The 7 Best Sugar Alternatives of 2022, According to a Dietitian

Understanding table sugar substitutes and the different options on the market

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While refined table sugar can fit into a healthful diet, you may prefer to incorporate alternatives for a variety of reasons. Non-nutritive (calorie-free) sweeteners include artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, and plant-derived options such as stevia and monk fruit extract. Nutritive sweeteners, which do contain calories, include non-refined sugar sources like honey, maple syrup, and coconut sugar. Each type has its own unique nutrition profile, taste and sweetness level, and the best one for you depends on your preferences, dietary needs, and how frequently you're using it.

When choosing a sugar substitute, keep in mind that there is no "silver bullet" option. "Nutritive sweeteners can impact blood sugar, and high intakes are associated with increased risk of certain chronic diseases. Non-nutritive options do not contain calories or contribute to blood sugar changes in the same way, but they have not been studied long-term, and some preliminary research shows that there may be risks involved. Ultimately, neither option is 'evil' or 'perfect'—balance is key," says Autumn Rauchwerk, MS, RDN, RYT.

Reviewed & Approved

The SweetLeaf Organic Stevia Sweetener is a great pick for those looking for a zero-calorie, plant-derived sweetener. For a natural, versatile unrefined sugar source, try Coombs Family Farms Organic Maple Syrup.

When purchasing sugar alternatives, you should also consider the quantity you're buying, the level of sweetness, how much you enjoy the flavor, how it fits within your dietary needs, and how you plan to use it. To help you find the right sugar alternative for your needs, we researched a variety of options with these considerations in mind.

Here are the best sugar alternatives, according to a dietitian.

In This Article

Best Stevia: SweetLeaf Organic Stevia Sweetener

SweetLeaf Organic Stevia Sweetener

Courtesy of Amazon

Pros
  • USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified

  • Does not cause blood sugar spikes

  • Plant-derived, non-nutritive sweetener

  • Dissolves in water and heat stable for baking

Cons
  • Limited scientific research on its long-term effects on health

  • Does not caramelize or enhance browning when used in baking

  • Highly processed ingredient

Stevia sweetener is a good option if you are looking for a non-nutritive sweetener, meaning it contains no calories or sugar. It is one of the two plant-derived, high-intensity sweeteners approved by the FDA and is typically 250 times sweeter than regular sugar. Stevia leaves are the raw material used to make the chemical compound called reb-A (steviol glycoside rebaudioside A), which is the form you'll typically find used as a sweetener in food and beverages.

SweetLeaf is USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, and has less bitterness and aftertaste compared to other stevia products on the market. Some stevia products are blended with other sugar molecules, artificial sweeteners, or sugar alcohols to improve the taste and usability of the product. Instead of using these components, Sweetleaf uses a blend of inulin (an oligosaccharide) and silica (an FDA-approved anti-caking agent).

Each box contains 70 packets (each packet contains two 0.4-gram servings). A single packet is equivalent to the sweetness of 2 teaspoons of sugar, so SweetLeaf recommends starting with half a packet and adjusting to taste. It is incredibly versatile and mixes well with hot or cold beverages and cereals or into your favorite recipe. SweetLeaf makes it easy to swap stevia for sugar in your favorite recipes with this stevia conversion chart. While stevia is heat stable making it suitable for baking, it does not caramelize or create browning like real sugar.

Serving size: 1/2 packet (0.4 grams) | Calories: 0 | Total sugar: 0 grams | Organic: Yes | Sweetener type: non-nutritive, plant derived, high-intensity sweetener | Price at time of publication: $8 ($3.76 per ounce)

Best Monk Fruit: Lakanto Monkfruit Sweetener

Lakanto Monkfruit Sweetener

Courtesy of Amazon

Pros
  • Does not cause blood sugar spikes

  • FDA approved, plant-derived, non-nutritive sweetener

  • Dissolves in liquids

  • Heat stable for baking and allows for browning

Cons
  • Limited scientific research on its long-term effects on health

  • Contains erythritol, which may cause gastrointestinal side effects

  • Highly processed ingredient

If you're looking for a zero-calorie, zero-carb sugar alternative, Lakanto's Monkfruit Sweetener is a good choice. Made from the concentrated powder of a small green melon, monk fruit extract is 150 to 300 times sweeter than regular sugar and is commonly blended with inulin or erythritol—sugar alcohol—to reduce the intensity of the sweetness. Along with stevia, monk fruit is the other plant-derived, high-intensity sweetener approved by the FDA. Like stevia, monk fruit is derived from a plant, but there is quite a bit of processing that goes into extracting the portion used to make the sweetener, so it is not a minimally processed ingredient.

Like stevia, monk fruit sweeteners dissolve in water and are heat-stable for baking, making them versatile sugar substitutes. Lakatno blends monk fruit extract with erythritol to create a cup-for-cup sugar alternative that works well for baking and other cooking methods and yields more browning in baking compared to stevia. The one-pound bag is great if you like to bake. The brand also offers convenient packets to take with you on the go and also offers varieties specific for baking that retains more moisture and allows for enhanced browning.

Serving size: 2 teaspoons (8 grams) | Calories: 0 | Total sugar: 0 grams | Organic: No | Sweetener type: non-nutritive, plant derived, high-intensity sweetener | Price at time of publication: $25 ($0.52 per ounce)

Best Erythritol: Swerve The Ultimate Sugar Replacement

Swerve The Ultimate Sugar Replacement

Courtesy of Amazon

  • Does not cause blood sugar spikes

  • Sweetness level is similar to sugar

  • May cause gastrointestinal side effects

  • Does not dissolve well in liquid

If you prefer a less sweet, zero-calorie sweetener, an erythritol product like Swerve's Granular Sugar Replacement may be for you. This sugar alcohol is only about 60 percent to 80 percent as sweet as sugar, and it is lower in calories than other sugar alcohols with 0.2 kcal/gram. It also has a lower glycemic index compared to other sugar alcohols, so it has the least impact on blood sugar.

Swerve's non-GMO sugar alternative can be used as a 1:1 substitute for your usual white sugar in baking and cooking. They also offer confectioners sugar and brown sugar replacements, depending on your cooking needs. Erythritol can have a minty or cool aftertaste which you may or may not enjoy, and the granulated form does not dissolve as well in liquid as other sugar substitutes. It is also important to note that sugar alcohols can cause gastrointestinal side effects, including gas, bloating, and diarrhea, particularly when consumed in excess.

Serving size: 1 teaspoons (4 grams) | Calories: 0 | Total sugar: 0 grams | Organic: No | Sweetener type: Sugar alcohol | Price at time of publication: $30 ($1.87 per ounce)

Best Coconut Sugar: Terrasoul Superfoods Organic Coconut Sugar

  • USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified

  • Contains a small amount of minerals and antioxidants

  • Versatile: dissolves in liquids and similar taste and texture to brown sugar in baking

  • Minimally processed, unrefined option

  • Considered an added sugar and should be consumed in moderation

If you like the texture and light caramel flavor of brown sugar but are looking for a less refined alternative, Terrasoul's Organic Coconut Sugar is a great choice. Coconut sugar, a natural sugar made from the sap of coconut palms, contains small amounts of beneficial nutrients such as minerals and antioxidants, and inulin fiber, which helps to slow the absorption of sugar. It's less processed than white sugar but contains a comparable amount of calories—18 calories per teaspoon.

Terrasoul's USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified coconut sugar contains small amounts of potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron, and B vitamins. It's an easy substitute for sugar and can be used as a one-to-one replacement for cane and brown sugar. Plus, it may have a lower glycemic index than sugar. Keep in mind that it is still considered an added sugar and should be consumed in moderation.

Serving size: 1 teaspoons (5 grams) | Calories: 18 | Total sugar: 5 grams | Organic: Yes | Sweetener type: Added sugar | Price at time of publication: $25 ($0.26 per ounce)

Best Honey: Wedderspoon Raw Premium Manuka Honey

Wedderspoon Raw Premium Manuka Honey KFactor 16+

Courtesy of Walmart

Pros
  • Small amount of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants

  • Can be used in smaller amounts due to sweetness level and stronger flavor

  • Minimally processed, unrefined option

  • May have medicinal properties

Cons
  • Considered an added sugar and should be consumed in moderation

  • Expensive

  • Requires recipe modifications if using to replace sugar

Honey is a source of natural sugar that is sweeter than table sugar and has unique flavor profiles depending on the type and processing methods. Manuka honey, a type of honey native to New Zealand, typically contains more antibacterial and antioxidant properties than traditional honey due to its purity and antioxidant content. Each jar of Wedderspoon's Raw Monofloral Manuka Honey is sourced, packed, and sealed in New Zealand, the home to Manuka honey. This Non-GMO Project Verified honey is raw and unpasteurized, which protects the beneficial nutrients.

Wedderspoon independently measures the antibacterial potency of their Manuka honey using a measure called KFactor, which ensures you're getting the highest quality honey. This product has a KFactor 16, meaning that the honey is made primarily from the Manuka plant as opposed to a blend. If you're not a fan of honey jars, Wedderspoon offers a mess-free squeeze bottle and convenient travel packs to take with you on the go.

When used in cooking as a replacement for sugar, the stronger flavor, higher sweetness level, and moisture content require recipe modifications, and it typically is not used in a 1:1 ratio. Try a touch of honey in tea for a soothing effect, as it has been shown to have antimicrobial properties that may be beneficial if you have a cold. You can also use it as a flavor enhancer drizzled on yogurt, oatmeal, or fruit. You can also mix it into a dressing to add to a salad or grilled vegetable dish. All honey is considered an added sugar and should be used in moderation.

Serving size: 1 tablespoon (21 grams) | Calories: 70 | Total sugar: 16 grams | Organic: No | Sweetener type: Added sugar | Price at time of publication: $40 ($2.27 per ounce)

Best Maple Syrup: Coombs Family Farms Organic Maple Syrup

Coombs Family Farms Organic Maple Syrup

Courtesy of Amazon

Pros
  • Small amount of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants

  • Unique and distinct flavor varieties

  • Versatile

  • Minimally processed, unrefined option

Cons
  • Considered an added sugar and should be consumed in moderation

  • Requires recipe modifications if using to replace sugar

Maple syrup, a natural sugar source, is a family favorite for topping waffles and pancakes and can be used in a variety of applications in replacement of table sugar. The Certified Organic Coombs Family Farms Maple Syrup is Grade A with a dark color and robust taste, providing a sweet boost to your favorite recipes with a distinct maple flavor.

Maple syrup contains small amounts of minerals, including manganese, iron, calcium, and zinc, as well as antioxidants. In comparison to honey, maple syrup contains less sugar per tablespoon (about 12 grams versus 17 grams in honey). For reference, one tablespoon of table sugar contains 13 grams of sugar. When using maple syrup in replacement of table sugar in baking, you typically need to use less (about 2/3 cup of maple syrup for every cup of sugar), and you may also need to adjust the liquid content and cooking temperature.

Coombs supports sustainable forestry and advocates for small farmers. Maple syrup can be used in a variety of ways in the kitchen, including sweetening baked goods, as a topping to yogurt or oatmeal, or adding a touch of sweetness to dressing and marinades.

Serving size: 1/4 cup (60 millimeters) | Calories: 200 | Total sugar: 53 grams | Organic: Yes | Sweetener type: Added sugar | Price at time of publication: $30 ($0.94 per ounce)

Best Molasses: Wholesome Blackstrap Molasses

Wholesome Organic Blackstrap Molasses

Courtesy of iHerb

  • Contains calcium

  • Good source of iron

  • May have higher antioxidant content than other sugar alternatives

  • Minimally processed, unrefined option

  • Considered an added sugar and should be consumed in moderation

  • Less versatile than other sugar alternatives

Research suggests that blackstrap molasses may contain the highest amounts of antioxidants among sweeteners, including maple syrup and honey. This dark, bitter substance is a byproduct of raw sugar cane production that contains a small amount of vitamins and minerals. The intense flavor can overpower recipes, so it's best to use the bittersweet, sticky liquid in small amounts.

Wholesome Sweetener's full-bodied USDA Organic Molasses adds a natural caramel color and flavor to your favorite recipes, including gingerbread, bran muffins, marinades, and BBQ sauces. Blackstrap molasses contains 10 percent of your daily value of calcium and 20 percent of your daily iron needs. Adding a spoonful to your oatmeal in the morning will add sweetness, a distinct molasses flavor, and some important micronutrients that you may not be getting enough of, especially if you're following a plant-based diet.

You may want to keep in mind that, with 60 calories and 14g carbohydrates per 1 tablespoon serving, Wholesome's Grade-A unsulphured molasses is not low-calorie or low-carb.

Serving size: 1 tablespoon (20 grams) | Calories: 60 | Total sugar: 10 grams | Organic: Yes | Sweetener type: Added sugar | Price at time of publication: $37 ($0.58 per ounce)

What to Look for in a Sugar Alternative

Form:

It is important to distinguish between different types of sugars and sweeteners when assessing what product best suits your dietary needs.

Added Sugar: Added sugars are various forms of simple sugars (or simple carbohydrates), including monosaccharides (glucose, fructose, and galactose) and disaccharides (lactose, sucrose, and maltose) that are added to foods and beverages during processing or sold individually to be added to food or drinks at home. There are many different names for added sugar that are used in the food industry, all of which contain calories and affect blood sugar and are therefore considered nutritive sweeteners.

On a nutrition label, the FDA requires that added sugars are listed separately from total sugars (unless it is being sold as a single ingredient sugar or syrup like maple syrup, which will just have total sugar). Sugars that are not considered added sugars are those that are found naturally in foods like fructose in fruit and lactose in dairy products. When these types of naturally occurring sugars are consumed in their whole food form, they come with added nutrients and fiber and are absorbed slower than added sugars.

Examples of added sugars:

  • Non-Refined sugars are less processed than refined sugars and can contain small amounts of vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants. They do, however, affect blood sugar similarly to that of refined sugars and are similar in caloric and sugar content.
  • Examples: Maple syrup, honey, molasses, coconut sugar, date sugar, agave nectar, concentrated fruit juice
  • Refined Sugars have been processed from their natural form and are typically derived from sugar cane, corn, and sugar beets.
  • Examples: White table sugar (sucrose), brown sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, dextrose, maltose, fructose

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025 recommend that you keep your intake of added sugar to less than 10% of your total daily calories, which translates to less than 50 grams of added sugar per day based on a 2,000-calorie per day diet. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars even more to about 25 grams or less per day for women and 30 grams or less for men.

Sugar Alcohols: This category of sweeteners is a type of carbohydrate class called polyols that are FDA-approved sugar substitutes and are not considered added sugar. They are typically lower in sweetness than table sugar ranging from 25-100% in sweetness level, and also lower in calories, ranging from 0.2 calories/gram to 3 calories/gram.

Because of their unique chemical structure, they are not fully digested and absorbed and therefore have less of a direct impact on blood sugar. Sugar alcohols vary in their effects on blood sugar, with erythritol ranking the lowest on the glycemic index for sugar alcohols. It is important to note that sugar alcohols can cause gastrointestinal side effects, including gas, bloating, and diarrhea, particularly when consumed in excess (>30 grams).

Examples: xylitol, sorbitol, lactitol, mannitol, erythritol, and maltitol

High-Intensity Sweeteners: Many high-intensity sweeteners are also referred to as artificial sweeteners, whether or not they are artificially derived. All of these sweeteners are either artificially made or they are plant-derived. Plant-derived high-intensity sweeteners are not minimally processed—they require a great deal of processing to extract the compounds used to make sweeteners.

High-intensity sweeteners are considered non-nutritive sweeteners, meaning they provide sweetness without added calories, carbohydrates, or grams of sugar and therefore do not directly affect blood sugar. They have a much sweeter taste profile than regular sugar (for example, stevia is about 250 times sweeter), so very little is needed to create a sweet product. The below examples are all FDA-approved:

Examples: Artificially made: aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, neotame, acesulfame potassiumm, advantame. Plant-derived non-nutritive sweeteners (also called, novel sweeteners): monk fruit extract (luo han guo), stevia

Controversies with High Intensity, Non-Nutritive Sweeteners

While research is still inconclusive, some non-nutritive sweeteners may have the opposite effect than intended and may in fact have negative effects on the gut microbiome, blood sugar control, insulin responses, and appetite, and may actually lead to increased sugar cravings.

There have also been some animal studies that have linked artificial sweeteners to cancer risk, however, the NIH National Cancer Institute has deemed that there is insufficient scientific evidence to show that these substances are carcinogenic. A recently published large cohort study suggests an association between the use of artificial sweeteners, especially aspartame and acesulfame potassium, and cancer risk (particularly breast and obesity-related cancers). However, it is important to note that the overall dietary habits (and other confounding variables) of the study's participants may also play a role in the outcome of the study.

More research is needed to fully understand the metabolic effects of artificial sweeteners and their potential impact on human health.

Flavor & Sweetness Profile

Sugar alternatives vary in flavor and sweetness. Some products, particularly the more processed options, have bitter aftertastes. If you prefer a very sweet alternative to sugar, stevia or monk fruit is sweeter than regular sugar. Maple syrup, honey, and molasses have distinct individual flavors, whereas coconut sugar tends to taste very similar to brown sugar. Sugar alcohols are similar to or less sweet than regular sugar.

Usage

Consider how you intend to use sugar alternatives before choosing one. When using sugar alternatives in baking, the different tastes, textures, flavors, and chemical compositions can affect the outcomes of the baked good. To learn more about cooking with a sugar alternative, check out our article, Cooking With Sugar Alternatives.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the healthiest alternative to sugar?

    Both regular sugar and sugar alternatives can all fit into a healthy diet that is centered on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, healthy fats, and proteins. The healthiest alternative to sugar is whole fruits, followed by dried fruits, as they contain added nutrients and fiber. In comparison to table sugar, fruit juices, maple syrup, honey, and molasses are marginally healthier as they contain some vitamins and minerals.

    Artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols contain little to no calories and sugar and therefore do not directly impact blood sugar, making them a good option for those looking to decrease their added sugar intake. They can also be helpful for those with type 2 diabetes that are struggling to reduce their sugar intake.

    Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN, says, "When choosing a substitute for sugar, it's important to think about the product's impact on blood sugar and insulin. Maple syrup and honey are two natural options, but keep in mind that they also impact insulin and blood sugar. These products should be used moderately and considered in your overall sugar allotment for the day in accordance with the WHO and AHA sugar guidelines. If the goal is to have little or no effect on blood sugar and insulin, erythritol, monk fruit, and stevia are great choices."

    Of these, stevia and monk fruit sweeteners are plant-derived and, therefore, more natural choices than other artificial sweeteners on the market, though they are made from highly refined plant extracts rather than whole foods. The research on artificial sweeteners is mixed, and although they may help decrease your overall calorie and sugar intake in the short term, the long-term effects on weight management and overall health are inconclusive.

  • Are alternatives to sugar really healthier than sugar?

    Some sugar alternatives are less processed than regular table sugar (like honey and maple syrup) and, therefore, typically retain small amounts of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

    Artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols contain little to no sugar or calories and can therefore be helpful for those looking to cut down on their added sugar intake, but the long-term use of them for weight management and overall health is inconclusive, and they may come with side effects.

  • Can I substitute brown sugar for white sugar?

    Both brown sugar and white sugar are considered refined sugars. The main difference is that brown sugar contains molasses, giving its color and unique flavor. Typically, you can substitute brown sugar for white sugar in a 1:1 ratio in baking, but the molasses in brown sugar may slightly alter the texture.

  • How do I substitute sugar in baking?

    Some sugar alternatives can be substituted on a 1:1 ratio, while others require modifications depending on the sweetness level of the product. Some sugar alternatives, like stevia, may not yield the same browning effects as regular sugar. Liquid-based sugars like honey and maple syrup may require a reduction in other liquid ingredients and adjustments to cooking times. Many sugar alternatives offer conversion sheets and recipe modification suggestions on their packaging or on the company website.

The Bottom Line

High intakes of added sugars can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses. According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the U.S. population on average is consuming almost 270 calories (which translates to about 65 grams) of added sugar per day. In an effort to reduce added sugar intake, artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols have become increasingly popular.

While replacing sugar with these alternatives may decrease calorie and sugar intake in some, the long-term effects on overall health outcomes are inconclusive. In addition, if sugar alternatives are being used to restrict overall food intake for weight loss, you may be at higher risk of weight cycling, which is associated with a variety of subsequent health problems. Sugar alternatives may be particularly beneficial in transitioning off high intakes of regular sugar, but the end goal should be to consume all sugar and sweeteners in moderation and focus on a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean proteins, and healthy fats.

Rauchwerk says, "Whatever sweetener you're choosing, I recommend focusing on mindfulness rather than restriction. If you forbid yourself from consuming any sugar, you may feel deprived and ultimately "binge" on sweet foods to make up for it. If you focus on adding more fruits and vegetables into your day and, especially when eating foods with added sweeteners, pay attention to the sensory experience of eating and how you feel afterward, in time you may find your consumption decreases."

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