This is a guest post by Belem Garcia, a certified Holistic Health and Nutrition Coach specialised in Ayurveda and Gut Health. She is also a yoga teacher, and a food blogger.
We all love having a sweet treat from time to time.
However, for those of us who have a sweet tooth (like I do), it can be easy to consume more sugar than the recommended amount (a maximum of 6 Tbsp/day, according to the WHO).
As we know, an excess of sugar is associated with weight gain, cavities, an increase in blood pressure and triglycerides, insulin resistance, and cardiovascular disease.
But, who says you can’t have your cake and eat it?
If you love your desserts and can’t do without them, or if you have certain dietary restrictions, here are 12 healthier white sugar substitutes that you can use for cooking and baking recipes.
Healthy White Sugar Substitutes
Honey is one of the oldest natural sweeteners. Depending on the plant where it comes from, it goes from light and mildly flavoured to dark and strongly aromatic.
If you choose raw honey, you will also reap its amazing health benefits, such as strengthening your immune system, helping with seasonal allergies, or improving your sleep.
Since it’s sweeter than sugar, about 1/2–2/3 cup of honey can substitute 1 cup of white sugar.
Image source: Fairprice
Stevia is a plant native to South America, and it is about 200–300 times sweeter than regular sugar.
It is a good option for diabetic people because it has no calories, and doesn’t have an impact on blood sugar levels.
Stevia is stable at high temperatures, and it comes in powder or liquid form. Hence, you can use it for cooking, baking, and sweetening beverages.
The amount of stevia that equals 1 cup of sugar varies from brand to brand, so check out the manufacturer’s label before using it in a recipe.
3. Coconut sugar
Image source: The Coconut Company
Similar to brown sugar in taste and color, coconut sugar comes from the nectar of flower buds of the coconut palm.
It has a low glycemic index, meaning that it doesn’t spike your blood sugar as quickly as white sugar.
Coconut sugar also contains minerals such as potassium, zinc, iron, or calcium, as well as some polyphenols and antioxidants.
It adds a lovely, aromatic flavour to your dishes, similar to molasses, and it can also be caramelised for your recipes.
1 cup of coconut sugar equals 1 cup of white sugar.
4. Palm sugar
This unrefined sugar made from sugar cane or palm takes different names depending on where in the world we are. It is also known as jaggery, panela, piloncillo, tapa dulce, namtan tanode, kokuto, or gula melaka.
Due to its molasses content, it is more nutritious than white sugar, and it is rich in minerals such as calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium, etc.
Palm sugar works well in almost any recipe that calls for white sugar and adds a caramel flavour to the dish (like in this brownie).
Instead of substituting brown sugar by adding molasses to white sugar, you can use palm sugar for similar flavour and moisture.
You can use it as a 1-to-1 substitute for white sugar.
5. Maple syrup
Maple syrup comes from boiling the sap of the maple tree, native to North America.
It is a great source of manganese and zinc and adds a caramel-like flavour to your recipes.
Maple syrup is heat stable, which means that you can use it in sauces, marinades, glazes, and, of course, in baking. It is also delicious in cookies and drizzled over pancakes.
Around 1/2–3/4 cup of maple syrup equals 1 cup of sugar.
Image source: Fairprice
Erythritol is calorie-free sweetener with a taste and appearance that is very similar to sugar.
It is naturally present in foods such as some fruits and fermented foods and doesn’t affect your blood sugar or cause tooth decay.
Erythritol is a great option for baked goods because it doesn’t dry them out (it is hygroscopic, meaning that it holds water). If you’re reducing sugar in your baked goods to decrease the calorie content, adding some erythritol can help to achieve the same sweetness.
You can caramelise it, but do not use it in recipes that call for yeast as your dough will not be able to rise. Erythritol cannot activate yeast like sugar does.
1–1 1/4 cups of Erythritol equal 1 cup of white sugar.
Image source: Fairprice
Also known as birch sugar, Xylitol is very similar to Erythritol.
Xylitol contains fewer calories than sugar and a lower glycemic index, so it doesn’t spike your blood sugar. It also prevents tooth decay instead of causing it, like white sugar does.
It works well in cakes and beverages, except recipes that require yeast because xylitol doesn’t activate it. But unlike erythritol, xylitol will not caramelise, even if exposed to high temperatures for a long time.
Xylitol is toxic for dogs, so make sure that your puppy doesn’t eat anything that contains it!
You can use it in a 1-to-1 ratio to substitute white sugar.
This dried fruit is one of the best natural sweeteners.
Its high-fibre content aids in digestion and slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. Plus, it also contains nutrients such as calcium, folate, vitamin K, magnesium, and selenium.
Nowadays, we can find options such as date syrup or date sugar.
Date syrup is a caramel-coloured thick syrup that is made using dates and water. It can be made easily at home.
As for date sugar—it is a less processed form of sugar that looks a little like brown sugar. It can be found in most natural food stores.
Both can be used to substitute white sugar, but keep in mind that date sugar doesn’t melt, and it can be a bit clumpy. Therefore, it doesn’t work well in certain baked goods and beverages.
For me, the easiest and cheapest option is to use chopped dates or blend them with a bit of water to make a paste.
How much date syrup to use to substitute white sugar in recipes will depend on how your date syrup is made, or the manufacturer's directions. However, in general, you can use date syrup as a 1-to-1 substitute for honey, maple syrup, and molasses.
9. Brown Rice Syrup
Image source: Fairprice
Brown rice syrup is derived from the fermentation of brown rice, and is a vegan substitute for honey.
It has a nutty flavour and contains trace minerals such as zinc, manganese, or magnesium.
Half as sweet as sugar, it can be used on beverages, puddings, or drizzled over waffles and pancakes. You can also use it for cooking, in recipes for sauces and marinades.
However, it can make baked goods too crispy, so it is not the best option for making cookies and fluffy cakes.
1–1 1/2 cups of brown rice syrup equal 1 cup of white sugar.
10. Monk fruit (luo han guo)
Image source: Fairprice
Also known as Luo Han Guo, this small fruit got its name because of the monks that used to harvest it in South China, back in the 13th Century.
With a sweet, pleasant taste, it has anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, anti-diabetic, and nephroprotective properties.
It is 200 times sweeter than white sugar, has practically no calories, and doesn’t impact your blood sugar.
As it is also heat stable, you can use it in your cooking and baking recipes.
It can come in a liquid, granulated, and even in a whole-fruit form, so check out the manufacturer’s label for proper usage.
11. Agave syrup
Agave syrup is a liquid sweetener made from the juice of the agave plant.
As it is similar to honey in texture, it is sometimes used by vegans as a plant-based alternative to honey.
It has a lower glycemic index than sugar, and is also sweeter.
Agave syrup works pretty well in beverages, pancakes, granola, sticky cakes, and muffins. Keep in mind though that you’ll need to decrease the cooking temperature by 10°C/50°F, to prevent burning.
Agave syrup is high in fructose, which links to weight gain if consumed in excess. Therefore, it is better to use it in moderation and always buy it organic, instead of the more processed versions.
2/3 cup of agave syrup equals 1 cup of white sugar.
12. Fruit puree
Mashed sweet fruits such as banana, mango, or applesauce can also substitute or help to reduce the amount of sugar in a recipe. Just make sure that they are very ripe as this will help to increase their natural sweetness.
Swapping white sugar for a fruit puree will not work well in all recipes, both in terms of texture and taste.
However, it’s a good way of getting all the benefits of the fruit while reducing the processed sugar content of your baked goods, like I do in this banana bread.
Replace 1 cup of sugar with up to 1/2 cup of fruit puree to minimise changes in batter texture and consistency. As most fruit purees contain liquids, it is recommended to reduce the amount of liquid in your recipe by ~2 tablespoons.
Healthier Alternatives to White Sugar
Not all of the white sugar substitutes are for everyone since they have different properties and flavours. They might also yield slightly different taste and textures as compared to using regular white sugar.
But, don’t be afraid of experimenting with them and see which ones you like best! In the end, that’s the fun part of cooking and baking, isn’t it?
The recipes you see on Bakestarters were developed using regular white and brown sugars, but you can also make them with the above white sugar substitutes.
Here are some recipes to try out:
Guest Post Contributor: Belem Garcia
Belem Garcia is a certified Holistic Health and Nutrition Coach specialised in Ayurveda and Gut Health, a yoga teacher, and a food blogger.
She loves writing, cooking, and creating healthy versions of her favourite sweet treats.