Question

What is a good substitute for sugar? A sugar substitute that tastes more like regular white sugar?

Malik

Answer

The best source of sugar are fruits, whether these are fresh, frozen, or dried, and not juiced or processed in any other ways. When we eat whole plant foods like this in their fully natural form, we never have to worry about any sugar problems that are associated with weight problems, oral health problems, or blood glucose problems. However, this will not suffice for many people who wish to have some kind of a sweetener in their diet or one they can add to their meals, snacks, or drinks. The truth is that unless a person removes all isolated food forms and follows a strict whole food, plant-based diet, they are bound to want some sweetener in their diet. This is where we can most definitely choose the best of the worst and go for sugar options that carry much less health risks and some that even offer some marginal benefits.

Here are the top choices for healthier sugar substitutes that taste pleasantly sweet, similar to sugar:

Dry (granulated sugars):

The following dry, granulated sugars will be the closest replacement for white granulated sugar, where flavor and texture is concerned.

  • Raw cane sugar: Natural, unrefined cane sugar is made from sugar cane, while conventional white granulated sugar may be made from either sugar cane or sugar beets. Over half of all sugar produced in the United States comes from sugar beets, and over 95% of these sugar beets come from genetically modified crops. The same scenario applies to Canadian sugar. Therefore, if someone is health conscious, but chooses to use sugar, the very first step is to swap all conventional sugar for the original cane sugar in its raw form. There are many variations of this sugar, like evaporated cane juice and turbinado sugar, and it is recommended to go for the least processed and highest and purest quality you can source.

  • Coconut sugar: This sugar is made from the sap or nectar of the coconut palm tree flower and sometimes referred to as palm sugar. The chemical composition of coconut sugar includes various carbohydrates, amino acids, and trace amounts of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It has a unique creamy, caramel sweetness and its granulated form mimics conventional sugar, such that you can replace it for white sugar in a 1 to 1 ratio. Although coconut sugar is more widely available today in many parts of the world, it is most abundant throughout Asia.

  • Xylitol: This is a sugar alcohol that looks and tastes just like white sugar, and can also easily replace white sugar in a 1 to 1 ratio. What differentiates it completely is that it does not digest like sugar or hurt the body, from mouth to individual cells, like sugar. In fact, xylitol has been shown to be protective against dental decay, namely because it prevents bacteria from sticking to the teeth. Being a sugar alcohol, its most known downside is that large doses of xylitol can cause digestive upset, namely diarrhea and gas, in some people.
  • Date Sugar: This would be the best option out of all of the choices in this section. When pure and true to its name, date sugar is just finely chopped or ground dry dates. This means you are eating a whole food and not a processed, refined, or isolated sweetener of any kind. The only thing better is to eat the whole dates themselves and let your mouth do the chewing. Date sugar can be easily made at home, and dates can also be blended to make a date paste (without water) or syrup (with water). The only downside is that it will not serve as a perfect substitute for those who need an exact replacement for white sugar in certain recipes, but this is a great opportunity to make new and healthier versions of any such recipes.

Liquid sugars:

  • Maple syrup: When pure and of a high quality, this is a good natural sweetener choice. The chemical composition of maple syrup includes various carbohydrates, acids, and trace amounts of minerals. It offers a unique and pleasant sweet flavor, however it is not widely available all over the world. Its presence is mostly concentrated to North America and parts of northern Europe, and thus it will not be a practical or economical choice for many in other parts of the world.
  • Raw honey: Honey is the most natural sweetener that is created by nature and is not actually pure sugar. Its chemical composition includes various carbohydrates, amino acids, other acids, enzymes, and trace amounts of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. If a person does not follow a strict vegan diet, which excludes the use of honey, they may consider some raw honey assuming that it is actually raw and never used in its heated form (i.e. for baking/cooking), which destroys its benefits. Otherwise, most commercial honey is just liquid sugar due to the level of processing honey undergoes, which makes it devoid of raw honey’s health and medicinal benefits. Be sure to source pure, high quality products that are truly raw and not processed, and aim to treat honey more like a medicine, than a food.

Other Options

  • Agave Syrup: This liquid sweetener is generally not recommended due to its extremely high fructose content and processing concerns. If it is truly pure, to the point that it is prepared traditionally, and the fructose is not a health concern, it can be considered as an option for occasional use. However, since agave’s rise to popularity it is hard to find a really good, high quality product. Most commercial agave is highly processed, which makes it no better than sugar.

  • Brown Rice Syrup: As its name implies, this liquid sweetener is made from brown rice and contains complex carbohydrates, not just simple sugars, making it a healthier option for slower digestion and release of sugar. It also contains some minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. However, its flavor is much less sweet than any other sweetener and most people will not enjoy it or find it to be a suitable replacement for sugar. The best use for it is to add it to a cooked grain bowl, like oatmeal, if needed.
  • Stevia: When in its pure form, and not a processed product like Truvia and similar derivatives, it can be considered a healthier sweetener option. However, given that it tastes and acts quite different than sugar, it will not be a likely option for most people who want a versatile white sugar substitute.

Final Tips

Whatever sugar or sweetener you choose, try to get an organic version of it if possible, which will further increase its benefits and offer a higher quality product and reduce any risks associated with it, like GMO and pesticide risks.

Also, keep in mind that there is no isolated or extracted sugar that is ideal to be used regularly, frequently, or in high doses. The whole point of an optimally healthy lifestyle is to reduce your reliance on such sugars and sweeteners as much as possible.

  1. Article: Sugar Wars — Are Any Natural Sweeteners Healthy For Us?

  2. Article: Cravings — When Sugar Calls do You Come Running?

  3. Article: Healthy Effects of Sugar on Your Body

  4. Article: Quick Guide to Artificial Sweeteners and Sugar Substitutes

  5. Interview Article: Sugar Controversies and Natural Sweetener Problems with Dr. Scott Olson

  6. Book Review: Sugarettes — Sugar Addiction and Your Health

  7. Radio episode: Supplements, Sugar, and Healthy Holiday Eating

Other Resources

  1. Film: Fed Up — The film the food industry doesn’t want you to see; from Katie Couric and Laurie David (the Oscar-winning producer of An Inconvenient Truth), Fed Up will change the way you eat forever.

  2. Film: That Sugar Film — In the vein of “Supersize Me”, Damon Gameau becomes a human guinea-pig when he puts himself through a grueling 6 week diet consuming the equivalent of 40 teaspoons of sugar a day.

  3. Cookbook: Bake with Dates — Features 118 sugar-free recipes that are all vegan—free of animal products like butter, eggs and milk—normally found in baked goods. These recipes use dates, whole grains, nuts and other natural ingredients to produce healthy, nutritious food your whole family will enjoy.

  4. Cookbook: Naturally Sweet Vegan Treats — Satisfy your sweet tooth the healthy way with these delicious plant-based treats free from refined sugar and artificial sweeteners. Each recipe is sweetened with natural alternatives like nuts, coconut, spices, vegetables, fruit, maple syrup and coconut sugar, so you can indulge without worrying about unhealthy, chemical additives.

  5. Cookbook: Vegan Treats — 100 Easy Vegan Bites and Bakes — Features recipes for sweet vegan treats that are easy to make, deliciously decadent and use natural, inexpensive ingredients that will transform any plant-based diet, satisfying all and every possible sweet tooth craving.

  6. Cookbook: The Best Sugar-Free Vegan Cookbook Ever — Features 60+ recipes with gluten-free options, soy-free, nut-free options, and spice tips for satisfying meals even the pickiest eaters will love.