Health Advice



What is the healthiest sugar substitute?

Lisa Milbrand, on

Published in Health & Fitness

Not going to lie about it: Sugar is pretty fantastic. And there are few of us who can ignore the siren call of a decadent brownie or a dish of ice cream. But we tend to eat quite a bit more sugar than we should — as we’re supposed to eat just six to nine teaspoons a day.

Good news: There are some smart (and sweet) alternatives to sugar that’ll help you cut down your sugar intake, without necessarily sacrificing all that sweetness you love.

Watch your sugar and sweetener intake overall.

Sweet-toothed folks may not like this bit of advice, but the best thing you can do is to try to cut back on sugar and sweetened foods altogether. “Sugar causes inflammation and addiction, plus many people don’t feel great eating it,” says dietitian and nutritional therapist Kim Shapira, MS, RD. “But sugar can be part of a normal diet — just eat it in moderation.”

Use fruit purees in lieu of sugar.

When you’re baking, one of the healthiest sugar substitutes is pureed fruit. In fact, it’s actually really easy to swap out some (or all) of the sugar for applesauce, mashed bananas, or even canned pumpkin to give your dessert a nutritional boost and extra flavor. You’ll want to use a cup of pureed fruit for every cup of sugar you’re replacing, but you’ll also need to reduce the amount of liquid slightly, since the fruit adds moisture in addition to sweetness.

Opt for natural sweeteners like maple syrup and honey.

If you’re looking for another great option to sub in for sugar, maple syrup, agave, and honey should be on your list, as they’re often less processed than sugar and contain trace minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, Shapira says. “They also have a lower glycemic index, which may cause a slower and steadier increase in blood sugar compared to sugar.”

But these healthier sugar alternatives can be more calorie dense than refined sugar. “They each have a unique flavor that can enhance the taste of food and drinks in different ways, but overall, I see them as very similar and recommend that they should be consumed in moderation,” Shapira says.


Think twice about artificial sweeteners.

Artificial sweeteners have been a go-to for people who want a sweet treat without the sugar spike, but there have been concerns about health issues related to artificial sweeteners for years, with studies suggesting that consuming them could increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease. While the FDA and other regulatory agencies have sweeteners like aspartame, stevia, and others to be safe for consumption, they may not be the healthiest sugar substitute you can use.

“Some studies and reports raise concern about potential links to weight gain, metabolic disorders and cancer,” Shapira says. “More research is needed.”

Bottom line: Go au naturel for the healthiest sugar substitutes.

If you’re looking for a healthy swap for sugar, opt for something that comes from nature, like fruit or honey or maple syrup. But whether you choose to swap for fruit or honey, or just enjoy a little sugar, be mindful about what you’re eating, Shapira says. “Eat the sugar and also eat the other things that help your body heal and self regulate. Everything in moderation is a great pattern to strive for.”

(Real Simple magazine provides smart, realistic solutions to everyday challenges. Online at

©2024 Dotdash Meredith. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



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