According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the average American adult consumes nearly 77 grams of sugar per day, or approximately 60 pounds a year.
The AHA recommends that men should consume no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams or 150 calories) of added sugar per day, while women should limit their sugar consumption to 6 teaspoons (25 grams or 100 calories) per day.
Sugar is an ingredient in everything from ketchup and barbecue sauce to the pickles and coleslaw at your favorite deli. If you’re not carefully reading your label, you might be easily surpassing your own daily limit of sugar without even realizing it.
More people than ever are now reading labels and focusing on reducing their sugar intake. But before you join the search for healthier alternatives to your favorite sugary treats, it’s a good idea to become informed. Not all sugar is created equal! Learn what’s best for you before you make any decision on the fate of your favorite treats.
When most people reference sugar, they’re talking about white table sugar. It’s also called sucrose and is considered to be an added sugar. It has no real nutritional value.
Naturally found sugar, on the other hand, is essential. The body turns the carbohydrates from food into glucose which is used for fuel and energy. Removing all sugar from your diet might cause you to lose important nutrients found in fruit, dairy, and whole grains. Without sugar, the body uses ketone bodies for fuel. A diet void of carbohydrates or healthy, naturally found sugars can result in headaches, fatigue, and brain fog. Most dietitians recommend cutting back on highly refined foods and beverages with added sugars, but do not recommend removing all carbohydrates from your diet.
While you don’t have to cut table sugar out of your diet, you can make a decision as to where the sweetness in your foods is coming from. Honey, molasses, maple syrup, and even some fruit juices contain naturally occurring sugar and have nutritional benefits. Fruit is also packed with fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. Real, natural maple syrup and honey both contain antioxidants, iron, zinc, calcium, and potassium.
If you want to make a big change in your sugar intake, cut out sugary sodas, juice drinks, and sweet teas. The amount of added sugar you will eliminate is staggering. And if you’re still looking for a little something sweet, sugar substitutes are also an option.
Sugar substitutes taste sweet, but do not contain sugar. Some have no calories at all, while others have significantly fewer calories than sugar. Foods that contain sugar substitutes are typically labeled sugar free, low carb, diet, or keto. They may prevent dental decay and help with blood glucose levels. The type sugar substitute being used will be clearly labeled on the product package.
Consuming too much added sugar over a period of time can lead to potential health problems including metabolic syndrome, challenges with weight management, poor oral health, premature wrinkles, and potential cardiovascular issues.
Signs that you are consuming too much added sugar on a regular basis may include constant hunger, unwanted weight gain, low energy, fatigue, nothing tasting sweet enough, constant craving for sweets, and brain fog.
Made from the leaves of the stevia plant, stevia is approximately 100 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar, but it has no calories, carbohydrates, or artificial ingredients. Unlike other sugar substitutes, stevia is natural and has been used to sweeten drinks in South America and Asia for many years. It is available in both powder and liquid form in most retail outlets, and you will likely find it next to the sugar dispenser at your local coffee shop. The majority of diet sodas and flavored waters are now sweetened with stevia.
Monk fruit sweeteners and sugar are made from the extract of the monk fruit, which is native to China and has been used for centuries in Eastern medicine. It is calorie-free and 100-250 times sweeter than sugar. Monk fruit extracts are used in some major brands of sugar substitutes such as Monk Fruit in the Raw, SweetLeat, Whole Earth, Wholesome, and Splenda, one of the most popular sugar substitutes in the United States.
At 22 calories per teaspoon, honey has slightly more calories than sugar, though it has a slightly lower glycemic index, which means it doesn’t affect your blood sugar levels as much as sugar does. Honey does have more health benefits than sugar, given its potential antioxidant, antibacterial, and antifungal properties. It also contains trace amounts of several vitamins and essential minerals.
Some consider maple syrup to be a nectar of the gods, and if you’ve ever been to Vermont during peak maple syrup season (late February to early April), you’ll understand why. There are few things in nature as sweet as golden brown maple syrup, especially on your favorite pancakes, waffles, and French toast. It’s made from the sap of a sugar or black maple tree. There are people who choose to cook with maple syrup over sugar. Substitute ¾ of a cup of maple syrup for every cup of granulated sugar. You’ll also have to decrease the liquid in your recipe by 2-4 tablespoons for each cup of syrup used. Add ¼ to ½ teaspoon baking soda, decrease your oven temperature by 25 degrees and you’re all set.
Date sugar is simply ground, dried dates. It is found mostly in health food stores as it’s much less processed than conventional sugars. If you want to use it for cooking, it can replace white sugar cup for cup.
Coconut sugar has the same number of calories as any other sugar, refined or not. If you like the taste and it works in your recipe, use it on a 1:1 ratio to replace white sugar.
While it has a lower glycemic index than most sweeteners (including sugar), agave syrup is much higher in fructose than sugar or any other sugar substitute. The agave plant itself may support immune function and have prebiotic-like properties. As a sweetener, an animal study suggests there could be some potential health benefits, however a more recent in vitro study suggests potential negative effects in humans due to the high fructose content. Additional human studies are needed to fully understand the impact on health.
Molasses is the dense, dark, sweet, syrupy byproduct made during the extraction of sugars from sugarcane and sugar beets. In comparison to other cane sugar sources, molasses was the richest source of antioxidants called phenolic acids. It was a very popular sweetener in the US during the early 20th century, though today it’s typically used in holiday baked goods like gingerbread, barbecue sauce, and baked beans. When substituting molasses for sugar, use an equal 1:1 ratio. Blackstrap (very dark) molasses can turn bitter if cooked, so use it for savory recipes.
Aspartame is a low-calorie sweetener that has been used for decades as a sugar substitute. It is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar. There have been many rumors about its safety and, as a result, it has been studied extensively. The FDA has determined that it is safe for the general population under certain conditions. This 2017 review found that aspartame may negatively impact the antioxidant/oxidant balance but more research is needed.
Sucralose is one of the most widely used artificial sweeteners in the US. It is used in more than 6,000 food products. It can be found in many diet sodas, flavored waters, diet products, and other low-calorie foods and drinks. It is 600 times sweeter than sugar and contains no calories. Recent reviews show that this is a safe sweetener to use.
Saccharin is a no-calorie artificial sweetener with no nutritional value. It is 300-400 times sweeter than sugar and commonly used to replace it. In the 1970s there were numerous claims that saccharin was not safe for human consumption, but the FDA declared that it is safe for use.
Neotame is a sweetener made of two amino acids called phenylalanine and aspartic acid. Neotame is 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar. It has no nutritive value and may negatively impact gut health. However it is rarely used.
Erythritol is an alternative sweetener that is natural, has almost no calories, 70% of the sweetness of sugar, tastes just like sugar, and doesn’t raise blood sugar or insulin levels. It appears to be safe, though more research is needed.
There is no one best sugar substitute for baking. It is really a matter of what your objectives are as well as your personal preference. If you are going for natural sweeteners, maple syrup and honey are popular, but both are high in sugar. If you are looking at alternative sweeteners, aspartame, monk fruit, sucralose, sacchrin, and Stevia are the most popular products, but it depends on what you’re looking for and your taste preferences.
Personal preference is what determines the best sugar substitute for coffee or tea. Every counter at every coffee shop seems to offer an array of sugar substitutes. Find the one that best suits your needs and taste buds.
The best sugar substitutes for cooking will depend upon what you are cooking and what your objectives with eliminating sugar are. If it’s for more natural sugars, everything from fruit to blackstrap molasses have been successfully used for a long time. If it’s sugar content you’re avoiding, there are a number of artificial sweeteners that are easily incorporated into any recipe, some on a 1:1 ratio with sugar, making the substitution easier.
One of the most important factors is likely flavor. No sugar substitute, be it natural or artificial, will capture the exact taste or consistency of granulated sugar. Through trial and error you can find the one that best suits your taste. If calories are important, you are more likely to avoid the high-calorie, high-sugar content of honey, maple syrup, and some fruit, opting for artificial products with low or no calories. Be mindful, however, that some of the artificial sweeteners may have little to no nutritional value.