Pros and Cons of Natural Sweeteners

Contributing writers:

Cherie Soria,

Meredith McCarty,

Ritamarie Loscalzo, DC,

Here's an excerpt from Lesson 34 of the Vegan / Vegetarian Mastery Program. It provides the lowdown on 15 different sweeteners. Next to almost every one, you’ll see its glycemic index rating.

As we explain in Lesson 33 of the Mastery Program, the glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly carbohydrates are broken down and absorbed into your blood. All carbohydrates are given a score relative to pure glucose, which has a score of 100. Low GI foods are those with scores of 55 or lower, and high-GI foods have a score of 70 or above.

For comparison sake, table sugar has a GI of 84.

Blended fruits

  1. GI: 40 to 62[1]

    Unlike refined sweeteners, blended fruits are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Ritamarie’s favorites are blended bananas, peaches, mangos, pears, and apples. Obviously, fruits have distinctive flavors. So use them in recipes where their flavors would be a welcome addition.

    See the lesson on “Vegan Baking” for more on using bananas in baked goods. If you’re not raw, you can use apple sauce too. But as we explained in the “Raw vs. Cooked” lesson, fruits contain heat-sensitive vitamins and phytochemicals. So apple sauce is less nutritious than blended raw apples.

Barley malt syrup

  1. GI: 54[1]

    Made from boiled down barley, it has a stronger flavor than brown rice syrup, but a milder flavor than molasses. It’s closer to a whole food than most sweeteners, second only to fruit and dried fruit. Less expensive versions contain a hybrid of barley and corn. Meredith recommends Eden Organic brand barley malt, which has 100% organic sprouting barley.

    Whereas simple sugars (fructose, glucose, and sucrose) can cause blood sugar spikes, the complex carbs in barley malt syrup break down slowly. They metabolize slowly and evenly in your body, providing an ongoing source of energy.

    Ritamarie points out that it may contain traces of gluten, which could be a problem for those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance. So avoid this if you have an autoimmune or neurologic disease, as gluten intolerance can be a contributing factor.

Brown rice syrup or brown rice malt syrup

  1. GI: 25[2]

    Made from fermented rice, brown rice syrup contains trace amounts of B vitamins, potassium, protein, and calcium. For desserts that are supposed to rise or thicken, Meredith recommends brown rice malt syrup over the regular kind.

    Both are closer to whole foods than most sweeteners, second only to fruit and dried fruit. Their complex carbs break down slowly. They metabolize slowly and evenly in your body, providing an ongoing source of energy.

Coconut palm sugar

  1. GI: 35[2]

    This sugar is reported to be the dehydrated sweet juices of tropical coconut palm sugar blossoms. It’s produced by climbing high into the canopy of swaying coconuts and harvesting the sweet nectar by gently slicing the flower. It’s organic, unprocessed, unfiltered, and unbleached. Once collected, the nectars are kettle-boiled into a thick caramel and ground to a fine crystal high. Ritamarie explains that it’s high in potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron and even contains several B vitamins.


  1. GI: 36 to 62[1]

    Dates are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Cherie finds that their mild flavor is easily camouflaged by other ingredients. She uses soaked, blended dates to thicken raw puddings, pie fillings, and sauces. When she needs a binding agent for raw pie crusts, cakes, or cookies, she blends unsoaked dates with nuts and/or dried coconut — using a food processor.

Dried fruits

  1. GI: 30 to 64[1]

    Dried fruits have a stronger, more distinct flavor than their fresh counterparts. So pick a fruit that complements your recipe. Cherie uses dried fruits to thicken and bind desserts. For example:

    She uses dried mission figs to complement chocolate. She uses raisins to give depth to raw graham cracker crusts. And she blends soaked dried fruit with its fresh counterpart to create a thick mousse. (She finds that mangoes and pineapples are delicious prepared this way.)

    To make syrup-like sweeteners, Ritamarie rehydrates dried figs, raisins, apricots, and goji berries (by soaking them in water). Then she blends them with water.

    Like fresh fruit, dried fruits are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. However, they’re higher in fructose, and higher on the GI. Cherie points out that non-organic dried fruit may be coated with sulfur dioxide. So organic is recommended.

Evaporated cane juice

  1. GI: 55[2]

    This dried or crystallized, unrefined juice comes from sugar cane. Cane sugars are about 96% sucrose and 4% minerals. Ritamarie explains that this 4% difference slows down blood sugar changes at a statistically significant level.

    Cherie describes its color and flavor as “similar to brown sugar, but deeper, with more molasses”. She uses it to replace white or brown sugar in desserts, especially in raw graham cracker crusts and fruit crisp toppings… or anytime she wants a brown sugar flavor. She recommends the Rapadura brand.


  1. GI: 44 to 58[1]

    We recommend raw honey because it contains pollen, enzymes, and trace amounts of nutrients. However, even when it’s raw, Ritamarie explains that honey is rapidly absorbed. Cherie concurs, explaining that it increases blood sugar more quickly than white sugar, so it’s not recommended for infants or small children. Even adults should use it sparingly.

Maca powder

Cherie uses maca powder to thicken smoothies and shakes… and to replace flour in raw cakes and cookies. She describes it as having a “slightly sweet, malt-like taste”.

Maca powder comes from a root-like vegetable shaped like a radish, which grows high in the Andes mountains in South America. It’s rich in calcium and potassium. It’s also reported to be a natural hormone balancer that increases energy, libido, and stamina.

    Maple syrup

    1. GI: 54[1]

      Maple syrup is made from the boiled sap of the maple tree. It has fewer calories than honey, but a few more minerals. It’s 65% sucrose and 35% water.

      Cherie implores students to use only organic pure maple syrup, because anything less could be genetically modified corn syrup, with as little as 3% maple syrup! She also explains that maple butter and maple sugar are more highly concentrated than the syrup.

    Mesquite powder

    1. GI: 25

      Cherie uses it mesquite powder to thicken shakes and smoothies… and even replace flour in cakes, cookies, and pie crusts. She describes its flavor as “mildly sweet and caramel-like”. It helps regulate other carbohydrates and helps curb your appetite.

    Molasses and muscovado sugar

    1. GI: 54[1]

      This is a slightly sweet, intensely flavored syrup (or sugar) that’s left over after the processing of cane and/or beet sugar. Because of it’s deep flavor, Cherie loves using it in cookies, especially ginger and spice cookies.

      She explains that first-press molasses is light in color and flavor. Repeated boiling results in dark blackstrap molasses Blackstrap molasses and muscovado sugar are 65% sucrose. Both contain measurable amounts of iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium, making it more nutritious than most sweeteners.


    1. GI: 0[2]

      Derived from the leaf of the stevia plant, this herb has been used as a sweetener in South America for hundreds of years. Cherie and Ritamarie explain that it has no calories, no effect on your body’s production of insulin, and does not elevate blood-sugar levels.

      It’s 200-300 times sweeter than sugar, so only tiny amounts are needed for sweetening. It comes in both powder and liquid form.

      The downside of Stevia is its strong aftertaste, which Cherie describes as “licorice-like”. Ritamarie neutralizes the aftertaste by combining 1 part Stevia with 12 parts xylitol. She also points out that whole, fresh green leaf Stevia has less of an aftertaste than the white powder.


    1. GI: 7[1]

      Ritamarie explains that xylitol is found in fibrous vegetables and fruit, like plums, raspberries and cauliflower as well as in corn cobs and birch tree bark. Your body produces up to 15 grams of it daily during normal metabolism.

      Xylitol is a five-carbon sugar, which means that it is anti-microbial, whereas all other forms of sugar are six-carbon sugars, which cause bacteria and fungi overgrowth. It inhibits yeast, plaque and dental cavities, retards demineralization, and promotes re-mineralization of tooth enamel.

    Yacon Syrup

    1. GI: 0[2]

      This syrup is made from the root of the yacon plant, a Peruvian, sweet potato like tuber. Ritamarie explains that it has a high concentration of inulin and fructo oligo saccarides, which provide fuel for your intestinal microorganisms and very few calories.

      It’s been used in South America to lower blood sugar in those with diabetes and to improve digestion. Some sources say it’s heated to 120-140 degrees, other sources claim their process leaves it raw.

      Cherie describes its flavor as “mild and sweet, with a moist, crunchy texture slightly reminiscent of fresh-picked apple, pineapple, and watermelon.”

    What about agave nectar, aspartame, splenda, saccharin, and sunette? We cover these in Lesson 34 of the Vegan/Vegetarian Mastery Program. There's also a lengthy article on the unique benefits of xylitol.

    Would you like to learn more simple strategies to achieving vibrant energy, a strong lean body and an extraordinary life? Go to and pick up your free e-book containing simple strategies and recipes for increasing energy, decreasing weight and feeling great. For more great articles, visit

    Internationally recognized speaker, author and mentor, Dr. Ritamarie Loscalzo is the “Woman’s Fatigue Expert and Vibrant Health Mentor.”


    [1] The University of Sydney / Glycemic Index Foundation

    [2] The Bitter Truth About Sweeteners, Feb 23, 2010

    29 Comment(s)

    1. Great information! This is exactly what I needed to help decide what to use and when to use it!

      Cathy Diercks | Reply

    2. As I recall, sucrose is not a "simple" sugar.

      Len811 | Reply

    3. Give me dates, dates, and more dates!!! I am a type 2 diabetic which I am trying super hard to overcome…I must say that when I consume dates ( i have eaten up to 10 or more at a time) my sugar unbelievably does not rise and if it does it is 10-20 points at the most (that is usually when I have eaten something with them like almond butter). I am not naive, I know that everyone's body is not the same as mine, but I LOVE DATES and they will always be on my top ten favorite foods (and sweeteners) EVER!!! I took myself from 7.2 to 6.4 with diet alone in just a few months, I am on the right track and still fighting!!

      ac | Reply

    4. I'm surprised that agave isn't on the list.

      Carmella Soleil | Reply

    5. In The Vegan / Vegetarian Mastery Program, the lesson “Natural Sweetener Showdown” does cover agave nectar. As mentioned, what’s above is only an excerpt from that lesson.

      admin | Reply

    6. Great info!  Thanks…sharing!!!

      Dorothy | Reply

    7. I was surprised to not find Erythritol on your list of sweeteners – is there a particular reason for this?

      Sunny | Reply

    8. Xylitol is clearly a superior sweetener. It looks like sugar, tastes like sugar but, contrary to sugar has so many healthy attributes. It appears that if one wants to know the rest one has to subscribe to your Mastery Program in order to be informed by Lesson 34.

      Johann Andersen | Reply

    9. That’s a good one too. It goes under the name Organic Zero at Whole Foods. I believe we didn’t learn about it until after writing this article.

      admin | Reply

      Hello ~ like you I used Agave syrup a lot. But this wonderful site:" Food Renegade"  backs up every statement with research. Read the true story about what Agave actually is!  (see link below).
      After reading this, I feel that Agave is a scam for big co.'s to make money.
      The reaction I felt when I had some agave, after doing a short fast was, mental cloudiness and a general increase in my temperature, making me feel some inflammation in my intestines or stomach.
      * * * Please pass this link onto anyone you know who is presently using Agave so they can at least make an informed decision to continue or discontinue its use.
      Also, I think some of the true stevias, have come a long way in removing the anise faint taste etc. I use the clear liquid brand:  " NuNaturals Alcohol Free Stevia"
      and its 100% tasteless and great!!

      Emily ann | Reply

    11. Can you please tell me if Xylitol is dangerous for dogs?  I've heard it is, but have not researched it enough to know for sure.  If so, this may be worth mentioning, in the section regarding Xylitol…as a precaution for all the dog owners out there.  

      Kelly | Reply

    12. I am really impressed by this comprehensive body of research on all or most things sweet.  Have been looking for answers to all the things you have so carefully explained and made intelligible for my basic understanding.  Just one question about using dates for cooking/baking:  any comment about using the commercially  distributed kind from "Mediterranean" or Tunisia that are pitted?  Wonder if they are radiated and less nutritious?  In any case, they enhance my vegan baking and are economical.

      Dharmadancer | Reply

    13. Knowledge is Power!  Thank you for sharing what you have learned during your research.  Your time and findings is appreciated.

      Ginny Sandoval | Reply

    14. About the excerpt on Stevia – totally wrong!  I have been using Stevia for years.  It has NO aftertaste and certainly NO licorice taste.  It's about 3 times sweeter than sugar I's say – NOT 200-300 times sweeter.  There is NO downside to Stevia.  Where this author(s) got their so-called facts is beyond my understanding – but I guess it sells books for anyone who is gullible enough to believe everything they read.

      Joan Benincasa | Reply

    15. Several yrs ago I purchased White Birch sugar – which I found to be the best substitute
      for consistency in baking. It doesn't seem to be available at any Health Food Stores here,
      & yet it is supposed to be healthy alternative. Also, no one ever seems to talk about it?
      (I purchased it in the USA at a health store but forget where it was – we were attending a
      conference and just happened to pass by this store) Any info on it most appreciated!

      Renate' Wald | Reply

    16. Are you aware of another sugar called lakanto? Donna Gates recommends it.

      Amy | Reply

    17. fyi  ..  further info on stevia.  website presents the results of the latest in nutrition and health research.     Worth subscribing ..  Dr Greger is great and he presents the info in a way that is easy to understand, with the relevant journal articles listed under each video.

      Pat | Reply

    18. Hi Pat. Stevia in it's just extracted from the plant as a white powder state is incredibly sweet – at least 100 times sweeter than sugar. Believe me, I have ruined a few dishes because I used powdered 100% stevia – probably about 30 grains, and the food was inedible because it was so sweet.
      I think what you're referring to is the stevia that's sold in supermarkets etc that is mixed with excipients so that it can be used more like one would use sugar. 

      Ann-Maree | Reply

    19. Hi,
      I am a little disappointed that you added Honey to your list being that you are a vegan page. I know that some Vegans do eat honey, but i believe this is mainly because they have no clue that the bee industry is very similar to the factory farming industry or exactly the same. Billions of bees are destroyed by this system annually on top of this, they are moved across the country in trucks to California to help pollinate Almonds which is so unnatural and unhealthy. Bee production needs to be stopped for our planet to survive. They are so important. Also where is Agave? The only reason i read this was for your take on Agave. I don’t appreciate teasers.

      Josh of INVEG | Reply

    20. White Birch Sugar is Xylitol

      Howard | Reply

    21. It’s her product of course she recommends it. Main ingredient is Erythritol.

      Howard | Reply

    22. You avoid mention of Jaggery from North India and Gud from South India, which are essentially the same, comprising the evaporated juice of the whole cane (sugar). Long known to be beneficial for health and preventing tooth decay when used as the exclusive sugar, the reason why Jaggery is healthy is that it is rich in vitamins and minerals!

      Alternatives to white sugar are consistently used in the Third World, with traditional cane evaporate produced in Columbia, Brazil etc. as well as China; sugar from Coconut is also packaged in dehydrated (but unrefined) form. These are worth investigating as healthy alternatives and fair-traded products of small farming in impoverished circumstances, raising the standard of living for these families.

      joy hertz | Reply

    23. Why dont you identify xylitol, and sugar beets as potentially genetically modified?

      I see no warning that xylitol made from corn stalks that are not organic is likely to contain genetically modified corn. Also in the section on molasses and muscovado sugar, you say these two sweeteners can be derived from sugar beets. Sugar beets are now also genetically modified. Most people are interested in knowing when GMOs are in the foods they eat. Why do you omit this vital information?

      Georgia | Reply

    24. I had a terrible reaction to xylitol and when I did some research found that others have also had very strong unwanted explosive diarrhea so would be really careful about giving this to children or elderly. Directions suggest using it in equal parts for sugar but I would highly recommend avoiding this.

      Angi Bloom | Reply

    25. Thank you for the excellent information.

      Joan Powell | Reply

    26. For diabetics people which natural form of sweeteners suite them best.

      Adriana | Reply

    27. I just wanted to know where you got the info on the rice malt syrup. If looking this up its actually got a G.I of 98!!! which is only 2 below glucose. I just used it in my baking then thought i would look it up and am quite disappointed that I used it now!

      Collette | Reply

    28. Hi,

      I noticed that Lucuma is *not* listed here. Is this something that you all are unaware of exists, or why is it not listed as a great alternative sweetener? I’m pretty sure it’s very low on the GI, too, so I would love for there to be more info shared for people to learn more and try it for themselves!

      Thanks a million!

      Ashlee Brass | Reply

    29. Re. honey producers who do produce natural raw honey — check your local area for producers who are small but trying to grow hives of bees. Without bees there are no plants!

      mike crafton | Reply

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