Anyone who pays even the slightest bit of attention to the constantly growing science of nutrition will know that eating too much sugar is incredibly bad for you. Eating too much sugar can cause much more than weight gain; it has been linked to heart disease, kidney disease, liver failure, and of course diabetes. And it has wormed its way into almost every part of our diets.
Cutting out sugar won’t be easy—especially since research has shown that sugar addiction is as real as drug addiction—but it is possible, even if you have a massive sweet tooth. There are dozens of natural sweeteners. Many even have significantly more flavor than sugar, and soon enough you might be wondering why you ever liked sugar at all.
Switch to one of the following sugar alternatives for some guilt-free sweetness.
1. Coconut Sugar
Coconut sugar tastes a lot like regular brown sugar, but it’s a lot better for you. It retains many of the nutrients found in coconuts (which are nutritional powerhouses, in case you didn’t know), including potassium, zinc, and magnesium. It does contain glucose and fructose, but both are in low enough concentrations to be safe for diabetics.
You’ll want to use 1 cup of coconut sugar for every cup of regular sugar you would use in a specific recipe. In recipes that use melted liquids or semi-liquids like oil, give the coconut sugar a full five minutes to dissolve.
2. Agave Nectar
Once considered sacred by the Aztecs, Agave syrup is so sweet you only need to use 1/3 cup for every cup of sugar you would normally use. It is very similar to honey in both taste and health benefits. It’s even been used as an antiseptic because it features the same anti-microbial properties as honey.
You can use agave as a sugar substitute in drinks and baked goods. When baking with agave, reduce the oven temperature by 25º. You will also want to reduce the amount of other liquid ingredients or add a little bit of extra starch to balance the agave syrup.
3. Brown Rice Syrup
This thick, sugary syrup has almost none of the nutrients found in brown rice, but it also lacks fructose, the main killer in regular sugar. If used sparingly, it can be a healthier alternative to sugar.
In recipes that call for a liquid sweetener, substitute brown rice syrup with a 1:1 ratio. If your recipe requires regular sugar, add an extra ¼ cup of brown rice syrup for every 1 cup of sugar.
4. Barley Malt Extract
Barley malt extract is a dark syrup with a consistency similar to molasses. It contains high concentrations of protein and iron, as well as small amounts of calcium and vitamins A and C.
Many bread recipes already call for barley malt extract as too much sugar is bad for the bread. You can also use it for pizza dough and a variety of baked desserts, including pecan pie.
People have been keeping honey bees in hives since ancient Egypt for a reason. It’s a delicious sweetener that actually helps regulate blood sugar, it forms a protective film over your throat that relieves pain, and it can even be used to treat wounds thanks to its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.
Everybody knows honey is a great substitute for sugar in drinks like tea and coffee, but you can also substitute honey for sugar in almost any baking recipe. Typically you’ll want to use 1/3 or 2/3 cups of honey for every full cup of sugar used in a recipe.
6. Maple Syrup
Maple syrup has one of the most distinctive flavors of any sweetener on this list, and it also contains a surprising amount of nutrients, including an impressive amount of magnesium and zinc. Make sure you always buy pure maple syrup, as the cheaper maple-flavored syrups are full of refined sugars.
Lighter maple syrups are intended to be used directly on pancakes or waffles, whereas darker maple syrups can serve as a sugar substitute in baking. You should use a ¾ cup of maple syrup for every cup of sugar in the recipe you’re working with.
Stevia is one of the most well known alternatives to sugar, and with good reason. It has been shown to reduce blood sugar in diabetics and it also relieves high blood pressure. This makes it one of the healthiest alternatives to sugar, if not the healthiest alternative.
Stevia is also much sweeter than sugar, so you will want to use ½ a teaspoon of stevia extract powder for every cup of sugar in recipes. You can use stevia in any recipe that calls for sugar.
Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that doesn’t spike insulin or blood sugar levels. It also has no effect on triglycerides or other biological markers. On the other hand, it also contains no nutrients, so it’s not really good for you, but it’s not bad for you either—and the taste is much closer to regular sugar than other sweeteners.
You can use erythritol in virtually any recipe that calls for sugar, replacing the sugar at a 1:1 ratio.
Like erythritol, xylitol is a sugar alcohol that doesn’t spike insulin or blood sugar levels. It also may help prevent osteoporosis and tooth decay. This makes it a little healthier than erythritol and much healthier than regular sugar.
You can use xylitol to replace sugar in any recipe, at a ratio of 1:1. Many people recommend combining xylitol with another sweetener such as stevia, as this brings out the best flavors of each sweetener.
10. Yacon Syrup
Extracted from the roots of the Yacon plant in the Andes of South America, yacon syrup has recently become popular as a weight loss supplement. This sweet syrup is extremely high in fiber, so it can help with constipation, but it can also create diarrhea if eaten in large quantities.
You can’t replace sugar with yacon syrup completely, but there are several yacon syrup recipes you can enjoy as healthy alternatives to your regular desserts.
Quitting sugar isn’t going to be easy, but you can make it a lot simpler—and sweeter—by bringing some of these alternatives into your life. You can even make it fun by trying them all and experimenting with different recipes. And even if you don’t quit sugar completely, switching to these sweeteners some of the time will make a huge difference in your health.