Waist Watchers: Which alternative sweetener is best for you?

If you don't use old-fashioned sugar in your foods or drinks, you have more choices these days for alternative sweeteners.

Initially the only sugar substitutes were the artificial, chemical-based sweeteners like Equal, Splenda or Sweet and Low. However, some grocery store workers say they've noticed more shoppers skipping chemical sweeteners and going "green."

"Most is for weight loss, but for a lot of people, they're also looking for something different because they have a sugar disorder or diabetes or something of that nature," said Brad Daschbarch, a healthy eating consultant at Whole Foods store on Magazine Street.

Daschbarch said many shoppers are seeking out natural, plant-based sweeteners like Truvia, stevia, agave, molasses or coconut sugar.

Customer Elizabeth Kirby said she and her husband started using natural sweeteners after her husband was diagnosed with cancer and needed to switch to a strict new diet.

"My husband has prostate cancer, so we're trying to stop it from spreading," said Kirby.

Nutritionists say while they offer health benefits, some natural sweeteners could also increase your weight.

Molly Kimball is a New Orleans registered dietician who raves about plant-based organic sugar substitutes. But she says customers need to know they fall into two categories: high calorie and low calorie.

"For people who are diabetic or have insulin resistance or watching their blood sugar, or those who need to lose weight, then the zero calories, plant-based sweeteners are best," she said. "If you are not sure, turn the package over and it will says zero calories, zero carbs, zero sugars. The other category is still natural, and a lot are plant-based sweeteners. Those are agave, coconut sugar, honey, molasses and brown rice syrups or dates. All of these things, tablespoon for tablespoon, are just going to be like regular sugars."

To avoid gaining extra weight, she advises using small amounts in food or drinks. Kimball said the only exceptions are athletes who work out regularly and can burn off those extra calories quickly.

Bottom line: Nutritionists say when you're shopping for an alternative natural sugar substitute to sweeten your food or bake a sweet treat, double check that it's best suited for your long-term goals.

Copyright 2014 WVUE. All rights reserved.