Granted, these options aren’t necessarily “healthier” (remember, they still contain sugar!), but unrefined versions are ideal if you’d like to use more whole ingredients. Our experts explain how to make these unrefined sweetener swaps during your next baking session.
Rules for Using Unrefined Sweeteners in Baking
Also, brown sugar activates baking soda, another common ingredient in baked goods. “If you’re replacing brown sugar in a recipe where baking soda is the only leavener, make sure there’s another acidic ingredient in the recipe to activate it,” says Ann Ziata, chef and cooking teacher at the Institute of Culinary Education. Examples include lemon juice, yogurt, buttermilk, and vinegar. Another option is to replace the baking soda with baking powder, which contains cream of tartar, an acid. “Use 1 teaspoon of baking powder for every ¼ teaspoon of baking soda,” says Ziata.
The Best Unrefined Sweeteners to Bake With
Maple syrup offers a delicious caramel, toffee-like flavor, making it ideal for fall treats like pumpkin bread or oatmeal muffins. To use it in baking, use ¾ cup maple syrup per 1 cup of white or brown sugar, says Ziata. You’ll also need to reduce the other liquids in the recipe (such as water or milk) by 3 to 4 tablespoons per ¾ cup maple syrup, she notes. That’s because maple syrup is considered a liquid; the adjustment will ensure there’s not too much in the recipe.
Thanks to its neutral taste, agave nectar is suitable for sweetening recipes without infusing additional flavors. Use 2/3 cup agave nectar for every 1 cup white or brown sugar, then “reduce the other liquids in the recipe by about 1/3 cup to accommodate for the extra liquid,” says Weintraub. Keep in mind that agave will brown your baked goods faster than other sweeteners, so be sure to slightly reduce the oven temperature while extending the baking time, she adds.
Brown Rice Syrup
According to Weintraub, brown rice syrup is typically less sweet than other sugar substitutes, so you’ll need to use a bit more in your baked goods. You’ll need 1 ¼ cups brown rice syrup for every 1 cup white or brown sugar called for in the recipe. It’s also a viable vegan substitute for honey, though it will make your recipe slightly crispier than usual, says Weintraub. With that in mind, it generally works best for sweets that are meant to be crunchy such as granola bars.
Date Sugar and Date Syrup
In either scenario, date-based sweeteners will add an intense dried fruit flavor and dark color to baked goods, so consider using them in recipes with spices or chocolate, recommends Ziata.
Use 1 cup coconut sugar for every 1 cup refined sugar. Coconut sugar granules can be somewhat crumbly, so Ziata suggests grinding the required amount in a blender or food processor. This will help pulverize the coconut sugar into finer crystals, “which will dissolve into the batter or dough more successfully,” she explains. The ingredient will also give your baked goods an earthy caramel flavor and darker color, making it appropriate for recipes with chocolate, coffee, and warm spices.
Are you looking for the best sugar substitutes for baking? If so, you’re at the right place. But first, a story.
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You can guess the rest.
I was so mad at myself! How could I have forgotten to check for sugar? How could I have run out of sugar in the first place?!
My go-to sugar substitute for baked goods is always honey. It’s what I reached for last night when making my brownies.
And it’s what I’ll likely reach for the next time my sugar jar runs dry.
I love honey because it’s all-natural. It also doesn’t change the taste or texture of my baked treats.
It keeps everything just as it would have been had I used sugar.
(Some things might have a more golden color, but that’s a plus, in my opinion.)
Of course, there are a couple of things to remember when substituting honey for sugar.
First, use only about 3/4 cup of honey for every required cup of sugar.
Here are a few other quick substitution ratios, courtesy of Bigger Bolder Baking:
- 1 tablespoon sugar = 3/4 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon sugar = 3/4 teaspoon honey
- 1/2 cup sugar = 3/8 cup honey
Also, keep in mind that honey is a liquid. Therefore, you need to reduce the other liquids in your recipe by two to four tablespoons.
There are few differences between white (granulated) sugar and cane sugar.
Cane sugar comes exclusively from sugarcane. Granulated sugar can come from sugarcane or sugar beets.
Cane sugar also isn’t as fine and may have a slightly different color than white sugar. However, in all other respects, they’re the same.
That means you can easily substitute cane sugar for sugar.
The ratio is one-to-one, so you don’t have to make any conversions. You’ll also notice no differences in the final product.
So, why do I typically use honey as a sugar substitute instead of cane sugar? Simple.
Because I rarely have cane sugar on hand. Otherwise, I’d use it instead.
Agave nectar has become more and more popular as a sugar substitute recently.
(And not just because people, like me, forget and run out of sugar!)
Many people prefer it because it has less glucose and a lower glycemic index than sugar.
However, it also has more fructose than sugar, so that’s a potential downside.
Either way, it’ll work in a pinch. You’ll use 2/3 of a cup of agave nectar for every cup of sugar. You also want to cut back on other liquids by a 1/4 cup.
Believe it or not, you can even use fruit to replace sugar! Doing so actually has quite a few health benefits, as well.
Fruits have all kinds of natural antioxidants and are good for disease prevention. They also help you feel fuller and can improve digestion.
Try using sugar-heavy fruits like bananas, unsweetened applesauce, or monk fruit. (Pureeing them works nicely.)
The only downside is that if you use too much, it can alter the flavor of your dish. After all, you can’t add two or three bananas to a recipe and not taste them.
This substitute works best in fruit-based baked goods. You could also use it for baked goods that only need a small amount of sugar.
Molasses will also alter the flavor of your baked goods somewhat. However, that’s not always a bad thing.
Molasses give baked goods a darker color and a richer flavor.
Cup for cup, though, they aren’t as sweet as sugar. That means you need to go heavier on the molasses to get the same level of sweetness.
Most experts recommend 1 and 1/3 cup of molasses for every required cup of sugar.
Of course, you also have to cut back on other liquids to avoid runny dough.
Cutting back by about five tablespoons should do the trick. It’s better to go too light on liquids than too heavy. You can always add more.
Maple syrup has the same substitution ratio as honey. (3/4 cup maple syrup for every cup of sugar.)
You also need to scale back on the liquids by about three tablespoons.
I don’t use maple syrup as often as honey, but it’s probably my second favorite.
It’ll add a slightly different flavor to your baked goods, but I don’t mind it.
I love the rich, warm flavor that maple adds to anything. I don’t even mind using it in bread.
Doing so adds just a hint of autumn sweetness that makes it hard to resist.
Of course, it tastes best in waffles, pancakes, and pecan rolls. But really, there isn’t much that doesn’t taste better with a dash of maple syrup.
If you’re worried about it, only use it for recipes that call for very little sugar.
Coconut Palm Sugar
Contrary to popular belief, coconut palm sugar doesn’t come from coconuts.
Instead, it comes from the sap of a palm tree. It’s an all-natural sugar very similar to cane sugar.
Both have similar nutrients and calories. Therefore, neither is necessarily “better” than the other.
In fact, many doctors consider them practically the same. That’s ironic since many people use coconut sugar as a “healthy” alternative to sugar.
In truth, you should only consume either type in moderation.
Still, if you run out of sugar and need something like it, give coconut sugar a try.
If you have any, that is. It’s pretty expensive, so it’s not one of those things most people have on hand.
I’ve used it occasionally just to test it out. However, I don’t regularly use it as a sugar substitute. It works great if you choose to do so, though.
If you’re looking for a great alternative to sugar, these 7 sugar substitutes for baking are game-changers! They’re easy to use, and your treats will come out just as tasty.
- Choose your favorite sugar substitute.
- Use in all your favorite baking recipes (from cookies and cakes to breads!)
Artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes
Learn about the pros and cons of sugar substitutes, also called artificial sweeteners.
By Mayo Clinic Staff
Almost everyone likes a sugary snack. But if you often have foods and drinks with lots of added sugar, the empty calories can add up. Added sugar can play a part in weight gain. It also may raise your risk of serious health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease.
You might try to stay away from table sugar by using less processed sweeteners such as honey and molasses. But these also are forms of added sugar. They add calories to your diet.
Some people use products called sugar substitutes, also known as artificial sweeteners. They taste sweet like sugar but have fewer calories. Some have no calories.
Uses for sugar substitutes
Many sugar substitutes taste sweeter than sugar. So very little is needed to sweeten foods and drinks. Other sugar substitutes called sugar alcohols are not as sweet as sugar.
Sugar substitutes are in many kinds of foods and drinks labeled sugar-free or diet. That includes soft drinks, candy and baked goods.
Some sugar substitutes also are sold on their own in packets or other containers. These can be added to foods or drinks at home.
Safety of sugar substitutes
- Acesulfame potassium (Sweet One, Sunett).
- Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal).
- Neotame (Newtame).
- Saccharin (Sweet’N Low).
- Sucralose (Splenda).
- Luo han guo (Monk Fruit in the Raw).
- Purified stevia leaf extracts (Truvia, PureVia, others).
Other countries, such as those in the European Union, have more sugar substitute options than does the United States.
The FDA allows product-makers to use sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol and xylitol, too. The agency doesn’t consider sugar alcohols to be food additives.
The FDA and food safety agencies in other countries also suggest how much of a sugar substitute you can safely have each day. This amount is called the acceptable daily intake (ADI). It varies by a person’s weight and the type of sugar substitute used. Acceptable daily intakes aren’t the same everywhere. They’re different in the United States and Europe, for example.
In general, artificial sweeteners are safe in limited amounts for healthy people, including pregnant people. But limit or cut out sugar substitutes:
- If you’re living with a rare genetic disease called phenylketonuria. Foods and drinks with aspartame can lead to serious health problems.
- If you have a bowel disease. Using sugar substitutes might make your symptoms flare up.
Dietary guidelines for Americans say adults shouldn’t give sugar substitutes to children under 2 years old. In general, experts need to do more studies to learn what long-term health effects sugar substitutes might have on children. Most studies have looked at the effects in adults.
Health benefits linked to sugar substitutes
If you replace added sugar with sugar substitutes, it could lower your risk of getting tooth decay and cavities.
Sugar substitutes also don’t raise the level of sugar in the blood.
For adults and children with overweight or obesity, sugar substitutes also might help manage weight in the short term. That’s because sugar substitutes often are low in calories or have no calories. But it’s not clear whether sugar substitutes can help people manage their weight over the long term.
Over time, it’s most important to eat a healthy diet and get exercise.
Health concerns linked to sugar substitutes
Health agencies have clarified that sugar substitutes do not cause serious health problems.
Sugar substitutes also are not linked to a higher risk of cancer in people. Studies dating back to the 1970s linked the artificial sweetener saccharin to bladder cancer in rats. Since then, research has shown that those findings don’t apply to people.
Some research on long-term, daily use of artificial sweeteners suggests a link to a higher risk of stroke, heart disease and death overall. But other things people do, or healthy habits that people don’t do, may be the cause of the higher risk.
Other research is looking at long-term use of sugar substitutes and the gut. Many focus on how the gut and brain communicate. Researchers are checking to see if sugar substitutes affect cravings for sweets, the way people feel hunger and how the body manages blood sugar.
Sugar alcohols, stevia and luo han guo can cause bloating, gas and diarrhea. The amount of sugar alcohol that causes these symptoms varies from person to person.
In general, it is safest to take in small amounts of sugar substitutes. And it’s best to use sugar substitutes for a short time, or just every once in a while. So try to cut back if you use them a few times a day.
The bottom line
Artificial sweeteners can be a short-term way to help some people lessen their use of sugar and lose or manage weight. In general, sugar substitutes are safe for healthy adults.
But be aware of how sugar substitutes affect your food and drink choices. These ingredients may get your tastebuds used to sweetness. And that can make drinking enough water a challenge.
Products made with sugar substitutes also may give you the wrong message about processed foods. A snack labeled low sugar or no sugar may not be the most nutritious choice. Whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables, usually have the best mix of nutrients for the body.
But artificial sweeteners can help some people enjoy sweetness without excess calories. And if used in moderation, artificial sweeteners can be part of a healthy diet.
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- Rios-Leyvraz M, et al. Health effects of the use of non-sugar sweeteners. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240046429. Accessed Nov. 11, 2022.
- 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov. Accessed Nov. 11, 2022.
- Baker-Smith C, et al. The use of nonnutritive sweeteners in children. Pediatrics. 2019; doi:10.1542/peds.2019-2765.
- Phenylketonuria (PKU). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/phenylketonuria/symptoms-causes/syc-20376302. Accessed Nov. 14, 2022.
- Weight-loss basics. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/basics/weightloss-basics/hlv-20049483. Accessed Nov. 15, 2022.
See more In-depth
Sugar performs many important roles in baking. It provides moisture and tenderness, liquefies as it bakes, increases the shelf-life of finished products, caramelizes at high temperatures, and, of course, adds sweetness. Refined sugar helps cookies spread during baking, allowing their crisp texture. Because of these critical functions, bakers can’t simply replace sugar with a different sweetener. However, in many recipes, you can decrease the amount of sugar by one third without affecting the quality of the product.
Sugar Is Sugar
All refined sugars — brown sugar, white sugar, and “raw” sugars such as demerara or turbinado — are equal from a nutritive standpoint. Brown sugars simply contain a higher molasses content. Refined sugar is ninety-nine percent pure sucrose, a simple carbohydrate.
Other sugars, such as honey, taste sweeter on the tongue than granulated sugar. Therefore, you can use less honey to sweeten a batch of muffins than you would sugar. Maple syrup tastes less sweet than sugar, but its unique flavor is prized in baked goods and desserts.
Honey is 25 to 50% sweeter than sugar, and has a distinctive flavor. The flavors and colors of honey can vary depending upon the bees’ diet — buckwheat honey, for example, is darker and stronger than clover honey. Baked goods made with honey are moist and dense, and tend to brown faster than those made with granulated sugar.
Use ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon honey in place of 1 cup sugar, and reduce the other liquid ingredients by 2 tablespoons. Unless the recipe includes sour cream or buttermilk, add a pinch of baking soda to neutralize the acidity.
Maple syrup is made from the sap of sugar maple trees. The sap is boiled down into a sweet, delectable syrup. Grade A maple syrup is golden brown and has a delicate flavor. Grade B is thicker, darker, and is better for baking because it has a stronger flavor — and it typically costs a bit less.
Although maple syrup is only 60% as sweet as sugar, use ¾ cup for every cup of white sugar and decrease the amount of liquid by 3 tablespoons to compensate for its liquid state.
Molasses is a byproduct of refined sugar production. It contains small amounts of B vitamins, calcium, and iron. Molasses imparts a dark color and strong flavor to baked foods, but is not as sweet as sugar.
When substituting molasses for sugar, use 1 1/3 cups molasses for 1 cup sugar, and reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by 5 tablespoons. Molasses is also more acidic than sugar; add ½ teaspoon baking soda for each cup of molasses used. Replace no more than half the sugar called for in a recipe with molasses.
Corn syrup is known as an “invert sugar;” it is useful in cooking and candy-making because, unlike other sugars, it does not crystallize. Corn syrup is less sweet than sugar, and does not add flavor like molasses or honey. “Golden Syrup,” common in the United Kingdom, is a refinery syrup made from sugar. It is used in place of corn syrup. Some cooks believe sugar syrups have a livelier flavor than corn syrups and add more character to dishes such as pecan pie.
- Mom’s Best Peanut Brittle
- Chocolate Chip Crispies
- Chocolate Scotcheroos
Other Natural Sweeteners
Refined fructose is sweeter than granulated sugar. It can be easily substituted in baking recipes — simply add one-third less. Some tasters find that, although products made with fructose taste sweet, they also taste a little flat. Fructose attracts more water than sucrose, so fructose-sweetened products tend to be moist. Baked products made with fructose will be darker than if they were made with white sugar. Fructose is available in health-food stores.
Brown rice malt syrup consists of maltose, glucose and complex carbohydrates. It is an amber-hued syrup resembling honey, but it is not as sweet as honey. It can be substituted cup per cup for granulated sugar, but the liquid ingredients should be reduced by ¼ cup per cup of rice syrup. Enzyme-treated syrup, as opposed to malted syrup, will tend to liquefy the batter of a baked product. Use the malted syrup for best results.
Fruit juice concentrates, such as apple juice concentrate, orange juice concentrate, or white grape juice concentrate, are wonderful substitutes for sugar and add interesting flavors as well. Juice concentrates are made up of fructose and glucose. Use ¾ cup for every cup of white sugar, and decrease the amount of liquid by 3 tablespoons.
What Can I Substitute for Granulated or Brown Sugar When Baking for a Diabetic?
“If you have diabetes, it’s important to be mindful of carbohydrates and sugars,” says Allstar Mackenzie Burgess, RDN and recipe developer at Cheerful Choices. “While sweet treats shouldn’t be off limits, eating too much can cause high blood sugars.” If you’re looking for substitutes for baking with white sugar and brown, here are a few options Burgess suggests:
Monk fruit sweetener is a zero-calorie option that has little to no effect on blood sugars. You can even find a “golden” variety that makes an ideal replacement for brown sugar. In fact, you can replace 1:1 in any of your favorite baking recipes to lower the carbohydrate and sugar content.
Date sugar is made by dehydrating dates and grinding into a fine texture. Because it’s derived from just one ingredient (dates, which are considered a fresh fruit), this means it contains no added sugars. Keep in mind, however, that it will still contain natural sugars and carbohydrates; that said, date sugar also contains fiber, which can help stabilize blood sugars. In general, you can use date sugar 1:1 in most cookie and baking recipes.
These sweeteners have been approved by the FDA and are available for home use. While they provide a sweet taste, artificial sweeteners lack the browning, tenderizing and moisture-retaining properties of granulated sugar. Sucralose is the one sweetener than can be substituted cup-for-cup for granulated sugar in baking.
Saccharine is 200 to 700 times sweeter than sugar. It can be used in baked goods. However, the manufacturer recommends substituting it for only half of the sugar in a recipe. Substitute 6 (1-gram) packets for each ¼ cup sugar. It is sold under the brand name Sweet and Low®.
Aspartame is 160 to 220 times sweeter than granulated sugar. This sweetener is heat-sensitive: it loses its sweetening power when heated, and cannot be used for cookies or cakes. The manufacturer does recommend trying it in no-bake pies and in puddings after they have been removed from the heat. Substitute 6 (1-gram) packets for each ¼ cup of sugar. It is sold under the brand names Equal® and NutraSweet®.
Acesulfame potassium is 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is heat-stable, so it can be used in baking and cooking. Use acesulfame K in combination with granulated sugar when baking. Substitute 6 (1-gram) packets for each ¼ cup sugar. It is sold under the brand names Sunette® and Sweet One®.
Sucralose is made from sugar, but is not metabolized by the body like sugar. It is 600 times sweeter than granulated sugar. Granular sucralose is the form used when baking. Substitute 1 cup granular sucralose for each cup of sugar called for in the recipe. Recipes made with this product tend to bake faster than usual, so check for doneness sooner than the recipe specifies. It is sold under the brand name Splenda®.
Explore our collection of Sugar-Free Recipes.
How to Sub Honey for Sugar
Honey makes a great natural substitute for sugar in baking. Learn how to sub honey for sugar in your favorite recipes.
Sugar has a bit of a complicated socio-political history, and its reputation has only gotten more complicated in recent years with studies linking sugar consumption to heart disease and other chronic illnesses. So, it should come as no surprise that lots of us are looking for other alternative sweeteners like honey or maple syrup to flavor our cookies, cakes, tea, and coffee.
Honey is an excellent and much healthier substitute for sugar in baked goods and cooking, but swapping honey for sugar is not without its challenges. Read on for our recommendations on how to make your favorite recipes with honey instead of sugar!
Using Honey in Your Favorite Recipes
Anyone who’s spent time doing the rounds in our honey room knows that honey comes in all sorts of colors and flavors. From our light and delicate Acacia honeys to the rich and dark Black Forest, each honey has its own character and flavor profile.
When baking or cooking with honey, it’s important to take things like color and flavor into account. Just like you probably wouldn’t sub brown sugar for granulated sugar, you might not want to sub a dark honey like Buckwheat in a recipe where the honey’s robust and molasses-like flavor will overpower the other ingredients or make your batter oddly dark.
For everyday substitutions, we love the sweet and buttery flavor of our Alfalfa honey. Some quick breads like banana or zucchini bread might benefit from using Black Forest or Buckwheat honeys, but we recommend starting lighter and working your way around the color spectrum until you find your perfect fit!
Honey is much sweeter than sugar, so use 1/2 – 2/3 cup honey for every cup of sugar in your recipe.
Because honey is sweeter than sugar, you might not want to substitute at a 1-1 ratio (even though you can up to one cup). We recommend experimenting with a ratio of 1/2 – 2/3 cups honey to 1 cup sugar.
Honey is a liquid ingredient, so you will need to adjust other liquid measurements.
Generally, you shouldsubtract 1/4 total from your liquid ingredients for every cup of honey. Make sure you do this evenly, as baking is quite a bit like chemistry and things like fat content really matter!
Honey burns at a lower temperature than sugar, so don’t forget to adjust your oven temp!
We recommendlowering your oven temp by about 25 degrees Fwhen baking with honey. This will keep your baked good from getting too dark before it’s finished baking through.
Add extra baking soda, even if it’s already in the recipe. Trust us.
Adding 1/4 tsp of baking soda for every cup of honey will help balance the flavor, and because honey is acidic the baking soda-acid reaction will add a nice rise to your baked good!
Make your measuring cups and spoons non-stick.
Honey is very sticky, so using some crisco or oil to make your measuring tools non-stick is very helpful in the baking process!
Explore Our Fave Honey Recipes
1/4 oz honey simple syrup (we recommend Wildflower or Sourwood Honey)
1/2 oz lemon juice
3/4 oz dry curaçao
1 1/2 oz Mezcal
Shake and strain into a coupe glass
Garnish: Lemon twist or orange zest, expressed
Herb & Honey Vinaigrette
1 softened stick of your favorite butter
1 Tblsp honey (We recommend Alfalfa, Orange Blossom, or Sourwood!)
sea salt to finish
Whip together butter and honey until smooth and then place in a small pot. Refrigerate. When serving, bring to room temperature and sprinkle with seasalt.
Honey Buttermilk Biscuits
It’s estimated that the average American consumes 17 teaspoons of sugar every day and around 57 pounds of added sugar each year. Not only are many people eating and drinking way too much sugar, but the use of artificial sweeteners is on the rise too. Thankfully, there are sugar substitutes that can actually help cut back on sugar, so long as you choose the correct ones.
Side effects related to their consumption seem to range from headaches and poor digestion to cravings and even mood disorders.
Refined sugars aren’t healthy either. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “table sugar is inflammatory, high in calories and offers no nutritional benefit.”
Side effects of of consuming too much sugars include diabetes, tooth decay, obesity, heart disease, certain types of cancer and even poor cognitive functioning.
So what is a good natural sweetener and the best alternative to sugar then? Fortunately, there are many sugar substitutes that are healthy and tasty alternatives to refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners.
Healthiest Sugar Substitutes
What is the healthiest sugar substitute to use? Some experts like fruit the best because there are no empty calories involved and the sugars are naturally occurring, but it really can be a matter of personal opinion and/or individual health needs.
Are sugar substitutes bad for you? It depends a lot on the specific type.
Benefits of sugar substitutes vary, but one thing they all have in common: They come from nature.
Natural sweeteners (or non-nutritive sweeteners) are those that may contain calories (depending on the kind) and also usually supply some nutrients. Honey, maple syrup and molasses, for example, all contain beneficial components, such as enzymes, vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates, that the human body knows how to process.
Certain natural sweeteners (like banana puree and date paste) provide health benefits, such as encouraging healthy blood pressure and reducing cholesterol levels and heart disease risk, thanks to their fiber content.
How many calories do sugar substitutes have? Here’s the calorie content of some of the most popular natural sweeteners:
- Raw honey (1 tablespoon = 64 calories)
- Stevia (0 calories)
- Dates (1 Medjool date = 66 calories)
- Coconut sugar (1 tablespoon = 45 calories)
- Maple syrup (1 tablespoon = 52 calories)
- Blackstrap molasses (1 tablespoon = 47 calories)
- Balsamic glaze (1 tablespoon = 20–40 calories, depending on thickness)
- Banana puree (1 cup = 200 calories)
- Brown rice syrup (1 tablespoon = 55 calories)
- Real fruit jam (varies depending on fruit)
- Monk fruit (0 calories)
Raw honey is a true superfood and one of the best natural sweeteners. It’s packed with enzymes, antioxidants, iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, vitamin B6, riboflavin and niacin.
Together, these essential nutrients help neutralize free radicals while promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract.
One tablespoon of raw honey has less impact on glycemic load than a single banana. Once pasteurized, honey loses many of its benefits, so look for raw (ideally local) honey at farmers markets and directly from local beekeepers.
The darker the honey, the richer the flavor and the greater the nutrition benefits.
How to use raw honey:
Don’t cook or bake with raw honey. Drizzle it on breakfast cereals, over your sprouted grain toast, on yogurt and for salad dressings.
Raw honey is also a great substitute for molasses in case you’re not a fan or don’t have it on hand.
Many people only think of using honey in their tea, but honey is one of the best natural sweeteners for coffee too. One thing to note: If you enjoy honey in your tea or coffee, wait until the drink is just tepid enough to sip comfortably, and then add honey to taste.
Stevia is native to South America and has been used for hundreds of years in that region to support healthy blood sugar levels and prompt weight loss.
Stevioside is the element in the leaves that makes it more than 200 times as sweet as sugar. It’s available in liquid drops, packets, dissolvable tablets and baking blends.
It has zero calories, zero carbohydrates and none of the nasty side effects of artificial sweeteners.
Stevia is related to the sunflower, and some people experience a slight metallic aftertaste. If that has been your experience with stevia in the past, try a brand that is higher in the steviosides.
Read labels carefully to know what you’re getting, since some stevia products contain stevia as well as erythritol, which may trigger indigestion in some people.
How to use stevia:
Unlike raw honey, stevia is heat-stable, so feel free to use it in any way you desire. Remember, it’s 200 times sweeter than sugar, so don’t use it in the same ratio.
Dates provide potassium, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium and vitamin B6. From the date palm tree, they are easily digested and help metabolize proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
Evidence shows that dates may help reduce LDL cholesterol in the blood and may reduce the risk of stroke.
How to use dates:
The first step is to make a paste. Date paste can be used one-to-one in most recipes, unlike stevia, and it does add bulk for baking.
Soak Medjool dates in hot water until soft. If the water reaches room temperature and the dates aren’t soft enough, soak in hot water again.
Reserve the soaking liquid, as it’s integral to making a good paste. Add the soaked dates to your food processor, along with one tablespoon of the soaking liquid.
Blend until smooth. Add more water as needed to create a thick, rich paste.
You are looking for the consistency of peanut butter. Use in your favorite cookie or cake recipe to cut out refined sugar and boost the nutrients.
You can also use date paste to sweeten your favorite muffins and pies. For fruit pies, mix 1–1½ cups of puree with four cups of fruit, and bake as normal.
Depending on the water content of the fruit, you may need to add a thickener, like tapioca.
Most people have heard about the benefits of coconut water, coconut milk, coconut flour and, of course, fresh coconut. Now, more and more people are using coconut sugar as their natural sweetener of choice because of its low glycemic load and rich mineral content.
Packed with polyphenols, iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, antioxidants, phosphorous and other phytonutrients, coconut sugar is versatile and now readily available.
Coconut sugar is extracted sap from the blooms of the coconut and then heated. Next, through evaporation, we get coconut sugar.
Date sugar (made from dried dates) and coconut sugar are often used interchangeably in recipes because they provide similar flavor. Both are great sugar substitutes for baking.
How to use coconut sugar:
Use coconut sugar in your favorite recipes, for it measures just like traditional sugar. It’s a bit more coarse than refined sugar, but that’s OK.
Add the amount of sugar called for in a recipe to your food processor, and give it a whirl until you get the desired texture.
You can even make a confectioner’s sugar substitute with coconut sugar quite quickly. For every cup of coconut sugar, add one tablespoon of arrowroot powder, and blend until smooth in a clean coffee grinder or high-powered food processor.
Native to North America, maple syrup comes in both grades A and B. While time-consuming, maple syrup processing requires only four steps: drilling the hole in the tree, hanging a bucket to catch the sap, boiling to evaporate out the water and then filtering of any sediment.
Maple syrup is one of the best natural sugar substitutes because it’s an outstanding source of manganese and contains calcium, potassium and zinc. Rich with antioxidants, this all-natural sweetener helps neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative damage.
Select darker, grade B maple syrups, as they contain more beneficial antioxidants than the lighter syrups.
How to use maple syrup:
Maple syrup is heat-stable, so you can use it in virtually any application. Add it to marinades, glazes or sauces, and use for baking.
Use it to sweeten homemade granola and your morning coffee or tea.
For a glaze for cookies or cakes, heat until just barely simmering, and add the coconut-powdered sugar from above. Stir until smooth, allow to cool to room temperature and then drizzle away.
Organic blackstrap molasses is highly nutritious, rich in copper, calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, selenium and vitamin B6. Sugarcane and beet molasses have been shown to have the highest phenolic content and antioxidant activity when compared with refined sugar, beet sugar, rape honey, corn syrup and dates.
There are several types of molasses, depending on which level of processing it has gone through. All molasses is obtained from raw cane sugar, made by boiling it until it’s a rich, sweet syrup.
Blackstrap molasses comes from the third boiling, concentrating its nutrients and providing for its deep rich flavor.
How to use blackstrap molasses:
Molasses has a unique, rich flavor. It may not be appealing for some to use for topping toast, porridges or other concentrated applications. However, it’s a perfect sweetener for marinades and to use in baking.
You can even make a brown sugar alternative by adding two tablespoons of molasses for each ½ cup coconut sugar a recipe calls for. Put the coconut sugar and the molasses in a food processor, and pulse until the consistency of commercial brown sugar is reached.
Balsamic vinegar is rich in antioxidants that destroy free radicals and the enzyme pepsin that helps promote healthy digestion and tastes great.
How to use balsamic glaze:
Balsamic glazes are available in natural health food and gourmet stores, but you can also quickly make your own glaze at home. Simply simmer two cups of balsamic vinegar over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until it’s reduced to ½ cup.
This process can take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. It will thicken further upon cooling.
Drizzle the glaze over grilled wild-caught salmon, raw cheese or even fresh berries to bring a natural sweetness and a bit of a tang.
Bananas are rich in fiber and potassium and a good source of vitamins B6 and C. They are also naturally sweet with a subtle flavor, making them a perfect natural sweetener.
How to use banana puree:
First, over-ripe bananas are the best to use when replacing refined sugar in recipes. They are sweeter and puree well.
For every cup of sugar called for in a recipe, use one cup of banana puree.
To make the puree, add bananas to a food processor with a tablespoon of water, and blend. Add more water if necessary to reach the consistency of thick applesauce.
As bananas brown when exposed to air, use as quickly as possible in recipes. If you are using banana puree in raw preparations, add one teaspoon of fresh lemon juice to the food processor to help slow the oxidation process.
Brown rice syrup starts with brown rice that is fermented with enzymes to break down the starch. The liquid is then heated until the syrup consistency is achieved.
The result? A thick, amber-colored, sweet syrup perfect for recipes calling for corn syrup and other unhealthy sweeteners.
The fermented process helps break down the sugars into ones that are easily digestible. The fermenting process is key. Some brown rice syrups are fermented with barley enzymes, meaning it contains gluten.
Purchase brown rice syrups that are labeled gluten-free.
How to use brown rice syrup:
As mentioned above, brown rice syrup is the perfect replacement in recipes that call for corn syrup. Use a one-to-one ratio.
To replace regularly processed white sugar, use one cup for each cup of sugar called for, and decrease liquid in the recipe by ¼ cup.
Use brown rice syrup to make healthy granola bars and granola, nut clusters, and to sweeten nut and fruit pies.
Real Fruit Jam
The key here is real fruit jam. Berries, stone fruit, apples, pears and grapes are great replacements for sugar in recipes.
You can use commercially available fruit jam — just be sure there is no added sugar or pectin.
It’s better to make your own sugar-free jam with organic fresh or frozen fruit. It’s easy and economical.
How to use real fruit jam:
Replace sugar in recipes at a one-to-one ratio, decreasing the liquid in the recipe by ¼ cup. For recipes that don’t have added liquids, you can add a tablespoon of coconut flour to thicken the recipe as desired.
To make your own fresh jam, combine four cups of your favorite fruit or berry in a saucepan with ½ cup water. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently.
Simmer until fruit has broken down and has started to thicken. Puree in a food processor, and use immediately.
For a tasty apple pie, simmer ½ cup of peeled diced apples with one cup of green grapes until soft. Puree in the food processor until smooth.
Toss with sliced apples and a touch of cinnamon, and bake as directed. The grapes add a subtle sweetness while the natural pectin in the apples helps thicken the pie.
One of the most popular sugar substitutes for low-carb dieters is monk fruit. Monk fruit contains compounds that, when extracted, provide 300–400 times the sweetness of cane sugar, but monk fruit sugar contains no calories and has no effect on blood sugar.
How to use monk fruit:
Monk fruit can be used in all kinds of recipes from cheesecakes and cookies to smoothies and healthy mocktails.
How to Get More in Diet
Getting more natural sweeteners in your daily diet isn’t hard if you completely stop using refined table sugar and use healthier sugar substitutes instead. Plus, you also can look for food products that are sweet thanks to ingredients like stevia rather than refined sugar.
To find your best sugar substitutes, you’ll likely have to test out a few. You might end up liking one for your morning coffee but a different one for your baking needs.
Even when using natural sweeteners, like raw honey, you still want to be mindful of your overall sugar consumption.
How much natural sugar should you have a day? According to the American Heart Association (AHA), you should limit the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than half of your daily discretionary calorie allowance.
So added sugars include refined sugar as well as natural sweeteners like honey.
If you are being treated for any ongoing health concern, especially diabetes, check with your doctor before incorporating any new sweeteners and sugar substitutes into your diet.
Ready for some awesome recipes that swap out refined sugar for some healthier sweetness? Try these Gluten-Free Gingerbread Cookies that are naturally sweetened with dates and blackstrap molasses or these Maple Glazed Rosemary Carrots, which make a delicious side dish.
More tasty recipes that use natural sweeteners instead of refined sugar or artificial sweeteners include:
Sugar Substitutes to Avoid
Evidence suggests that we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that zero-calorie artificial sweeteners with zero grams of sugar are healthy. Both human and animal studies continue to reveal that frequent consumption of diet soda or artificial sweeteners is associated with greater body mass index, obesity and metabolic syndrome.
What are the worst sugar substitutes? One is high fructose corn syrup, which is usually produced from genetically modified corn.
Fructose is a simple sugar that is rapidly metabolized by the liver, causing a “sugar high.” Researchers believe this quick-acting sugar leads to increased storage of fat in the liver, potentially resulting in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, digestive upset and atherosclerosis.
Human and rodent studies demonstrate that sucralose may also alter glucose, insulin and glucagon-like peptide 1 levels.
There are many artificial sweeteners on the market today, including:
Here are a few surprising examples of where these chemicals may be found:
Which is the safest artificial sweetener? It depends on what you consider to be “artificial.”
A sweetener in extract form, such as stevia or monk fruit, is a good choice if you’re looking for a zero-calorie option.
Sugar alcohols may be a better choice than certain other artificial sweeteners if you can tolerate them well. Sugar alcohols are sweeteners that have about half the calories of regular sugar.
They are found naturally in small amounts in a variety of fruits and vegetables and produced from sugars and starch, made into extracts and granules.
Examples of sugar alcohols include xylitol, erythritol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol and other sugar alcohols that end in –itol. These are not always absorbed well by the body and can cause digestive reactions and gastrointestinal side effects in some people, including bloating, gas, cramping and diarrhea.
The laxative effect of xylitol is so pronounced in fact that it’s actually part of the chemical makeup of some over-the-counter laxatives. Even though these sweeteners have been on the market for decades, pregnant and breastfeeding women should select other natural sweeteners instead, since their safety is not known in these situations.
Special note to dog owners: Sugar alcohol-based artificial sweeteners are life-threatening toxins to dogs. Be mindful of breath mints, candies, sugar-free gum, frozen desserts and other foods when your pets are around.
Sugar Consumption Stats
Here are some recent statistics involving sugar in the American diet that are quite concerning:
- In 1822, the average American ate the amount of sugar found in one of today’s 12-ounce sodas every five days. As of 2012, we were eating that much every seven hours.
- A large amount of clinical studies have found consistent data that body weight changes correlate directly with increasing or decreasing intake of sugars. Just by decreasing 5 percent of sugar intake, individuals were witnessed to lose an average of 1.8 pounds of their body weights, and by increasing sugar intake by 5 percent, individuals were seen to gain an average of 1.7 pounds.
- What is the best alternative to sugar? That is definitely a matter of taste preference as well as health status, but a good alternative to refined sugar is a healthy natural sugar substitute rather than artificial sweeteners.
- Examples of some of the best natural sugar substitutes include stevia, monk fruit, pureed fruit, coconut sugar, honey and molasses.
- Are natural sweeteners better than sugar? Unlike refined sugar, natural sweeteners like date paste and fruit jam provide beneficial nutrients and sometimes fiber and enzymes. That said, eating any type of sugar in moderation is still important, even these natural sugar substitutes.
- Living healthy doesn’t mean you have to give up sweets entirely — it just means you need to replace unhealthy refined sugars and artificial sweeteners with these natural sweeteners and sugar substitutes.
How to Substitute Brown Sugar for White Sugar in Baking Recipes
Can you substitute brown sugar for white sugar in baking recipes? Our Test Kitchen is sharing their sweet secrets so you can know when—and how—to use each.
Nearly all of us have been there, felt that. You’re ready to whip up a batch of cookie dough, cake, or brownies and are digging up all of the ingredients to measure, mix, and ace that bake. Eggs? Check. Butter? Done. Vanilla? Got it! But then you open the pantry only to realize you’re fresh out of cane sugar (aka granulated sugar). Crud. Rather than running to the supermarket to restock this pantry staple immediately, add it to your shopping list for next time and use the Test Kitchen tips below about using brown sugar instead of white sugar.
BHG / Sonia Bozzo
In most baking recipes, you can substitute brown sugar for white sugar in a one-to-one ratio. So if your recipe calls for one cup white sugar, swap one cup brown sugar. The sweetness level will be exactly the same, but the brown sugar may change the texture of your baked goods. You’ll likely notice a more robust flavor and the color of the finished baked good may be darker as well.
These alterations in color, flavor, and texture come from the way brown sugar is made. Brown sugar is white sugar with molasses mixed in; as much as 10 percent molasses, by weight, depending on the manufacturer. That molasses might make the texture more moist, so it might be helpful to slightly decrease the amount of the wet ingredients (like milk or water) in your recipe or slightly increase the dry ingredients (such as flour, cocoa powder, or oats). You’ll also probably notice a hint of caramel or butterscotch flavor.
Brown sugar generally works much better in quick breads than light and airy cakes—we’re looking at you, angel food—since these take advantage of the lighter texture of the white sugar. Substituting brown sugar for white sugar will actually be a win if you prefer softer and chewier over crispier cookies since the molasses lends that extra moistness.
Can You Substitute Light Brown Sugar for Dark Brown Sugar?
So now that you know you can, in most cases, substitute brown sugar for white sugar without causing a total baking fail, you might be wondering if you can swap light brown sugar for dark brown sugar and vice versa.
That’s an easy yes. Dark brown sugar offers a stronger molasses flavor while light brown sugar has a milder flavor, but structurally, the two sugars will work the same. The difference in the amount of molasses is so minimal, no one will likely notice the difference.
Now that you know you can substitute brown sugar for white sugar in most baking recipes, you can get back to baking. Ready, set, preheat that oven!