Most of us are in a serious relationship with sugar, and just like any romance, it has its issues. From spiking blood glucose levels to contributing to insulin resistance, refined sugar can seriously mess with your health. But you’re probably not going to give up treats forever. Because, happiness.
So we turned to our favorite food bloggers for their favorite sugar substitutes—and then tasty, simple recipes that incorporate each ingredient. Of course, using these sweet substitutes won’t turn a doughnut into a superfood. But they offer a more natural source of sweetness and even some health benefits, too.
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Naturally sweet and full of fiber, dates are a no-brainer sugar substitute. Plus, they’re super versatile. “Dates are perfect in smoothies, energy balls, salads, and salad dressings,” Brittany Mullins, from the blog Eating Bird Food, tells Health. “You can also blend them into a paste or puree to use for baking.” Make a date to bake her chocolate chip muffins or four-ingredient Samoas, both of which get their sweetness from this fruit.
Recipe developer and food blogger Rachel Mansfield knows a thing or two about sugar substitutes. Her top pick? “Coconut sugar is my go-to baking sweetener,” she tells Health. “It provides that grainy texture that cane sugar does and sweetness without the blood sugar spike.”
A little goes a long way with coconut sugar, which is made from the sap extracted from the buds of coconut palms and contains nutrients like thiamin, iron, and zinc. “If a recipe usually calls for one cup of cane sugar, I will add 3/4 cup coconut sugar instead,” says Mansfield. Give the sweetener a try by whipping up Mansfield’s vegan cinnamon rolls. “They are one of my favorite recipes and they have no refined sugar in them!” she says.
RELATED: What Is Monk Fruit Sweetener and Is It a Healthy Option?
UK cookbook author and personal trainer Sassy Gregson-Williams tells Health she’s all about applesauce when it comes to cutting down on added sugar in her recipes. “Applesauce works particularly well in healthier cakes, muffins, cupcakes, and cookies,” the founder of Naturally Sassy explains. “It helps to moisten the bake, and can also be used as a substitute for butter or oil.” To give the swap a go, sample Gregson-William’s recipe for lavender lemon-glazed cookies, which slashes sugar by using half apple sauce and half maple syrup.
Monk fruit sweetener
We’ve been obsessed with holistic chef and food blogger Laura Lea Goldberg ever since she gave us this must-try recipe for ultra fudgy black bean brownies. So we were hardly surprised when she filled us in on the benefits of monk fruit sweetener as a sugar substitute. “I’ve really enjoyed playing with dried monk fruit sweetener recently,” she tells Health. “It’s low-glycemic, low-carb, and subs for white sugar just about 1:1.”
Monk fruit sweetener can have a bit of funky aftertaste, says Goldberg, so it’s best to pair it with strong ingredients. “I’ve found that using rich, bold flavors like cocoa powder, cinnamon, walnuts, and banana in tandem with monk fruit sweetener is best,” she explains.
Need some inspiration? This sugar-free chocolate avocado mousse is her newest obsession, and it’s a perfect fit for monk fruit, she says. “Unctuous, satisfying, and sugar-free, you can indulge in this recipe and receive fantastic health benefits at the same time.” Sweet!
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Who says sugar substitutes have to be super sweet? “When it comes to leaving out the white stuff but still maintaining flavor and an overall sense of sweetness, my favorite trick is to add cinnamon and vanilla bean (not extract or powder, but the actual black specks from the vanilla bean pod),” wellness blogger Britt Berlin, who doesn’t use sugar substitutes like coconut sugar, maple syrup, or honey in her recipes, explains to Health. “You’d be surprised at how quickly your tastes buds adapt to not using sugar.”
One of her favorite treats, her sweet potato brownie loaf, relies on warming spices for its rich, satisfying flavor. Says Berlin: “It’s so sweet from the sweet potato, cinnamon, and vanilla bean, you’d think you’re having a decadent fudgy brownie!”
Unlike super processed table sugar, this sugar substitute delivers a sweet flavor that’s all natural. Also, honey—especially the manuka variety—contains antibacterial properties. Chefs and foodies mostly love it because it can be used for just about anything.
RELATED: What is Manuka Honey—and Why Is It So Good For You?
“One of my favorite alternatives to white sugar is honey,” says Nicole Modic, creator of the blog Kale Junkie. “I use it in my tea, I bake with it, and I drizzle it on top of my toasts.” After Modic switched from processed sugars to natural sweeteners, she says she kicked her sugar habit. “Back in the days when I wasn’t paying attention to my diet, my cravings were off the hook, and I attribute that to the processed sugars that made me crave more and more.”
These days, you can find Modic adding raw manuka honey to her avocado toast on her wildly popular Instagram account, or posting recipes on her blog such as this one for cinnamon tahini cookies. These delicious treats use honey and cinnamon. Tahini has health benefits too; it’s a paste made from ground sesame seeds that supplies some protein.