Sweeter options can come in all shapes, flavors and calories

Last month we prepared ourselves for making substitutions for white sugar in holiday baking. 

We considered the effect of sugar in both the body and in baking. Since you can’t substitute all sweeteners 1 to 1 with white sugar, this was important to consider. 

Now let’s dig further into the alternatives to white sugar and how to use them.

For starters, here is one word of advice: Just because you choose to use less white sugar in your cooking/baking or in the products you buy doesn’t guarantee you will automatically be healthier, lose weight or manage your blood sugar. 

Why? It has to do with the whole picture of your diet (what you eat day in and day out). If you eat highly processed foods and beverages while neglecting the abundance of health-promoting “real food” (particularly vegetables and fruit), then you are missing out.

I have known of many people who chose low-fat or low-sugar products (or whatever the popular health claim was at the time) while still consuming an overall unhealthy diet, one void of the real foods that would have helped them. As a culture, we are really good at jumping on bandwagons but missing the forest for the tree in front of us. 

Make smarter choices when eating sweets, but also work on improving your food choices as a whole. You may find that decreasing your intake of sugar actually is not as difficult when you focus on other vital aspects of healthy eating.  So eat sweets in moderation, mindfully and with gratitude. 

Here is a quick rundown on replacement sweeteners for white sugar It is by no means comprehensive of all sugar substitutes:

Natural Sweeteners (contain calories)

Dried fruit – (dates, raisins, apples, apricots etc.) A great way to cut down the added sugar in a recipe while keeping some pockets of sweetness and texture. 

 Use: cookies, sweet breads and cakes

Fruit Purees – Another way to cut down on sugar (and even fat). Unlike dried fruit, it adds sweetness throughout the entire product, not just in pockets. 

Make sure you consider what flavor a certain puree might give your creation. Bananas and dates are the strongest and most distinctive in flavor of purees (which is why they are often used in chocolate-flavored baked goods) while prune and apple are more subtle. 

Banana and date purees can be substituted roughly 1:1 for sugar (so you are replacing all of the sugar). When using other fruit purees, replace one-third cup to one-half cup for the sugar with the puree (so you are reducing the white sugar used). 

If the recipe calls for a liquid and you are using a fresh fruit puree, decrease the amount by one-fourth.  

Use: cookies, quick breads, some cakes, smoothies.

Honey & Maple Syrup – Honey can be local or raw and virtually unprocessed. Maple syrup is popular with vegans and vegetarians, as it does not come from animal sources and is more mild in flavor. 

Changes you may notice may include increased browning. Like white sugar, honey draws water to itself (hydroscopic) and can add to the moisture of a product. 

Use: Soups, smoothies and sauces, caramels, pudding and dense “quick” breads where you need little to no to leavening (rise) to take place (ie, banana/zucchini bread as well as some pancake recipes). 

 Agave Nectar – While this is still a liquid, food sourced sweetener like maple syrup, I am giving it its own category to make special note of it. I mentioned in a previous article that agave is high in fructose – between 55 and 97 percent! It is essentially equivalent to fructose corn syrup which when eaten frequently and in large amounts, can lead to weight gain around the middle, higher cholesterol and inflammation! Agave is often the chosen sweetener of diabetics, vegans/vegetarians or those who are trying to improve their weight, blood lipids and inflammation.  

These people may find that frequent use of agave may actually work against their health goals and wellbeing. I personally do not recommend the use of agave. 

Use: If you choose to use agave for baking, then the same guidelines given above for honey and maple syrup apply. 

No-Calorie Natural Sweeteners

Steviosides (aka Stevia, Truvia, Sweet Leaf Sweetener, Pure Via) –  Derived form a stevia rebaudiana plant, this is 200 to 300 times sweeter than white sugar and calorie-free ingredients.  

After processing, it is sold in liquid or powder forms, making it versatile in its use. It doesn’t degrade under heat but also doesn’t add bulk to baked goods. For this reason, it is often mixed with other low-calorie sweeteners due (and because this offsets the licorice-like aftertaste that can be unpleasant).

Use: Table-top sweetener, soups, sauces, smoothies and baking. 

Monk Fruit – A new natural and zero calorie sweetener on the scene, it may have some potential health benefits when used at certain doses. Research is still pending, though, so don’t get overly enthusiastic and over-consume it. 

It can be substituted one-to-one for sugar in drinks, dressings and sauces. It is heat-stable and can be used in baked goods, however; use half monk fruit and half sugar so the volume and texture isn’t altered too much.

Use: Tabletop sweetener, baked goods.

Low-Calorie Sweeteners

Erythritol (a sugar alcohol) – This is a new favorite on the scene of non-calorie sweeteners since it does not raise blood sugar. 

It is almost a one-to-one ratio of use for sugar which is helpful when bulk is needed in baking  This mixes with water and won’t leave a grainy texture; however, it is non hydroscopic and it doesn’t add moisture. 

This is often used with Stevia to offset the aftertaste. Can cause gas but not diarrhea. 

Use: Cooking (soups, smoothies and sauces) and baking (except in yeast breads. 

The yeast needs real sugar to feed off of in order to rise. 

Use part real sugar and part Erythritol if using a recipe with yeast).

Xylitol (a sugar alcohol) – The sweetest of all sugar alcohols, it is a one-to-one ratio with sugar (meaning you could substitute cup for cup). 

This does contain very few calories (less than half of sugar), dissolves quickly in water and gives a cooling effect in the mouth. Often used as part of a blend of sugar substitutes. Since most of it is not absorbed by the body, it can have a strong laxative effect when consumed in amounts exceeding 50 gma/day. 

Artificial Sweeteners

As mentioned in a previous article, a vast array of information is out about the effect artificial sweeteners can have on our appetite, healthy gut bacteria, our overall response to blood sugar and more. 

I never recommend artificial sweeteners. 

There you have it, a quick guide to swaps for white sugar. Have fun experimenting this holiday season as you make your swaps and remember, it’s a trial and error process! Cheers to your health this winter!

– Cathryn Arndt is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and owns a nutrition counseling business called The Pantry Lab LLC.  She lives in the McDowell Creek area with her husband and daughter.  To learn more about Cathryn, visit her Facebook page or You Tube Channel by searching under “Dietitian Cathryn.” Find her blog at thepantrylab.com