"I want a physically fit body with a flat belly while eating sweets (hellllo healthy sugar cookies) and depriving myself of nothing!"
Most people would say to that, “sorry pal. No can do. No pain, no gain.”
Well, no offense to the hard-core peeps out there, but I don't subscribe to the painful approach to living. I believe we are entitled to perfect health and happiness, with simple, mindful and consistent changes to our everyday lives, like simply finding a healthy sugar substitute for our tried-and-true sweets.
I am convinced that you set yourself up for success when you make the process of change more manageable for you.
So, yes. You can bake that cake (or those healthy sugar cookies), and eat it too!
What better way to make life easier for you this holiday season than finding healthy sugar substitutes that taste just as good as the 'real' thing, but are better for your body and system?
Finding A Healthy Sugar Substitute: Our Top Picks
With the number of sugar replacements available nowadays, it can be a real challenge to know how to substitute processed or refined sugar in your diet. Choose the right alternative sweetener for your body, lifestyle, and health with this healthy sugar substitutes cheat sheet that you can bookmark and use later for reference - during the holidays, and off!
Please Note: Not all sugars are created equal!
All sugars (glucose, fructose, sucrose, etc.) are used as fuel by your system; however, they are differently digested and absorbed. The more effort it takes the body to break it down (like in fruits and vegetables) the better to keep you energized throughout the day. Learn more about the different sugar types here and here.
Reducing daily sugar intake is critical to avoid a wide range of health issues that are either a direct or indirect consequence of sugar consumption. Everything from cavities to Type 2 diabetes can be avoided using a healthy sugar substitute, combined with a healthier diet and some exercise.
I’ll always recommend keeping a natural, organic and mostly sugar-free lifestyle, but for the holidays let’s make an exception and commit to these equally tasty (and healthy!) sugar substitutes instead:
#1 Agave Nectar
Agave nectar has a significantly lower glycemic index (GI) than white or refined sugar, that means that fructose from the agave nectar's 'sugar' enters your bloodstream slower than the traditional sweetener giving your body more time to process it adequately, maintaining glucose and insulin levels in check.
Why it's Healthy: Foods with a higher GI rating create blood sugar spikes making you feel hungrier and lethargic, additionally higher insulin levels lead to multiple health issues and more weight gain. Studies on Agave show that subjects consuming Agave vs. sugar gained less weight and had lower glucose and insulin levels.
How to Use it: The Vegetarian Times recommends;
- Using 2/3 cup of agave as a sugar substitute for each cup of white sugar
- Reduce other liquids in a recipe by 1/4 to 1/3 cup
- If baking, reduce oven temperature by 25°F because using agave may over-brown baked goods, and cook for a little less time.
Note: Agave nectar has more fructose than high fructose syrup, so you still want to keep an eye on the amount you consume per day.
#2 Coconut Sugar
This is the healthy sugar substitute that probably most closely resembles refined sugar when it comes to texture and how it behaves in recipes. Made from coconut palm sap, we added it to some of our Organifi products because it retains some of the properties of its natural source. It can be found granulated which makes it an easy and tasty replacement for sweet recipes.
Why it's Healthy: This unrefined healthy sugar substitute contains vitamins and minerals like iron, zinc, potassium, and calcium, that even in small amounts make it healthier than its regular table counterpart. It also has a lower glycemic index than refined sugar, helping keep glucose levels steady.
How to Use it: Merely replace the same amount of white sugar with brown coconut sugar in the recipe. Because it has the same calories than white sugar, be mindful with portions!
If you liked the sound of those healthy sugar cookies at the beginning of this post, coconut sugar is your new go-to!
#3 Monk Fruit
This could be our favorite healthy sugar substitute and just one of the secret weapons in our Complete Protein powder! It's 150 to 200 times sweeter than sugar, so the amounts needed are minimal, and it cuts calories dramatically!
Why it's Healthy: It has 0 calories or carbohydrates, does not raise blood levels, and gets its sweet taste from antioxidant mogrosides which studies have found to reduce oxidative stress - the one that leads to Type 2 Diabetes.
How to Use it: Use 50% less monk fruit extract or Nectresse for whatever the amount of sugar indicated in the original recipe. I like to go down even lower, with 35%-40% less giving me enough flavor, without adding that much sweetness to it. It's up to your sweet tooth!
#4 Stevia Extract
A plant extract available from many brands and presentations. I like using small amounts due to its high density, but it provides a fantastic sweetness to most dishes; it's probably the most versatile of the healthy sugar substitutes out there.
Why It’s Healthy: It’s safe for diabetics and people watching their weight, as it has 0 calories. It’s also a lot sweeter than sugar, so you need less of it.
How to Use It: Use 18 to 24 stevia sweetener packets per 1 cup of sugar. More substitutions available from Healthy Eating.
#5 Medjool Date Paste or Puree
Dates either whole or in a paste are an easy to use and quite delicious healthy sugar substitute that is perfect for hard-to-swallow green smoothies, wholesome breakfast bowls and homemade meal replacement bars.
Why It’s Healthy: Dates are an unexpected source of potassium, vitamin B6 and antioxidants. They have enough natural sugar in them to make them very sweet without needing a lot of it, cutting some of our calories from sugar. They are also safe for people with diabetes, as studies show dates don't produce glucose fluctuations compared with refined sugar.
How to Use It: Substitute 1 cup date puree per cup of sugar. For portion and calorie control, use ¾ cup of the date paste for a less sweet, but healthier option.
Note: To make the puree blend 1 cup of dates in 3/4 of water.
#6 Maple Syrup
My absolute go-to healthy sugar substitute in baking and salad dressings! It’s one of the better tasting natural sweeteners and has that golden brown color that just looks great when crisp.
Why It's Healthy: Maple syrup comes from the natural tree sap of the Maple tree, and it contains manganese, zinc, iron, potassium and some calcium. It has a lower glycemic index than sugar and moderate consumption it is better than regular table sugar.
How to Use it: Use 3/4 cup of maple syrup per 1 cup of white sugar for the same taste, for a healthier version use 1/2 cup per cup of sugar.
Because it is a liquid you may need to add more dry ingredients or use less syrup, I go for less syrup every time.
5 Deliciously Sweet Winter Recipes that Use a Healthy Sugar Substitutes
Healthy Sugar Cookies with Maple Syrup: dubbed the “ultimate healthy Christmas cookie” this delicious version of the holiday staple has great texture and flavor. They’re gluten-free and prepped in just 15 minutes!
Get the recipe from Real Food Real Deals
Protein Pancakes for Christmas Morning! A bite made in heaven, these lavish chocolate pancakes are the perfect Christmas morning breakfast; they’ll keep the family happy and your jeans zipping up nicely. Only two tablespoons of maple syrup and plenty of natural proteins make this a breakfast for champions.
Don’t have all the ingredients in your pantry? Simply add two scoops of our Complete Protein in chocolate to get the same results, with none of the hassles.
- Healthy Hot Chocolate: get all the rejuvenating properties of cacao with the soothing effects of a hot cup of cocoa in a cold winter morning, with this healthy hot chocolate recipe. Slash your sick days in half with this zero-guilt, superhero version of your favorite winter drink; with turmeric, ginger, coconut milk, cinnamon, cacao and more. Wonderful taste, 100% healthy.
- 5-Minute Healthy Peach Cobbler: a fantastic way to curb a sugar craving during the holidays that also takes only five minutes to make. These protein peach cobbler can be made with Vanilla Complete Protein and just ¼ cup of maple syrup.
- Get the full recipe from Mugs for Muscles
- Alcohol-Free Punch: a holiday punch that leaves you feeling good and has no hangover? Yes! Try mixing some berrylicious red juice punch with some wintery toppings. Add slices of cinnamon baked pineapple, strawberries and cherries to a warm cup and serve with those delightfully healthy sugar cookies.
The first step to take control of your health is to get informed. Look beyond clever branding and simple calorie counts. Check what’s truly in your foods. Bake with a healthy sugar substitute whenever possible and buy products that taste great because of the whole foods that are in them.
I hope these healthy winter recipes and healthy sugar substitutes can help you make the best of your holidays, this year and every year after that.
If you’re looking to bake some holiday favorites this winter don’t forget to use this quick reference to replace white sugar with a healthy sweetener alternative, and to satisfy that sweet tooth look no further than those five recipes above. I know that hot chocolate and those healthy sugar cookies will be a staple for me far beyond the holiday season.
Happy holidays, healthy friends!