Sugar is an essential part of baking. We use it to sweeten up our favorites brownies, or balance the tartness of key lime pies. But if you’re trying to eat healthier or want to cut back on refined sugar, it might be frustrating when all your recipes call for you to add cups and cups of it! That’s where healthy sugar substitutes can come in handy.
Of course, you could just limit the sugar. But that causes two problems: a bitter taste, and a different texture. But don’t fret because you don’t need to swear off brownies or cake forever. There are a variety of healthier sugar substitutes that can add sweetness to your baked goods without the drawbacks of excessive calories and blood sugar spikes.
Here are 20 different healthy sugar substitutes for baking that will not only satisfy your sweet tooth but also help you enjoy baking and sweet treats without compromising on taste.
Overview of Types of Sugar Substitutes
How to Replace Sugar in Recipes
Here is a little chart to help you seamlessly replace sugar into healthier versions in recipes. Follow this as a starting point. But because baking can be finicky, we recommend tasting along the way to find the amount that best suits your taste buds!
|Sugar||1 Tsp||1 Tbsp||1/4 cup||1/2 cup||1 cup|
|Honey||1/2 Tsp||2 Tsp||1/8 cup||1/4 cup||1/2 cup|
|Maple syrup||1/4 Tsp||1/3 Tbsp||3 Tbsp||6 Tbsp||3/4 cup|
|Stevia||1/4 Tsp||2/4 Tsp||1/4 Tsp||1/2 Tsp||1 Tsp|
|Agave nectar||1/4 Tsp||3/4 Tsp||3 Tbsp||6 Tbsp||3/4 cup|
|Pumpkin puree||1 Tbsp||2 Tbsp||1/2 cup||1 cup||2 cups|
|Applesauce||1 Tbsp||3 Tbsp||1/2 cup||1 cup||2 cups|
|Lucuma powder||2 Tsp||2 Tbsp||1/2 cup||1 cup||2 cups|
|Molasses||1/4 Tsp||3/4 Tsp||1 Tbsp||3 Tbsp||1/2 cup|
|Nut butters||1 Tbsp||2 Tbsp||1/4 cup||1/3 cup||2/3 cup|
Derived from the leaves of the Stevia Rebaudiana plant, stevia is a natural sweetener that has captured the hearts of health-conscious bakers. Renowned for its zero-calorie content and negligible impact on blood sugar levels, this plant-based sweetener is hundreds of times sweeter than sugar. Yep, that’s right! That means when you bake, you need to use a really small amount to get the desired sweetness.
2. Monk Fruit Extract
Monk fruit extract is a revelation in the realm of sugar substitutes for baking. It comes from the mountain regions of of Southeast Asia, and has been used for years in traditional Chinese medicine. This zero-calorie sweetener holds immense promise for health-conscious bakers. The mogrosides in monk fruit offer an intense natural sweetness that doesn’t cause blood sugar spikes. It also has less aftertaste than some sugar alternatives, so is a good option in delicately balanced baking recipes.
Erythritol, a sugar alcohol, is one of the most popular sugar substitutes on the market. With its granulated texture and taste both closely resembling sugar, erythritol has become popular among bakers seeking healthier alternatives. It’s not as sweet as stevia, or even sugar, at only about 70% as sweet as sugar.
It has a fraction of the calories of sugar and no significant impact on blood sugar, this sugar substitute will be a versatile ally in your next baking adventures. Just be wary of using it in huge amounts, as it can cause gastrointestinal distress in some people.
The world of sugar alcohols introduces us to xylitol, another alternative with a taste and texture akin to sugar. This versatile substitute boasts a low glycemic index and supports dental health, making it a good choice for health-and-smile-conscious bakers.
However, xylitol’s potential laxative effect mean you should always use it in moderation. Pet owners should be wary too, as it is highly toxic to dogs even in small quantities.
Allulose—a naturally-occuring sugar found in certain foods like figs and raisins. With only a fraction of the calories of sugar and a minimal impact on blood sugar levels, allulose has emerged as another promising option for health-conscious bakers. Its ability to caramelize and mimic the properties of sugar in recipes is also a huge plus.
6. Coconut Sugar
Coconut sugar is another naturally-occurring alternative sourced from the sap of coconut palm trees. With its distinct caramel flavor, this unrefined sweetener retains trace minerals and has a lower glycemic index compared to traditional sugar. Plus, it can be a standout rather than just a substitute! Coconut sugar can add depth and character to your baked goods, while also contributing to ethical and sustainable agricultural practices.
7. Agave Nectar
Agave nectar, drawn from the succulent agave plant, offers a slightly lower glycemic index than refined sugar. Its natural sweetness and mild flavor profile make it a versatile choice for various baked goods. However, it’s essential to exercise caution due to its concentrated sweetness and treat it as a form of added sugar. If one of your main motivations for limiting added sugar is due to calorie consumption, know that agave might not be the right choice for you as it is higher in calories than sugar itself.
8. Maple Syrup
Straight from the maple trees of North America (and Canada, in particular!) comes maple syrup, a natural sweetener with an earthy, distinct flavor. Its antioxidant content and trace minerals provide a redeeming quality that sets it apart from other sweeteners. When opting for maple syrup, choosing the pure and undiluted version ensures you’re reaping its health benefits. Plus it tastes loads better too!
A gift from the industrious bees, honey is the old classic alternative to sugar! Cherished for its unique taste and therapeutic properties, and even the ability to heal wounds. Raw and unfiltered honey, in particular, is packed with enzymes, vitamins, and antioxidants. It can ramp up the flavor profile of baked goods and brings a touch of natural sweetness to your creations – plus works amazingly well when paired with herby notes like lavender or basil.
10. Yacon Syrup
Yacon syrup, derived from the roots of the yacon plant, is not only a wonderful sugar substitute but also a champion of gut health. With its oligofructose, it nourishes beneficial gut bacteria, contributing to overall well-being. Its subtle sweetness and minimal caloric impact make it another option for a healthy sugar substitute.
11. Date Paste
Crafted by blending soaked dates, date paste is a whole-food alternative that offers natural sweetness and moisture to baked goods. Dates bring both fiber and nutrients to the table, so you get added sweetness as well as some health benefits like staying full and improving digesstion.
Applesauce is more than a snack for kids or an accompaniment to roast pork. It’s a versatile sugar substitute that can be a game-changer in your kitchen! Unsweetened applesauce, which is made from cooked and pureed apples, gives baked foods a natural sweetness and moisture. In muffins, cakes, and even oatmeal cookies, it performs brilliantly. Applesauce not only lessens the need for additional sugar but also gives your recipes a delicate texture and a subtle fruity flavor.
13. Banana Puree
Ripe bananas work in a similar way to applesauce. That means they’re not just for smoothies. The humble banana can be transformed into a velvety puree that brings a natural sweetness to your dishes. Mashed bananas offer a rich and creamy texture that works wonders in baking. We all know how well they work banana bread and pancakes. The natural sugars in ripe bananas provide a sweet touch that complements the flavors of many recipes. Banana puree is not only a healthier alternative but also a source of essential nutrients like potassium and vitamin B6.
14. Carrot Puree
Carrot puree might not be the first thing that comes to mind when seeking a sugar substitute, but its natural sweetness and vibrant color can add depth to your recipes. And when you think about it, they’re on the sweet side of vegetables, just like pumpkins. Boiling or steaming carrots and then blending them into a smooth puree unlocks their inherent sugars, making them a perfect addition to muffins, cakes, and even sauces. Carrot puree is rich in beta-carotene, fiber, and antioxidants, offering both sweetness and nutritional value.
15. Pumpkin Puree
Pumpkin puree, a hallmark of fall, offers a subtly sweet flavor and a creamy texture that can level up uour baking creations. While pumpkin spice lattes get the limelight, pumpkin puree’s versatility shines in baking. From pies to pancakes, the natural sugars in pumpkin pair well with warming spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Moreover, pumpkin is packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
16. Sweet Potato Puree
Sweet potatoes are renowned for their natural sweetness and impressive nutritional profile. Transforming them into a smooth puree not only intensifies their natural sugars but also creates a velvety texture that elevates your recipes. Sweet potato puree shines in pies, muffins, and even sauces. It imparts a rich, earthy sweetness while providing a dose of vitamins, minerals, and fiber that traditional sugar can’t offer. So, you should definitely consider one of the vegetable sweetener options next time you’re wondering how to add depth and sweetness to your baking.
Cinnamon, a beloved spice celebrated for its warmth and versatility, serves as an unexpected yet brilliant sugar substitute. Its distinct aroma and flavor profile offer a delightful way to enhance sweetness without added calories. A simple sprinkle of cinnamon can really transform your morning coffee, oatmeal, or even baked goods. Studies suggest that cinnamon may help stabilize blood sugar levels, making it an excellent choice for those seeking a healthier alternative to refined sugar. Of course, don’t go too crazy – you don’t want it to overpower the whole dish.
18. Lucuma Powder
Derived from the lucuma fruit, which grows in South America, lucuma powder is a natural sweetener that has captivated taste buds for generations. This golden-hued powder boasts a flavor profile that’s a harmonious blend of maple and sweet potato, creating a unique and decadent taste experience that’s unlike any other.
19. Nut Butters
Nut butters (like almond, peanut, and cashew) bring creaminess as well as a natural sweetness to your recipes. They’re rich in healthy fats, protein, and a hint of sweetness. They can be the secret ingredient in smoothies, baked goods, and sauces, adding both depth and nutritional value to your dishes. Just remember that they are high in calories.
Molasses, the byproduct of sugar refining, offers a bold and complex sweetness that is unmatched. While not calorie-free, its intense flavor allows you to use smaller quantities than you would with traditional sugar. It adds depth to recipes, particularly in gingerbread, cookies, and barbecue sauces. Molasses is also a source of essential minerals like iron and calcium.
Nutritional Benefits of Sugar Substitutes
So what are the benefits of using sugar substitutes instead of the real deal? Of course, your reasons for using them might differ from someone else’s. But they do offer potential nutritional benefits that can positively impact our overall well-being.
Low or zero calories
One of the most prominent benefits of sugar substitutes is their reduced calorie content. Many sugar substitutes for baking, such as stevia, monk fruit extract, and allulose, contain little to no calories, making them an attractive option for those looking to cut down on their overall calorie intake.
Blood sugar management
Sugar substitutes are often recommended for people with diabetes or those looking to regulate their blood sugar levels. Unlike traditional sugar, which can cause rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar, many sugar substitutes have minimal impact on blood glucose levels.
Since sugar substitutes provide sweetness without the calories of traditional sugar, they can be helpful for weight management. By using these substitutes, you can enjoy your favorite sweet treats with reduced calorie content, helping you to manage weight and body composition.
The lower calorie content of sugar substitutes can also help reduce the risk of obesity, which is closely linked to excess calorie consumption.
Some sugar substitutes, like xylitol, have been shown to have potential benefits for dental health. Xylitol inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria in the mouth, reducing the risk of cavities and promoting better oral hygiene.
Sugar alcohols like erythritol and xylitol are known to have fewer gastrointestinal side effects compared to other sugar alcohols. This can make them a suitable option for individuals with digestive sensitivities.
Some studies suggest that the use of sugar substitutes can help curb sweet cravings. By satisfying your taste for sweetness with substitutes that have fewer calories, you can better manage your desire for sugary treats.
Some sugar substitutes, particularly those containing sugar alcohols like xylitol and erythritol, can cause digestive discomfort in some individuals if consumed in large amounts. Additionally, some people may experience an aftertaste with certain substitutes.
Sugar substitutes are generally safe for people with allergies. For example, stevia, erythritol, and monk fruit extract are not common allergens. However, it’s crucial to read labels and be aware of any potential allergens in products containing sugar substitutes.
Sugar substitutes can be a better option for people with diabetes because they have a minimal impact on blood sugar levels. However, it’s important to choose substitutes that are suitable for your specific dietary needs and to monitor your blood sugar response.
Some sugar substitutes, like allulose, can caramelize and brown similarly to sugar. However, others may not behave in the same way. It’s a good idea to experiment with different substitutes if you’re looking to achieve specific textures and flavors in your recipes.
There you have it! Embracing a healthier lifestyle doesn’t have to come with sacrificing sweetness. Sugar substitutes offer an array of alternatives that cater to various tastes, preferences, and dietary needs. From the natural sweetness of stevia to the rich flavor of coconut sugar, you have a myriad of options to choose from. By incorporating these healthy sugar substitutes into your recipes, you can enjoy the sweetness you crave without compromising your health goals. How about trying one of the alternatives on the list today? And please don’t forget to tell us how it went by sharing your recipes!