A Guide to Natural Sweeteners

Here’s a handy guide to natural sweeteners! Find out which sweeteners you should be using as part of a clean eating lifestyle and which to avoid at all costs.  

Sugar! Anyone else feel like they’re on a roller coaster of sugar information? Wayyyy back when, fat was the culprit to all healthy problems, now sugar seems to be at the root of health issues. There are so many different types of sugar and a ton of different names for each so I thought I would put together a quick guide to give you a breakdown of all the natural sweeteners, which ones I prefer and why.

Are Natural Sweeteners Good for You?

All of the natural sweeteners I listed above have added benefits. I would recommend reaching for a natural sweetener over plain white sugar any day however I feel like they all need a disclaimer that they’re still sugar. Don’t just go eat a bucket of honey because you’re craving sugar. My top recommendation is to add the sweetener to an already balanced snack or meal. Pair lean protein with healthy fats and fiber and then if you add in a natural sweetener, you’re helping out your body so there isn’t a crazy blood sugar spike.

If you’re trying to cut back on sugar, I always recommend stepping to a natural sweetener as a substitute before just going cold turkey on all things sweet. If you find that you’re feeling addicted to natural sweeteners, feel free to step away from those for a period of time to give your body a chance to reset.

What is the Best Natural Alternative to Sugar?

As you’ve probably noticed, I don’t use regular white sugar in my recipes and instead choose to use natural alternatives. Here I want to share my favorite natural sweeteners with you!

Simply Balanced Organic Maple Syrup

Maple syrup

You better believe this is the top of the list! I love to use maple syrup in a wide variety of foods and drinks. I use it in homemade dressings, smoothies, energy balls, baking, oatmeal. A LOT. I typically look for pure, organic maple syrup. I love getting it locally but you can find high quality maple syrup in most grocery stores!

Recipes with maple syrup to try: Maple Cinnamon Breakfast Trail MixMaple Turmeric Chicken or Blueberry Corn Chicken Salad with Maple Dressing.

Honey

Honey is about as versatile as maple syrup. I use it in energy balls, baking, oatmeal, granola bars. It really just depends what kind of flavor you’re going for… honey or maple! Can’t really go wrong in my book. When shopping for honey, you’ll see there are a ton of options. I look for raw, unfiltered, organic honey when it’s available.

Recipes with honey to try: Bird Food Energy Bites or Honey Mustard Dressing.

Dates

These are making the list because they really are magical little sweeteners! When I’m craving a sweet treat, I’ll often reach for a date paired with nut butter. YUM. Dates are great to use in oatmeal, granola bars and energy bites. Just be sure you’re buying fresh deglet noor or medjool dates. Medjool dates are my favorite because they’re larger and usually more moist. Both deglet and medjool dates can be found in the produce section, near the bananas, or with the dried fruit at regular grocery store. You can also find them in the bulk bin section at natural markets. Just stay away from chopped dates which are found on the baking aisle and coated in flour to prevent sticking.

Recipes with dates to try: Almond Flour Chocolate Chip Muffins, No Bake Brownies or 4-Ingredient Date Caramel Sauce.

Coconut Sugar

I feel like coconut sugar gained popularity over the last year. It’s known as an “all purpose” sugar but I find I reach for it most in baking. My general rule of thumb: when the recipe calls for a liquid sugar, use liquid. When it calls for a granular sugar, use granular.

Recipes with coconut sugar to try: Healthy Low Sugar Pumpkin Bread or No Bake Coconut Quinoa Cookies.

Blackstrap Molasses

I’ll be honest, blackstrap molasses can be a little intimidating to work with and definitely has a distinct taste but it’s actually packed with vitamins and minerals!

Recipes to make with molasses: Healthy BBQ Sauce or Quinoa Gingersnap Cookies.

Brown Rice Syrup

Derived from brown rice, this natural sweetener is super thick and stick. It’s 100% glucose (so no fructose) but it does have a high glycemic index.

Recipes to try with brown rice syrup: Vegan Brown Rice Crispy Treats or Chocolate Grain-Free Granola or Chocolate Almond Crispy Bites

Fruit

I didn’t have this on my list at first but it definitely needs to be! Fruit is nature’s candy, right? I love using fruit to sweeten smoothies, baked goods, oatmeal etc. One of my favorite fruit sweetened recipes is this coconut flour banana bread.

Stevia

Stevia is a sweetener extracted from the leaves of a plant. I use pure liquid stevia to sweeten things like coffee, plain Greek yogurt, my apple cider vinegar detox drinks… so many things! I occasionally use stevia in dessert recipes but I don’t go overboard.

What About Artificial Sweeteners?

Artificial sweeteners are typically used to sweeten diet food products and drinks. You probably know them by their brand names… Equal, Sweet ‘N Low, Splenda, etc. but there actual names are Aspartame (Equal), Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low) and Sucralose (Splenda).

These artificial sweeteners are highly processed and refined and have been controversial since their release in the 1950s. And there are numerous studies that link artificial sweeteners to numerous health like headaches, weight gain and an addiction to overly sweet things. I personally noticed that when I have artificial sweeteners or products with these sugar substitutes, I actually crave more sweet foods. In college I used Splenda often and constantly wanted things to taste sweeter. Oatmeal, coffee, yogurt, smoothies… I added it to just about everything.  As soon as I gave it up, it was amazing how sweet naturally sweet foods like apples and sweet potatoes started to taste.

If you haven’t cut artificial sweeteners from your diet yet, I would strongly urge you to do so right now!

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    28 comments
  1. Great chart! This will be super helpful. (-: One sweetener that I would definitely add, though, is fruit juice concentrate. They sell some blends for baking that work very well and are my go-to sweetener nowadays. Also, what do y’all think of monk fruit as a sweetener? I’ve seen it around lately, but I haven’t used it yet.

  2. I LOVE coconut sugar: it’s low glycemic, it has a nice taste to it. It has a slight carame/butterscotch taste to it and it will show in some recipes, but overall I think it is a great alternative to sugar.

  3. Sorry I had to say something…I am absolutely IN LOVE with that local honey in your picture!!!! I bought some the other weekend at SOJ and can’t stop eating it! Oh, and I <3 your blog 🙂

  4. Love this post and your blog! Very informative. I can’t wait to try some of your “Bird Food” ideas! LOL My daughter always tells me that I eat bird seed… so it’s great to find others like me 🙂 I would love to share some of your ideas on my blog!

  5. A friend of mine gave me this recipe for raw vegan sugar free brownies. So simple! 1.5 cups of walnuts 1/2 cup almonds 1.5 cups of madjooled dates 1/4 a cup of cocoa powder and a pinch of salt. You just blend ingridients then press into a pan freeze and cut. They are crazy good and convincing!

  6. I really appreciate this post! I’ve been finding myself going along the same lines you do in terms of sweeteners lately. My body just feels so much better on less sugar- especially MUCH less of the refined stuff! What’s your take on sugars in alcohol? How do you approach those?

    • Good question Sarah. I try to limit my consumption of alcohol to once or twice a week and stick with a glass of red wine or vodka with soda water and squeeze of fresh lime. I steer clear of sugary drinks like margaritas whenever possible. How do you approach the sugars in alcohol?

      • I’m still working out my own take on this because it’s only recently that I’ve come to terms with NEEDING to look at my sugar intake. I think I’m going to stick to a glass or two of wine (my preferred source of alcohol) a week. Any less and I think I’d feel deprived, but any more would probably be too much for me.
        Thanks again for posting and dialoging about this. It’s so helpful for me!

  7. “I almost always substitute white sugar for a natural alternative like honey, maple syrup, brown rice syrup or natural whole cane sugar (sucanat), which can be found in natural food stores.”= you use white sugar instead of a natural alternative.

  8. What a great guide! Thanks, Brittany.

    I tend to stay away from added sweetener of *any* kind unless it is needed for a recipe. I have taught myself to like things like coffee and oatmeal without any added sugar, any stick to fruit for my day-to-day sweet cravings. although I must say I have a weakness when it comes to dark chocolate 😛

  9. Pure Stevia isn’t readily available in the UK but I don’t particularly like the taste. For baking I prefer organic palm sugar which has an amazing taste but I also like raw honey and date syrup. I absolutely agree with you though that we should limit our sugar intake regardless or whether it is natural or not. I use cinnamon and vanilla a lot to satisfy my sweet tooth!

  10. AHHHH–perfect timing on this post! I’ve seen so much of stevia in the blog world and have been wondering just how good it is for you…errr, me:-)

  11. Great post! I stick mainly to stevia or occasionally natural sweeteners except when baking something where the structure of sugar is needed (i.e. souffles, caramel, etc.). I love the liquid stevia and use it for almost everything – especially yogurt. I will say though that since I’ve begun making my own Greek yogurt, I find I don’t need any sweetener since it is not nearly as “tangy” as the store bought stuff.

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