Is Sugar-Free Healthier?

I was at a coffee shop the other day and I was helping my daughter pick out something healthy-ish to drink. I mentioned I’d rather she didn’t have lemonade because of the sugar content when the barista said, “Oh, it’s sweetened with agave and organic honey so it’s fine for her!”


Wait, what? Sugar is a problem for one main reason- it is very calorie dense, meaning a very small amount has a lot of calories. Agave and honey (organic doesn’t make it any healthier folks!) have a very similar amount of calories as plain old table sugar and are not inherently any healthier or unhealthier.

Your body reacts to all sugars the same way. Whether they are sugars found in table sugar (a plant-derived substance), dairy, or fruit, they pack a decent punch of carbs and calories in a small package. When sugar is introduced to your bloodstream your body sends insulin to take care of it, and studies have shown that increased blood sugar levels lead to weight gain.

But is sugar the evil chemical we’ve made it out to be? Depends on who you ask. First of all, literally everything that exists is a chemical, so let’s stop using that word when we are really referring to things that are highly processed or engineered. Current research is showing that we can’t get addicted to sugar like we’ve been told and that sugar isn’t actually a toxin. We crave sugar because it is usually paired with a fat, which makes it might tasty!

So what should you do? If you are making a recipe that calls for a tablespoon or two of sweetener, you should be fine. Don’t stress too much about spreading a tablespoon out over 6-8 servings of a sauce. If you are going to bake or eat a treat like cake or cookies, just have it, count it in your daily tracking, and move on with your life.

Many of us enjoy sweetened beverages, and this is where it is easy to over-consume calories. Sweet N Low or Stevia are good alternatives to table sugar in individual drinks or single servings of food like oatmeal. Coke Zero or even diet sodas are at least calorie-free, so enjoy those (but in moderation still!).

One last point about sugar- it does NOT cause hyperactivity in children. There’s no such thing as a sugar rush or a sugar high. Most of the time when kids exhibit these behaviors they are stimulated by their environment, like a birthday party or another special occasion, rather than having a physical response to sugar. Sugar is not a stimulant.

What do you think? What’s your preferred way to sweeten things?

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