There are situations for every parent where a little sugar goes a long ways. Such as coaxing down medicines with a young child. We've been using Agave and are thinking about Stevia. I understand Stevia has been used in Japan for awhile, and has no insulin reaction. On the other hand, agave seems more 'real' and perhaps less processed. I'd obviously be reluctant to give the kids (all 2 or under) anything newfangled (Equal, Splenda, etc). Oh, and before we go there, of course we're minimizing sweets. Question is what's least evil when we do need it.
Thanks for any ideas!
Occasionally my daughters (4, 17 months) will have something that has a few drops of liquid whole leaf stevia throughout. I have no problem with a liquid whole stevia concentrate since it's made by boiling stevia leaves and reducing until highly concentrated. That said, I try to keep my girls' exposure to stevia rare and instead usually favor limited honey or palm sugar for the occasional touch of sweetness.
As for agave, even if it is classified as natural (which I'd debate), its fructose content is so high that if you are definitely going to sweeten there are a myriad of other options (raw honey, palm/coconut sugar, high quality 100% maple syrup) which are superior.
See these threads for more to think about with sweeteners (artificial and natural):
Mark says in the second link: "Raw honey and coconut sugar likewise offer solid nutritional benefit for their sugar content compared to other sweeteners."
I will probably go against the trend here but here goes. Sugar is not evil.
I would say a good choice to give your kids if you need something sweet is just normal table sugar.
It is cheap and easily avaliable. In small amounts it is not evil, though certainly not good for you in large amounts. A teaspoon of table sugar is 4 grams containing 2 grams of fructose. If this scares you then you certainly need to start thinking about orthorexia :) There is a long term theme among health and natural food people that to be healthy something needs to be expensive or exotic, mostly to the benefit to those selling these products. Agave syrup is just a processed as any other sweetner, it is all fructose and is mostly a natural health food scam. You don't have to buy expensive, exotic products from a distant lands to be healthy.
Honey, maple syrup, molasses, coconut sugar etc are all fine, I do like some honey personally, however they are not magically different to sugar. Artificial sweeteners are just that, chemical substitutes trying to recreate the taste of sugar and they do not usually taste as good.
Just relax, give your children a good diet, and don't stress about occasionally just giving them some plain old sugar. Having a relaxed relationship with food is important for children to learn.
a alternative sweetener overview.
After dealing with the agave blues, you may want to select another sweetener. Here are some options (in alphabetical order):
Stevia: I recommend dried powdered leaves over extracts. This is a wonderful and easy plant to grow. It contains no real sugar, so therefore it does not feed candida or cancer. Look for organic stevia products.
Other sweeteners to avoid, besides common agave:
If you believe Lustig (which I do!) then you'll treat fructose like the devil. Agave nectar is somewhere between 70 and 90% fructose. So I never use it. Your body doesn't care if sugar is "natural" or "real". It treats it all the same.
We use honey or maple syrup at our house. Organic for the maple syrup and raw organic honey. Our little guy likes banana's a lot so we mash some banana and add cinnamon or vanilla too sometimes.
Seems like there may be benefits to sweeteners like honey (has nutrients, helps allergies, antibacterial) and maple syrup (similar but doesn't help with allergies) There are probably others that are as good or better in terms of lower fructose however.
I grow stevia herb in my garden and although it might be just a curiosity to grow it and try to use the leaves. They are mighty sweet just chewing on them and will infuse a slight sweetness to liquids. I don't have kids but my friends 2 y/o likes the things I make her for dessert. I find that sweet potatoes particularly the Japanese ones will make yogurt into a sweet smoothie or a frozen treat if you blend them with low sugar fruits like frozen berries.
I read on Weston Price website that agave is very processed so be careful with that stuff most of it may not be very natural.
I would second Matthew's answer and add that do not use sweeteners as a reward mechanism. Incorporate small amounts of sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, etc in meal planning. Society too frequently "rewards" children and adults with carbohydrates for everything - cake, cupcakes, ice cream, etc. The saying, "Eat your vegetables - or NO dessert." Never eat sweeteners when upset, depressed, or angry. This is bad programming that movies, ads, and the media promote.
I eat 70-85% dark chocolate 20-30 grams about 2-3 times a week and homemade heavy whipped cream (where you control how much sweetener you use) with berries and almonds as part of breakfast (which includes animal protein/fat) 2-3 times a week.
If the day is not going well then watch something funny, talk to a friend, play some cheerful music, get some physical activity, etc. but food, especially carbs should not be used to compensate for mood! Increase omega 3 ratio.
I support small amounts of honey, sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, molasses - those that are truly paleo but I think the other sweeteners are sketchier. I do believe in the 30 day plan to wean off all sweeteners for everyone. After doing strict paleo for a month, I could taste the sweetness in vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli, etc! Now I can't stand the taste of very sweet stuff. I have tried a sip of juice, soda, Vita Coco and spit it out because it was too sweet! So I no longer drink those things.
My biochem professor in my doctorate program said that sugar receptors on the tongue become more sensitive when you wean off sugar and I believe that! I think he would have supported Paleo/Primal (who knows maybe he was one himself)- he had frequent tirades and rants against sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and corn. He supported low-carb for everyone. He taught us the biochemistry of diabetes.
I gave up artificial sweeteners 3 years ago because the aftertaste bothered me (even stevia does), and because some cancer and weight loss research was against it. I also never lost weight with it - probably gained some in the past.
Thanks all for the suggestions. We'll try switching over to honey and second (depending on the dish) molasses.
In the meantime I did find a nice source for glycemic load on sweeteners (hence the auto-answer):
While type and ratio of sugar obviously matters, on pure GL it looks like honey beats molasses. Xylitrol seems really nice (as does Stevia), but I can't find Xylitrol locally.