The Problem with Refined Sweeteners

As I’ve said before, it is not necessarily the sugar itself (yes, white sugar is technically “natural,” albeit highly refined), but it is the quantity in which our society consumes sugar that concerns me. What have things come to if we can’t even have a cracker or a bowl of cereal or a beverage unless it has been sweetened? Come on, sugar is in almost everything these days even when you least expect it.

I get so many questions about sweeteners, especially from those wondering why we’ve chosen honey and maple syrup as our sweeteners of choice. The moral of the story is—and most experts would agree—sugar is sugar, and no matter what form of sugar you choose always consume it in moderation. Whether it is white table sugar, raw sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, or maple syrup they are all—for the most part—sugars. We selected honey and maple syrup as our sweeteners of choice because they are two of the least processed “sugars” out there, and they are also difficult to find in highly processed foods. Honey and maple syrup also have slightly more nutrients than highly refined sweeteners like white table sugar, although—once again—all sweeteners are similar in the fact that overall they are high in calories and low in nutrients.

During our 100 Days of Real Food pledge, when we were restricted to honey and maple syrup as well as nothing out of a package with more than 5 ingredients, we ended up having to make all the “sweetened” foods we ate ourselves. I could not find any store-bought “sweet treats” that followed all of our rules—and trust me I looked! Since this sweetener restriction forces you to make sweetened foods from scratch you can see and control how much sweetener is being added. And chances are you will use a lot less sweetener than some factory.

So back to how Americans are consuming sugar in overwhelming amounts these days…I saw an interesting statistic highlighted on the news:

Health experts recommend we eat no more than eight teaspoons of sugar a day. But on average, Americans consume four times that much.

In case you are challenged with simple math (like me) that means we are, on average, consuming 32 teaspoons a day! Also how about this for “food for thought” from New York Times Magazine article “Is Sugar Toxic?”:

Sugar is likely the “dietary cause of several other chronic ailments widely considered to be diseases of Western lifestyles — heart disease, hypertension and many common cancers among them.”

In closing, there are two key takeaways when it comes to sweeteners. Never choose an imitation sweetener (like splenda) over the real thing, and no matter what sweetener you choose always consume it in moderation.

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219 thoughts on “The Problem with Refined Sweeteners”

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  1. Hope Gorrondona


    I have recently discovered your website and am going to try the 10 day challenge. I would like to know what you think of coconut sugar. I’ve seen many “healthy” recipes call for that.


    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Except for a few recipes, Lisa sticks with maple syrup or honey as her sweeteners. While I use very little sweeteners at all, I do use coconut sugar in my coffee and for baking sometimes. Coconut sugar has a slightly higher nutrient content and is said to be lower glycemic. Regardless, we try to keep added sugars to a minimum.

  2. I am curious what you think about heating honey – is it bad for you? You have a lot of baking recipes that use honey instead of sugar – but I’ve read before that not only heated loses all the benefits, it actually becomes “bad” for you.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hello Marina. We do not think it is bad for you when heated but are aware that the honey loses some of its beneficial enzymes.

    2. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi. We don’t really use them. I you are looking for a stevia, look for one in its purest form. We do understand that some of the sweeteners are necessary for folks with blood sugar challenges.

  3. I just wanted to say I love this blog! I appreciate the effort all of you go through to help us choose our foods wisely. I was searching on here to look for something besides white sugar to sweeten my coffee. I’ve already given up on coffee creamer. Is half and half ok, or would it be better to just use milk? I have never tried honey in my coffee, but I like it in tea, so it would probably work. =)

  4. I am interested in setting up a no refined sugar challenge week for a local elementary school. I think your site has some great information and would love some advice on how to motivate the kids to commit!

  5. Yes! We’ve been doing this for the month of February. Our rules allow for molasses, also. We make one treat every weekend to last us through the week (ok. to last us until Wednesday. morning.) My kids are really enjoying the challenge (so far!)

  6. My husband is pre-diabetic. We purchase Fruit Sweet from Wax Orchards. This doesn’t raise his A1C levels even though it’s a concentrated fruit juice. Have you heard of this sweetener? It’s good for baking, although recipes need to be adjusted. Baked goods are tasty but not overly sweet,

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Sandy. While I am not familiar with that sweetener, it is perfectly fine to adjust the recipes for medical conditions, food allergies/sensitivities etc. Just keep the substitutions as real as possible.

  7. I need some help. I am searching the internet trying to find a chart of some sort. I have a couple of dough recipes i want to try–and i am following the rules for 100 days of real food–my goal this year is to make EVERYTHING from scratch which means a lot of prep work. Well, im making empenadas this week, and i can easily substitute the flour for whole wheat and the shortening for coconut oil, but im finding trouble locating a chart for the sugar. The only “liqued” in the dough is the eggs and oil (2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
    3/4 cup fine cornmeal, or masa harina
    2 teaspoons sugar
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    3 tablespoons vegetable shortening
    2 large egg yolks)

    help please

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Megan. That small amount of honey, 2 tsp, should not wreak havoc on your consistency. I also can’t find a specific chart that is outside of using honey in baked goods.