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Hey guys!

There are plenty of reasons to eat less sugar, but it’s HARD! It’s hiding in SO MANY THINGS! If you figure out how to avoid it (or at least cut back), then you have to figure out healthy ways to replace it while still satisfying your sweet tooth.

And of course…there are about a bajillion options to choose from. There are sugar substitutes, and then there are natural sweeteners. Some are super processed. Some just taste really gross.

So how do you know what to choose?! One minute honey is in the spotlight, and then all of a sudden honey isn’t healthy. Then, agave nectar is the answer! BUT as soon as you try it, you read that it’s just as bad (or worse) than sugar!

UGH. Sooooo frustrating.

So… I decided to do my own research about sugar substitutes and natural sweeteners to help us all sift through the conflicting advice.

Oh and before we start… I’m NOT saying to cut sugar cold turkey, because who am I to say it’s necessary (or even possible) to avoid all of your favorite sweets forever?!! We gotta keep things realistic! Okay, ready?!

sugar cubes stacked pink background

Stevia

We’ve all seen stevia. But is it really natural and safe?

Natural? Yes. Healthy? Probably…in it’s whole raw form. And that’s where we run into some issues.

The stevia products you see on store shelves are usually refined/blended with other sweeteners. For example, Truvia is technically blended with erythritol (another sweetener we’ll talk about in a sec). Stevia in the Raw packets are a blend of refined stevia and dextrose.

That being said, it’s still a good option if you need a sweetener without the calories, or if you’re trying to control your blood sugar. It’s WAYYYY sweeter than sugar (up to 350 times sweeter….what?!), and might taste a little different than real sugar.

Sucralose

AKA Splenda.

Soooo… sucralose is pretty controversial. It’s an artificial sweetener, meaning it’s chemically made. Most experts promise that it’s safe to use, but the long-term effects of using it are still a little unclear. Although it’s a zero-calorie sweetener, some studies show it can still affect your blood sugar.

It’s still a really popular alternative to sugar that a lot of people love to use for baking.

I think the taste is extremely sweet and there are definitely better (less processed) options out there.

Monk Fruit

This is usually my go-to sugar sub. Since it’s extracted from a fruit, it’s minimally processed. The cool thing about it is that it’s suuuuuper sweet, but it’s sweetness doesn’t come from sugar. It comes from mogrosides, which are antioxidants! When monk fruit is processed to make a sweetener, the glucose and fructose from the fruit are removed, leaving only the super sweet mogrosides with basically no calories.

BUT some monk fruit sweetener products are mixed with other sweeteners – so check the label to be sure the product you get is high quality and pure!

coconut teal background

Coconut Sugar

I see coconut sugar alllll the time for “healthy” baking recipes. It’s important to know that it’s a natural sweetener and NOT a sugar substitute. That basically just means that even though it’s not as refined as white sugar…it’s still sugar.

However. Coconut sugar DOES have a lower glycemic index than white sugar, meaning it won’t raise your blood sugar as quickly. It also has a little inulin which is a type of soluble fiber.

Basically, it might be A LITTLE better than regular sugar, but I still wouldn’t go crazy with it.

Maple Syrup

The story with maple syrup is basically the same of coconut sugar. Sure, it’s natural and better than refined white sugar. And yes, it has some antioxidants and minerals (if you get the pure, unprocessed stuff). But… it’s still sugar and will raise your blood sugar and pack your food with extra calories. It’s a better choice than refined sugar, so I’d say definitely use your favorite high-quality syrup on your pancakes, but go easy on your portions. And…it’s kind of expensive to use a lot of anyways!

honeycomb on a wood background

Honey

So… honey.

I see it ALLLL THE TIME in recipes that are supposed to be “healthy.” And a lot of the time, those recipes are mostly healthy! But here’s the thing. If a recipe contains a half cup of honey, then it’s still going to have a ton of sugar in it.

Just like coconut sugar and maple syrup, honey has some great qualities! It has antioxidants and it’s a great anti-inflammatory food. It might even help prevent allergies if you get your hands on some that’s locally made.

No need to avoid honey completely, just don’t fall for the idea that you can eat as much as you want without it affecting your body basically the same way as refined sugar.

agave plant

Agave Nectar

Agave was a super trendy sugar substitute for awhile. It’s marketed as this super healthy option but did you know…

  • It has more calories than actual sugar?
  • Agave nectar is suuuuuper high in fructose, which is the type of sugar most harmful to the body?
  • It’s really not much healthier than sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.
  • It’s made from the same plant used to make tequila (okay – that one was just a fun bonus!)

Agave nectar MIGHT be better for people with diabetes because of its low glycemic index. But overall, it’s not a great alternative to sugar. But marketing REALLY tricked people!

Xylitol & Erythritol 

Xylitol and erythritol are sugar alcohols. They’re usually found in stuff that’s labeled as “sugar-free,” and I see it a lot in protein bars and powders.

Sugar alcohols are a good substitute for sugar because they don’t contain any fructose, have fewer calories than sugar, and don’t affect your blood sugar.

Of course there are some downsides to sugar alcohols – sometimes eating too many can cause some less than ideal symptoms like gas and bloating. Xylitol is also toxic for dogs!

Personally, I don’t love the taste of sugar alcohols. But some people don’t mind!

So…are sugar substitutes healthy? 

Here’s the bottom line:

Sugar substitutes can help you eat less sugar, and natural sweeteners are just a slightly healthier form of added sugar.

My best advice is to choose the least processed sugar substitute and don’t assume that foods with natural sweeteners are automatically healthy. As always, everything is fine in moderation.

What’s your go-to sugar sub? Lemme know in the comments!

The Conversation (33)

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  • Yashvi says:

    What do you think about jaggery and dates? Are those a better option? Because I use them instead of white sugar.

  • Kim says:

    I really dislike using non calorie fake sweeteners – I think there’s something metabolically that happens when you eat a sweet thing but your body does not get any actual sugar. For sweetening things when needed, I do use dates and date syrup and sometimes lucuma powder. And sometimes honey. We just eat sweet things in moderation around here and enjoy them when we do.

  • Pragya Sharma says:

    Jaggery

  • Lotta says:

    We use xylitol on our chewing gum, it’s actually good for your teeth! But obviously as you stated for the side effects your not meant to eat gums all at once, just one after each meal/5 grams a day.

  • Vidushi says:

    Hey – thanks for sharing. What are your thoughts on dates? I usually grind dates into a semi liquid form and use in recipes

  • Rebekah Maher says:

    My go to is date sugar because unlike all the others you listed. It is the physical date ground up, no processing.

  • Priya says:

    Lakanto monkfruit sweetner at Costco is the best deal I found so far..If anyone is wondering where to get it from…

  • Priya says:

    Lakanto Monkfruit sweetener.. it’s an easy 1:1 replacement and no peculiar after taste like stevia or any sugar alcohols. Love it ❤️ Great blog Cassey!!

  • Abi says:

    The Monk Fruit substitution sounds amazing, where did you find it?!

  • Abi Dube says:

    The Monk Fruit substitution sounds amazing, where did you find it?!

  • Krithika says:

    Hey Cassey, What do you think about Jagger?

  • Audrey says:

    A registered dietitian could really be a great resource the more you go into a view on what is “healthy” in a diet. Fun read, but it would be nice to have an expert opinion or resources for these discussions.

    • Sam T says:

      I agree. I find a lot of these blog posts to be fluff and lacking in solid information for actual lifestyle choices.

    • Cassey says:

      I actually did consult with a Registered Dietitian for this post (and many of my more science-y food posts are all run by an RD for clarity and fact checking). I’ll make that clearer next time!

      • Audrey says:

        Thank you, Cassey! I appreciate knowing that as I continue to follow your posts.

        (Side note) I’ve been doing your videos for years. Your ab videos have helped me stay fit and safe as a nurse. Thank you for the uplifting and helpful content!

  • MARIA JOSE RODRIGUEZ says:

    I love to use honey! y actually find it quite sweet so using it has helped me to cut the amount of sugar I eat in general.

  • Jackie says:

    Mine is monk fruit second stevia I don’t mind the sugar alcohols I only use in my one cup of coffee a day

  • Hannah says:

    How do I know this info is accurate

  • Angie says:

    We use monkfruit a lot to replace sugar in recipes. I also like maple syrup for recipes that call for a liquid sweetener, but I use it sparingly since like you said, it’s kind of expensive for the good pure stuff.

  • Laura says:

    Honey! But not that take one from stores. That one it’s everything but not honey. I buy celan honey from local producers and you have to be careful even with them because they add some things in it.

  • taryn says:

    I’ve been using allulose for homemade vegan ice cream and sorbet I notice not much bloating and gas especially compared to erythritol. Any notes on that ( I think it’s pretty new)?

  • Sharon says:

    I like to use organic cane sugar! Monk fruit’s my favorite zero-cal sweetener, but at the end of the day Zulka Morena cane sugar is super affordable and I’ve never had problems when consuming sugar. The way I see it when it comes to sugar, it all depends on your perspective. Yes, sugar is basically empty calories, but calories of any kind still give you energy. I usually end up using up that energy because when I feel… well, energetic, I end up wanting to get up and do things like dancing and cleaning the house after I’ve had a sweet snack. That’s probably oversimplifying it, but for that reason I don’t really fear sugar (as a snack, anyways) 🙂

  • Edlin says:

    I use monk fruit from LAKANTO and sometimes Truvia, thank you so much for this information Cassey because it’s true we have to read the ingredients ALWAYS.

  • Sarah says:

    I do not use sugar substitutes. I try to practice moderation instead, because unless it’s maple syrup (a food group up here in Canada) or honey it either tastes weird or causes bloating. It’s just not worth it.

    Enjoy your baking, learn how to properly freeze doughs so you can bake off a few things at a time, and lower the amount of sugar where you can. Live a balanced life and you don’t need that stuff (unless you’re diabetic).

  • Sylvaine Koumphonh-D'Orazio says:

    I use Whole Earth Natural Stevia Monk Fruit sweetener for my Teas and Coffee. However, for my cooking and baking, I use Allulose. It’s zero calories, 70% as sweet as sugar, looks like sugar, no after taste, and bakes just like Sugar. It’s also great for Diabetics, Keto/Paleo Diets. I am a Cancer Survivor, and am missing a major organ. Also, diabetes runs in my family even though I don’t have it, I would rather ensure that I don’t, and by using Allulose (though a bit expensive), it assists with my sweet tooth cravings, and has been my absolute go too.

  • Andrada says:

    So far, I’ve tried Stevia, the refined one: my complaint about this one is the fact that I was never able to measure it correctly when using it for baking or other type of recipes. The outcome was either too sweet or not sweet enough. The most natural form of stevia I have ever found was some weird green powder (at least the producer said it’s in its most authentic form). I must say that the smell and taste of this were awful – it was barely sweet and it smelled like leaves or grass.
    Also tried erythritol. I also found it hard to measure it for recipes and that chemical taste was not easy to ignore…
    I am using honey and brown sugar oftenly, as I am trying to limit the amount of refined sugar I use.

  • Kelly A Hiller says:

    I use non GMO Trivia, Dr. Berg said it’s safe.

  • phoenixphyre says:

    Honey, in moderation, is my go to sweetener. I love the taste, the colors, the way it feels. I like putting in my morning coffee. However, lately I go to whole fruits for my sugar fix.

  • Lauren Camardese says:

    Raw sugar and honey in moderation! (Honey also helps me greatly with my allergies!)

    Years ago I did a science experiment with sugar and ants. The next morning all the regular sugar was gone – what remained was Stevia and Sucralose….. both with a ring of dead ants around them.
    Eh… no thank you.

    Fake sweeteners give me massive stomach aches anyhow.

    Keep it natural. Keep it in moderation.

  • Emily says:

    I’ve used Stevia in the past, and sometimes when I’m baking a cake.
    But I often use honey when I’m having something like a breakfast bowl or porridge. I don’t think a little sugar here and there is a bad thing, sometimes I need a sweet pick-me-up! Xx

  • Beth P says:

    Thanks for the info on sweeteners Cassey!
    I have read that our brains don’t actually know the difference between the taste of actual sugar and sweeteners, so we will still be craving sugar despite only eating foods with sweeteners in them (so although they may have much less calories, they don’t ‘curb’ sugar cravings if we tend to get them!).
    I have been trying to get my sugar fix from fruits lately, namely grapes and bananas! And putting a little bit of honey into some plain greek yoghurt with berries for my breakfast :) It can be pretty hard as I have a MAJOR sweet tooth.

    P.S. 3 months down of doing your calendars today, looking forward to doing the PIIT28 starter calendar for July to get my fitness up even more!

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