It’s no secret that Americans consume a lot of sugar. Americans eat about 25 teaspoons a day of added sugars.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar for women and 9 teaspoons of added sugar for men.
There are drawbacks to excessive sugar consumption including inflammation, blood sugar dysregulation, and hormonal issues. Sugar is also a simple carbohydrate, which makes it unsuitable for those with diabetes or those on a low-sugar diet.
It’s likely that most people can stand to reduce their sugar intake, either by abstinence or by switching to sugar substitutes. Anyone with diabetes, blood sugar problems, hormonal issues, inflammation-based illnesses, mental health conditions, and hypertension may especially wish to replace sugar with zero-calorie sugar substitutes.
Of course, it’s best to check with your doctor or healthcare provider to determine if you need to cut back on sugar or cut it out completely.
What are Natural Sugar Substitutes?
A sugar substitute is a substitution for sugar that offers a sweet taste with less of the inflammatory, empty calories of sugar. There are two types of sweeteners: those that contain natural sugars and do have calories, such as honey, and those that contain no sugar or calories, such as stevia.
In this list of the best sugar substitutes, you’ll find options for natural-sugar containing alternatives.
I chose these less-processed sugar substitutes because they also offer gut-healthy micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals. You’ll also find suggestions for which sweeteners are best for certain types of diets.
7 Best Sugar Substitutes
1. Raw Honey
Raw honey is a whole food rich in vitamins, amino acids, and antioxidants. It’s likely better for you than cane sugar as it is unrefined and contains nutrients.
Raw honey won’t raise your blood sugar as quickly as refined sugar will. However, it does contain a significant amount of calories and carbohydrates in the form of glucose.
Individuals with diabetes should be aware that raw honey will still raise blood sugar levels, albeit more slowly than processed sugar. Keep in mind that honey has other benefits for diabetic patients, so it might not be unhealthy in small quantities.
2. Yacon Syrup
This is another whole food with a sweet taste. Yacon syrup is derived from a sweet-tasting root vegetable and can be used in place of any other liquid sweetener.
This syrup is a low-sugar, low-glycemic sugar substitute suitable for those with diabetes or on a ketogenic diet. It also contains nutrients and is an excellent prebiotic. This can mean, however, that it may cause digestive distress in large quantities or for those with any gut dysbiosis.
So, start with just a small amount if you want to try this natural sweetener.
3. Dates, Date Sugar or Date Syrup
Dates and their derivatives have a naturally sweet taste. Although dates contain sugar and carbohydrates, they boast an impressive nutrient profile. Dates are especially high in fiber, so your blood sugar won’t spike as quickly as it would with refined sugar.
Due to the fiber content, the net carbohydrates in dates may be suitable for keto dieters depending on unique carbohydrate goals. Those with diabetes should stick to smaller servings, due to the higher carbohydrate and sugar content.
4. Blackstrap Molasses
Molasses is a byproduct of sugarcane, but the extraction and production process renders it higher in nutrients. Blackstrap molasses also has an especially impressive nutrient profile but does have a significant amount of calories, carbohydrates, and sugar per serving (similar to raw honey.)
5. Fruit Purees
Fruit purees are another whole food sugar substitute which is especially good for baking. These are fruits such as bananas, berries, stone fruits, or apples that are mashed into a puree, suitable for baking or for topping oatmeal, pancakes, etc.
I often use sweet potato puree, mashed ripe bananas, or applesauce to help sweeten my desserts, and the moisture often means I can cut back on the oils as well.
You can buy unsweetened applesauce or make your own fruit purees for using in baked goods or to sweeten foods like oatmeal.
6. Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is a pure sugar from the sap of maple trees, while coconut sugar is dehydrated coconut sap.
7. Coconut Sugar
Coconut sugar can be used as a 1:1 replacement with processed sugar but it contains more fiber and nutrients. Maple syrup is high in vitamins and antioxidants.
Both maple syrup and coconut sugar are whole food sweeteners with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They do still contain calories, carbohydrates, and sugar, so be mindful with these options.
Bonus Sugar Substitute: Allulose
Allulose is a sugar substitute that has been gaining popularity in the food industry because it has some unique properties that set it apart from other sugars. It’s a natural sugar that is found in small amounts in fruits and vegetables, including figs and raisins.
Allulose is 70% as sweet as regular sugar, doesn’t cause blood sugar spikes, and doesn’t contribute to tooth decay. Additionally, allulose does not have any of the unpleasant aftertastes associated with other “natural” sweeteners like stevia.
There are so many great options for sugar substitutes now. Based on your specific needs, you might want to experiment with different options and see which works best for you.
Almost everyone would benefit from cutting back on refined sugars. Rather than using sugar substitutes, it might make sense to go completely sugar free. Be sure to check with your doctor if you have questions about what would be best for you.