Human beings naturally crave sweetness. High-glucose foods give quick energy, but that energy is short-lived and calorie dense. The debate about the safety of no-calorie synthetic sugar alternatives, like aspartame and saccharin, has raged for decades. If you want to sweeten your coffee, tea or desserts, there are natural alternatives, both no-calorie and those that contain similar calories to sugar, but are derived closer to the food source.
Stevia: Not New
The most recent addition to natural sugar alternatives is stevia, a no-calorie sweetener derived from a sweet-leaf plant. Stevia leaves have been used for more than 1,500 years by the Guarini Indians of Paraguay and were introduced to Europe by M.S. Bertoni in 1899, according to Jeremy Likness in "The Sugar-Coated Truth." It is approved for use by diabetics, even though it is 300 times sweeter than sugar.
Honey, Maple Syrup, Molasses
The most prevalent natural sweeteners containing similar calories to sugar are honey, maple syrup and molasses. Honey has about the same calories as sugar but is sweeter so you may be able to use less. Pure maple syrup, derived from tree sap, has a rich flavor for cooking and the benefit of iron and other micronutrients. Molasses is a sweet dark syrup derived from the processing of the grain sorghum. It can also add a deep, rich flavor to coffee.
Agave nectar is also much sweeter than sugar, so you can use less. However, with renewed interest in tequilas, also derived from agave, there has been an increased demand, so try to find an organic brand that promotes sustainable farming. Other less widely available natural sweeteners include brown rice syrup, barley malt syrup and evaporated cane juice. High fructose corn syrup is derived from hydrolyzed cornstarch and though technically "natural," it is not generally considered a healthy sugar alternative.