Sweetening the Deal: The New Natural Sugar Alternatives

Jessica Harlan by Jessica Harlan | January 8th, 2009 | 5 Comments
topic: Health & Wellness, Healthy Eating, Weight Loss

Now that the indulgent holidays are over I’m back to my diet … remember, the one I said was so easy? Well, I have to admit that I gained back four of the six pounds I lost because once I gave myself permission to make up for depriving myself, I went a little crazy with cheese, cookies, pastries, and pretty much anything else that was within reach.

But, with a trip to Miami looming in a couple of months (Egad! Swimsuits!), I am determined to get back on the wagon by cutting calories and eating healthier. All this has led me to explore the world of alternative sweeteners, because I realize that the biggest part of my weight problem is that I’m addicted to sugar and sweet things.

When I say “alternative sweeteners,” I’m not talking about Equal or even Splenda; artificial chemical sweeteners scare me a little. I’m talking about the growing number of natural alternatives to refined sugar. I’ve put together a little cheat sheet of some of these sweeteners to help me (and hopefully, you) navigate this new world.


Made from the crystallized syrup of organic sugar cane, sucanant’s name is derived from Sugar Cane NATural. Because it’s minimally processed, it’s good for people following a whole foods diet, and it has a slight molasses flavor and retains some vitamins and nutrients that have been stripped from refined cane sugar. It can be used one-for-one in recipes calling for white or brown sugar, or sprinkled into coffee or on breakfast cereal, but since it has 15 calories per teaspoon it is similarly caloric to regular sugar.


This noncaloric herb is far sweeter than sugar (Stevia extract is thought to be about 300 times sweeter than white sugar), so a little goes a long way. What’s more, it does not raise blood sugar levels, so it may be appropriate for diabetics. You can find packaged Stevia in powdered, liquid and tablet form under the SweetLeaf brand. Read more about Stevia here.

Agave Nectar

This liquid is collected from the same plants that produce tequila, and has a more neutral flavor and a less-syrupy consistency than honey. It’s as caloric as sugar, but is sweeter, so you can use less of it when baking. It also has a lower glycemic index than table sugar. Note that some say pregnant women should avoid using agave nectar.

Maple Flakes

These flakes of dehydrated maple syrup have half the calories per teaspoon of sugar or maple syrup (7.5 calories compared to 16 calories in a teaspoon of sugar and 17 calories in maple syrup) and are a low-glycemic food. They have a strong, sweet maple flavor that’s ideal for sprinkling over yogurt, hot cereal, pancakes or waffles, and can also replace the sweetener in marinades, salad dressings or baked fruit desserts. The Canadian company that makes them, Decacer, also offers a version that’s flavored with cranberry.

What’s your favorite natural, unrefined sweetener?

Image courtesy Decacer.


  1. Erythritol (not sure of spelling) is another natural sugar replacement that is new to me. I didn’t see it listed here so I thought I would mention it. My understanding is that Stevis leaves a bitter aftertaste for some people and that this does not. Also, there is one brand I saw at the grocery store that had a wee bit of sugar added to one of these natural sweeteners and was only 4 calories per teaspoon.

    I am trying to figure out how to lower my consumption of white sugar for better health as well as weight loss, but so far all of the good alternatives cost far more. Splenda and other similar alternatives are totally bad for health so I will not ever use them. Has anyone had success they would like to share in kicking the white sugar habit, or places that sell the naturals the cheapest?

    Moonwind | January 20th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  2. I am growning stevia in my garden that I bought at the farmers market. I simple dry the leaves and grind them in my coffee grinder, or make a “stevia tea’ for a liquid sweetner. Very inexpensive this way, and no added fillers like there are in some of the commercial stevia products.

    Debbie | August 4th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  3. Thanks a lot for sharing this with all of us you actually know what you are talking about! Bookmarked.

    korepetycje | July 30th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  4. Really an interesting article, however my opinion is slightly different. No matter, the more readers, the more different opinion and I really like yours. And I’m also going to check your other notes, too!

    Lyrics | August 24th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  5. Hi Jessica,
    Since you published this list of sugar alternatives a couple years ago, the skeptic-level has risen over agave nectar dramatically. Several experts have suggested that it’s no better than high fructose corn syrup, and some have even noted that HFCS is added to some agave nectars during the processing. Stevia is still a great natural sweetener, and I would add that raw, unprocessed honey can be an excellent one too, though ideally used sparingly.

    Michael | September 7th, 2011 | Comment Permalink

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