Are maple syrup and agave nectar healthier than sugar?
Yes. In general, natural sweeteners are better because they contain trace minerals not found in refined sugar and artificial sweeteners. However, even a natural sweetener like maple sugar can raise blood glucose levels.
Watch the calories: Agave nectar, a honey-like substance that's 90 percent fructose and 10 percent glucose, has 60 calories per tablespoon. Maple syrup, made by boiling sap until it's 70 percent sucrose, has 40 calories in every tablespoon. Refined sugar has 50 calories per tablespoon.
Avoid artificial sweeteners: Chemical sweeteners have no calories and no nutritive value. Research suggests that when you eat or drink non-nutritive, noncaloric foods or beverages you're confusing signals and substance. Sweet is a sign that more calories are on the way. Drinking diet soda, for example, can increase your desire for sweet flavors, which may lead you to eat more sweet non-nutritive foods.
—Karen Siebert, nutritionist, New Seasons Markets, Portland, Ore.