When it comes to the sweet stuff, how bad is bad? Is any sweetener, be it sugar or stevia, healthy? And if so, which is healthiest?
We asked Anne Rollins -- a nutritional consultant for Boston's Joint Ventures Physical Therapy and Fitness centers, and a marathon veteran who knows the value of energy-giving foods -- to evaluate the pros and cons.
Cane sugar: "I don't think it's as bad as it's presumed to be. The problem is the excessive amount we eat, because it's added to everything, and it doesn't contribute vitamins and minerals. Brown sugar has the same caloric value, but does contain trace elements -- but you'd have to eat so much for it to add any significant nutrients that it would be detrimental to health."
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High-fructose corn syrup: "I rarely say never eat something, but I'd say never eat high-fructose corn syrup. Research has shown that it turns off leptin receptors and has an impact on cholesterol, leading to higher levels of bad cholesterol."
Stevia: "Stevia is a plant, but the sweetener is extracted and processed and refined. People think it's better than sugar, because it has zero calories. Truvia is just a brand name for a stevia sweetener."
Equal:"Equal is made from aspartame. Aspartame was found to cause brain tumors, but there wasn't much research that followed up that finding. But once the alarm bells went off, it stuck."
Splenda and Sweet'N Low: "Sweet'N Low is actually sugar that's been molecularly altered. What that does in the body isn't really known. Splenda is another artificial sweetener derived from sugar. Many artificial sweeteners start as a plant."
Agave nectar: "This is one I like a lot. It's from a plant, it's natural and it doesn't affect the glycemic index like sugar, because it doesn't break down into glucose. It's the best one to lessen the risk of diabetes and endocrine issues."
Honey: "Honey is very good. There's great research on its antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. So, you're adding an immunity-fighting element to your diet. Plus it's very sweet, so you use less."
Nectresse: “This is a zero calorie sweetener manufactured by the makers of Splenda. Nectresse uses an extract from monk fruit, a melon found in Asia. The extract is a sugar alcohol — sugar alcohols are known to cause gastro-intestinal [problems]; however the makers claim this product [doesn’t] cause GI upsets. Because of its newness, we do not have any research regarding longterm effects or side effects.”