclamate is harmful to your overall health. Three-quarters of the cyclamate you eat is metabolized by gut bacteria into a toxic compound called cyclohexylamine.

Saccharin is a big 'No' as it can increase your risk of bladder cancer.

Sorbitol and Xylitol are not absorbed by the body. Therefore, they draw fluid into your colon and can have a laxative effect.

Erythritol is a sugar alcohol used as a low-calorie sweetener. It was thought to be harmless until recently. But recent studies have found that elevated levels of erythritol and several related artificial sweeteners were associated with the risk for cardiovascular events. More studies are underway.

Although most of these are alarming revelations, there is a silver lining. Some of these adverse effects can be reversed if you stop consuming these harmful artificial sweeteners.

To avoid putting yourselves and your loved ones in danger, it's better to cut out artificial sweeteners altogether.

Are natural sweeteners any good?

With artificial sweeteners out of the picture, are natural sweeteners any better. Well, natural sweeteners are often referred to as "healthy" alternatives to sugar.

Are natural sweeteners really healthy? Are they any different from real sugar and those synthetic sugar substitutes? Let's find out!

Coconut Sugar


    • Coconut sugar is processed less than regular sugar and has some trace minerals, vitamins, and nutrients.


    • Coconut sugar gives you a blood sugar spike similar to sugar.
    • It's not diabetic-friendly and can increase your risk of developing lifestyle diseases.
    • It is not easily available




    • Agave nectar, a vegan alternative to honey and maple syrup, comes from the agave plant. It's sweeter than sugar and blends easily with liquids. It also contains some iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium.


    • Agave nectar has more calories and a lower glycaemic load than regular sugar, which can still increase your blood sugar levels.
    • It is not easily available




    • It has some vitamins and nutrients and is less processed than regular sugar.


    • Honey is high in calories and lacks essential nutrients.
    • It cause a blood sugar spike in diabetics and non-diabetics alike similar to table sugar
    • Also, honey is an animal product. Therefore, it's not suitable for those following a plant-based diet.




    • Stevia is a calorie-free sweetener made from the stevia plant, which is sweeter than table sugar.
    • Stevia has a minimal impact on blood sugar levels and is considered safe for consumption by people with diabetes.
    • It is versatile and can be used to make a wide range of desserts


    • It has a bitter aftertaste.
    • When consumed in large quantities, Stevia may cause gastrointestinal discomfort, such as bloating or diarrhoea, although the effects are mild.


Monk Fruit:


    • Monk fruit extract, taken from the Swingle Fruit, is super sweet (100-250 times sweeter than regular sugar) and has zero calories.
    • It's also rich in antioxidants that might have some health benefits, like fighting inflammation, cancer, and diabetes.


    • The taste of monk fruit extract might not be everyone's cup of tea.



    • Molasses contains essential minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. These minerals are important in various bodily functions and can contribute to overall health and well-being.
    • Molasses is rich in antioxidants, including polyphenols, which help protect the body against oxidative stress and damage caused by free radicals.
    • It doesn't cause a blood sugar spike and is safe and healthy for diabetics and non-diabetics
    • It is easy to use
    • It is versatile


    • Molasses is not easily available
    • It has a distinct taste unlike sugar which is tasteless


Store bought date syrup

Pros :

    • It has some vitamins and nutrients, and is less processed than regular sugar.
    • It's easily available in any regular supermarket, and is ready to use.
    • It has a smooth and consistent texture. It is usually thick and pourable, similar to other syrups like maple syrup or honey.


    • It is high in calories, low in fibre
    • It's not diabetic-friendly.
    • It causes blood sugar spike in healthy adults


Unfiltered Date Syrup


    • Unfiltered date syrup is one of the healthiest sweeteners out there. It has almost the same nutritional benefits as raw dates such a high in antioxidants, iron, calcium, potassium, vitamins and minerals.
    • It doesn't cause a blood sugar spike and are safe and healthy for diabetics and non-diabetics alike.
    • Easy to make at home. Here is a date syrup recipe.


    • The distinctive flavour of date syrup might not appeal to everyone.
    • Short shelf-life.
    • Not easily available at stores and supermarkets.


Date Sugar


    • Has the same nutritional benefits as the unfiltered date syrup.
    • It is versatile, and can be used in both dry and fudgy sweets and desserts.
    • It doesn't cause a blood sugar spike and are safe and healthy for diabetics and non-diabetics alike.
    • It has a longer shelf life.


    • Not easily available in stores.


Dry Fruits

Dry fruits, also known as dried fruits, are fruits that have undergone a drying process to remove their water content. The process involves removing most of the moisture from the fruit, resulting in a shrivelled, preserved product.


    • There are plenty of varieties of dry fruits to choose from, like raisins, dates, apricots, figs, prunes, cranberries and more.
    • Each dry fruit has their own characteristics and health benefits, and are so versatile.
    • They are concentrated source of essential nutrients such as fibre, iron, potassium, magnesium, vitamin E, and antioxidants.
    • They don't cause a blood sugar spike and are safe and healthy for diabetics and non-diabetics alike.
    • They have a long shelf life.
    • They are a healthy source of energy. They are often recommended as a pre- or post-workout snack to replenish glycogen stores and provide instant energy.


    • Some dry fruits are expensive.
    • When sourcing your dried fruits, it's important buy them unadulterated from trusted sources.


Fresh Fruits

Fresh fruits are fruits that are consumed in their natural state, without undergoing any drying or preservation methods. Fresh fruits are typically harvested when ripe and are characterised by their high water content and juicy texture.


    • Fresh fruits are packed with essential vitamins, minerals, fibre, iron, potassium, magnesium and antioxidants that contribute to overall health and well-being.
    • Fresh fruits not only contain natural sugars like fructose but is also fiber rich. This provides sweetness without the harmful effects of refined sugar.
    • They come in a wide array of flavours, textures, and colours, offering a pleasurable eating experience.
    • They don't cause a blood sugar spike and are safe and healthy for diabetics and non-diabetics alike.


    • Not versatile.
    • Some of them are seasonal
    • They have a relatively short shelf life and can spoil quickly if not stored properly.


Bottom Line

Many of these natural sweeteners can help you lower your use of sugar and lose or manage weight. In general, natural sugar substitutes like dates, dry fruits, and fresh fruits are safe for healthy adults than actual sugar.

Bottom line, it's better to avoid sugar altogether and choose whole food plant-based sweet alternatives like dates, sweet potatoes, beetroots, dry fruits, and fresh fruits.

We have a number of easy-to-make fruit-based sweet recipes such as Fruit Sweetened Jam, Fruit Sweetened Cookies Fruit Sweetened Carrot Cake and more just for you to try at home.


Next Steps

Now, you have empowered yourself with the knowledge of what to eat and what not to eat to satisfy your sweet cravings.

Looking to eat healthy? We can help.

  1. Book an online consultation with Dr. Achyuthan Eswar for a personalized medical consultation to prevent, treat and better manage lifestyle diseases through diet and lifestyle
  2. Learn to cook delicious whole food plant based goodies and sign up for courses on health and wellness from the comfort of you home. Join our online courses from anywhere in the world
  3. Get daily essentials to cook healthy meals at home
  4. Stock up on delicious sweets and snacks that are sugar/jaggery-free, oil-free, maida-free and plant-based - Available Pan-India



External References

Be Blessed by the Divine!
Dr. Achyuthan Eswar


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