The Definitive Guide to Paleo Sweeteners sugar stevia healthy agave-min

The Definitive Guide to Paleo Sweeteners

Whenever I write about sugar, I get a lot of spam comments trying to advertise brands of “natural, healthy” sweeteners that, apparently, are simply bursting with healthiness. I’m also constantly aware of people choosing artificial sweeteners to avoid sugar; as well as people choosing “natural” sweeteners over artificial, or just regular sugar.

So what is the difference between all of these types and brands of sweeteners? Are there really new natural sweeteners out there, or is it just clever marketing of an existing product, with a new brand name?

The Definitive Guide to Paleo Sweeteners sugar stevia healthy agave-min


Natural Sweeteners

A natural sweetener, by definition is one that is unprocessed, and naturally occurring in nature – in the same state (or requiring minimal processing that you could do yourself). A lot of sweeteners sold as natural, actually require a lot of refining and processing to get to the state they reach us in – far from natural.


One of the most talked about sweeteners, Stevia is actually a herb. It has a natural sweet taste, but no actual sugar molecules. The green leaf Stevia plant is therefore a great alternative to sugar. Unfortunately, far more readily available than the green leaf versions, is the white powdered form of Stevia (i.e. branded as Natvia, Truvia or Sun Crystals). This is very processed, and definitely one to be avoided.


Raw Honey is a great natural sweetener. Using a local honey is even supposed to reduce hayfever. Whilst honey is natural (and in fact the only sweetener I use), it still produces an insulin effect and is definitely best suited for occasional use – as are all forms of sweeteners.

Maple Syrup, traditionally made Agave Nectar (Miel de Agave), Sorghum Syrup, Coconut Sugar, Palm Sugar, Molasses, Date Sugar, Cane Sugar, Fruit Juice, Muscovado and Sucanat are also natural sugars – but, again, no sweetener is the healthier choice, even if they are natural! Incidentally you might have seen Brown Rice Syrup in you health food shop – and whilst it too is “natural”, it contains malt and is therefore a source of gluten!

Not So Natural?

Agave Nectar is another one that seems to be thought of as another supremely healthy product. Agave is natural, in that it comes from the juice of the agave plant. It has a low glycemic profile, which means less of an insulin spike. However, this is because Agave nectar contains only 10% glucose – which means the other 90% is fructose, which comes with all sorts of health issues and is definitely to be avoided. Not only should Agave be avoided for its high fructose concentration, but it also contains saponins; toxins that have less than desirable effects on the body. Agave Nectar is produced in a not too dissimilar way to High Fructose Corn Syrup – yet at least HFCS is seldom marketed as a healthy sweetener.

Turbinado Sugar and Sugar Alcohols (i.e. xylitol and erythritol) are also not natural; but often sold with impressive health claims.

Artificial Sweeteners

The chemical sweeteners really are a no brainer. Recognised as toxins in the body – and in many cases not established enough for us to really understand their impact, I can’t see any reason why anyone would want to consume these. There is also a lot of research into the insulin response, with many suggesting that the sweet taste, even in the absence of sugar, is enough to trigger an insulin response.

Artificial sweeteners include Aspartame (sold as NutraSweet or Equal), Saccharin (Sweet n Low), Sucralose (Splenda), Acesulfame-K (Sunette or Sweet One), Sorbitol, Mannitol and Tagatose.

Sweeteners – Are They Paleo?

Whilst the natural sweeteners are without doubt less harmful than their chemical or processed alternatives, they still aren’t “Paleo”. As an occasional treat Raw Honey is the only sweetener I would suggest.

Ultimately, it’s best to give up the need for constant sweetness. Since doing so, I’ve found my taste buds have changed and I no longer crave sweet things like I used to. Try giving up sugar; after a few weeks you’ll be glad you did!

Have you given up sugar? If not, what types of sweeteners do you use?

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14 replies
  1. Tony
    Tony says:

    To be honest, I went through seeking for natural alternatives to sugar but now I no longer bother and just use sugar. A few teaspoons of sugar contains about 25 calories and so I consider it a non issue. 25 empty calories isn’t something to be alarmed over if you have cut out processed foods. You’ll most likely burn that minute amount of sugar that off as energy before you’ve even finished drinking the cup.

    Raw honey is definitely preferred though but I don’t always have it available as it can be kind of expensive.

    • PaleoGirl
      PaleoGirl says:

      Hi Tony, I definitely think regular sugar is a far better alternative than many of the advertised sweeteners out there. Ultimately I think it’s best to go without altogether.

  2. Gina
    Gina says:

    I used to take 2 teaspoons of sugar and I drink a lot of coffee, I now drink coffee without any sugar it took me a few months to get used to and now I actually like the taste a lot better though I do have to have a ‘good’ brand of coffee!

    • PaleoGirl
      PaleoGirl says:

      I did the same Gina, it was really odd to begin with, but I don’t think I could go back to having sweet tea anymore!

  3. Pam
    Pam says:

    I’ve been using a chicory root based sweetener, but just in my coffee. Maple syrup and coconut sugar are my go to for making treats.

  4. Danielle
    Danielle says:

    I went from being a full scratch cupcake baker to paleo and was so lost on everything. Now when I bake for myself I use local raw honey and coconut sugar for many applications. But I haven’t been able to find a perfect sub for white sugar in everything. There’s way too much science behind wet vs dry in a perfect recipe and sometimes white sugar is the only thing I can get to work for flavor and consistency. It’s sad how much we Americans are addicted to the stuff!!

  5. Anne
    Anne says:

    Dextrose & glucose syrup are the sweeteners of choice for me. However, anything that is “sweet” should be considered a party food & consumed in very moderate amounts. After all, our ancestors did not eat sweetened food. For me it’s the fructose content in honey, maple syrup etc that is a problem

  6. Maureen Secombe
    Maureen Secombe says:

    I like to bake so what sugars are okay.
    I don’t have sugar in other foods if I can avoid it but do like to bake so what do you use.

  7. jon jones
    jon jones says:

    I’m always sick of reading how sugar isn’t “paleo” – let’s get real. I can pretty much guarantee that in the Paleolithic times, people ate whatever they could, in order to get energy/nutrients…and this included eating sugar cane juice. If you can’t control how much sugar you consume, you have a bigger issue. Give me a break!

    • Ernheight
      Ernheight says:

      Outside of fruit peak ripeness season a few weeks a year, sugar is hard to come by in nature.

      Sugar cane juice resides inside sugar cane. Absent equipment to mechanically extract the juice, the raw cane has to be chewed. Chewing sugar cane burns more calories than the sugar inside it provides.

      • Becca
        Becca says:

        Actually sugar is very easy to come by. Lots of vegetables have sugars, however aside from plants a lot of indigenous tribes used to, and still do, eat certain types of ants that have high sugar content. The difference between now and then is the amount of energy you need to expend in order to get hold of the sugar. People didn’t eat much sugar because it took a day to obtain a full teaspoon of it : )

    • Nina
      Nina says:

      I’m willing to bet that when those Paleolithic folks came across a beehive full of honey that they just had a full-on good time with it. Probably didn’t have any problems with it either as they ran off the calories running from the bees. LOL

  8. jr lee
    jr lee says:

    sugar is VERY VERY addicting, i personally eat a little agave nectar or honey or stevia but not very often, if i do eat sugar for a couple days in a row, boom I’m addicted again and its hard to go without. anybody doubts that, try going without sugar for a month.


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