Sugar Swaps! 4 Natural Alternatives to Sugar


honeyAs a registered dietitian, I’m often asked if there are healthier alternatives to white table sugar. It’s important to limit added sugars (the recommendation for women is no more than 6 tsp; for men, 9 tsp), but it’s unrealistic—and nearly impossible– to eliminate them altogether. Thankfully, there are some natural alternatives to white sugar – and studies show that some of them have surprising health benefits.Here are some of the healthiest natural sweeteners to enjoy in moderation:

Maple Syrup: Did you know that this classic pancake condiment has health benefits? Maple syrup is an excellent source of manganese, a mineral that boosts energy production and antioxidant defenses. It also provides the nutrients riboflavin and zinc. What’s more, this delightful sap contains polyphenols, antioxidants that help reduce inflammation, according to research from the University of Rhode Island. Inflammation has been implicated in several chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, certain types of cancers and neurodegenerative diseases.

How to Enjoy: Whether you’re drizzling maple syrup on your pancakes or using it for a dressing or marinade, a little bit goes a long way. One teaspoon of pure maple syrup has 17 calories and 5 grams of sugar. In baking, use 2/3 cup for every cup of table sugar and reduce the quantity of liquid ingredients in the recipe (water, milk, juice) by about 1/4 cup. Maple syrup can also serve as a one-to-one substitute for liquid sweeteners, such as molasses and corn syrup.

Honey: Got a sore throat or a cough? Honey can help. A study from Penn State College of Medicine found that a small dose of honey given before bedtime provided better relief of nighttime cough and poor sleep among children participants, compared to receiving dextromethorphan (DM), a common cough suppressant. (Note: honey should not be given to infants under 12 months of age). Also, recent research suggests that honey may play a role in maintaining healthy gut bacteria that help bolster your immunity.

Not all honey is created equal, though: Several reports show that some honey is actually blended with table sugar or corn syrup and others may have pesticide residues. To ensure you get the real stuff, experts recommend buying locally sourced honey where you know the beekeeper or find an organic option, like Heavenly Organics, which is 100% organic raw honey that’s sourced from wild beehives in remote areas far from the reach of pesticides and other pollutants.

How to Enjoy: Honey adds a delicious flavor to recipes. One teaspoon has 21 calories and 6 grams of sugar. As a general rule, for every cup of table sugar, substitute 1/2 to 2/3 cup honey. Also reduce liquids by about 1/4 cup.

Truvia Nectar: If you want a lower-calorie option than honey, Truvia Nectar is a blend of honey and stevia leaf extract that’s twice as sweet as honey and sugar so you only need to use half as much to get the same level of sweetness. I use it in place of honey or sugar in any application–from beverages to baked goods.

How to Enjoy: Try it in coffee, tea, on oatmeal, yogurt and fruit and in your favorite recipes, like this Vanilla Pear Oatmeal. Use 1/2 teaspoon of Truvía Nectar (1 serving) in place of one teaspoon of sugar, honey or agave. One teaspoon has 20 calories and 4 grams of sugar.

Blackstrap Molasses: A tablespoon of this thick molasses—a byproduct of refining sugar cane into table sugar—has about 15% of your daily iron requirement, making it ideal for vegans who often lack adequate amounts, as well as vitamin B6, magnesium, calcium.

How to Enjoy: A teaspoon of blackstrap molasses has 20 calories and 5 grams of sugar. It is more bitter and less sweet than typical molasses varieties, so it’s not a perfect replacement for sugar.  However it’s excellent for baked beans, muffins and savory dishes. Try these baked lentils with sweet potatoes.


Katherine Brooking, MS, RD

Katherine Brooking, MS, RD

Katherine Brooking is a Registered Dietitian with a Master’s Degree in Nutrition Education from Columbia University. She is dedicated to helping people achieve better health and richer lives through sound nutrition and healthy lifestyles. She is a frequent nutrition expert for national broadcast programs and co-creator of the blog


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s