The Best And Worst Sweeteners

The Best And Worst SweetenersThe presence of sweeteners is ubiquitous in modern day food and drink. Manufacturers of food and beverage aren’t dumb, they know we humans have an insatiable appetite for sweets. In order to satisfy our sweet tooth without ruining our health and gaining weight (your body stores sugar as fat), we must choose natural sweeteners and avoid the artificial and otherwise unhealthy.

I’ve identified the best and worst sweeteners with a brief description of each. This article is in relation to sweetening your smoothies, but can be applied to anything you eat. Once you know which sweeteners are suitable to consume, and which to eschew, you’ll be able to easily identify healthy verse unhealthy food.

Good Sweeteners

By only using good and natural sweeteners your health will benefit and you won’t feel guilty when indulging on sweets. There are several different “sugar substitutes” for you to choose from, experiment with each to determine which one your taste buds prefer.


An herb from the leaves of the South American stevia plant, it has zero calories, zero sugar, and no effect on blood sugar. Stevia is considered a no glycemic sweetener because it registers a zero on the glycemic index. Stevia comes in several forms, each of which is anywhere from 25 to 300 times sweeter than sugar, therefore you need very little to sweeten your smoothie.

White stevia granules or crystals are the most popular form, but it’s also available as a liquid, and green powder, which is the pure broken down herb. Remember, a little goes a long way; so start out small and work your way up.


For centuries people have utilized honey as a sweetener. Honey is rich in natural enzymes and antioxidants and contains a wide range of minerals such as iron, calcium, zinc, potassium, magnesium, copper, chromium, and phosphorus.

Honey does contain a fair amount of fructose (fruit sugar) and should be consumed in moderation. Word of caution: if you suffer from conditions relating to excess sugar consumption such as candida you should avoid honey and go with a low to no glycemic sweetener.

Stick with local and/or organic honey. I get mine from my local farmers’ market. Most honey in the plastic bear tubes you get from the grocery store actually contain very little real honey and are laced with undesirable additives.

Maple Syrup

Like honey, 100% pure maple syrup contains an array of healthy vitamins and minerals. Maple syrup helps boost your antioxidant defenses, is good for your heart, and improves your immune system. It’s also beneficial for the male reproductive system.

Maple syrup does contain natural sugars and shouldn’t be used too liberally. Find a local source of maple syrup, or better yet tap your own trees!


My favorite way to sweeten my smoothies is through a variety of delicious fruit. The natural sugars present in fruit are packaged with fiber and other substances that slow down sugar absorption and prevent a “sugar spike”. Ideally, fruit is all you need to sweeten your smoothies.

Other Good Sweeteners

Here are a few other good sweeteners to consider. I don’t have personal experience with them, but have read and heard good things. Organic blackstrap molasses, coconut palm sugar, sucanat, and Lo Han extract. If you have experience with one of these sweeteners I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Update 12/7/12: I use to recommend xylitol, but have since changed my stance due to articles like this: Xylitol: Not as Sweet As It’s Cracked Up to Be

Bad Sweeteners

The bad sweeteners are those you want to avoid like the devil. Sugar wreaks havoc throughout the body and artificial sweeteners might be even worse, and studies are showing they don’t actually help you lose weight, but rather just the opposite.

White SugarWhite Sugar Turns Into Fat

White table sugar extracted from sugarcane and beets has no place in healthy diet. It’s been referred to as the cocaine of the food industry. In moderation, white sugar isn’t so bad, but with its presence in so many foods today, the average person ends up consuming far more than they did just 100 years ago.

When I see a smoothie recipe that calls for a tablespoon or two of white sugar I cringe. Besides refraining from adding pure sugar into your smoothies, you also want to avoid sweeteners rich in sugar such as chocolate syrups, caramel, and ice cream.


About 15 years ago agave nectar burst onto the health scene and was heralded as a natural and healthy sugar alternative. Unfortunately, this is far from the case. Dr. Mercola was one of the first to sound the alarms about agave as a highly processed sugar detrimental to health. Click here to read why it’s actually worse than high fructose corn syrup.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS, Corn Syrup)

This sinister sweetener has crept into food products far and wide. I believe by now most people know to avoid this, but often don’t realize just how omnipresent it is. Be sure to check your labels to avoid high fructose corn syrup and be aware of any new names its being referred to as.

Artificial Sweeteners

There are plethora of artificial sweeteners on the market today. The more popular ones include Sucralose, Aspartame, Saccharin, Splenda, and NutraSweet. These may contain zero calories, which you would think would help you lose weight, but that’s not the case. These artificial sweeteners are foreign to the human body, cause signals to get crossed, lead to weight gain in the long run, damage organs, and are known excitotoxins, which are detrimental to the brain.

Sweet Conclusion

A good rule of thumb for all food and drink also applies to sweeteners, stick to what is naturally occurring in nature. Moderation is also good to keep in mind as mentioned above with honey and maple syrup. By cutting the bad sweeteners our of your diet, reducing sugar consumption overall, and sticking to the natural, good sweeteners, your health will surely improve.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on sweeteners. Please leave a comment below. Cheers!

Sources for this blog post include:

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35 Responses to The Best And Worst Sweeteners

  1. Agree w/ all points you made except for Sucralose (Splenda). I’ve gone back and forth on this one but based on my research, there have been no studies done to prove any type of negative health effects. While some of the other artificial sweeteners you mentioned have caused cancer in large doses in animal studies, Sucralose seems to be safe based on the latest and greatest evidence.

    • Ryan #

      Thanks for the insightful feedback. I’ll dig a little deeper into Sucralose and possibly update this blog post based on what I uncover.

    • Susan #

      Be careful with Splenda. I was using it every morning in my coffee. I was having severe headaches every day. Nothing would take them away. My doctor did a neuro work up including a brain MRI. All was normal. It was not rebound headaches from taking pain meds every day for the pain. My mother told me a friend had severe headaches too and stopped usuing Splenda and the headaches stopped. I stopped the Splenda and my headaches stopped. My daughter in law was having severe headaches and asked me what I take for migrains. That didn’t work for her either. Then I asked her if she usues Spleda and she did. When she stopped it, her headaches stopped. This is an adverse reaction to it that doesn’t seem to be mentioned anywhere. How good could could Splenda be for the brain???

    • Penny #

      I have fibromyalgia and recently notice that a diet soda I was drinking was switching from aspertame to suraclose sweetener. At that time I realized that I no longer enjoyed the flavor or the horrible after taste I was left with. I have been using sweeteners like sweet n low and Splenda for years so was shocked when the taste change to where I no longer liked it. So I stopped drinking soda except rarely once in awhile,but I went back to regular instead of artificial sweetners. Well I saw a complete difference in my pain levels. I also for some reason now have a very bitter taste left after drinking anything with regular sugar in it and sometimes with sweet foods. It blows my mind how something we put in our body’s make us have so many issues.

  2. Shauna #

    What about molasses?

    • Ryan Carmody #

      Hi Shauna,

      Organic blackstrap molasses is a good sweetener. I didn’t highlight it in my article because I don’t have much personal experience with it. Do you use it, what do you like about it? It does appear to contain a fair amount of nutrients.


      • Monique Dawes #

        Ryan, I eat organic blackstrap molasses when I have a craving. It’s an acquired taste and goes well with peanut butter. Also, can be used in smoothies, adds color and taste so use a little.

  3. Joyce #

    Ryan, I make green smoothies a couple times per week with no added sweetener, except for frozen fruit (usually blueberries). Adding organic coconut milk really enhances the flavor. Often add anti-inflammatory spices which my 8 yr old grandson will devour!
    Smoothies can pack a lot of fructose if you use liberal amounts of fruit so I keep this in mind. Thanks for your posts!

    • Ryan Carmody #

      Hi Joyce,

      Music to my ears! Frozen berries and milk provide plenty of sweetness for me too. Your grandson is lucky to have you serving him truly healthy smoothies :)


  4. Melody #

    Joyce, what are the anti-inflammatory spices which you use that your grandson loves?

  5. Grace #

    Where I live, palm sugar is an ingredient in many desserts, used especially in combination with coconut milk, such as in the gula Melaka. If you’ve ever had the last, you would know that palm sugar and coconut milk together is a union blessed, sacred and pleasing in the eyes of God and men lol. Which explains why I’ve never thought of putting palm sugar into any of my smoothies, which I typically make with a base of yoghurt and generally leave unsweetened. I see now that i am an old, boring food purist. The next smoothie I make (in about an hour) will have yoghurt, peaches, cocoa powder and yes, palm sugar!
    I hope to embark on more such daring adventures with this great site as my guide lol. Thanks :)

    • Ryan Carmody #

      Hi Grace,

      Apparently I need to run out and grab some palm sugar and coconut milk :)

      I recommend forgoing a sweetener in your smoothie if you can. Sugar, even healthy varieties, isn’t exactly good for the body.

      Hope your smoothie was delicious!


  6. Chellinni #

    One date should sweeten anything. I used to use two; but, that is too sweet for me now.


    • Ryan Carmody #

      Dates are a great fruit to sweeten with, Chellinini. Even just one :)

  7. Ken P #


    Where does dextrose fit in?

    • Ryan Carmody #

      Hey Ken,

      Dextrose is essentially glucose or refined sugar, which I personally don’t advocate. What I’ve found is that most of the commercially available dextrose is derived from genetically engineered corn through and a long complicated manufacturing process. Not cool. If you are able to find an organic source it might not be too bad. For now, you’ll have to do more research yourself.


  8. Maria #

    What is your take on Monk Fruit?
    I gave up Splenda/sucralose when I realized that it was giving me major migraines. I used to use the zero calorie water enhancers with sucralose and while my weight went down, my headaches went up!
    Thanks for this article.

    • Ryan Carmody #

      Hi Maria,

      I honestly don’t have any experience with Monk Fruit. From what I just read, if you like the taste it imparts, and are able to procure an organic source, it’s a viable sweetener. I’ll have to do more research and update this article.


  9. Mitch #


    Is there is a distinction between honey and unpasteurized honey, in terms of glycemic index. From what I understand, once honey is pasteurized it loosed all it’s healthy benefits and the glycemic index is higher, while unpasterized honey keeps it’s benefits and has a lower glycemic index. This is what I read, I’m not an expert or anything.
    Unpasteurized honey might not be available everywhere, but it is where I live.

    • Ryan Carmody #

      Hi Mitch,

      That’s a great question and one I couldn’t find a definitive answer for. I suspect there’s either no or little difference in glycemic index between processed and unpasteurized honey. However, unpasteurized honey definitely has more health benefits as the enzymes and other nutrients that get destroyed when processing are in tact.


  10. Sabrina Hamilton #

    I am simply trying to eliminate all sugar from my diet except that which is in fruit and I am using moderation there too … I believe I can train my body to not crave sugar just as I trained it to crave sugar. Loved the information, thanks for sharing.

    Does anyone have a great smoothie recipe that can conquer a chocolate addiction that is truly healthy?

    • Ryan Carmody #

      Hi Sabrina,

      That’s certainly a worthy goal. My sugar cravings decreased significantly after changing my diet, but aren’t gone completely. When I do consume sugar it’s the healthy variety – honey, maple syrup, fruit.

      Are you looking for healthy chocolate smoothies? I’ve got plenty of those:


  11. Kelvin #

    Apart from having one healthy smoothie a day, which approximately follows your guidelines, I have a number of hot drinks in the course of the day and, after being made aware by my doctor of how much sugar I was having in total, went onto artificial sweeteners, mainly Hermesetas and more recently Canderel Stevia. Are any of these healthy and what (good and bad) ingredients should I watch out for? I was brought up on hot drinks and now, after giving up added sugar, consume a high amount of artificial sweeteners.

    I read your newsletters and find them trustworthy and inspiring and would welcome your advice.

    • Ryan Carmody #

      Hi Kelvin,

      I don’t consider stevia an artificial sweetener (especially the green powdered down herb) because it’s found in nature. White stevia powder and extracts aren’t as “natural” as the herb, but close enough in my book. Therefore, to avoid sugar, I would stick with stevia. I see that Hermesetas has a stevia line.

      I don’t have any experience with either of these brands. My advice is to ensure they’re quality, reputable, and preferably organic.


      • Kelvin #

        I have tried the new Hermesetas stevia artificial sweetener and dislike the flavour as with the other stevia artificial sweeteners I have tried. I take your point that you cannot beat natural ingredients and can see that, if a sweetener has a nasty chemical after-taste, it cannot be doing you any good.
        Apologies to Hermeseta, whose original sweetener is still my most favoured in hot drinks.
        My most favoured sweetener in smoothies is a good crispy apple. I have taken to using fresh broad-leaved parsley and find a natural piece of fruit gives sufficient sweetness and flavour to offset adding a good healthy portion of greens.
        My favourite smoothie ingredient is beetroot and, once again, I find that a couple of apples combats the earthy taste and, together with a pinch of paprika and a little powdered cinnamon, gives me a beverage reminiscent of cool, refreshing borsch…… (Za zdorovye!)

  12. Pris #

    I have used stevia, coconut sugar and honey.

    • Ryan Carmody #

      Those are all good options, Pris.

  13. Mea #

    What about organic sugar? I think it’s Wholesome Sweetener brand. They sell it in big bags at Costco. I think Costco even has a store version of organic non refined sugar. I think it’s still sugar cane but it is not refined white and it is organic. Is that still not good? I switched to that in my baking. I was using regular white refined sugar. Pointless switch or a good one? Thanks.

    • Ryan Carmody #

      Hi Mea,

      Organic sugar is definitely better than refined sugar. I would use it for your baking needs, but not smoothies. Try honey, maple syrup, stevia or more sweet fruit instead.


  14. Michelle #

    What about truvia?

  15. Tina K. #

    What about using Truvia artificial sweetener? I also found that, when making some of my favorite smoothies, the honey or maple syrup doesn’t always taste good in them. I also
    use 1% milk most of the time, and been on an ice cream making kick. Of course, it will call for creamer and whole milk, so I just use what I have which is half and half. I also will use low fat or non fat sweetened condensed milk in place of full fat condensed milk. Do you have any recipes for smoothies that will boost my metabolism, and help get rid of belly fat for good?

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