Make It Sweet! Alternatives to Refined Sugar

By Amy Mason
Please learn more about Amy by visiting her website at

There is nothing better on a fall day than a warm piece of zucchini bread and a pumpkin spice latte! As the weather turns colder in most places it’s the time where most of us long for some baked goods and look forward to the treats of the coming holidays. Your littles probably appreciate these yummy snacks as well!

Most of us have heard that refined white sugar and high fructose corn syrup aren’t good for us or our kiddos. White sugar and high fructose corn syrup are culprits that cripple the body’s immune system, impair the body’s ability to regulate appetite, contribute to weight gain, and over time decrease the body’s ability to produce insulin which eventually leads to cardiovascular diseases or type 2 diabetes. (Find more information here).

The good news is that there are many great alternative sweeteners that not only add incredible flavor, but also contain some nutrition. Keep in mind that the more refined something is - like bleached white flour or refined white sugar - the more empty calories and the less nutrition there will be. (Disclaimer: these alternatives to processed sugar are still forms of sugar and will still cause a spike (although smaller) in blood sugar and should be used sparingly. Also, although these alternatives do have more nutritional value, there is no substitute for a nutritious diet that includes lots of healthy greens and a variety of vegetables). With that said, here are some delicious and nutritious options for your fall baking needs!

Coconut Sugar: This is my favorite swap for recipes that call for sugar. It is an easy and accessible substitute. Coconut sugar comes from the sap of cut flowers of the coconut palm. It has a lower glycemic index (meaning it won’t cause as great a spike in blood sugar) as refined white sugar. It is more coarse than white sugar and smells more like brown sugar but can be used in place of either white or brown sugar in baking recipes. Trader Joes now sells their own brand but you can also find it at most health food stores as either Coconut Crystals or Palm Sugar (a variant made from a different kind of palm tree). You can take a look at the link to Trader Joes here.

Maple Sugar: Maple sugar is another alternative that has a very low glycemic index. It has a mild maple flavor but is absolutely delicious in baking recipes. It is lighter in color than coconut sugar and has a finer texture. It’s another easy and delicious substitute for white or brown sugar. Find my favorite brand here. The downside is that it's a little bit pricier than coconut sugar.

Maple Syrup: It’s not just for pancakes! “Not only does maple syrup taste fantastic, but it’s an awesome source of micronutrients! When you buy grade B maple syrup, you get a lot of minerals, including manganese and zinc. Other trace minerals include calcium, potassium, and iron. Another amazing thing about maple syrup, especially grade B, is that it contains up to 24 antioxidants!!” (Source: Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, and here.) 

Honey: Honey is a fantastic sweetener - a little bit goes a long way! It’s mild taste makes it a wonderful alternative to white sugar. Tip: You may have to make adjustments to the ratio of wet to dry ingredients to get your recipe just perfect. If you’re embarking on a baking project that requires yeast, you can swap honey for sugar to proof the yeast.

Molasses: Blackstrap Molasses is probably the most nutritious choice when it comes to sweeteners. It is actually a by-product of the sugar-making process but it is packed full of vitamins and micronutrients. It has more nutrients per calorie than other sweeteners. It has a rich, but strong scent and flavor. You can peruse this article from about the benefits of Molasses if you’re interested.

Fruit: Fruits get their sweetness from the natural sugar fructose. Many products today are sweetened with fruit juices. However, you can also use whole fruits in baking such as bananas, dates, pears, pineapples, and apples that will add sweetness. The benefit of using whole fruits is that the sugars stay attached to the fibers of the fruit, slowing down the digestion of the sugars so there isn’t as great a spike in blood sugar. Try soaking dates in hot water for 20 minutes, draining, and blending into a sweet paste with a food processor. Use in place of a liquid sweetener. You can also purchase date sugar but I have not found that to be as sweet or tasty as using whole dates (pits removed of course)!

When we think of feeding our kids, let’s look for ways to include foods that are packed with nutrition rather than merely avoiding bad stuff. When we do this we find that even some sugars can have nutritional value in small amounts. I hope this opens up a whole new world of possibilities for your fall menus! Hopefully you’ll be able to give you kiddos some treats (in moderation!) you can feel good about.

Here’s to healthy moms and healthy kids!