Sugar alternatives aren’t always better for health

By Nicholas Robinson

- Last updated on GMT

More consumers are turning to natural sweeteners
More consumers are turning to natural sweeteners

Related tags Sugar Nutrition

A backlash against sugar and sugary foods has driven consumers towards ‘natural’ alternatives, but they can be just as bad for health, experts have warned.

Campaigns against sugar-laden products, led by pressure groups and the government, have affected consumer purchasing habits, which are shifting towards products sweetened with ‘natural’ ingredients, according to various reports.

Sales of honey at the upmarket retailer Waitrose, for instance, surpassed sales of jam for the first time, the UK supermarket announced on October 22.

Halo Foods, maker of the iconic breakfast cereal Sugar Puffs, last week announced it would rename them Honey Monster Puffs to tackle declining sales and tap into the growing trend.

‘Added sugar’

However, Dr Carrie Ruxton, one of the UK’s leading nutritionists, warned that honey still counted as “added sugar” ​in dietary guidelines and wasn’t necessarily better for health than sugar.

“Negative media coverage will be driving the increase in honey sales,” ​she told

“But, honey counts as added sugar in dietary guidelines and contains similar calories to table sugar.”

A level teaspoon of honey contained 23 calories and 6g of total sugars, ​compared with a level teaspoon of sugar, which contained 15 calories and 4g of total sugars, Ayela Spiro, a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation told

"So, while a little bit of honey won't do you any harm, you should remember that it provides added sugar and calories to your diet," ​she said.

Concerns about obesity and other related health problems linked to sugar had also stimulated the market for non-caloric sweeteners, according to Karin Nielsen, an ingredients analyst at Canadean.

More popular

Plant-derived sweeteners such as stevia were becoming more popular as consumers looked for natural alternatives, she said.

Demand for all low- and non-calorie sweeteners was expected to increase by 5% every year until 2017, Nielsen added.

“But the food trend towards whole foods and natural products has meant a growing demand for natural sweeteners made from herbs.

“In 2013, approximately 20% of new non-caloric soft drinks were based on natural sweeteners, and Canadean expects this category to continue showing impressive growth with lots of potential, particularly in North America, Europe and Japan,” ​she said.

Although demand for natural sweeteners was rising and set to rise further, sugar still dominated the market and was used as a sweetener 80% of the time, according to figures from Canadean.

Meanwhile, Dr Sally Norton, a leading National Health Service weight loss surgeon and health consultant, urged the food industry to stop misleading consumers with false health claims.

“Industry has a responsibility to help consumers make better choices by offering us great products with clear health benefits,” ​she said.

“Misleading labelling, larger and larger portion sizing and pushing products which falsely claim health benefits are marketing ploys deliberately designed to hoodwink consumers.”

The nutritional properties of honey:

  • There are more calories in a teaspoon of honey than in a teaspoon of sugar – 23 versus 15
  • Honey is sweeter-tasting than sugar, so less can be used
  • Honey does contain the vitamins niacin, riboflavin, thiamine and vitamin B6
  • It has been claimed to have some antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties

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