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Capstone: ‘Healthy’ Sugar Substitutes

Healthy’ Sugar Substitutes

Sugar can be found in almost anything. It is one of the most commonly used ingredients in the baking industry. Sugar substitutes are used for a plethora of reasons form diabetes, pre-diabetes, health concerns, dietary restrictions, etc. With substitutes on the rise, and people trying to consume less white sugar, aspartame, and other artificial sweeteners, what kinds of healthier sugars can be used as a substitute?

Sugar is just crystallized sucrose that is found, and taken from sugar cane & sugar beets. Once the sucrose has been extracted, it is boiled down so as to discard the moisture content. After, the moisture has evaporated, the crystallization of the sucrose begins. (Moncel, 2015)
Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that contains glucose, galactose, & fructose. (“Why your body needs sugar”, 2015)
Being hygroscopic, sugar attracts moisture to itself, and thus allowing the product it was used in to keep it’s moisture. (Moncel, 2015)

Researchers say that we should limit ourselves to no more than 8 tablespoons (120g) of sugar per day, but on average we ingest more than half a cup. There are many reasons why ingesting a lot of sugar is bad for you. It can cause hyperactivity, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, obesity, build up/enlargement of kidney stones, headaches, depression, instability emotionally, increased insulin levels, gingivitis, cavities, & high blood pressure. It can also cause diabetes, and a weaker immune system, among other. A body with a weaker immune system is more at risk of contracting an illness, or infection. (Carter, 2015)

Though some may disagree, some ‘healthy’ substitutes to refined white sugar are as follows.


Maple Syrup


It’s made from the boiled sap of maple trees. It contains a few different minerals, such as potassium, calcium, zinc, & magnesium. An wide array of antioxidants can also be found in Maple Syrup, some of these antioxidants may even help prevent cancer. (Eckelkamp, Hyde, Shwide-Salvin, 2015) However, similar to other liquid sweeteners, such as honey, it cannot be used in recipes that use the creaming method. It is best used in products such as caramels, different types of ice creams, candies, and puddings. Maple syrup is much sweeter than refined honey, and so less can be used to achieve the same sweetness as you would obtain by using refined white sugar. Maple syrup can be mixed with other sugars such as molasses, or barley malt syrup. (Chang, Sever, & Billow, 2015)
Maple sugar (evaporated maple syrup) can be used as a direct substitute (1:1) to granulated sugar. (Chang et al., 2015)


Raw Honey


Honeybees collect nectar from flowers, and bring it back to their hive where they put it in to honeycombs. Once the water has evaporated, it is honey. Raw honey naturally contains enzymes, antioxidants, minerals, and even some vitamins. after honey has been pasteurized, and strained, it loses most of it’s qualities. (Eckelkamp et al., 2015)
There are an incredible amount of types to choose from, from bees, to clovers to buckwheat. (Chang et al., 2015) Chang & Sever also say,
You can’t use honey in any recipe that requires creaming (the process of beating together softened butter and sugar). Granulated sugar crystals contain sharp edges that slice through the butter, creating air pockets that expand when heated, contributing to a lofty, risen pastry. Honey doesn’t create those air pockets, and it results in a denser baked good. It makes a softer product, but dries out quicker than baked goods made with sugar. It’s also more expensive than refined white sugar. (Chang & Sever,

Honey is best used in moist, soft cakes, quick breads, puddings, gelato, & all sorts of ice creams.(Chang et al., 2015)


Black Strap Molasses


After all the sugar crystals are released that can be released when processing cane sugar, what is produced is blackstrap molasses. It is full of all sorts of good things such as minerals, nutrients, and vitamins that are greater in amount than other types of sweeteners. (Eckelkamp et al., 2015)


Barley Malt Syrup


Barley Malt Syrup is made by cooking barley malt that has sprouted. It has a lower GI (glycemic index) like a few other substitutes, and also contains an excellent amount of fiber. It isn’t as sweet as honey, and should be used carefully as it can also be used to cure constipation. However it is on the pricier side being 7 times more than the price of regular white sugar. (Barley Malt Syrup, http://www.sugar-and-sweetener-guide.com/contact-page.html)

Date Sugar


Made from ground up dates. It’s not as sweet as other sweeteners, but still has some nutrients from the date when it was whole. It contains small amounts of nutrients, fiber, and minerals. (Eckelkamp et al., 2015)


Coconut Sugar

Made from dehydrated boiled coconut palm sap. Some antioxidants, a bit of iron, and some zinc. (Eckelkamp et al., 2015) I’ve tried some before, and it wasn’t as sweet as sugar.


Sucanat is an acronym for Sugar Cane Natural. Sucanat is made buy heating, and drying sugar cane juice once it has been extracted from fresh sugar cane. (Eckelkamp et al., 2015)

Turbinado Sugars


Turbinado sugars are the “sugar in the raw” sugars. They are made by oscillating the sugar in a turbine. The sugar looks similar to brown sugar, except that it is lighter, & has a light flavor of molasses. it contains some nutrients, & minerals. More moist than both white, & brown sugar, it can be used in quick breads, but can’t be used if the recipe calls for other ingredients with other highly moist ingredients. Can also be used for crème caramel as is caramels well. Used in pie crusts, and as a topping. (Gabrielle, http://www.enkivillage.com/turbinado-sugar.html) Hamilton agrees, and says the same thing.
The way turbinado sugar made is very similar to Sucanat, except that turbinado sugars are what is left after the sugar cane juice has lost most of it’s molasses, and other small amounts of nutrients. (Eckelkamp et al., 2015)



Liquid Stevia

Stevia is extracted from compounds found in the stevia plant. It is praised for being a zero calorie sweetener, but is also highly purified. (Eckelkamp et al., 2015) Eckelkamp says that stevia tastes sweet, approximately 200 times sweeter than regular white sugar, but has a bitter after taste. However, I disagree with this. Recently, I found out that my dad had bought some liquid stevia, to use as a sweetener in his Rooibos tea at work. Naturally, had to try some. I tried a bit straight, and it definitely wasn’t my favourite. I thought it tasted bitter, gross, and generally unpleasant. Later, I found out that he doesn’t’t like the taste either. I have heard that the leaves of the stevia plant are sweet, and can be eaten by itself. I’m sure like with everything, different brands may differ in taste even when comparing the same item. Stevia also comes in a powdered form. Our body cannot metabolize stevia, so it just excretes it. Because it is just excreted, it does not affect blood sugar. (Eckelkamp et al., 2015)

Apple Sauce



When my brother was much younger, and on a more restricted my dad used to make oatmeal raisin cookies (by only using a wooden spoon to stir), that were only sweetened with apple sauce. They were flat, kind of chewy, not crispy at all, but still tasted good. Unsweetened apple sauce is good, but even better is homemade apple sauce.



The only real substitute to sugar, not refined, processed, or purified in anyway. Some fruit store bought fruit may be a product of genetic modification, so home grown fruit is the only solution.
Sorghum Syrup


Sorghum syrup also known as (Sorghum molasses), is made from the sorghum plant. When the juice is removed from the sorghum plant, it is green. It is then heated, and kept, the following day it is cooked. While cooking, the liquid thickens into the syrup. (Yancey, 2015)

Muscavado Sugar


Muscavado sugar is made from sugar cane but retains a lot of its molasses. It also holds a lot of vitamins, such as vitamin A, C, B1, B2, B3, B5, and B6. It also contains nutrients, and antioxidants, amongst other good things. (Levine, 2015)



Rapadura is the pure juice extracted from the sugar cane (using a press), which is then evaporated over low heats, whilst being stirred with paddles, then sieve ground to produce a grainy sugar. It has not been cooked at high heats, and spun to change it into crystals, and the molasses has not been separated from the sugar. It is produced organically, and does not contain chemicals or anti-caking agents. (Whitton, 2009 para. 2)

Not so ‘healthy’ sugar substitutes

Not all sugar substitutes are created equal. They may seem healthy but upon further research, they turn out to be quite the opposite of ‘healthy’. In fact, some are actually worse than regular white sugar.
Brown Rice Syrup


Made by way of sprouting, drying, then roasting barley grains. It has an intense flavour, and like molasses is good for gingerbread, cookies etc. It also works well when paired with other sweeteners such as maple syrup, or molasses. It can be used as a direct substitute to corn syrup since they very similar. it is less sweet than honey, and can be used when making products that involve using the creaming method. Since it is less sweet than honey, it can also be used as a substitute for honey, or maple syrup. (Chang et al., 2015)


Agave Plant, Erika Mellado, National Polytechnic Institute, Guanajuato, Mexico

Agave has been said to be a healthy sugar substitute, but actually isn’t healthy at all. Agave is made from the sap of the blue agave plant that is then filtered, and heated. (Eckelkamp et al., 2015) This same plant is also used to make tequila. The liquid gotten from the agave plant is definitely not the same as what the final product sold in store is. Due to being highly processed, the agave completely loses any, and all nutritional properties it had prior to being heavily processed. (Leech, 2015) Agave is approximately 70-90% fructose, where as regular white sugar is approximately only 50% fructose. (Gunnars, 2015)

In conclusion, there are lots of sugar substitutes to choose from, some ‘healthier’ than others. With healthier living being emphasized more, and more it is important to choose the better sugar substitutes. I wouldn’t recommend choosing agave, or brown rice syrup since they are worse for you than regular refined white sugar. However I would recommend a substitute such as rapadura, apple sauce, honey, or maple syrup. Everything has it’s pros & cons, with a bit of research, what might seem to be a good substitute might turn out to be not as great as previously thought. As always everything in moderation, and if all fails, fresh fruit is always the best choice.


Barley Malt Syrup. (n.d.). Retrieved October 16, 2015, from http://www.sugar-and-sweetener-guide.com/barley-malt-syrup.html

Billow, R. (2015, March 12). (Almost) Sweet Like Candy: Your Guide To Baking With Sugar Alternatives. Retrieved October 16, 2015, from http://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/ingredients/article/baking-with-sugar-alternatives

Eckelkamp, S., Hyde, D., & Shwide-Slavin, C. (2015, February 21). The Ultimate Ranking Of The 9 Most Popular Natural Sweeteners. Retrieved October 17, 2015, from http://www.prevention.com/food/healthiest-natural-sweetners

Gunnars, K. (2013, December 2). 6 Healthy Sugars That Can Kill You. Retrieved October 16, 2015, from http://authoritynutrition.com/6-healthy-sugars-that-can-kill-you/

Hamilton, A. (2012, February 28). Turbinado Sugar & Sucanat | Better than Sugar? 5 Natural Sweeteners Demystified | TIME.com. Retrieved October 16, 2015, from http://healthland.time.com/2012/02/29/better-than-sugar-5-natural-sweeteners-demystified/

Leech, J. (2014, September 25). Agave Nectar: A Sweetener That is Even Worse Than Sugar. Retrieved October 16, 2015, from http://authoritynutrition.com/agave-nectar-is-even-worse-than-sugar/

Levine, B. (2012, June 30). Muscovado sugar is packed with “sweet nutrition” Retrieved October 16, 2015, from http://www.naturalhealth365.com/nutrition_news/real-sugar.html

Moncel, B. (n.d.). Back to the Sweetener Basics: What is White Sugar? Retrieved October 16, 2015, from http://foodreference.about.com/od/Sweeteners/a/What-Is-White-Sugar.htm

The Purpose of Sugar in Baking. (2011, June 26). Retrieved October 16, 2015, from http://carterkc88.hubpages.com/hub/the-purpose-of-sugar-in-baking

Turbinado Sugar. (n.d.). Retrieved October 16, 2015, from http://www.enkivillage.com/turbinado-sugar.html

Whitton, J. (2009, July 31). Rapadura? Panela? Sucanat? Muscavado? Turbinado? Organic Raw Sugar? – Quirky Cooking. Retrieved October 16, 2015, from http://www.quirkycooking.com.au/2009/07/rapadura-panela-sucanat-muscavado-turbinado-organic-raw-sugar/

Why your body needs sugar. (2013, October 10). Retrieved October 16, 2015, from http://www.health24.com/Diet-and-nutrition/Nutrition-basics/Why-your-body-needs-sugar-20131010

Yancey, J. (n.d.). What is Sorghum? | The Difference Between Sorghum and Molasses | Farm Flavor. Retrieved October 16, 2015, from http://www.farmflavor.com/what-is-sorghum/

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