Healthy eating can be tough, especially when you’re craving a sweet treat. If the idea of cutting sugar out of your diet makes you want to cry (and maybe eat some ice cream), have hope — there are lots of tasty refined sugar alternatives! We’ve compiled a list of healthy alternatives to refined sugar for every recipe and lifestyle. Read through this guide to learn everything you need to know about refined sugar substitutes for baking and beyond:
How Refined Sugar Affects Your Health
Sugar may negatively affect your health in a number of ways. Livestrong states that sugar consumption is linked to obesity and weight gain, which can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. It may also be addictive. Some people are more prone than others to binge-eating sweets, leading them to consume more processed foods and refined sugars than they need or should. Common sources of refined sugars in American diets include soda, candy, and fruit juices.
Refined sugars are those that have been processed, like cane sugar. The most popular refined sugar is the white table sugar we’re all used to, which is made of sucrose. Sucrose is made of both fructose (sugar from fruits) and glucose (sugar from other plants). Sucrose, fructose, and glucose all contain the same number of calories — 4 per gram, according to Livestrong. However, there is more to health than calories. The way that refined sugars and natural sugars impact the body can be totally different, especially depending on how you consume them.
Healthy Alternatives to Refined Sugar
According to Harvard Health, natural sugars like those found in fruit are not linked to negative health effects. This is because sugar tends to come in limited quantities in nature. In natural foods, sugar is also usually eaten alongside multiple other nutrients like fiber. This helps you process the sugar and feel more full, preventing you from overeating sugar. Some natural sugars may also be stronger than table sugar, which means you can use fewer grams of empty calories to achieve the same sweetness!
Eating healthy (especially on a budget) is an ongoing journey. You should keep the whole picture in mind when looking for healthy alternatives to refined sugar.
Monk Fruit Sweetener
Monk fruit is a small, round fruit grown in Southeast Asia — and a super sweetener! It’s grown on vines and harvested when it’s ripe, then dried and ground into a powder. Monk fruit is at least 100 times sweeter than sugar, yet contains essentially zero calories per serving in its powder form. This makes it one of the best refined sugar alternatives on the market. Monk fruit is a substitute for refined sugar that is even considered safe by the FDA for diabetics.
Honey is a natural sweetener made by bees. It is sweeter than sugar and contains numerous health benefits. Research by the NIH has found that honey contains antioxidants that fight inflammation, boost your immune system, and reduce pain. Honey may even help prevent cavities, reduce oxidative stress, help regulate hormones, and contain anti-diabetic and anti-cancer properties. Just be sure any honey you buy is raw and not packed with added sugar!
Stevia is a natural sweetener extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant, native to South America. It’s up to 300 times as sweet as sugar and contains no calories, as per WebMD. This all makes stevia a great substitute for refined sugar for people who want to limit their sugar intake but don’t want to sacrifice taste. You can use Stevia just like you would use table sugar — but use 300 times less!
Dates are fruits that make great healthy alternatives to refined sugar. Packed with nutrients, they’re a good source of fiber, potassium, magnesium, copper, manganese, iron, vitamin B6, and vitamin K.
Allulose is a type of sugar that is found in small amounts in certain fruits and vegetables. It’s also used as a low-calorie sweetener in foods like ice cream, yogurt, sauces, candies, and other desserts. Allulose has 90% fewer calories than regular table sugar but tastes just as sweet. In its granulated form, it resembles table sugar. This makes it a great substitute for refined sugar for people with picky tastes.
Refined Sugar Substitutes for Baking
If you’re a baker, there’s no need to give up on your recipes when looking for healthy alternatives to refined sugar. In fact, you can apply many of the same techniques used for reducing refined sugar in other foods to baking.
Coconut sugar is made from the sap of a coconut palm tree. It contains iron, zinc, calcium, and potassium—all nutrients that are good for your body in moderation. Coconut sugar can be used as a 1:1 replacer for white or brown sugar when baking. Don’t worry, it won’t add a coconut flavor where you don’t want it! But do note that coconut sugar does have a lower burn point than white sugar.
Agave nectar is a sweetener extracted from the agave plant and is one of the most popular refined sugar substitutes for baking. It has a lower glycemic index and is sweeter than sugar so you need less of it when baking. You can use Agave nectar for many different purposes including as a vegan alternative to honey in baking recipes. If replacing white sugar, use ⅔ cup of agave for every cup of sugar the original recipe calls for. Be sure to also cut back on your liquid ingredients, and cut the oven temperature by about 25° when using agave.
The most well-known form of molasses is blackstrap, which comes from the final stage of sugar refining. It’s thick and dark in color, with a strong flavor that evokes bitter chocolate. Use it as a substitute for refined sugar in baked goods and as a sweetener for drinks and sauces. Blackstrap molasses is great in gingerbread, but you can also use the lighter versions to make banana bread or add depth to pancakes or waffles.
Maple syrup is a great natural substitute for refined sugar. It contains necessary antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. You can use maple syrup in baked goods like cookies or cakes as an alternative to refined sugar. When using it as a sugar replacer, only use ¾ cups of maple syrup per cup of sugar in the recipe.
Try A Substitute for Refined Sugar
As you can see, there are plenty of options for healthy alternatives to refined sugar. Try some of these refined sugar substitutes for baking, or use a replacement like stevia in your morning coffee. Little healthy food swaps like these can add up to a huge difference in how you feel inside and out.
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