Healthy sugar substitutes: How to cut the sugar in your food

If you're trying to cut down the amount of white sugar that you have in your diet, a sugar substitute is a great place to start...
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  • From sweeteners to naturally sweet ingredients, we’ve rounded up the best healthy sugar substitutes out there.

    All of these healthy sugar alternatives can easily replace a teaspoon of white sugar in your tea, sprinkling on your porridge, or heap in your favourite cake. Each sugar substitute included is ideal for those on a sugar-free diet.

    Recent research has shown that most adults and children in the UK eat too much sugar. It’s acceptable to have a sweet treat every now but you’d be surprised by the amount of hidden sugar in everyday foods.

    According to the NHS, adults should have no more than 30g of sugar a day. The daily sugar allowance for children is different and varies from age group. For example, a 7-10-year-old should have no more than 24g and a 4-6-year-old should have no more than 19g.

    This is where sugar substitutes come in handy. Not only are they much healthier options, but they also maintain the sweet flavour of sugar and still give you that sweet fix.

    Healthy sugar substitutes

    agave nectar being poured from a teaspoon

    Credit: Getty Images

    1. Agave nectar

    Agave nectar is made up of 90% concentrated fructose, a sugar that occurs naturally in fruit, which pretty much means you get the same sugars from it as you would eating a piece of fruit.

    How to use it as a sugar substitute
    Drizzle over your porridge or muesli in the mornings. Our Bircher muesli recipe is the perfect example of how it makes a tasty change from sugar. Agave nectar is similar to honey and can be added to hot drinks as a sweetener.

    When it comes to baking you can swap half the amount of sugar in your recipe for agave nectar instead. Try doing this with our classic Victoria sponge recipe.

    Honey dipper and glass bowl of honey

    Credit: Getty

    2. Honey

    Honey contains vitamins like niacin, thiamin, and vitamin B6 which help to speed up your metabolism and improve your digestive system.

    How to use it as a sugar substitute
    Honey is the perfect substitute for that heaped teaspoon of sugar you might add to your cup of tea every day.

    It’s a great sugar alternative in baking too. Take our sugar-free chocolate brownies for example. This recipe substitutes sugar for honey instead to make it that little bit healthier. The wholemeal flour and coconut oil help this too.

    Some savory sauces can contain sugar – especially readymade. Swap the sugar in our classic pizza sauce recipe for honey instead. It won’t alter the flavour of the sauce at all. Just add one teaspoon of honey instead of one teaspoon of sugar.

    Maple syrup drizzling over a stack of pancakes

    Credit: Getty

    3. Maple syrup

    Maple syrup is 100% natural and is three times as sweet as regular sugar which means you don’t have to add as much, plus it’s pretty low on the calorie front too.

    How to use it as a sugar substitute
    Give your coffee a sweet kick by swapping the sugar for maple syrup instead just like we have done in this maple coffee recipe.

    Porridge can be pretty boring served by itself, that’s why we tend to pile it high with a teaspoon after teaspoon of sugar. Ditch the sugar for maple syrup instead – you really won’t need to use as much as you think, just a dash or two should do the trick.

    Swap the brown sugar in our spicy peanut chicken recipe for maple syrup. Doing this will give your dish a sweet kick of flavour without the sugar fix. Just make sure you add a little at a time and try as you go – you don’t want it to overpower the whole dish.

    Chopped banana pieces piled on top of each other

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    4. Bananas

    Not only do bananas contain natural sugars, which are much better for you than processed sugar, they’re also proven to boost energy levels.

    How to use it as a sugar substitute
    If you love making flapjacks you can trade the sugar for bananas just like we have in this banana and seed flapjack bars recipe.

    We know how bland Cornflakes can taste without the sugar so chop up a banana and add to your favourite bowl of cereal in the morning instead of sprinkling with sugar.

    Substitute some of the sugar in your favourite cake recipe for a banana instead, as Gordon Ramsay has done with these Gordon Ramsay’s blueberry muffins.

    Jar of molasses being poured into a bowl

    Credit: Getty

    5. Molasses

    Just one tablespoon of molasses contains 20% of the daily recommended intake for calcium and 40% of iron.

    How to use it as a sugar substitute
    You can use molasses sugar instead of regular sugar just like these molasses bread rolls, which are made with wholemeal flour and allspice.

    Molasses is great for using in a marinade for different meats like chicken, our baked spiced chicken recipe uses pomegranate molasses.

    Looking down on a jar of apple sauce

    Credit: Getty

    6. Apple puree

    Apple puree or apple sauce is much lower in calories than sugar and the sweetness is from a natural source.

    How to use it as a sugar substitute
    These apple spiced muffins use no sugar in the recipe and swap it for apple puree, low-fat yogurt, and honey instead.

    Give your flapjacks an apple twist by using apple puree instead of sugar, our blackberry and apple oaty flapjacks are the perfect example.

    Lemon cut in half with whole lemon behind it

    Credit: Getty

    7. Lemon

    Soothing sore throats and preventing kidney stones are only a few of the health benefits of swapping sugar for lemon or lemon juice instead.

    How to use it as a sugar substitute

    A dash of lemon juice will make all the difference in your cuppa – it’ll add a sweet and tangy flavour which is much better than sugar.

    Give your biscuits a zing of flavour by adding some lemon juice to the mix. You can also add the zest of the lemon too for a sweet burst of flavour. Try doing this with our vanilla cookies.

    Close up of raisins in a bowl

    Credit: Getty

    8. Raisins

    Firstly, raisins are a fruit, which automatically makes them a much healthier choice than white sugar as they are full of natural sugars instead. Secondly, raisins are packed full of energy-boosting sugars and vitamins.

    How to use it as a sugar substitute
    Sprinkle some raisins on your bowl of cereal or porridge instead of opting for a spoonful of sugar.

    A handful of raisins would make a much better snack than a shop-bought cereal bar, which is often packed full of sugar.

    Substitute some of the sugar for raisins in your favourite cookie recipe. Our oatmeal raisin cookies do exactly that, plus they use oats and cinnamon for added sweetness.

    Three glasses of fruit juice surrounded by chopped fruit

    Credit: Getty

    9. Fruit juice

    Fruit juice, made from fresh, contains plenty of natural sugars which are good for the body.

    How to use it as a sugar substitute
    Making a fruit salad? Don’t dust it in sugar, drizzle with fruit juice instead, it’ll still keep all your fruits fresh and moist too.

    You can substitute the sugar in your favourite cake recipe for fruit juice instead. Carrot cake often use orange juice to bulk up their sweet factor.

    Dates in a wooden bowl

    Credit: Getty

    10. Dates

    Dates are easily digested which means your body absorbs all the goodness from them when eaten. ‘The goodness’ includes B-vitamins, niacin, and vitamin A.

    How to use it as a sugar substitute
    Our date and walnut cake substitutes half of the sugar for finely chopped dates instead to make it a much denser and flavour-packed cake (not to mention healthier too)

    Sprinkle some dates over your bowl of cereal in the morning or bring to work as a sweet snack between meals. It’s much better than a chocolate bar.

    Our date and apple loaf combine two of our sugar substitutes together – apple sauce and dates, with only 100g of sugar in the whole loaf.

    Coconut sugar being poured onto black surface

    Credit: Getty

    11. Coconut sugar

    This type of sugar contains vital nutrients found in coconuts including iron, zinc, and calcium.

    How to use it as a sugar substitute
    Swap the sugar in your favourite cake or biscuit recipe for coconut sugar instead – it’s quite a dense sugar so sieve before adding.

    Switch the sugar in our classic cupcake recipe to coconut sugar instead for a nutty texture as well as flavour. Substitute in Mary Berry’s chocolate cake recipe too as the combination of coconut and chocolate pair perfectly together.

    Stevia with cubes of sugar

    Credit: Getty

    12. Stevia

    It’s a zero calories sweetener derived from plants which is much sweeter than sugar so it doesn’t take much to sweeten something up.

    How to use it as a sugar substitute
    You can use stevia as a sugar substitute in your teas, coffee, hot chocolate, or on your breakfast in the mornings for that sweet kick.

    Trade the sugar in that special bake for stevia instead, you could experiment with our apple crumble recipe. Stevia can also be used to make different sauces and marinades, just like our brandy and peppercorn sauce – perfect for serving with steak.

    Close up of sugar in wooden spoon on table

    Credit: Getty

    13. Xylitol

    Xylitol is 100% pure and has 1/3 fewer calories than sugar. It also encourages B vitamins and calcium to be absorbed into the body.

    How to use it as a sugar substitute
    Xylitol can replace most sugars in cake or biscuit recipes so just swap it for the same amount for a healthier alternative. Try it out for yourselves using our courgette loaf recipe.

    Swap your heaped teaspoon of sugar in your cuppa or dusting on your cereal for xylitol instead.

    If you love adding sugar to your favourite spaghetti Bolognese recipe, swap it for xylitol instead – it is impossible to caramelise xylitol, even at high temperatures.

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