Cooking With Sugar Alternatives

Sugar Alternatives

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Before you even worry about a sugar crash, navigating the nutrition recommendations surrounding sugar can be enough to give you a screaming headache. What's more—with so many sugar alternatives on the market, making sense of how to use added sweeteners instead of white sugar can be an exercise in patience and culinary prowess.

Calorie-free artificial sweeteners aside, there are a plethora of calorie-yielding sweeteners derived from a wide range of sources to experiment with in the kitchen. To help make sense of which sweet option you should reach for, here’s a rundown of the latest and greatest sugar alternatives. Since nutrition may also be a factor, let's also explore how these sweeteners stack up to plain old table sugar and best practices for incorporating them into recipes.

Calorie Counts

It is certainly worth noting that just about all caloric sweeteners, including sugar, contain about 15 to 20 calories per teaspoon, but that’s where the similarities end. These sugar alternatives do undergo some degree of processing, but overall they are less processed than traditional white sugar. Since each option features a different flavor profile, in some cases smaller portions may be enough to satisfy your craving for sweet.

Many alternatives to sugar also contain trace amounts of various vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, B vitamins, iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and calcium. But since they should be consumed in moderation, you can't rely on these sweeteners as a reliable source of healthy nutrients.


Just about everyone is familiar with this thick, golden syrup. Since it can be cultivated from various types of flowers, the flavors are quite diverse. Mild acacia honey is a simple and sweet variety, but clover honey has more depth and complexity. An even more extreme flavored honey would be darker buckwheat honey, so it is clearly not a one-size-fits-all sweetener. Honey does boast an impressive trace mineral content and also receives accolades for its ample supply of cell-protecting antioxidants. In general, the darker the hue, the more antioxidants it possesses.

Liquid sweeteners like honey can be used in baked goods but will alter the texture, especially for things like cookies, which tend to come out less crispy and more cake-like. The pleasantly thick and gooey texture of honey makes it ideal for sticky sauces. It is also swoon-worthy drizzled on whole grain toast or freshly baked biscuits.

Honey is also tied to numerous health claims, but some hold more weight than others. While the jury is still out on whether or not consuming locally purveyed honey can help fight seasonal allergies, it doesn't appear to pose any harm. However, experts recommend that parents avoid feeding newborns honey until age 1 to prevent any potential exposure to botulism spores.

Suggested uses: Glazes for meats, vegetables, and baked goods, sauces, flavored tea

Coconut Sugar

Coconut Sugar
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

These light brown sugar-like crystals are made from the sap of a coconut tree. Coconut sugar is considerably less sweet than white sugar and has caramel undertones similar to brown sugar. It has a fairly earthy flavor so it can stand up to strong flavors, making it a good choice for marinades or coffee drinks. You will pay a premium for this sweetener, as online shops sell bags for $0.30 per ounce, which is 10 times more than white sugar.

Suggested uses: Cookies, dry rubs for meat or fish, cappuccino

Date Sugar

This option is made from dried pitted dates that have been ground into a coarse and slightly granular powder. Date sugar can be used as a replacement for brown sugar, and some brands also contain oat flour or other grains to prevent clumping. Dates have a high fiber content, but when they are ground into sugar, their gritty texture prevents the sugar from dissolving well.

Use this characteristic to your advantage by using date sugar in recipes that would benefit from the extra texture and slight crunch. Date sugar is also a precious sweetener. It's hard to find at many brick and mortar shops, and it is priced online at around $0.65 per ounce.

Suggested uses: Cookies, oatmeal, granola

Maple Syrup

A finger-licking addition to any breakfast table, maple syrup can also be used all over the kitchen. Some varieties can be thick and smoky while others are thinner, crisp, and sweet. But please, reach for legit 100% maple syrup, as it is the only respectable form. Lady-shaped bottles of “pancake syrup” actually contain no maple at all. Instead, they are bottles of colored corn syrup spiked with maple flavoring. Real maple syrup is divine for baking. Replace sugar with equal amounts of maple syrup or use a 50/50 combo of maple syrup and honey for a balance of flavor and texture.

Suggested uses: Muffins, custards, pudding, oatmeal


Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Agave is sweet...very sweet, and therefore you may want to use smaller portions when swapping for sugar. It is more watery than honey and dissolves much better. When making a substitution in baked goods, swap in 2/3 cup agave for every 1 cup of sugar, and reduce other liquids in the recipe by a total of ¼ cup.

Agave lovers should be warned that this sweetener is very high in fructose, and some people find it harder to digest. Agave gets praise for having a low glycemic index, a scale of how quickly high-carb foods impact blood sugar. Despite the health halo associated with low glycemic foods, agave should still be consumed with the same discretion as other sweeteners. Drizzle a splash of agave in cold beverages or match up with fruit in jams or fruit salad.

Suggested uses: Smoothies, teas, fruit leather

Sorghum Syrup

A thick and sticky syrup derived from an increasingly popular ancient grain, sorghum syrup has a sweet and slightly charred flavor that is similar to molasses, only more rounded and buttery. It can be used in baking, but cutting back slightly on the other liquid ingredients is recommended. Also experiment with sorghum syrup in cold sauces, drizzled over fresh berries, or to help caramelize roasted vegetables. There's no need to overpour this sweet syrup. A little goes a long way.

Suggested uses: Salad dressings, roasted squash, marinades for fish and poultry

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Colorado State University. Sugar and Sweeteners: Fact Sheet no. 9.301.

  2. Brudzynski K, Miotto D. The recognition of high molecular weight melanoidins as the main components responsible for radical-scavenging capacity of unheated and heat-treated Canadian honeys. Food Chem. 2011;125(2):570-577. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2010.09.049

  3. Saarinen K, Jantunen J, Haahtela T. Birch Pollen Honey for Birch Pollen Allergy – A Randomized Controlled Pilot Study. Int Arch Allergy Immunol. 2011;155:160-166. doi:10.1159/000319821

By Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC
Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is an author, registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer, and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc.