Sugar Substitutions

We love sugar. Molasses, cane, coconut, stevia, honey…we use it all. Sugar is a vital ingredient for adding flavor, sweetness, and binding properties. But sugar is also a dangerous ingredient for many medical conditions. For years, Brianna cooked and baked with coconut sugar, thinking (as many do) that it was a healthier option. She would make delicious treats for her friends and family, she often delivered desserts to her sister, who was becoming increasingly sick. Her sister suffered from increasing bloating, fatigue, mind-fog, abdominal cramping….and as her illness progressed, she changed her diet to be ‘healthier’. More fruits and vegetables, she started replacing processed cane sugars with homemade foods containing honey and coconut sugar. And this was exactly what was making her sick.

Fast forward to a diagnosis, Brianna’s sister was suffering from Fructose Malabsorption, a condition in which the body lacks the necessary fructose receptors in the small intestine, making it impossible to absorb the fructose. Once they changed her diet (removing fructan heavy fruits and vegetables, changing her sugar source to one of glucose), she was healthy and happy again. The ‘health’ content of a sugar varies with the individual and their bodies ability to process the many constituents of sugar. Read more about Fructose Malabsorption here or scroll to the bottom of the page for our reference table to help you choose the best sugar source for you and your family!

Sugar, A Brief Explanation

All sugar sources (excluding stevia and sugar alcohols) will eventually become the monosaccharide glucose and be used or stored as a fuel source. “Sugars” are built from subclasses of disaccharides (sucrose) and monosaccharides (glucose, fructose). Sucrose is broken down by pancreatic and salivary enzymes to form glucose and fructose, the fructose is then processed by the liver to form glucose. Glucose is absorbed readily through the small intestine and travels through the blood stream, causing insulin to be released. Because of the immediate absorption, glucose causes spiked blood sugar levels. Fructose takes longer to be absorbed, therefore it has a lower rating on the “Glycemic Index”.

The Glycemic Index is a rating system for sugar sources, comparing their blood sugar spike to that of 100% glucose. Sugar alcohols and stevia are not easily absorbed and do not affect blood sugar levels (giving them a low rating on the Glycemic Index). In general, these sources pass through the digestive tract, which is why they can cause diarrhea. How? Water equalizes the high concentration of insoluble sugar alcohol by moving in to the bowels, this additional water causes diarrhea and dehydration of the rest of the body.

Sugar Reference



Glycemic Index



Agave Syrup Fructose, Glucose (small amount) Low $$
  • Antioxidant activity (low)
  • 1 cup sugar = ⅔ cup agave (reduce ⅓ cup liquid from recipe)
Glucose, Dextrose Glucose High $ Used to form the glycemic index.
Beet Sugar Sucrose Medium-High $$ Nutritionally identical to cane sugar.
Brown Sugar Sucrose High $
  • White sugar added to molasses
  • Deeper, more complex flavor profile
  • 1 to 1 conversion ratio.
Cane Sugar (Table, confectioners, powdered, & sugar cane juice) Sucrose Medium-High $ Standard all sugar sources are compared to.
Coconut Sugar Sucrose, Inulin, Micronutrients Low $$$
  • Similar percentage of fructose as cane sugar, but inulin fiber slows absorption giving it a lower glycemic index.
  • More complex flavor profile, will not cause final product to taste like ‘coconut’.
  • 1 to 1 ratio
Honey (Raw) Fructose, Glucose Medium $-$$$
  • Antioxidant activity (high)
  • Made from bees. Can fortify immune system against local allergens if using locally produced raw honey
  • Not consumed by most vegans
  • Adds a specific flavor and is sweeter than regular sucrose.
    • 1 cup cane sugar = ¾ cup honey (reduce 2 tbsp of liquid from the recipe)
Maple Syrup (pure) Sucrose Medium $$-$$$
  • Relatively unrefined, from the tree sap.
  • Antioxidant activity (high)
  • 1 cup sugar = ¾ cup maple sugar (reduce 3 tbsp liquid from recipe)
Molasses Sucrose Medium $
  • Boiled from cane/beet sugar to form a syrup.
  • Antioxidant activity (blackstrap has the highest)
  • 1 cup sugar = 1 ⅓ cup molasses (reduce 5 tbsp of liquid from the recipe)
Polyols (erythritol, malititol, sorbitol, & xylitol) Sugar alcohols Low $$
  • Appropriate for low-carb diets
  • Some people detect an extremely bitter aftertaste.
  • 1 to 1 conversion ratio
Stevia Steviol glycosides Zero $$$
  • 150 times sweeter than sugar
  • Liquid or powder form
  • 1 cup sugar = ½ tsp stevia powder or liquid extract.
  • Some people detect an extremely bitter aftertaste.



  • “The Benefits and Risks of Erythritol as a Sweetener.” LIVESTRONG.COM. LIVESTRONG.COM, 21 Mar. 2016. Web.
  • “Cane vs. Beet Sugar Nutrition.” LIVESTRONG.COM. LIVESTRONG.COM, 21 June 2015. Web.
  • “Coconut Sugar – Healthy Sugar Alternative or a Big, Fat Lie?” RSS 20. N.p., 17 Apr. 2013. Web.
  • “Nutritional Facts on Cane Sugar.” LIVESTRONG.COM. LIVESTRONG.COM, 26 July 2015. Web.
  • “Sorbitol, Oral Artificial Sweetener: Side Effects and Dosage.” MedicineNet. N.p., n.d. Web.
  • “Sugar Reduction with Polyols LYN NABORS and THERESA HEDRICK | September 2012, Volume 66, No.9.” Sugar Reduction with Polyols. N.p., n.d. Web.
  • “Xylitol Official Site | What Is Xylitol? | Side Effects & Is It Safe?” Xylitol About Xylitol. N.p., n.d. Web.

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