Doctor weighs in on healthiest sweetener

If you want to sweeten up that cup of coffee or tea, which sweetener is your best choice? It's a question that gets Dr. Taz Bhatia of CentreSpring MD in Atlanta fired up.

"I love sugar, just plain old-fashioned sugar," Dr. Bhatia says. "Just use a very small amount of it.

And then there's monk fruit. It's a natural, low-calorie, plant-based sweetener, made from a melon-like fruit grown in southern China.

"So monk fruit, you can get away with less sweetener, less than even sugar, and still get that satisfaction that you're eating something sweet," Bhatia says. "Monk fruit actually has a lot of antioxidants in it as well."

Same thing with honey, especially raw honey, which contains antioxidants like vitamins C and E.

"Honey is probably my favorite sweetener because honey comes in different flavors and forms," Bhatia says. "Again, you can control how sweet you want to make something by using just a small amount of honey."

But, Dr. Bhatia is not a fan of artificial sweeteners. 

"Your artificial sweeteners are hard on the gut," Bhatia says. "The gut can't handle it. Your gut is better off to have a tiny bit of honey or a tiny bit of sugar than a lot of artificial sweetener."

There is one exception. Artificial sweeteners may be a better choice for people with pre-diabetes or diabetes because they won't immediately raise your blood sugar like sugar and other natural sweeteners. But, Dr. Bhatia says, artificial sweeteners can cause us to crave more sweets.

"And it seems as if the artificial sweeteners actually make us feel hungrier, and make us crave more food, and make us want more food," She says. "So, that's why I never want people drinking diet drinks, because, typically, they'll eat more."

She does like Stevia, a plant-based sugar substitute.

Bhatia says if you like sugar, use sugar, but in moderation. But, she says, no matter what sweetener you choose, lighten up.

"The best strategy is, honestly, less, less, less," Bhatia says. "It should be a challenge to yourself. How much can you cut your sugar in any form, on any given day?  You'll find you don't crave it, you don't want it anymore."