Natural Does not always mean healthy

Your average American consumes a whopping 22.7 teaspoons of sugar every day! This excess of added sugar has been linked to weight gain and the development of insulin resistance, fatty liver, type 2 diabetes as well as cardiovascular disease.

With all the options available to us, deciding what sweetener to use can be a challenge for health-conscious consumers. Non-caloric (non-energy) or non-nutritive artificial sweeteners have been developed to satisfy our sweet tooth without stretching those waistbands. We are always trying to aim for more healthful and natural, but unfortunately natural doesn’t always mean healthy.


Here is some interesting information on alternative natural sweeteners that are often pushed as being healthy alternatives:

The Stevia plant, aka sweet leaf or honey leaf, was originally grown in South America. One way to limit sugar intake is to try a non-caloric natural alternative.

It’s sugary centre:

  • The extract made from the plant’s leaves is about 200X sweeter than table sugar.
  • This sweetness comes from glycosides which are sugars bound to non-sugar substances. These can’t be used by the body, so stevia doesn’t provide us with any calories.
  • Stevia has a bitter aftertaste, so it’s almost always found blended with a caloric sweetener such as dextrose in the shops.


  • Initial studies have looked at the potential for using stevia glycosides as dietary supplements to help in  controlling blood sugar and blood pressure and fighting cancer, but more data are needed.


Agave Syrup
Agave syrup is more processed than many people realise.

How it is made:

  • By treating the nectar of agave plants with enzymes or heat to break down the plant’s complex carbohydrates into fructose and glucose.

It’s sugary centre:

  • 1 ½ X sweeter than table sugar
  • 1 ½ X more calories than table sugar
  • 90% fructose (compared with 55% in high-fructose corn syrup).
  • Since fructose doesn’t cause major blood sugar spikes, it was initially believed that agave was a good choice for people with diabetes. However, research indicates that consuming too much fructose has serious health implications. The American Diabetes Association has now listed agave, like all other sugars, as a sweetener to limit.


  • Trace amounts of iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium
  • A popular vegan substitute for honey.
  • Dissolves more easily in liquids, making it a nice option for sweetening smoothies and drinks.

Watch out:

  • Unlike glucose, fructose is metabolized exclusively in the liver. When we eat too much fructose, the liver turns some of it into fat. This can lead to fatty liver, which in turn increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease, and can also lead to higher LDL (bad)  cholesterol levels.
  • High-fructose diets may also increase insulin resistance, triglyceride levels, inflammation, and the risk of metabolic syndrome.



The hardworking little bees make delicious honey from the nectar of flowering plants. The properties of honey depend on which flowers the bees have visited.

It’s sugary centre:

  • Honey contains several different sugar molecules but it is primarily composed of fructose and glucose.


  • Antioxidant, antimicrobial, and soothing effects
  • Natural cough remedy for children older than one year


  • A study by a Penn State College of Medicine showed that buckwheat honey reduced night time coughing and improved sleep quality in children with upper respiratory infection
  • Can be used in dressings, marinades, and slaws, or stirred into a cup of tea.


Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is made by boiling down the sap of maple trees.

It’s sugary centre:

  • The composition of maple syrup depends on the grade
  • Maple syrup is about 50% glucose and 50% fructose, like table sugar.
  • Contains more minerals than table sugar e.g. manganese and zinc.


  • This 100% natural sweetener may raise blood sugar more slowly than table sugar.
  • Contains small amounts of polyphenols, antioxidants that help reduce inflammation.


  • Drizzle over pancakes and French toast
  • Use in vinaigrettes


Date Sugar
Also gaining popularity in the sweetener line-up. Date sugar is simply dried dates ground into a fine powder. Therefore it

It’s sugary centre:

  • Has the nutrients of whole dates, including potassium, calcium, and antioxidants.
  • Unfortunately the amount of fibre in a teaspoon of date sugar is negligible.
  • Main downside is that it doesn’t melt; therefore its uses are a little limited.


  • Highest antioxidant content, 500 to 600X more than table sugar.


  • Replaces brown sugar in recipes
  • Sprinkling some into your yogurt


Satisfying your Sweet Tooth
The key, as with so many things in life, is moderation. There is strong evidence that definitely suggests that we need to decrease our sugar consumption. Even low- or no-calorie sweeteners are not the solution, because most of the foods in which these sweetners are found aren’t usually the most nutritious choices.

That doesn’t mean sweet-tasting foods are off the menu altogether. We recommend satisfying that sweet tooth with naturally sweet foods like fruit. The modern world has turned sugars into a staple. We need to get back to the idea that sugar is a treat or else we are in for some trouble.



For any more information, or to book a consultation with a Dietitian, contact Munchwize, Dietitians in Cape Town.





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