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Are there any health-promoting sweeteners? The only two concentrated sweeteners I consider to be green-light foods—ones that should be maximized—may be blackstrap molasses and date sugar. Other natural caloric sweeteners, such as honey, less processed cane sugars, and maple, agave, and brown rice syrups don’t appear to have much to offer nutritionally. Date sugar is a whole food—just dried dates ground up into a powder—as are date and prune pastes, which can be homemade or purchased. These are all good options for baking, but for sweetening drinks, the taste of molasses may be too strong, and the whole-food sweeteners don’t fully dissolve.

The sugar alcohols sorbitol and xylitol are harmless in themselves, but they aren’t absorbed by the body and end up in the colon, where they can draw in fluid and cause diarrhea. This is why they’re only used commercially in small quantities, such as in mints or chewing gum, as opposed to beverages. A related compound, however, erythritol, is absorbed and may have the harmlessness of xylitol without the laxative effect.

Erythritol is found naturally in pears and grapes, but industrially, yeast is used to produce it. Erythritol doesn’t cause cavities, and it hasn’t been implicated in fibromyalgia, preterm birth, headaches, hypertension, brain disorders, or platelet disorders like other low-calorie sweeteners. Moreover, erythritol may actually have some antioxidant properties. As with any highly processed product, though, its utility should be confined to increasing consumption of green-light foods. So, for example, if the only way for you to eat half a grapefruit is to sprinkle some sugar on it, then it’s probably better to eat a sugared grapefruit than no grapefruit at all—though sprinkling it with erythritol would be even better.

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