There are so many opinions, options and ideas about sugar out there right now. It makes it hard to know what a good sugar to get is! I've done a ton of research on this subject. The reason sugar is seemly just now becoming an issue is because a century ago, the average American consumed about 5 lbs of sugar or less a year. Just 20 years ago, the average American was only consuming 26 lbs of sugar a year. Today, the average American consumes about 175 lbs of sugar a year!
White refined sugar, which is used in all processed, packaged foods, desserts, and found on the tables in restaurants, is a poison. It causes a whole list of diseases such as suppressing your immune system, tooth and bone decay, alzheimers, cancer, diabetes, and gallbladder, liver, and kidney problems. White sugar is a drug. When you have it, you get a "sugar high", a crash when it wears off, and it has been proven to have addictive qualities that makes you need more of it! Refined sugars have no vitamins, no minerals, no nutritional value and actually draws nutrients out of your body. This has been shown especially with the B vitamins and the overall mineral balance of your body. This is just a short list of the horrid affects of sugar.
I love baking, and I must admit, I have quite the sweet tooth. Here are the sweeteners I use:
Honey: I buy local honey from the farmers market for the best benefits. When cooking with it, it is good to know that 1/2 cup of honey= 1 cup of sugar.
Maple syrup: I get the organic kind that I know does not have chemicals added to it. I haven't really baked with it, but I have used it a few times in an ice cream recipe or two. I mostly just use it on pancakes or french toast. It's so sweet that you really don't need to use that much!
Molasses: Be careful not to use too much of this as it can be bitter tasting. It is a great oatmeal topping. This sweetener is so rich in minerals such as manganese, iron, calcium, and B6.
Stevia: I love this stuff! It's part of an herb plant that is zero calories and has no affect on your blood sugar. A pinch of stevia= a spoonful of sugar. Some people think it has a licorice aftertaste, but I haven't experienced that. I use stevia just for sweetening teas, coffee, or homemade lemonade.
Coconut palm sugar: It tastes just like brown sugar, can be used in a 1:1 ratio with anything that calls for sugar, has a low GI (meaning it will not spike your blood sugar), and has good vitamins and minerals that your body can easily digest.
Unbleached, unrefined sugar: I really only use this if I'm making a bunch of cookies for a party or a dessert for a group of people or something like that as it is cheaper than any of the above listed sweeteners. It will still cause your blood sugar to spike and you want to make sure you have this moderation because it still is empty calories. Unlike the refined sugar though, it will not draw nutrients out of your body.