Unfortunately, Americans are consuming too much sugar. About 15% of our total caloric intake comes from added sugars. These are not naturally-occurring sugar like that found in fruit, but added sugars in processed foods or dessert items. If you are trying to reduce your sugar consumption but prefer sweetened coffee, what are your options? Generally, zero-calorie sweeteners are much, much sweeter than sugar so less is needed. Or, is it better to opt for more natural sugars?
The following are marketed as sugar alternatives but are essentially the same in terms of calories and effects on the body: raw sugar, evaporated cane sugar, cane sugar, organic sugar, brown sugar and more.
Other more natural options are honey, maple syrup or date sugar. All of these choices may be less processed, but will still cause the same detrimental effects on the body as white table sugar. Keep in mind that even for most of the "natural" sweeteners, there is a wide range of products available, from raw to highly processed. Research different brands to see which products are minimally processed and don't contain added ingredients. These alternatives to white table sugar will be similar in calorie content; therefore, if you are trying to lose weight, these will not help reduce calorie consumption. The other option is a lower or zero-calorie sweetener.
The safety of artificial sweeteners has been controversial for decades. Currently, however, researchers have found no clear evidence that any artificial sweeteners approved for use will cause cancer or other health problems. But, they are still processed, artificial ingredients. They may be helpful in reducing sugar consumption, or used an intermediary between sugar and using no added sweeteners.
Using non-caloric sweeteners may have a detrimental effect after consumption: sugar cravings. While artificial sweeteners are registered by taste buds as sweet, it's confusing to the brain because we don't receive the calories expected afterwards. Essentially, the tongue receives a message that calories are coming, but they are never ingested, so we crave more sugar to get the calories. Studies have shown that the consumption of diet drinks can lead to increased calorie consumption.
While searching for coffee sweetener, keep in mind that some will dissolve better than others, especially if you drink iced coffee. Some liquids are better in cold drinks, like agave, but others may harden, like honey. Generally, powdered or crystal forms like sugar and most artificial sweeteners, dissolve best.
New alternatives to sugar are introduced into the market all the time. Be sure to do your research and decide what is more important for you: fewer calories, or more natural products.
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Carolyn McAnlis, RDN, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who has a special interest in preventing chronic disease through nutrition. She graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition Science & Dietetics and a minor in Psychology. After completing a full-time dietetic internship at the University of Virginia Health System, she has developed a passion for convincing others that healthy food can be delicious through her blog A Dietitian in the Kitchen.