White sugar (granulated sugar, table sugar, among other names) is likely the most common sugar in most people’s pantries, but it’s not your only option by far! What are some good natural substitutes for regular sugar?
Some no- or low-calorie natural substitutes for sugar include stevia, monk fruit sweetener, xylitol, and tagatose. Some good natural sugar substitutes that contain real sugar include honey, maple syrup, and coconut sugar.
We’ll explain more about what these sweeteners are in this article, so keep reading!
Natural vs. artificial sugar substitutes
The majority of artificial sugar substitutes (AKA artificial sweeteners) aren’t found in nature but are instead made by using chemicals in a laboratory. That might sound a bit scary, but they’re considered safe to use in moderation, and sometimes exist from slightly altering the chemical composition of things like amino acids!
On the other hand, natural sugar substitutes are extracted from plants or other natural sources. Some types of sugar alcohols are also found in nature, but usually in much smaller amounts than when they’re utilized to use as a sugar substitute.
Sugar alcohols aren’t the most natural sugar substitute out there – but they are considered more natural than artificial sweeteners. For the sake of this article, we’re considering them natural sugar substitutes.
Benefits of low-calorie natural sugar substitutes
There are several potential benefits of using natural sugar substitutes.
- Lower in calories and sugar: Using natural sugar substitutes can help reduce your caloric intake as well as your sugar intake. This can be helpful for things like weight loss, managing blood sugar imbalances like diabetes, and reducing your risk of getting cavities.
- Considered suitable for special diets: Some diets have strict rules about the types of sugar substitutes you can use. For instance, the Paleo diet allows the use of stevia, but not artificial sweeteners.
Natural substitutes for sugar (no- or low-caloric)
- Stevia (steviol glycosides)
Stevia is one of the best natural substitutes for sugar, and likely the most popular. Stevia is made from the stevia plant and is 200-350 times sweeter than regular sugar. The stevia plant is fittingly known as candyleaf, sweetleaf, or sugarleaf.
You can find stevia in single-serving packets or in bulk to use for baking.
- Monk fruit sweetener
This sweetener is gaining popularity, especially among keto dieters. Monk fruit sweetener is made from the Luo Han Guo plant, a vine in the gourd family, which is native to China.
Monk fruit sweetener is 100-250 times sweeter than regular sugar and gets its sweetness from compounds called mogrosides.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol present in some foods such as strawberries, raspberries, mushrooms, and cauliflower. Like monk fruit sweetener, xylitol is popular among keto dieters because it doesn’t contain any sugar but tastes similar to sugar.
Sugar alcohols are poorly absorbed by your digestive tract, which is part of the reason they are low-calorie and don’t impact your blood sugar levels like regular sweeteners.
If you consume large amounts of sugar alcohols, you might experience side effects like stomach pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea – so be careful not to overdo it!
Tagatose exists naturally in some fruits like apples, bananas, and pineapple. Tagatose isn’t a sugar alcohol, but it has a similar structure as sugar alcohols.
Natural substitutes for sugar (caloric)
If you’re wanting a natural substitute for sugar and are okay with it containing sugar and calories, then there are plenty of options for you to choose from. Keep in mind that these natural substitutes still contain sugar and calories, but can be considered more natural than table sugar (sucrose), which is highly refined and processed.
Good ol’ honey is one of the best natural substitutes for sugar. Honey contains glucose and fructose (two types of sugar molecules) and water. Honey also contains natural antimicrobial properties and nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which is why some people prefer to use it over more refined sugars.
Honey is about 25% sweeter than table sugar, so you can use less of it than you would regular sugar!
- Maple syrup
Made from the sap of maple trees, maple syrup primarily consists of sucrose, the same kind of sugar in table sugar. Maple syrup also contains some fructose and glucose.
Unlike honey, maple syrup is a good vegan alternative for a natural sugar substitute.
- Coconut sugar
Coconut sugar is made from the sap of the coconut palm tree itself – not the actual coconut. Instead, coconut sugar is made from the nectar of the flower-bud stem, and is considered Paleo-friendly.
Another benefit of coconut sugar compared to refined table sugar – it’s less refined and has a lower glycemic index (54) than table sugar’s score of 65, which means it shouldn’t raise your blood sugar levels as quickly.
What is the best substitute for sugar?
There isn’t one best sugar substitute – it all depends on your nutrition and dietary goals! For those wanting a no- or low-calorie sugar substitute, stevia and xylitol are great choices.
If you want to substitute white sugar for a less refined sweetener, honey and coconut sugar are a couple of good choices.
Stevia (which is derived from a plant) is considered a more natural option than Splenda, which is an artificial sweetener. Neither is necessarily better than the other – it just depends on your health and nutrition goals. All types of sugar substitutes should be used in moderation, just like regular sweeteners.