Sugar is everywhere, and it’s no secret that too much of it can have a negative impact on your health. With more than 100 million Americans living with diabetes, watching how much added sugar is in one’s diet has become a vital part of many people’s lives. One reason for this is that managing blood glucose levels can help reduce the risk of potential complications.
Luckily for individuals with diabetes who want to keep their blood sugar levels controlled, or anyone who wants to watch their sugar intake, there are several natural sugar substitutes or non-nutritive sweeteners, that can replace table sugar (sucrose) and added sugars.
Below we’ve outlined 5 sugar substitute reccomendations that can act as a sweetener to enhance the taste of your food while you try to maintain optimal blood sugar levels. However, if you have any questions or concerns, it’s always a good idea to discuss alternative options with a registered dietitian or your healthcare provider first. Read on or skip to our sugar substitute printables to see how you can use these alternative sweeteners in your kitchen.
Fruits offer plenty of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants—and can make a great natural sweetener, too. Since fruits are also high in fiber, they are better for digestion, can slow blood sugar response, and keep you feeling full longer.
When using fruit as an alternative to sugar, it’s best to use whole fruits that are unprocessed and not sweetened with added sugar. If you have diabetes or you’re prediabetic, aim to use high fiber fruits such as blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, apples, cantaloupe, and pears.
Be wary of fruit juices. Experts suggest that in the process of juicing, beneficial fibers are broken down and mostly lost when consumed in liquid form. The loss of dietary fiber in juices means that they can be absorbed more rapidly, thus likely producing a high blood sugar response.
Recipe tip: Substitute sugar by blending fruit into batters and doughs to sweeten breads, cookies, muffins, and pancakes.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol extracted from corn or birch wood, and found in many fruits and vegetables. Xylitol is a great substitute for sugar as it has a sweetness similar to sugar, but without the sucrose.
Note that consumption of sugar alcohols may cause gas, so should you experience excess gas you may want to switch to a different sugar substitute.
Recipe tip: Xylitol has a tendency to absorb moisture when used in cooking. To prevent your recipes from drying out, aim to remove food a bit early from the oven and eat baked goods soon after making them.
Stevia is a plant-based sweetener extracted from the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana, a South American shrub commonly known as candyleaf. Like the name candyleaf suggests, stevia’s sweet compounds are 200–350 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar), so typically you don’t have to use as much as table sugar in cooking to generate a sweet flavor.
In fact, a sweet compound in stevia called stevioside in clinical studies has been shown to lower blood pressure, blood sugar, and insulin levels.
Recipe tip: Stevia can serve as a great sugar substitute to sweeten drinks like lemonade, tea, or even cocktails. Find several recipes using stevia as a substitute for sugar here.
Erythritol is another sugar alcohol that is safe for people with diabetes. Erythritol is naturally found in foods like grapes, peaches, watermelons, and mushrooms. It’s also made during the fermentation process of wine, beer, and cheese. Similar to xylitol, consumption of sugar alcohols may cause gas, so should you experience excess gas you may want to switch to a different sugar substitute.
Recipe tip: Like xylitol, erythritol tends to absorb moisture when used in cooking or baking as a sugar substitute, so it’s best to remove food from the heat source slightly earlier than the recipe suggests to avoid drying out your creation.
Monk fruit extract, also known as luo han guo, is native to the forests of southern China. Monk fruit is a great alternative to sugar as it contains zero calories and is 100–250 times sweeter than sugar.
Monk fruit extract is often mixed with other sweeteners, especially in beverages, so be sure to read the label before choosing any monk-fruit containing product.
Recipe tip: Monk fruit extract is heat stable, so consider using it to replace sugar while cooking or baking. This sweeter also works well for sauces, dressings, and beverages.
We’ve created printable recipe cards (above) that you can download and print out to make your own delicious recipes using your favorite natural sugar substitutes.
While sugar substitutes can often be great alternatives to sugar when baking, they often can’t be interchanged on a 1:1 basis. Finding the right measurements for your recipe can be a challenge as you have to account for different textures, quantities, and moisture levels. Below we’ve shared printable kitchen signs that you can hang in your kitchen to use as a resource and for inspiration as you bake and cook.
Important note: The below measurements are general suggestions. If you have any questions about sugar substitutes and your body, consult with a registered dietitian or healthcare provider.
Whole Fruit: 1 cup sugar = ¾ cup of fruit concentrate, or whole fruits to taste Stevia: 1 cup sugar = 1 tsp stevia Erythritol: 1 cup sugar = 1 ⅓ cup erythritol Monk Fruit: 1 cup sugar = ⅓ cup monk fruit sweetener Xylitol: 1 cup sugar = 1 cup xylitol
If you have a sweet tooth, sugar substitutes can be a reasonable alternative to table sugar and refined or processed sugars. If you have diabetes and would like to consider incorporating sugar substitutes into your diet, remember that too much of a non-nutritive sweetener may cause unfavorable symptoms like gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
The consumption of added sugars in the United States continues to be above the recommended level of total energy intake (which is currently 10%, and may soon be even lower following implementation of recommendations by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee for the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans) ranging between 14–17% of an individual's total energy. The availability of added sugars and sugar-sweetened foods as well as the frequent consumption of these foods can pose serious health risks. Cutting down on added sugars, either by using non-nutritive sweeteners or avoidance, may help reduce the health risks posed by eating too much added sugar.
Unsure how controlled your blood sugar levels are? Consider taking an at-home lab test to monitor your three-month average blood sugar levels or consult with a registered dietitian or your healthcare provider for individualized dietary advice.