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Sweeteners: What Are the Differences?


Sweeteners: What Are the Differences?

You will find plenty of information about new ways to sweeten the American diet. Coffee shops offer raw sugar, agave, and honey to go with the flavored skim soy lattes they serve. What are the differences between these nutritive sweeteners? The following information may help you sort it out!

Where Is It From? Uses/Nutrients
  • Natural
  • 60 calories/Tbsp
  • Found in Mexico
  • Most famous for its role in tequila production
  • For sweetening purposes, juice is extracted from the core of the agave plant, processed, and filtered into a juicelike consistency


  • Often used in place of sugar or honey
  • Easy to dissolve in cold drinks
  • The more intense, the darker the color
  • Contains iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium
High-fructose corn syrup
  • Natural
  • 53 calories/Tbsp
  • Made from corn, primarily in the United States
  • Cheaper to produce than sugar
  • Easy to transport
  • Comparable to table sugar in its sweetness
  • May prolong shelf life of foods
  • May contribute to obesity more than sugar
  • Not a significant source of vitamins/minerals


  • Natural
  • 64 calories/Tbsp
  • Made all over the world by honeybees
  • Derived from the nectar of flowers
  • Used in cooking, baking, spreading, and teas
  • Has a rich history throughout the world
  • Sometimes antioxidant compounds are present (depends on the variety)


Raw sugar (demerara, turbinado, muscovado)
  • Natural
  • 45 calories/Tbsp
  • Minimally refined sugarcane
  • Produced mainly in Hawaii
  • Often used in beverages and for cooking or baking
  • Sensitive to moisture and will harden quickly
  • Has a molasses-like flavor
  • No significant nutrients are present, but slightly more nutritious than refined white sugar


Granulated sugar
  • Natural
  • 45 calories/Tbsp
  • Sugarcane and sugar beet are indigenous to warm climates (Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, India, China, Thailand, and Australia)
  • Various methods are used to extract the nectar to make sugar
  • Used in cooking, baking, flavorings, and beverages
  • Refined in various ways to create powdered/confectioners’ sugar, brown sugar, and fine and coarse varieties
  • Refined sugar provides calories, but nutrients are not present




References and recommended readings
Fitch C, Keim KS; Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: use of nutritive and nonnutritive sweeteners. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012;112(5):739-758. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2012.03.009.

Food search. CalorieKing Web site. Accessed May 20, 2014.

US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Sweeteners—sugars. MedlinePlus Web site. Accessed May 20, 2014.


Review Date 5/14


G-1002 Sweeteners, What Are the Differences

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