Healthful Hints: The Worst Sweeteners

We’ve talked about healthy alternative sweeteners but now it’s time we chatted about the worst.

You may be surprised to learn which popular sweetener made the list, what ingredients are in common laboratory sweeteners, and what they can potentially do to our bodies.



My favorite snacks that use healthy alternative sweeteners:

Grain-free Ginger Spice Muffin Tops

Grain-free Apple Pancake Cobbler

Caramel Apple Green Smoothie


Raw Spirulina Energy Crunch Bars


 What are your favorite meals or snacks that use healthy alternative sweeteners?

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  1. Leanne, you are my hero. Thank you! I think this is your best video so far. Very easy-to-understand chemical interactions with the processed “sugar” junk!

  2. Ugh all the chemical-y stuff about the artificial sweeteners is scary and I am so SO happy that I’ve removed so much of it from my diet. Aspartame and sucralose are two that I have consumed a ton of in the past. The physical effect that I felt (bloating, gas etc) were painful enough – I don’t even want to think about what they were doing to the inside of my body. I have a question for you though (it recently came up in a conversation between me and some other foodie friends): You mentioned that substances like sucralose aren’t digested. When our bodies eventually get artificial sweeteners moving through our digestive systems, do any of the byproducts that are produced (like formaldehyde, wood alcohols etc) get left behind in our bodies? Do they accumulate inside us and stay there or are we able to flush them out? Thanks Leanne!

  3. That’s crazy about the fructose in agave!

    I’ve become a huge fan of xylitol (thanks to you!). It’s the only sugar-replacer I’ve found that doesn’t leave an aftertaste. I used it to sweeten the chocolate zucchini muffins I posted today… which I adapted/vegan-ized from your recipe. :)

    • I like the taste and ease of xylitol, but have noticed blood sugar fluctuations and cravings when I use it.

      But I gave it up almost completely because much of my baking gets grandbabied – they gotta try everything! And since they share everything with the dog, no xylitol.

      I’d hate to be the nama who killed the goggy. :o(

  4. Just wanted to say I LOVE your blog! You have great recipes and great health info. I’m a Registered Dietitian, but, of course, was taught the mainstream curriculum. Thank you so much for helping me broaden my knowledge for myself and my clients!

  5. Hi Leanne, I just want to thank you so, SO much for this video (the entire series, actually). I had no idea about that fructose content in agave! I did as you suggested and emailed the company of the product I have and I hope to get a reply soon. I haven’t seen xylitol in the green powder form, only in the white, but perhaps that’s because I wasn’t looking for it. On my next outing I will be searching for it. Thanks again, and keep the info coming!

  6. Amazing video! I’ve been working on getting rid of Splenda since I read the problems with it on Maria Emmerich’s blog. You expanded even more on the reasons not to include it in my diet. So far I’ve replaced it with Xylitol and I’m very happy with that sweetener. Thank you for the video!

  7. I never knew that about agave!!!! I thought I was doin right when I used it from time to time (mostly with lime juice and tequila :) ). I love how you explain the chemical properties and really make things reasonable, rather than just saying don’t do this or don’t do that.!

  8. I really enjoyed this! We’ve just done a little chapter on alternative sweeteners in my Nutrition class, so this was perfect!

  9. I have started using Date Honey for some things. It’s very easy to make and can be used for lots of recipes.
    1 cup pitted dates
    1 cup water (or more to cover dates)
    1 tsp cinnamon

    Place dates in a small saucepan. Pour water over dates and make sure they are just covered. Cover with lid. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low and simmer for 45-60 min. When done, remove lid and let cool for 15 min. Pour water and dates into a food processor and puree until smooth. Add cinnamon and process just til combined. Store in a glass jar in the fridge. Can be used as a fruit dip or as a topping for sweet potatoes, squash or pumpkin.

    • Thanks for sharing this, Becca! I’m totally going to try to make it this weekend :)

  10. I used to be the ultimate Splenda whore. I would put packets of that crap in pretty much everything because I assumed it would so much better for me than sugar. Obviously this was way before I actually started reading and studying about nutrition and realized all the scary chemicals Splenda and other artificial sweeteners are made from. I finally ditched everything fake, and now use only things like honey, agave nectar, real maple syrup and (horror of all horrors) real sugar. I realized when you use the real stuff, food actually tastes better and I crave sweets a heck of a lot less. I think some of those chemicals in Splenda are comprised of the same stuff in crack because that’s how hooked it definitely made me. I wish more people would just ditch the artifical crap and go back to eating like a normal person again. And that’s what I have to say about that :)

  11. That chemical stuff is super scary!!! My fav sweeteners are maple syrup, brown rice syrup and stevia. I tend not to use any sweetener ending in ‘ol’ cuz it gives me an upset stomach. Current sweet treat fav is my grain free cranberry orange mini muffins…only 1/4 cup maple syrup for 24 muffins!!! and they are crazy good :)

  12. This was very enlightening – thank you for another wonderful video! Man, Splenda just skeeves me out.
    I have a question, though. I’ve heard pretty terrible things about sugar alcohols… do you really recommend xylitol? What are its benefits?

    • Hi Emily – there are some sugar alcohols that are more dangerous than others. Sugar alcohols such as xylitol are not as sweet as sugar, but they contain fewer calories. However, sugar alcohols do not make “sugar-free” foods calorie free as does splenda (but are far less dangerous!). While xylitol is relatively safe for your blood sugar levels, maltitol spikes blood sugar almost as much as a potato. Xylitol, in comparison, does not spike blood sugar much at all. Pure xylitol also does not usually produce the gas or bloating associated with other sugar alcohols because of their inability to break down in the body. Or rather, how long it takes for them to break down.
      Xylitol is extracted from birch and is considered to be a carbohydrate alcohol. While it has the same amount of calories as sucrose, it metabolizes in a different manner and may be used safely for diabetics and hypoglycemics. Bacterial salivary organisms do not feed, grow or ferment on xylitol as they do on other simple aforementioned sugars. In fact, I was prescribed 1 tbsp of xyltiol a day to help with my digestive issues!
      I guess what I’m trying to say is that in moderation, some sugar alcohols can be a better choice than refined sugars, agave, and the artificial sweeteners I mentioned in the video. Of the various sugar alcohols, xylitol is one of the safest. When it is a pure source, the potential side effects are minimal compared to that of the worst sweeteners.

  13. Loved this Healthful Hints, as always Leanne! :) I have always contemplated trying agave nectar, but never have because of all of the conflicting info I’ve heard about it. This kind of confirms that for me! I know that you really love using palm sugar, and was wondering if you have read this article about it? If you have, what are your thoughts?

    • Thanks for sharing that article, Andrea! I think it’s like anything – you can’t win them all. I hope I don’t sound ignorant by saying that, but there’s always something! I think like anything, if you keep everything in moderation, you’re doing the best you can. Palm sugar is considerably less processed than many other sugars and is a great alternative for vegans who cannot have honey (which they mentioned in the article as being one of the most nutrient dense sweeteners). If you’re trying to live a life of focusing on sustainable products, palm sugar may not be your best choice, but if it’s a decision between white sugar, HFCS, or the like, and palm sugar, I’d choose a bit of palm sugar.

      • You don’t sound ignorant at all, Leanne. I think it just comes down to personal choice :)

  14. Hi Leanne! I can’t believe that about agave because it is my favorite sweetener. In that case would regular sugar be better than agave? What about maple syrup?

    • That’s a difficult question… hmm the lesser of two evils. Do I have to pick between white sugar and agave? They’re so equal! I guess I’d have to choose white sugar. If possible, look for cane or demerara sugars as they are a bit better and less processed than the full on white stuff. Maple is better, but your best sugars are going to be xylitol, stevia, honey, you can also make your own date syrup, palm sugar, and pure glucose. Hope that helps!

  15. Hello leanne! …I’m looking for a healthy alternative to agave that one might use for the same purposes…in baking…as a low glycymic or non-insulin-spiking in a syrupy liquid form…Any input would be so welcomed…maple syrup?…making a syrup from xylitol?….Coconut sugars?…Thank you so much for your important and finely crafted blog..

    • Hi Donna, what are you baking? First thing that came to mind was yacon syrup. But it depends on what you’re making it with. It has a pretty strong flavor. Further up in the comments, Becca posted a recipe for date honey that you could make at home. If you’re looking to lower the impact on your blood sugar, pair it with ground flax seed in the baked good. You could also do palm sugar. I haven’t been able to find it in liquid or syrup form, but I know it exists. I hope that helps!

      • Hi, I just started making my own palm sugar-syrup some weeks ago, and it works great in baked goods like cakes and muffins, even for marinating chicken or to drizzle over pancakes! I use it everywhere instead of honey, agave or maple syrup. Just put 2 parts chopped palm sugar and 1 part water in a pot, and cook for about 10 minutes until it thickens a little bit. Keep in the fridge (for up to 3 weeks), and it gets a honey-like texture! (Sorry if there are spelling errors, I´m from Austria :) )

  16. Hi Leanne!
    Is there a xylitol brand that you’d recommend? I’ve been wanting to try it (I currently use stevia, honey and coconut sugar), but the only brand I found in my local grocery store contained a mixture of xylitol and sucralose! I haven’t checked my local health food store yet, but I’d love to hear if you have any suggestions.

    Great post, by the way. New healthful hints posts always make me happy!

    • Have you heard of Xylosweet? It’s 100% xyltiol and you can purchase it on Amazon. Hope that helps :)

      • Why yes, I have! In fact, I just saw an ad for it yesterday in a local supplement shops publication. I’ll have to give it a try. Thank you!

  17. Great vid! I too was a ‘Splenda whore’. Aside, I am also a beekeeper. People should know that the honey available in most stores is very adulterated, usually from several countries, heated to the point of having no nutritional value and in many cases just corn syrup that is ‘run through a bee’ for a profit. I urge people to buy only local honey. Find a beekeeper in your area (we’re everywhere!) or purchase from a farmers market, etc. Local honey can help w/allergies as well. Everything in the hive is good for something!

    • Thank you for adding that, Lois! Where abouts are you located should anyone be interested in contacting you for some sweet, sweet, honey? read: if you’re near Calgary, you have a new customer!!

    • If you can find the raw versions that have been unprocessed, they do have some health benefits and wont be as high in fructose as the processed versions. There’s still hope!

  18. I finally just got around to watching this. Great video, Leanne! I was never huge into agave but I did give it up when I started doing work for Clean Eating Magazine, since they don’t allow it. This is a great explanation for why to avoid it. I’ve been meaning to pick up some xylitol to start experimenting with it – I have high hopes!

    • Wow, I didn’t know that Clean Eating Magazine doesn’t allow agave. Very awesome! I love them even more now :) I’m really loving xylitol. It’s nothing like stevia and acts so much like sugar!

  19. As one whose always on the lookout for sugar “substitutes” that aren’t made in a lab, I really appreciate your post. However, when you spoke against sucralose by saying, “There are no covalent bonds in nature” I was surprised! It is the very covalent bond that holds two hydrogens to an oxygen that makes life possible: yep, water is an example of a molecule that is held together by covalent bonds!!! Perhaps you were thinking of something else?

    • Hey Shannon, thanks for catching that. I’ve been meaning to edit the video but with going on vacation in just a couple of days, haven’t gotten around to it as I understand now, that I explained it incorrectly! Great to hear you’re a bodyrocker, too. How long have you been doing it?

      • Understandable! I’ve been bodyrocking for seven months now. The feelings you were describing on your other posts about beings surprised by the transformation? Same here! I came to it after about a half year of serious running training and it was a welcome change of pace. Good luck on your trip!

  20. Hey Leanne, I love your website. It’s a real inspiration. I’m a nutritionist myself, and aspire to become a holistic nutritionist (I just don’t have the time or money yet… but I will one day ;-)

    Great topic on sweeteners. I very much agree!
    Something completely different; I was wondering are you Dutch in one way or another? Vogel means bird in Dutch, and it’s a relatively common surname here in Holland :-)

    Love from Leanne (lol, it’s always kinda funny to meet someone with a similar name :D)

  21. Thanks for yet another great review, Leanne.
    Focusing on sucralose is crucial, because so many people I know fall prey to the sexy advertising.
    This is so important an issue I will share this and urge everyone who sees this to do the same.

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