I had planned to write a very scientific article on sweeteners, complete with references and a riveting conclusion. Unfortunately, in researching both scientific and popular literature I was filled with the feeling I so often have in the field of nutrition. There is no absolute answer. So I have come up with a few sweet rules to simplify things.
The following sweeteners were a part of my research:
Raw Sugar (also called Turbindo Sugar)
In general, all of these alternative sweetners are somewhat less refined than white table sugar. The ratios of fructose and glucose vary, as do the glycemic indexes. There are studies showing negative results with high and even moderate consumption of glucose and fructose, but often it is difficult to apply to humans. Generally, the studies are done with mice and the diet is very controlled with a very specific amount of the sugar in it's most basic form (ie: just fructose and 25% of the diet).
Some studies on humans encouraged consumption of a drink that contained high amounts of varying sugar, usually with a prescribed number of drinks per day. I feel like we already know that sweetened drinks are to be enjoyed in moderation, not several times a day- we know that is harmful. Let's move on and study something else. These controlled studies aren't often applicable to daily life.
Let's take agave for an example. Recently it has come under fire because of the high fructose content. This is why it has a lower glycemic index (Fructose is absorbed differently than glucose, and it takes longer to be absorbed), and the reason glycemic index doesn't give us a full picture of the health benefits of a food. Studies of diets high in fructose show that it contributes more to heart disease risk factors such as blood triglycerides, and may not signal to the body that it is full the way other foods do.
But other research done with high fructose products, consumed in normal amounts, showed no increase in risk factors. Further to that, nearly every recipe I have come across that contains agave nectar, and other alternative sweeteners, is a "healthy" dessert recipe, and includes other beneficial things like whole grains, nuts, seeds, dried fruit etc.
Another recent study showed that "Safe" amounts of sugar in the diet also posed health risks. They called this 25%. I don't think 25% of our diet should come from added sugar!!
Therefore, we need to take research on anything sweet with a grain of salt (salty and sweet, yah!)
So here are my sweet rules- if you want more details, references etc. please get in touch with me- I have many! (a great place to start: http://naturallysavvy.com/Eat/the-high-fructose-corn-syrup-debate)
Sweet Rules to Live By
1.. Learn to enjoy foods that are naturally sweet- like fruit
2. Don't drink your sugar- wean yourself off of sweetened coffee, tea and any other beverages. Water with lemon? Learn to love it!
3. Don't buy foods that are already sweetened, make your own- then you're in control of the sugar in your diet. Buy plain yogurt, look for recipes with low sugar and other healthy additions like nuts and seeds or recipes sweetened naturally with banana, dates, raisins vs. a sweetener
4. Use any of the above sweeteners, and a variety of them because they're good for different things, but use moderation (think very small amounts)