5 must-try alternatives to sugar

20 April 2017 by
First published: 17 July 2016

Want to quit the sweet stuff? Give these 5 must-try alternatives to sugar a go. As these days we are surrounded by so many low-fat and low-sugar products that it’s hard to know what to choose. Luckily we’re here to help!

It’s now increasingly clear that low-fat diets are often not the way forward – as they’re usually high in artificial sweeteners that are labelled calorie-free, but loaded with chemicals and additives that are detrimental to health. So while you need to cut out refined sugar, be sure to swap it for alternatives that are naturally derived, minimally processed and still contain some minerals and vitamins in them. Still use them in moderation though, as even if they’re healthier options, they’re still sweeteners that add flavour and shouldn’t be seen as a main source of dietary nutrients.

Here are our favourites…


Maple syrup

Maple syrup is derived by boiling the sap of maple trees into a concentrated and sweet syrup. It’s rich in manganese, zinc, calcium and vitamin B2. Manganese and B2 are used by enzymes that are needed for energy production and antioxidant defences; zinc is involved in immune system function as well as skin and tissue health; calcium is an important mineral for bones, muscles and nerves.

Great to use on pancakes and waffles, but also works perfectly in baking (because it’s liquid you’ll need to reduce other liquids by about a quarter), homemade granola and pies, as a sweetener in salad dressings or marinades for roasted vegetables, or drizzled on yoghurt or porridge in the morning.


Coconut sugar

Coconut sugar is made from the coconut palm that’s heated to evaporate its water content and reduced to usable granules. It has a much lower GI index than sugar and it’s rich in iron, zinc, calcium and potassium.

It’s similar in taste to brown cane sugar, so great for baking, and it doesn’t affect the consistency like maple syrup or molasses. Use it also in teas, coffees and hot drinks. Add some to hot chocolate and it will give it a lovely caramel flavour.



Powdered stevia is made from the leaves of the stevia plant, which are dried to form a powder, while liquid stevia is the whole-leaf extract. The powder form often contains other ingredients and fillers, so check the label.

While it doesn’t have any particular nutritional value, the great thing is that it doesn’t affect blood sugar at all – making it a great alternative for people dealing with diabetes and weight loss, as it is also calorie-free.

Stevia is about 100 times sweeter than sugar, so when used in baking two tablespoons of stevia powder is about the same as one cup of sugar. Of the liquid form, use only few drops. It can also be added to teas, coffees and smoothies as well as yoghurts and ice creams.



Molasses is a thick syrup produced as a by-product when the sugar cane plant is processed to make refined sugar, and many of the nutritional benefits are left in this thick syrup. It provides a significant amount of calcium, iron, magnesium, copper, potassium, vitamin B6 and antioxidants, which support healthy skin, hair and nails.

It’s quite thick, so best used in baking (think cookies, muffins, loaves and pies) or drizzled over toast with almond or peanut butter, or on porridge for breakfast. But try it as well in glazes, sauces and marinades to complement savoury dishes.


Dates, date syrup and date sugar

Dates are a great way to sweeten desserts like puddings, bars and raw energy balls with nuts and coconut. Plus, they contain vitamin B6, vitamin A, potassium and calcium.

Date sugar retains all these nutrients and comes from dates that have been dehydrated, then ground to produce the sugar. It doesn’t melt completely, so don’t use it in tea or coffee however, it is great for baking. Use just two thirds of the amount of brown or white sugar called for in your recipe – as it’s a bit sweeter.

Date syrup is extracted from dates using a soaking and squeezing process. It still contains many of the nutrients of the fruit and the resulting sugars are likely to be absorbed slowly into the body. Date syrup has a thick consistency similar to molasses, so use it in similar recipes. It’s delicious drizzled on ice cream or paired with tahini for a delicious and nutritious spread.