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For those seeking an alternative to refined, white sugar and high fructose corn syrup, the alternative sweetener market has expanded significantly in recent years. But more choices can also lead to confusion about the usefulness and even safety of new products. Amidst debates about what constitutes “natural,” it can be difficult to decide which sweetener is best, either in general or for a specific use.

Below is a summary of the origin, uses, and various properties of eight vegan sweeteners, including agave nectar, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, sucanat, xylitol, splenda, stevia and lo han guo.

Note: all comparisons are based on sucrose (table sugar). GI = glycemic index.

= 1c sugar Origin Uses Pros Cons
Agave Nectar 2/3c Juice from agave plant leaves is filtered, heated and concentrated. Baking Beverages Toppings Low GI.
Can be raw.
Questionable sustainability.
Maple Syrup 3/4c Maple trees are tapped, sap is extracted, heated to concentrate syrup. Baking Beverages Toppings Contains potassium, calcium, zinc, iron, manganese. Questionable sustainability. High GI.
Pure form is expensive.
Brown Rice Syrup 1 ¼c Cooked rice is cultured w/ enzymes, concentrated. Baking Beverages Toppings Low GI. Most brands are organic, eco-farmed. High calorie content. Arsenic risk.
Sucanat 1c Sugar cane is crushed, juice is extracted, cooked to concentrate syrup, dried to granular form. Baking Beverages Bakes and tastes like sugar. Contains minerals, trace elements. High GI.
As caloric as refined sugar.
Xylitol 1c Xylan molecules present in wood, corn cobs and seed hulls are hydrolized, chemically reduced, separated and crystallized. Baking Beverages Low GI. Fewer calories than sugar. Cavity prevention. Highly processed. Chemically derived.
Can cause bloating, gas, diarrhea.
Sucralose 1c Made from sucrose using 5-step process substituting chlorine atoms for hydroxl groups. Baking Beverages Low GI. Calorie-free. Inexpensive. Heat and shelf-stable. Highly processed. Chemically derived.
May contain harmful chemicals.
Stevia 1t Stevia leaf is dried, filtered and purified. Baking Beverages Low GI. Calorie-free. Liquid form dissolves easily. Relatively expensive.
Lo Han Guo 1t Shell/seeds removed, pulp is pureed for use in products; or fruit is dried, processed into a powder. Baking Beverages Low GI. Calorie-free. Fruit may have medicinal properties. Limited availability. Relatively expensive.

Image Credit: Mykl Roventine/Flickr

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