The Worst Sugar Substitutes

High Fructose Corn Syrup

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) comes from corn. You can find it in processed foods, like baked goods, desserts, soda, juices, snacks, and commercial bread. Despite its name, the most common form consists of 50% glucose and 50% fructose — the same as table sugar.

Pros: It’s cheap and sweet.

Cons: Most of the corn used to make HFCS is genetically modified. HFCS has been linked to numerous health concerns, such as an increased risk for metabolic syndrome, obesity, liver disease, and insulin resistance leading to type 2 diabetes and cancers.

It’s also devoid of nutrients.


Brown Rice Syrup

Made by breaking down the starches in brown rice, this sugar substitute is a thick sweetener made of three sugars: maltotriose, maltose, and glucose. But maltose and maltotriose are just two and three glucose molecules, respectively. They function just like glucose in the body. Processed foods, including toddler snacks and bars, often contain brown rice syrup.

Pros: Brown rice syrup contains glucose, not fructose. The advantage of this is that glucose appears to have a less damaging effect on your liver than fructose.

Cons: Because it’s essentially glucose, rice syrup has a very high glycaemic index of 98 — higher than any other type of sugar (table sugar is 60 to 70). Brown rice syrup is also prone to arsenic contamination.


Agave Nectar

Agave is often touted as a natural, healthy sugar alternative derived from the agave plant. Interestingly, you can make tequila by fermenting the blue agave plant.

Pros: Agave has a very low glycaemic index score, meaning it doesn’t spike blood sugar nearly as much as table sugar. Companies often market it as diabetic-friendly.

Cons: Agave has a low GI score because it can contain 90% fructose, which as we’ve discussed, could lead to weight gain and elevated blood triglyceride levels. It’s 1.5 times sweeter than sugar and contains no nutrients or antioxidants. Although it comes from a plant, the manufacturing process destroys any potential health benefits. It is, essentially, devoid of any beneficial nutrients.