|April 25, 2024

Sugar Alternatives

By Maude Martin
Reviewed by Theresa Greenwell for Scientific Accuracy on 01/03/2024

Sugar Alternatives

  • Artificial sweeteners and natural sweeteners are great sugar alternatives to refined sugar.
  • Learn about common sugar alternatives like honey, stevia, maple syrup, xylitol, erythritol and monk fruit.
  • Explore how sugar can negatively impact your health.

Added sugars hide in so many foods you wouldn’t expect. If you check the nutrition labels on food products, you may find a surprising amount of sugar in peanut butter, salad dressings, bread, cereals and even spaghetti sauce. Sugar is everywhere and excessive intake has been linked to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, mood and cognition issues.[1]

However, today there are many sugar alternatives that you can use to help cut down on refined sugars and high-fructose corn syrup. Explore this guide for key facts on the effects of sugar on your body, why you should consider sugar alternatives and common types of sugar alternatives you may want to try.

adding sugar to coffee

Why Should You Lower Your Sugar Intake?

Excessive sugar intake can contribute to excessive weight gain, heart health issues, cavities and more. Reducing sugar consumption is one step you can take today on your path to a healthier lifestyle. Here are just a few ways that sugar affects your mind and body:

Cognitive Impairment

Consuming high amounts of sugar has been linked to poor cognitive function, including memory difficulties.[2] The effects of sugar on the brain are far-reaching and pervasive.

Weakened Immune Response

Sugar can trigger inflammation in the body, which is associated with numerous chronic diseases.[3] The relationship between sugar and immune health is not pretty.

Sugar Addiction

Eating excessive sugar can become habit-forming, leading your body and mind to continuously ask for more.[4] If you find yourself in this state, make sure to check out how to stop sugar cravings.

If you enjoy the taste of sugar but want to help prevent associated risks, consider the benefits of using a sugar alternative.

Why Use a Sugar Alternative?

Sugar alternatives, also known as sugar substitutes or artificial sweeteners, provide a sweet taste without the calories and sugars found in natural sugar (sucrose).[5] Many are sweeter than sucrose, so a small amount goes a long way.

When you consume sugar alternatives, they bind to sweet taste receptors on your tongue. These receptors send signals to your brain, signaling the perception of sweetness, even though there are no calories associated with the sweeteners.

Benefits of sugar alternatives include lower calorie intake, less impact on blood sugar and fewer risks associated with dental health, among others. Next, explore a few popular choices for sugar alternatives you may want to incorporate into your diet.

Types of Sugar Alternatives

Your choice of sugar alternative will depend on your taste preference, what you are using it to sweeten and your dietary restrictions, if any. There are a variety of artificial sweeteners and natural sweeteners on the market which you can choose from:

honey dripping


Honey not only acts as a delicious sweetener but also provides a source of antioxidants. Plus, honey is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antifungal and antiviral.[6] Honey is sweeter than table sugar, so you may need less honey to achieve the same level of desired sweetness. Mix it into your coffee or tea or drizzle on oatmeal, yogurt or toast.


Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that is low-calorie and has minimal impact on blood sugar levels. It has a sweet taste similar to sugar but with about 70% of the sweetness and contains almost no calories.[7] Use erythritol as a sugar substitute in cakes, cookies, muffins and sauces. It’s important to use erythritol in moderation.

sugar packets on diner table


Stevia is a natural sweetener derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. It is 200 to 400 times sweeter than sugar but has virtually no calories and does not raise blood sugar levels. Liquid stevia extract is versatile and an ideal add-in to coffee, tea and smoothies. Use stevia to make sugar-free chocolate truffles.

hands opening packets of gum


Xylitol is sweet like sugar but contains about 40% fewer calories. It occurs naturally in small amounts in some fruits and vegetables but is mainly produced from birch wood or corn cobs through a chemical process. You can use xylitol in place of sugar at a 1:1 ratio in recipes. Use xylitol to make sugar-free lemonade.

Monk Fruit

Monk fruit, also known as Luo Han Guo or Siraitia grosvenorii, is a natural sweetener derived from the monk fruit plant, which is native to Southeast Asia. Monk fruit sweetener is made by extracting the juice from the fruit and processing it into a concentrated sweetener. It is 100 to 200 sweeter than sugar but without the calories or blood sugar impact or processed sugar. You can use it in baking or to sweeten drinks.

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is produced by tapping maple trees, collecting the sap and then boiling it down to concentrate the sugars and produce syrup. It not only acts as a delicious sweetener but also has antioxidant properties.[8] Swap sugar for maple syrup in salad dressings, marinades and sauces.

Note that sugar alternatives don’t necessarily react like sugar in terms of caramelization, texture or taste. Take a look at baking with sugar substitutes to learn more about successfully incorporating sugar alternatives into your cooking.

Using sugar alternatives can be an easy way to immediately cut down on refined sugars in your diet. They are versatile, low-calorie (or calorie-free) and many have minimal impact on blood sugar levels. There are many varieties on the market to explore, depending on your needs and taste preferences. Start slow, try a few and see what works for you.

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