Sugar substitutes: 6 sweet alternatives and when to use them

Looking to cut the sugar from your diet? Discover more about healthy sugar alternatives (and one to avoid)

Sugar substitutes: 6 healthy alternatives
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The health risks surrounding sugar have been well-documented, with excessive consumption increasing our risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

‘New guidelines advise cutting our intake to six teaspoons a day (25-30g). A can of fizzy drink contains about nine,’ says leading nutritionist Christine Bailey. ‘And, while sugars are found naturally in fruits, vegetables and milk, it’s added sugars – sucrose (table sugar), syrups, fructose and fructose corn syrup – that do most damage to our health.’

For those looking to cut their intake, Christine advises looking at the glycaemic index (GI), too. ‘Those with low GI (0-50) are metabolised more slowly, helping you to avoid sudden spikes and dips in blood sugar,’ she says.

So what sugar alternatives are out there? We’ve rounded up six available options, and advise the best ways to swap them for regular sugar…

1. Honey

GI value: 30 (raw), 70 (processed)

Pros: Raw and manuka honey contains antioxidants, enzymes and antimicrobial benefits. Raw honey also has a much lower GI value compared to processed forms. 

Cons: Avoid processed honey as it can contain up to 53% fructose – one of those pesky added sugars

Best for: Winter warming drinks - add just ½-1 a teaspoon to hot drinks for a pick-me-up

We love: Tiana Organic Raw Active Wild Flower Honey

2. Maple syrup

GI value: 54 

Pros: Made from maple-tree sap, it contains manganese, iron and calcium and has a lower fructose level than honey, so is easier to digest

Cons: Often highly processed with a high GI. Plus it’s runny to can be easy to pour too much

Best for: Vegans as an alternative to honey

3. Xylitol

GI value: 7

Pros: Naturally present in fruit and veg, it’s one of the most popular low-GI sugar alternatives. It has fewer calories and can prevent tooth decay. Taste-wise, it’s a similar sweetness to table sugar so can be swapped easily into recipes.

Cons: Like fibre, it’s not fully digestible, so it can cause bloating

Best for: Diabetics

4. Coconut sugar

GI value: 35

Pros: With a molasses-like taste, coconut sugar contains traces of iron, zinc, calcium, potassium and insulin, which may slow glucose absorption and help feed beneficial gut bacteria.

Cons: It has a similarly high calorie content to sugar

Best for: Baking

We love: Biona Organic Coconut Palm Sugar

5. Stevia

GI value: 0

Pros: From the leaves of the Stevia Rebaudiana plant, this is low in fructose and almost calorie-free

Cons: It’s a lot sweeter than sugar, and can leave a bitter aftertaste. Some brands mix it with other ingredients, so be sure to check the label

Best: In tea of coffee

We love: Sweet Leaf Organic Stevia

6. Agave syrup

GI value: 30-40 

Pros: Derived from a tropical plant, it has a relatively low GI

Cons: Its reputation as a healthy sweetener has been questioned recently. It’s high in fructose – containing up to 70%, depending on the process it undergoes – which is higher than demonise-fructose corn syrup.

Best: avoided!