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Are stevia and agave syrup healthier sweeteners than sugar?


This summary is based on the article published in the Globe and Mail (July 15, 2013): Are stevia and agave syrup healthier sweeteners than sugar?


What’s the difference between agave syrup and stevia? Are they healthier than sugar?

Response by Leslie Beck

Agave syrup (agave nectar) and stevia are often perceived as more natural, or less highly processed, than table sugar and artificial sweeteners. Yet, both are derived from multistep processing methods.

Agave syrup comes from the same plant that produces tequila, the blue agave plant that grows primarily in Mexico. The core of the plant contains aguamiel, the sweet substance used to produce agave syrup. While processing methods can vary, most involve enzymes, chemicals and heat to convert aguamiel into agave syrup. Organic manufacturers use low heat and no chemicals.

Agave syrup has either a dark or light amber colour and it’s slightly thinner in consistency than honey. It contains 60 calories per tablespoon – versus 48 for table sugar – but because it is about 1.5 times sweeter than sugar, you can use less of it.

Yet, according to many experts, agave’s high fructose concentration makes it an unhealthy sweetener. Research has linked high- fructose sweeteners to obesity, diabetes, high triglycerides, metabolic syndrome and fatty liver.

Stevia leaves and extracts are sold as sweeteners in natural food stores. They have not been approved for use as food additives in Canada and the United States because animal studies have suggested stevia could cause genetic mutations and male infertility.

In the sense that stevia doesn’t add calories, affect blood sugar or insulin levels, or contribute to dental cavities, I suppose it is a better choice than sugar. Even so, it’s a highly refined extract that perpetuates the desire for sweet-tasting foods and drinks.

My recommendation: Train your taste buds to adjust to a less sweet taste by gradually cutting back on sugars, stevia or artificial sweeteners. Eventually, you’ll be surprised to learn that your cup of coffee or tea, glass of water, or bowl of cereal tastes just fine without adding sweetener.

Leslie Beck is a registered dietitian, is the national director of nutrition at BodyScience Medical.


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  1. Dustin July 15, 2013

    I take agave nectar not as a sweetener, but as a fructose energy source for high activity workouts. Along with dates (glucose rich), coconut oil (medium chain triglycerides) I’m able to do more than the average human. Not everything is about taste.

  2. Doug Hamilton July 16, 2013

    It is the high fructose content that I object to. It is the high glycemic effect of the fructose found in High Fructose Corn Syrup, that is the root cause of the obesity and diabetes today.

    To substitute another source of the same sugar is irrational to me. The source may be “natural” but it is still fructose sugar and as such a danger to your health. We really have to look at the addictive nature of these sugars, the metabolic effects and how they increase apatite.

    Any fructose, no matter what the source, will have a high glycemic effect and stimulate insulin release. The net effect is fatty liver, obesity, diabetes and the list goes on.

    We need to stop the use of all sources of these sugars

    I think I will go and eat an apple.

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  4. Zyn May 5, 2019

    I am not super sure about it, but I think I heard it depends on the thing you are using it for. I am sure that if they are saying something different, then it might be true as they know this stuff.


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