Ever since sugar was outed as the root of far too many health evils (including obesity), millions have sought out all-natural alternatives to the pure-white crystalline substance we've consumed since childhood. But are the alternatives that much better? Such is the question Popsugar aimed to answer when analyzing five common sugar alternatives and their perceived health benefits. Surprisingly, most agave nectar—which is generally viewed as being nutritionally superior to honey—is "basically a high-fructose syrup that's even worse than white sugar," reports the publication.
This is due to the harsh extraction process most commercially produced agave nectar goes through before hitting U.S. supermarket shelves. "While traditionally produced agave has high mineral compounds, fructans, and saponins, which enrich it with antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and immune-system boosting properties, it's now believed that commercially produced agave loses all those properties before it reaches shop shelves due to the high heat applied during extraction for mass production," according to the publication.
This heat essentially strips the nectar of any nutrients and minerals—leaving you with a sugary, nutritionally devoid shell of the original product. So unless you're willing to invest in less-processed iterations (or travel to Mexico for the real deal), it's best to consume agave nectar in moderation.
Alternatively, consider the following four sugar substitutes, which received positive reviews from the publication. For reference, a glycemic index rating of 55 or lower is considered healthy, 56 to 69 is moderate, and 70 to the maximum of 100 is high (and unhealthy).
Coconut sugar: This sweetener looks like brown sugar and comes from the sap of cut flower buds that grow on coconut palms. It contains vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B6; short-chain fatty acids like glutamic acid; potassium; zinc; iron; and magnesium.
Glycemic index: 35
Maple syrup: This natural pancake topper is a rich source of zinc and magnesium. It can also be a healthy replacement for cane sugar when a high-quality version is used in moderation.
Glycemic index: 54
Manuka honey: This commonly used alternative to cane sugar is created by bees that feed on the sap of tea trees, meaning its packed with antibacterial health properties.
Glycemic index: 58
Blackstrap molasses: This sugar substitute is "the liquid that remains after crystallized sugar is extracted from cane juice during the production of refined sugar," according to the publication. It's the lowest in sugar and therefore doesn't taste as sweet, but it's rich in iron, calcium, and magnesium.
Glycemic index: 55
Head over to Popsugar for more information.