Updated May 2022
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Buying guide for Best sugar substitutes

For centuries, pure cane or beet sugar has been the most common form of food and beverage sweetener. While consuming large quantities of added sugar is inadvisable, entirely avoiding sucrose and high fructose corn syrup is a nearly impossible task. Sugar is naturally occurring in healthy fruits and vegetables, but it’s also often hidden in popular everyday foods.

Fortunately, there are several sugar substitutes on the market. Many are derived from natural sources and can be swapped out for sugar in recipes without sacrificing taste. These sugar substitutes also have the benefit of being much lower in calories than sugar and don’t necessarily produce unwanted glucose spikes in the bloodstream.

Indeed, diabetics and dieters alike can benefit greatly from the introduction of these sugar substitutes into their daily routines.

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Did you know that the average American consumes about 22 teaspoons of sugar per day?

Why should you use sugar substitutes?

Wondering why it might be wise to avoid added sugar and use substitutes instead? Excess sugar consumption is not just bad for your teeth, it’s also associated with high rates of diseases like diabetes. Pure sugar is high in carbohydrates, which can cause unwanted spikes in blood glucose levels.

Sugar is also high in calories without having much nutritional value, so substitutes are useful for those seeking to lose weight. (Remember, though, that weight loss is more complicated than simply cutting out sugar. While incorporating alternatives may help reduce calorie intake, it’s not the only factor involved in shedding pounds.)

Expert TIp
Artificial sugar substitutes tend to create more dense, flatter cakes and cookies.
BestReviews Cooking and Baking Expert

Types of sugar substitutes

Here are the main types of sugar substitutes along with their pros and cons:

Artificial sweeteners

Including things such as aspartame (Equal) and sucralose (Splenda), artificial sweeteners are used to sweeten drinks and other foods without adding calories. They’re useful for those who may want to avoid added calories but who still want to enjoy sweet beverages and treats. There’s some evidence, however, that artificial sweeteners may have unintended effects on our body’s processes, including hormone production. Some artificial sweeteners may also cause digestive issues in specific individuals.

Artificial sweeteners typically have zero or very limited calories and also tend to be extremely sweet, much sweeter than sugar, so less is required to sweeten foods. Most artificial sweeteners are a poor choice for baking, however, despite being ultrasweet.

Sugar alcohols

Common sugar alcohols like xylitol and erythritol have fewer calories than sugar and occur naturally in fruits and vegetables. They’re often used to sweeten processed foods, and research shows that certain sugar alcohols actually improve dental health. The downside? Sugar alcohols may lead to gastrointestinal distress if consumed in large quantities.

Novel sweeteners

These are natural substances that are approved as sweeteners by the F.D.A. but only in certain forms. Stevia, for example, is a novel sweetener, but only some forms of Stevia are F.D.A.-approved. Novel sweeteners are often calorie-free. There’s also evidence that some novel sweeteners may have health benefits, such as the ability to lower blood pressure.

Natural sweeteners

These are naturally occurring substances that may be used to sweeten food products (e.g., honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar). These sweeteners are nearly identical to sugar, though companies often use misleading claims to market products that contain natural sugars as healthier. Natural sweeteners are not necessarily healthier than sugar, however. Honey, for example, has been shown to reduce inflammation but is still metabolized like sugar and should be consumed in moderation.

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Expert TIp
Taste your sugar substitutes before using them in baked goods like cakes and cookies. Some, like coconut sugar, have a very distinctive flavor that can alter the taste of your final product.
BestReviews Cooking and Baking Expert

Difference between sugar and sugar substitutes

The most significant difference between sugar and sugar substitutes is the number of calories. Often, sugar substitutes have zero or very few calories. Most natural sweeteners, however, contain just as many (if not more) calories compared to sugar.

Drawbacks of using substitutes

Some studies show that eating foods with zero-calorie sweeteners may have the opposite effect intended and may promote weight gain. For instance, some research shows that an increased intake of very sweet substitutes may boost one’s desire for sweetened foods. There’s also no telling what the long-term impact of consuming sugar substitutes may have on the body and overall health.

Certain substitutes may have immediate concerning effects on the body. Some people, for instance, may have allergic reactions to specific substitutes. Other individuals complain that alternatives like aspartame cause headaches and may act as a trigger for migraines. Several sugar substitutes also cause gastrointestinal distress.

Sweetness level

Not all substitutes are made equal. You may need to add extra to your coffee or baked goods to sweeten them as you would with sugar. Other sweeteners may be extremely sweet, so you’ll need to add less compared to sugar.

Sugar substitute prices

Sugar substitutes vary widely in price depending on the brand and the type of sugar substitute in question (e.g., natural, synthetic, etc.). Synthetic alternatives tend to be less expensive, however, while natural sugar substitutes vary between 50 cents to $1 or more per ounce.

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Expert Tip
Store your sugar substitutes in an airtight container to avoid absorption of water or other kitchen scents.
BestReviews Cooking and Baking Expert


  • Adding sugar to baked goods is the easiest way to sweeten them, but sugar also affects the texture and consistency of those delicious brownies, cookies, and cakes we all enjoy. It’s possible to use sugar substitutes in baking, but expect a few key differences in your finished product. Desserts made with sugar alternatives may have a lighter appearance, lack volume, and have a denser consistency.

  • You may need to use more or less of a sugar substitute compared to regular sugar. Often, a product’s packaging will provide handy quantity guidelines.

  • Check the packaging to find out whether you also need to adjust the baking time when using a particular sugar substitute.

  • You can also use fruit to sweeten your desserts. Use a combination of fruit and sugar substitutes in your next baked concoction.

  • Most natural sweeteners are a poor choice for diabetics since they have essentially the same effect on blood sugar levels as plain white granulated sugar.

  • Those little packets of artificial sweetener aren’t identical even if they look similar. Sucralose, for instance, is much sweeter than aspartame, so you may need to use different amounts when sweetening your coffee or tea.

  • Not all sugar substitutes are appropriate for baking. Some even lose their sweet taste when heated. Check package instructions to find out if a particular sweetener is suitable for use in baked goods.

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Not all sugar substitutes taste the same. Some have a slight aftertaste. You may need to test a few to find one that works for you.


Q. Are sugar substitutes healthier than regular sugar?

A. Not necessarily. While you may hear that sugar substitutes and alternatives contain vitamins and minerals that are not found in sugar, most sweeteners aren’t, in fact, nutritionally superior. Research shows that there are a few select substitutes that may have health benefits, but the evidence isn’t conclusive in all cases.

Q. Will I lose weight if I switch to sugar substitutes?

A. Maybe. But the bottom line is that weight loss results from a calorie deficit. If you swap your sugary beverage for something else that's high in calories, don’t expect weight loss to follow.

Q. What are low-glycemic foods and sweeteners?

A. Low-glycemic foods and sweeteners have a less drastic effect on blood sugar levels than high-glycemic foods. They are absorbed slowly into the bloodstream, so they do not cause blood sugar spikes.

Q. Are artificial sweeteners carcinogenic?

A. You may have heard rumors that sweeteners like aspartame can cause cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, however, no hard evidence links aspartame consumption to increased risk of cancer.

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