Sugar Alternatives: Everything you need to know

Sugar is one of the most commonly used ingredients in the food and beverage industry. However, the consumption of high amounts of sugar has been linked to several health problems, including obesity, diabetes, and heart diseases.

Artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, and natural sweeteners are alternatives that are often used in place of sugar to reduce caloric intake and prevent these health problems.

But what are the actual difference between all of these the sugar alternatives? Let's take a look!

Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols are a type of carbohydrate that occurs naturally in some fruits and vegetables but are also produced using a chemical process. These sugar alternatives are often used in sugar-free gum and candies, because it provides a sweet taste without increasing blood sugar levels. Some of the most well-known and commonly used sugar alcohols are xylitol and erythritol.


NOW Foods Xylitol 1 lb

Xylitol is extracted from hardwood trees or corncobs. The latter are a preferred source for xylitol, since it is a more sustainable and environmentally friendly source. Xylitol contains 2.4 calories per gram, ranks seven on the glycemic scale and has the same level of sweetness as regular table sugar.


NOW Foods Erythritol 1 lb

Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that is naturally found in fruits such as cantaloupe and grapes. It is also a natural byproduct of the fermentation of bacteria in our digestive system. Erythritol contains 0.2 calories per gram, is known to cause less digestive distress than Xylitol (that is infamous for its gastrointestinal side effects such as gas, bloating, diarrhea and digestive stress), has a lower glycemic index than Xylitol and is 100% as sweet as regular table sugar.

Advantages of Sugar Alcohols:

  • Low in calories
  • Do not raise blood sugar levels like honey and maple syrup.
  • Can improve dental health by reducing the risk of cavities

Disadvantages of Sugar Alcohols:

  • Can cause digestive issues such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea
  • May have a cooling effect in the mouth
  • Large amounts can lead to digestive upsets

Natural Sweeteners

Natural sweeteners such as honeys, date sugar, maple syrup, coconut sugar, and agave syrup are all derived from natural sources such as fruits and vegetables. These are often considered healthier alternatives to sugar since they are less processed and contain a substantial amount of vitamins and minerals.


Edible naturals Honey

WOHO 100% Pure Creamed Raw Honey with Lemon 8oz (226g)

Edible Naturals Creamed Honey despite its name, contains no cream or any dairy products. It has, however, been subjected to a process that prevents it from crystalizing. Crystallization, however, does not spoil honey nor change its flavor and elemental chemical composition, but it makes honey less pliable and hard to spread and mix with other ingredients. Creamed honey is the perfect natural sweetener in drinks and baking and it’s even better as a spread on toast, crackers and other treats.

Manuka Honey

Now Foods Manuka Honey

Manuka Honey originates from certain parts of Australia and New Zealand and is produced by bees that pollinate the flowers of the manuka bush. It's classified as a monofloral honey, since it is made from the nectar of only one kind of flower, as opposed to traditional honey which is known as polyfloral honey, where the nectar comes from a variety of different flowers.

Manuka honey has antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties which exceed that of other forms of honey. It has been shown to heal wounds, soothe sore throats, prevent tooth decay, help treat acne and even prevent ulcers.


Stevia is an herbal plant that has been used not only for medicinal purposes, but also in cooking for thousands of years. Stevia sweeteners are popular no-calorie sugar-alternatives produced by extracting steviol glycosides from the leaves of the stevia plant and are considered to be 200-350 times sweeter than sugar.

These sweeteners come in a range of different forms and flavors and is considered to be a good sugar-alternative to be used in baked goods since it remains stable at high temperatures.

Image of liquid stevia sweetener

Monk fruit

Monk fruit is a small round fruit native to southern China. It is used as a remedy for colds and digestion issues in traditional medicine for centuries already and over the last couple of years, monk fruit extracts have become increasingly popular as a sugar-alternative. Often used as a sweetener in packaged foods and beverages, monk fruit sweeteners are considered no-calorie sweeteners and taste about 250-300 times sweeter than regular sugar, making it a great solution for lowering your blood sugar, while still being able to satisfy your sweet tooth!

Date Sugar

NOW Foods Date Sugar Organic 1 lb

Date sugar is made from dried, ground dates and is significantly healthier than refined white cane sugar. It has a lower glycemic-index value than honey and coconut palm sugar and it’s the sweetener that is highest in antioxidants. Date sugar is rich in minerals and fiber and makes a great sugar replacement in baked goods.

Maple Syrup

NOW Foods Maple Syrup Organic Grade A Dark Color 16 oz

Maple syrup is a natural sweetener that has a caramel-like, nutty flavor and is obtained by boiling the sap from maple trees. The water content is then reduced until a solid sugar forms. It is a good replacement for both white and brown sugar and since it's naturally sweeter, you don't have to use as much to achieve the same level of sweetness in your cooking.

Coconut Sugar

NOW Foods Coconut Sugar Organic 16 oz

Coconut sugar is a healthier option than regular table sugar and is produced by means of dehydrating the sap of the coconut palm of which a significant amount of the nutrients such as iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, polyphenols and antioxidants are then retained in the sugar.

But be warned, even though coconut sugar may be a healthier alternative to cane sugar and tastes fantastic in baking, it remains high in calories.

Agave syrup

NOW Foods Agave Nectar Amber & Organic 23.28 oz

Agave syrup is a sweet, golden brown liquid that is derived from the sap of a cactus plant native to Mexico, called Agave and is often used as an alternative to sugar, honey or maple syrup.

With a glycemic-index of only 15 and 63 calories per 1tbsp serving, agave syrup is great for baking! It's approximately one-and-a-half times sweeter than regular sugar, allowing you to achieve the same level of sweetness whilst using less of the ingredient.

Advantages of Natural Sweeteners:

  • Less processed and more nutrients
  • Can provide health benefits such as boosting the immune system and reducing inflammation
  • Lower glycemic index than sugar

Disadvantages of Natural Sweeteners:

  • Some natural sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup are high in calories
  • Some natural sweeteners can still raise blood sugar levels
  • Some natural sweeteners may have a strong flavor that can be overpowering in some recipes

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are synthetic compounds that are designed to mimic the taste of sugar without providing calories. They are commonly used in low-calorie or sugar-free products and are often added to foods like soda, candy, and desserts. Some of the commonly used artificial sweeteners include aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin. According to the Mayo Clinic, certain studies suggests a link between regular long-term use of artificial sweeteners and a higher risk of stroke and heart disease among other things. However, it is noted that this increased risk may also be caused by the lack of a healthy lifestyle.

Advantages of Artificial Sweeteners:

  • Low in calories
  • Do not raise blood sugar levels
  • Can be used in a wide range of foods and drinks

Disadvantages of Artificial Sweeteners:

  • May have a bitter or metallic aftertaste
  • May cause headaches or other adverse effects in some people
  • Long-term effects on health are potentially harmful and not well understood

Choose the right sugar-replacement for your needs!

Choosing the right sweetener depends on your personal taste preferences, dietary restrictions, and health goals. Sugar alcohols are good options for those who want to reduce caloric intake and prevent blood sugar spikes, while natural sweeteners are a good option for those who want to avoid processed sweeteners and gain additional nutrients.

As with any food, it is important to consume sweeteners in moderation and consult a healthcare professional if you have any concerns about the use thereof. It's also important to read food labels carefully and be aware of the sweeteners used in the products you consume. By making informed choices about sweeteners, you can enjoy the taste of sweetness while maintaining a healthy and balanced diet.

Artificial sweetenersNatural sweetenersSugar alcohols