What are the best sugars to use, and why are they better for you? Many people have differing opinions on this topic, and I wanted to get to the bottom of it. I have been told time and time again that too much white sugar is a bad thing. That brought me into the world of brown sugar and natural sweeteners such as agave and stevia. Recently I picked up what seems a monthly bottle of agave nectar, only to realize how much I was spending in comparison to buying the ultra cheap white sugar. Although somewhere down the line I was told that these natural sugars were better for me, I never really took the time to do in depth research about them in order to justify the spending. So, I have broken down all of the sugars I have used, and what research has to say about them, in order for you to have an unbiased look into what you would like to integrate into your own cooking and baking:

White Sugar:
The Good:
- Its cheap, and accessible.
- White sugar actually has less calories then many of the so called 'health' sugars, but of course more is usually used in a recipe to obtain a stronger, sweet flavor.

The Bad:
- Many nutritionists agree that white sugar is harmful in that it acts like a drug, being highly addictive, but is very difficult to escape. It is a pure chemical extracted from plant sources, purer in fact than cocaine, which it resembles in many ways.
- Refined sugar contains no fiber, no minerals, no proteins, no fats, no enzymes, only empty calories. What happens when you eat a refined carbohydrate like sugar? Your body must borrow vital nutrients from healthy cells to metabolize the incomplete food. Calcium, sodium, potassium and magnesium are taken from various parts of the body to make use of the sugar. Many times, so much calcium is used to neutralize the effects of sugar that the bones become osteoporotic due to the withdrawn calcium. Sugar also makes the blood very thick and sticky, inhibiting much of the blood flow into the minute capillaries that supply our gums and teeth with vital nutrients.
- Diabetes is another commonly known disease caused by sugar as well as a high fat diet. Diabetes is caused by the failure of the pancreas to produce adequate insulin when the blood sugar rises. A concentrated amount of sugar introduced into the system sends the body into shock from the rapid rise in the blood sugar level. The pancreas eventually wears out from overwork and diabetes then rears its ugly head.
- Another serious problem with sugar that is now coming to the forefront is the various levels of mental problems. Our brains are very sensitive and react to quick chemical changes within the body. As sugar is consumed, our cells are robbed of their B vitamin, which destroys them, and insulin production is inhibited. Low insulin production means a high sugar (glucose) level in the bloodstream, which can lead to a confused mental state or unsound mind, and has also been linked with juvenile criminal behavior.

Brown Sugar:
The Good:
- The addition of molasses does add some nutritional benefit, but it is small.

The Bad:
- Most brown sugars sold are just white sugars with the addition of molasses. It is processed in the same way any white sugar would have been.
- All the same 'bads' apply to brown sugar, as they did with white sugar.

Agave Nectar:
The Good:
- Agave nectar is better for diabetics because it is “low glycemic”. Agave nectar contains the natural fiber inulin, which slows down blood sugar response to dietary sugar, and may be why agave  doesn’t raise blood sugar levels as much as sugar and other natural sweeteners.
- Less can be used in that it doubles, or sometimes triples the sweetness of regular sugar. But, in reality it has more calories then white sugar (about 4 more per tbsp).
- It has a more appealing taste then stevia (which can sometimes taste chemical).
- If you are on a vegan diet, agave nectar is a great honey substitute (which is why I use it in a lot of my baking).
- It does stem from a natural product, and is less processed than white and brown sugar (which means some of its nutrients may be left intact).

The Bad: 
- It's expensive, and can be difficult to find in regular grocery stores.
- AGAVE IS NOT A WHOLE FOOD, it is a processed food. Many get swayed by the 'natural' aspect, without taking into account how processing can deplete the benefits of what was natural in the first place. For agave, most manufacturers process at a high temperature, which for those manufacturers makes the product 'un-raw'. Manufacturers take the liquid portion of the agave plant and “boil” it down, thus concentrating the sugar to make it sweet.  This is similar to how maple “sap” that comes directly from a tree is heated and concentrated to make maple “syrup.”  Agave Syrup is missing many of the nutrients that the original plant had to begin with. 
-  Agave has an unusually high content of 'fructose' (90%), to 'glucose' (which is only 10%). This is good in that it works well for diabetics, but bad in that nowhere in nature does this occur naturally. Processing makes this possible. Furthermore, there is much research to suggest that frustose is bad for you in that it contains no vitamins or enzymes, it can cause a whole host of diseases, increases blood lactic and uric acid, and may accelerate aging.

The Good:
- It’s 250 to 300 times sweeter than sugar, which means it is a good addition to any weight loss routine, and has virtually NO calories.
- It's available in individual sized packets, larger portions, or liquid form, which makes it an easily transitional product. 
- Like agave, it does stem from a natural product that is less processed than white and brown sugar (which means some of its nutrients may be left intact).
- Out of all of the research I did on this product, it was more positive than negative, and was recommended by many of the nutritionists and dietitians I came in contact with. It has been used by countries such as Japan for hundreds of years, without any notable, negative effects.

The Bad:
- This is debatable, but for me stevia has a strange chemical taste. I tried to use it in my morning coffee, but eventually moved to agave nectar because I couldn't handle the artificial flavor. I have been told that it is a 'licorice' flavor, so some may like it, and some may not.
- Nothing is perfect. There has been some discrepancy about whether or not stevia is, in fact, toxic to humans. At one time stevia was banned by the FDA (a ban that has now been lifted) because of early research that high doses could kill a mammal. 
- Some powdered forms of stevia extract can contain maltodextrin, a food additive derived from cornstarch that may contain MSG

Maple Syrup:
The Good:
- It is an excellent source of manganese and a good source of zinc, as well as trace amounts of other nutrients (but only in 'real', 100% maple syrup). Because of this, it is considered a 'heart' friendly product by many nutritionists.
- It is a Canadian staple, tastes delicious, and is widely accessible in North America.
- It is 3 times as sweet as white sugar, which means, in theory, you are able to use less.

The Bad:
- There are cleanliness issues with the production of maple syrup. Microorganisms, bacteria and yeast are enemies of high quality syrup, and are found on unclean equipment, and may grow rapidly in sap and syrup.
- Maple syrup is one of the higher calorie choices for sweetness,having roughly 200 calories per 1/4 cup (which is about 20 calories more than white sugar).
- In order to get any of the health benefits maple syrup has to offer, you must purchase grade B (A and C also exist), and can only contain evaporated tree sap.
- Like many of the sweeteners, maple syrup is not raw, and is cooked during its processing.

The Good:
- Research suggests that honey has many healing benefits for eye, throat, and skin issues. It is often used to treat digestive issues such as diarrhea, indigestion, and stomach ulcers and has been researched to boost immunity.
- There are many unique varieties and flavors, and it is widely available.

The Bad:
- Honey is not vegan friendly. If you care about animals/ living creatures, should it matter how small they are? The simple fact is that honey bees are enslaved, much like dairy or beef cows. The purpose of the bee for many manufacturers is to produce honey, quickly and cost effectively to the producer. To do this, bees are manipulated in several vicious ways, including smoke (which masks their alarm hormone, as well as forces them to gorge on  food). The 'Queen Bee' is replaced (aka: killed) every 2 years, even though they have been known to live for up to 6 years. This is done to prevent aggression, swarming, or infestation within the colony. I realize many people (vegans included) do not feel these are good enough reasons to outweigh the health benefits of honey, so it is up to the consumer to make the best, personal choice.
- Honey has one of the higher calorie contents of all of the sweeteners I researched.There are about 65 calories per 1 tbslp.

Splenda (also known as sucralose):
The Good:
- It is lower in calories than many of the other sugar options.
- It is somewhat safer than aspartame (aka: rat poison).

The Bad:
- To be honest....too many to write down. Some of the issues stemming from this product are as follows: 
Shrunken thymus glands (up to 40% shrinkage)
Enlarged liver and kidneys.
Atrophy of lymph follicles in the spleen and thymus
Increased cecal weight
Reduced growth rate
Decreased red blood cell count
Hyperplasia of the pelvis
Extension of the pregnancy period
Aborted pregnancy
Decreased fetal body weights and placental weights
Reduced growth rate
- Sucralose is produced by chlorinating sugar (sucrose). This involves chemically changing the structure of the sugar molecules. The processing also leads to contamination of the product by heavy metals, and even arsenic. Yuck. 

My Bottom Line: I believe in the concept of 'everything in moderation'. If you are making your favorite brownies, you might as well make them the way you know and love (aka: white sugar here I come!). However, if you are an avid baker (like myself) then it is important to take into account what you are putting into your body. In my own home, I use agave nectar in my coffee and to replace honey, but I often use white sugar when I am baking a 'treat'. Also, for me, the best sweeteners to use are the ones that come from natural, whole fruits. Dates and berries are an excellent way to flavor baked goods, without having to worry about the addition of any or a lot of sugars. Don't be swayed by the 'natural', 'pure', 'organic' tags, because they are often just a marketing scheme to get you to buy the product, rather than a true health product. Research first before accepting a claim as fact. When it all comes down to it, you should be in charge of your own consumption, and are smart enough to make the best decisions for you and your family. 

* A GREAT website to read more about 'natural sugars' is "Livrite"
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