Is There Such Thing As A Good Sugar?

By Lily K.M.
In colaboration with Dr. Maggie Fox ND

In a perfect world ice cream would have zero calories, chocolate would be free of fat, and candy would be as good for you as carrots. In a perfect world sugar would have all the benifits and none of the downfalls.

Is this a perfect world? Is there such a thing as a good sugar?

The answer is a bit more complicated then yes, or no.

Sugar is made up of sucrose, which when broken down becomes glucose and fructose. Once ingested, glucose is what goes to your blood stream and raises glucose levels (blood sugar), high blood sugars can lead to many problems, such as consistently high insulin levels, diabetes, hardening of the blood vessels, cavities, gum disease, as well as a number of other problems in the body.

Fructose, on the other hand, doesn’t go to the blood stream like glucose does. Instead it goes to the liver where it’s processed into a usable form. However, like glucose, in high amounts it can be dangerous to the body. While fructose can restore liver glycogen, which is good for the body, in large amounts it can be turned into tryglicerides, which can in turn increase your risk for heart disease.

By now, you might be ready to throw out all the sweets in your home. Don’t worry, you don’t have to go quite that far. According to many health care professionals you should try to keep your sugar intake to 5%-10% of your daily caloric intake, about 20–35 grams (or 75–150 calories in a typical 1500 calorie diet). But that still probably isn’t the answer that you’re looking for, nor the answer you want.

So while there might not be one good perfect sugar, there are still some sugars that are better than others, but which one is the best? Of course there are the obvious bad sugars, high fructose corn syrup, granulated white sugar, and artificial sweeteners like aspartame and Splenda. But for all the bad sweeteners out there, there are also sweeteners that, all in all, are OK (in moderation) for you, such as Agave Nectar, Stevia, Raw Honey/Maple Syrup, Sugar Alcohols, Coconut Sugar, and Yacon Syrup.

Lucky for you, we’ve taken the time to list the pro’s and con’s of these ‘OK’ sweeteners, and what each sweetener is best used for.

Agave Nectar:
Agave Nectar is a sweetener which is only better in theory, in practice it’s actually not that great. Agave nectar is used as a sweetener in many alcoholic drinks, and has been praised in the past as a wonderful alternative to sugar for being low on the glycemic index. But it’s low ranking on the glycemic index is largely in part to it’s high level of fructose, 70–90%, which is more then what’s found in high fructose corn syrup. So all in all, agave nectar is a sweetener best avoided.
Pro: Low on the glycemic index
Con: Very high in fructose which means that it should be ingested in moderation.

Stevia is a sugar-free sweetener made from the leaves of the stevia plant. Stevia has zero calories, and is a zero on the glycemic index, which means that it doesn’t raise blood sugar. While Stevia is a great substitute for coffee and soft drinks, it doesn’t do well in baking. It has also been said that Stevia can increase one’s sweet tooth (the more you eat it the more you crave).
Pro: Zero calories, zero on the glycemic index, and good for sweetening coffee’s and sodas.
Con: Has a weird after taste, and can actually cause you to crave more sweets.
*The whole Stevie leaf has health benefits which are still being researched. The whole Stevia leaf is different than the Stevia sweetener.

Raw Honey/Maple Syrup:
Raw Honey and Maple Syrup are made of equal amounts of fructose and glucose, but not sucrose. Sucrose is also made up of fructose and glucose but the body needs an enzyme to break down the sucrose into fructose and glucose, if your body is low on the enzyme then it’s harder to break down the sucrose. Both honey (raw) and maple syrup have their own benefits, honey has natural antioxidants, and maple syrup has a number of beneficial minerals. The downside to honey is the decline of the honey bee, if you do buy honey make sure to buy local sustainable honey.
Pro: Raw Honey has natural antioxidants, and Maple Syrup has a number of beneficial minerals. Good for sweetening teas, breads (before or after baking), and frostings.
Con: High in calories, scores 54 (Maple Syrup) and 50 (Honey) on the glycemic index, and children under the age of 1 should not be given honey at all.

Sugar Alcohols:
Sugar alcohols, such as xylitol, are made through the fermentation of sugar cane. Often times toothpaste is sweetened with sugar alcohols because of it’s cavity prevention. Sugar alcohols have more calories then stevia but much fewer then honey, and ranks at about 12 on the glycemic index.
Pro: Very low (12) on the glycemic index, can be used well for baking, and has anti cavity properties.
Con: Possibility of bloating and diarrhea if consumed in large amounts because of it’s laxative effect, it can also raise blood sugars with those for type 1 diabetes if eaten too much.

Coconut Sugar:
There’s a lot we don’t know about coconut sugar. It is made up mostly of sucrose however tests indicate a glycemic index of about only 35. Beware though, as more tests are conducted that number might very well rise. Coconut sugar does have more minerals in it then granulated white sugar, and is less processed then white sugar as well.
Pro: Glycemic index of only 35, contains good minerals, and less processed than white sugar.
Con: The limited tests conducted on coconut sugar means that it’s glycemic index could rise. Be aware as more tests and information come out.

Yacon Syrup:
Yacon syrup is a sugar based sweetener, but scores extremely well on the glycemic index with a score of only 1. It is raw, organic, natural, and low calorie sweetener. The Yacon plant comes from the Andes in South America and has been consumed for it’s medicinal purposes for years. Yacon syrup contains about 40–50% fructooligosaccharides, fructooligosaccharides are sugar molecules which , because of they way they’re connected, are made unrecognizable by the digestive system. This reduced Yacon Syrups calories to around 20 calories per tablespoon. But fructooligosaccharides also feed healthy bacteria in the gut which can be extremely helpful to the metabolism.
Pro: 1 on the glycemic index, and it helps feed good bacteria in the gut. It has also been said to be a weight loss aid (although there’s really only been one small study to back that claim up).
Con: Can lead to gas, and diarrhea if consumed in large amounts. Not good for baking or cooking because high temps will break down the fructooligosaccharides.

So is there such thing as a good sugar? Yes and no. While there might not be a sugar which only has benefits and no downfalls, there are definitely some sugars and sweeteners which are better then others. The most important thing to remember when eating sugars and sweets is to be aware of the quantity and quality that you’re consuming. Create a plan that’s specific to your body and diet and remember that once in a while that it’s ok to break the rules.

For help creating a nutrition plan visit and talk to Dr. Maggie Fox ND about the next steps in building your whole health.