Smarter Sweets: A Guide to Real Food Sweeteners {The Healthy Eating Made Simple Series}

It doesn’t take much research and Googling to figure out the sugar is something to be careful with in our diets. With sugar consumption in our country going through the roof, the health of our nation is also suffering. Cutting back on sugar intake is a huge part of making healthy changes in our eating habits.

However, I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t enjoy a sweet treat now and then, and I don’t think that healthy eating means that we never enjoy something sweet. By making smart choices with the sweeteners we use, sweet treats become a little less guilty and an enjoyable, occasional addition to our diet.

Smart Sweets A Guide to Real Food Sweeteners, part of the Healthy Eating Made Simple series at

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Sweeteners to Avoid

When trying to eat a real food diet, there are certain sweeteners that should be excluded. Anything artificial is sort of a given, but others might surprise you. In our home, I’ve chosen to keep out these sweeteners:

  • Artificial Sweeteners (Aspartame, Splenda, etc.): These sweeteners, often found in “diet” foods and beverages, claim to be healthier since they have zero calories. However, there are major concerns with their safety, side effects, and the by-products produced from them breaking down in the body.
  • Corn Syrup & High Fructose Corn Syrup: This highly processed and unnatural concoction may contribute more significantly to weight gain than other sugars. The corn used to create it is quite likely to be genetically modified, as well. HFCS is found in ketchup, peanut butter, soda, candy, breakfast syrups, and much, much more.
  • Non-Organic White, Powdered, and Brown Sugar: Why does organic matter? Sugar can be made from either sugar cane or sugar beets, and the beets are often genetically modified. Buying organic ensures no GMOs. However, Domino brand sugar is made only from sugar cane, ruling out GMOs, making it an option to consider.

Sweeteners to Choose

These sweeteners are lightly processed and have some mineral content. They are still sweeteners, though, so moderation is still the way to go. Unless it’s Saturday morning pancakes, which in that case, I say “Enjoy that maple syrup, with lots of butter, of course!”

  • Rapadura/Sucanat: This unrefined sugar is made from dehydrated sugar cane juice, leaving it with some trace minerals. It resembles coarse sand and has a sweet molasses flavor. Depending on the brand, it goes by Rapadura or Sucanat (SUgar CAne NATural), but it is the same product. I use this as an equal substitute for white and brown sugar.
  • Honey: Though supermarket honey may not be the real thing, raw and/or local honey can be a great choice for your pantry. I love getting raw honey from local beekeepers, but have also enjoyed various brands available online, including a lovely organic, raw honey from Tropical Traditions.
  • Maple Syrup: I like to buy maple syrup by the gallon when it is in season. A gallon generally lasts us most of a year. It comes graded, which reflects flavor and color but not quality. Maple sugar is made from the syrup and is also a good natural sweetener.
  • Molasses: This dark syrup is a by-product of white sugar manufacturing. Blackstrap molasses is not very sweet but is high in minerals, while baking molasses is more often used in sweet recipes. Sorghum molasses is made from a different plant than sugar cane molasses but is similar in flavor and also high in certain minerals.
  • Date Sugar: This sugar is made from dried and ground dates, making it a whole food. Date sugar behaves differently in recipes so it may not work interchangeably with regular sugar.

Choosing sweeteners, part of the Healthy Eating Made Simple series at

Sweeteners to Consider

The jury’s out on these. Some say “yea” and others a big “nay”. Do your research and see how your body responds to them if you choose to try them.

  • Stevia: Stevia is a green herb native to South America that is 200+ times sweeter than sugar. While liquid stevia extracts are generally considered good alternative sweeteners, powdered stevia is more processed and often contains other additional ingredients. Be familiar with the types of stevia available if you want to use it. You can grow it during the summer (I do) and then dry it or make your own extract (a project for me this summer!).
  • Sugar-Alcohols: Look for words ending in -itol: xylitol, erythritol, sorbital, maltitol. Xylitol is often used in candida-friendly desserts. These can cause digestive issues in some people. When our family had a chocolate cake sweetened with xylitol, half ended up with some tummy trouble. If you choose to try one, ensure that it is GMO-free.
  • Organic White, Powdered, Turbinado, and Brown Sugar: These will be lacking the trace minerals found in less processed sugars, but will not be GMO products.
  • Agave: Originally I had agave listed as a sweetener to avoid. There seems to be some foodie controversy surrounding it as some claim it to be actually worse than HFCS, yet there are others who think it is a good natural sweetener choice. Personally, I’ve decided not to use it because I don’t find it necessary when I can use honey or maple syrup as liquid sweeteners.
  • Coconut or Palm Sugar: Made from the sap of the coconut palm tree, coconut sugar is becoming a very popular whole food sweetener. However, there are some concerns with its sustainability that are worth attention.

Whew! That was a lot of listing. Which of these sweeteners do you like to use? Are there some you are trying to cut out?

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    1. I use KAL powdered Stevia which they’ve recently changed and are now adding additional ingredients so I will not longer be using that brand any longer once mine is gone. The Liquid by KAL is usually easy to get just make sure on the front is says 100% stevia then when you check the label where it reads { other ingredients: None } Then you know nothings been added but you must check. I also use 100% Organic Maple Syrup. I too have tried my hand at growing my own but had very little success from what I can tell seems like it grows more woody stems like a small shrub? Likes well drained soil like Lavender. Thank you for this post.

      1. Hi Kathy! Great tip on the stevia! I’m on the hunt for a trusted brand now. I always used powdered in the past but I need to switch liquid.

        I grew stevia last year in my garden and it did pretty well. I dried the leaves to use in tea. I bought them as plants, though, as I’ve heard it is very hard to get to start from seed. I’m really hopeful that making my own extract will work! It did grow woody stems, but also soft green ones, too. As I kept snipping off growth, it put it more young growth.

        Thanks for reading & sharing your input!