Is any sugar better than another? Just want a list of sugars best to worst?
Do you ever wonder which sweetener you should use in which recipes? I've put all the various sweeteners in order of okay to “don't do it!” below. As you all know by now, NO sweetener is good for us, and I'd be much better off if I would kick the habit for good, but until then, it still helps to know which ones are at least a little better than others…
These are in order, sugars best to worst:
- Again, zero sugar is ideal, and only small amounts of natural sugars. (Hopefully someday I’ll get there!)
- These choices are best, but see my notes below for more about each of them: Stevia, rapadura, sucanat, maple syrup, maple sugar, raw local honey (if you can't find a local source you can get raw honey here), palm or coconut sugar, molasses, dates, muscovado – these are all the least refined, the most natural, and contain the most nutrients – scroll down at that link for a comparison chart of the nutrient content in sugars.
- Turbinado, organic regular cane sugar (this one is a little better because organic has no GMOs from sugar beets), evaporated cane juice, organic brown sugar.
- Avoid if at all possible: Regular refined non-organic white table sugar or brown sugar (see above about GMOs) – refined sugars have no nutrients left in them at all…
- Avoid these for sure because not only do these have no nutrients, they also could be harmful: high fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, xylitol, erythritol, artificial sugars like Splenda/Aspartame, Nutrasweet, etc. – it’s better to use small amounts of real sweeteners above than to use these fake sugars that are highly processed and void of nutrients, PLUS some of these are dangerous — click the links to read more about each.
What I’ve learned — some specifics:
- I haven’t had much luck with Stevia, so I’m afraid to experiment more. Please comment and tell us what you like it in. Update: I love it in this sparkling lemonade punch, but honestly, beverages are all that I've found that it tastes okay in.
- Rapadura or sucanat are great for some things, like cinnamon toast or to sweeten a sauce, but I have found it to give baked goods too strong a taste. By the way, I knew Rapadura had some nutrients, but I didn’t realize how many! Check out this great chart with sugar comparisons and which ones we should choose.
- I love using palm or coconut sugar in baking, it's my favorite replacement sugar nowadays and baked goods taste perfectly wonderful! (I just replace it with a 1:1 ratio, but often will decrease the sugar in recipes, at least a little, just because I can and no one ever notices.)
- Molasses is a sweetener with a strong taste, I use a little in this nut bar recipe and also in this homemade pizza crust (Yum!), and of course in Molasses cookies, but what else do you like it in? It is is approximately 65 percent as sweet as sugar and can be used in both cooking and baking. Blackstrap molasses is an excellent source of manganese and copper, and also contains iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and Vitamin B6.
- This chocolate mousse is a great recipe using dates as the sweetener. You process them up really small and they give a good flavor.
- Maple syrup (or maple sugar) is great for the ooey gooey layer in the bottom of a pan of cinnamon rolls, in homemade ice cream, in homemade hot cocoa, to give smoothies a little sweetness, and in homemade applesauce! (Read Is Maple Syrup a Safe Sweetener for Diabetics?) It is a good source of magnesium and zinc. Maple syrup is about 60 percent as sweet as sugar. Get maple syrup here if you don't have a good local source.
- I like raw honey in my homemade bread, in a homemade hot fudge or chocolate fudge, in elderberry syrup of course, and to substitute part of the sugar in cookie recipes, but if I substitute it for all the sugar, the honey taste takes over. It has powerful disease-protecting antioxidants that are thought to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Honey is 25 to 50 percent sweeter than sugar and can be used in cooking, baking, and beverages. As with maple syrup, honey can cause a spike in blood sugar levels and should be used sparingly by those with diabetes. (Note: Do not give honey to children under one year of age as it may put younger children at risk for botulism.) Get raw honey here if you don't have a good local source.
- I don’t worry so much about the tiny amounts of xylitol in gum or toothpaste, but would never use it in baking. Read more here about “Sugar alcohols“.
- Agave Nectar – Sally Fallon helps to clear up all the confusion at that link.
- Dangers of Artificial Sugars – can artificial sugars make us fat?
- High Fructose Corn Syrup — no surprises here in the disgusting category, click that link to learn more.
- Muscovado – I haven't used this but heard it is wonderful.
- Sadly, “organic cane sugar” (not the same as “evaporated cane sugar”, which is more like Rapadura), really isn’t much better for us than regular refined white table sugar EXCEPT for the fact that you know you aren’t consuming genetically modified sugar, which is no small thing.
In the latest Wise Traditions, Sally Fallon-Morell gives these suggestions:
- If you want something sweet, eat a piece of fruit, not a candy bar labeled as a “health food”.
- Use sweeteners that are known to be safer. For uncooked dishes, unheated raw honey or dates work well. For cooked dishes or sweet drinks, a good organic maple syrup, or even freshly juiced apple juice or orange juice can provide delicious and relatively safe sweetness; dehydrated cane sugar juice or maple sugar may be used in moderation in cookies and desserts that contain nutritious ingredients and good fats such as butter, egg yolks and nuts.
- One should limit total sweetener consumption to less than five percent of daily calories.
- Many people do best by avoiding sweeteners completely.
Would you agree with the order I listed the sugars best to worst or would you have listed them differently?
Other information on sweeteners:
- Check out this newer post: Sugar Addiction Help: My Easy Tips for How to Curb a Sweet Tooth — Plus How I Lost 10#
- The Truth About Desserts and Cheat Foods (You Might be Surprised at my Latest Thoughts)
- Is THIS the Answer to the Gluten Sensitivity Epidemic?
- Get Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats by Sally Fallon.
Hi, can i substitute rapadura sugar with organic coconut sugar for baking? Thanks.
Yes you could BUT it has a very strong flavor that is too overpowering in my opinion.
About Stevia, there are different types out there now. With Truvia Baking pouch, you should substitute on a 1 Truvia to 3 Sugar ratio. (In other words use about 1/3 the Truvia as you would sugar. Less aftertaste.) There is a great comparison/conversion chart located at https://www.wholesomeyum.com/natural-low-carb-sweeteners-guide-conversion-chart/#conversionchart.
Stevia is even less. But you would need to play around with the conversion. I also have found a new source, Sola Sweetner (Erythritol blend) that is not as good. But can be used by the comparison chart above. I have less a “sweet tooth” as a need for the calories, but the glycemic index is killing me.
Great info, Larry, thank you!
Julie Bethell says
Do you know anything about monkfruit? I was told it should be with the. Eat group and was wondering if you had any thought on that?
No I haven’t heard of that Julie! It should be with the what group? (Typo I think.)
Thanks, I’ve got that one in the good category here. 🙂
I don’t do the Trim Healthy Mama diet , but their brand of stevia (the pure organic) is THE best !!! The consistency is like powdered sugar (maybe because there are no fillers ?). I LOVE it and it’s the first and only stevia I can say that about.
Really J? So what do you use it in then?
Julia Jonathan says
I use dried stevia leaves (completely unprocessed) in with my loose tea leaves when I make tea.
That sounds great, where do you get them?
I heard several years ago, that Sally Fallon changed her stance on sucanat because I believe the way sucanat was processed changed? Any way, I do know that sucanat is now considered a good sweetener by the Weston A. Price foundation (and Sally Fallon!)
Lauren, this link from part 2 answers your question (in case you didn’t see it already):
So I just finished reading Nourishing Traditions and I must say WOW! what an incredible book! I think my brain is going to explode with SO much amazing information. So here is a question for you Kelly. I read a lot where you and Ann Marie interchange the words “Rapadura” and “Sucanat”. Before I read NT, I went to Whole Foods and they did not know what Rapadura was, but they had sucanat. I went ahead and bought the sucanat and have been using it ever since. However, while I was reading NT, Sally Fallon said NOT to use sucanat, that it was basically the same as refined sugar and that it should be avoided. What is your take here?
Paula, I haven’t heard that. I asked Ann Marie and she hadn’t heard it either.
Tami, thank you, I am honored!
Gigi, sorry, I haven’t heard anything about it, but I’d guess that the fact that the color varies is a good sign…?
Janelle, very interesting!
We love blackstrap molasses in our house! Our favorite way to eat it is mixing about 1:1 with really good butter, then simply spread on anything. My kids are 6 and 3 and they love it!
I was looking to find a cheaper ‘version’ of rapadura, and discovered that there I can buy a ‘mexican’ form of it here in AZ. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rapadura.
At Food City (in the spices and bulk section) and Sprouts (in the little plastic cases next to the bulk) and the Guadalupe Farmer’s market (only tried one)
It is sold in the shape of a cone with a flat top. I suppose a tough food processor could chop it, but I have to grate it by hand since mine is wimpy. It is called pilloncillo and goes for about 1.30/lb.
I wondered if you or anyone here has heard of it and knows if it is worth my time (mineral-wise) grating it 🙂 I am reassured by its nice aroma, but it varies in its color.
Tami Lewis says
i learn so much from your blog and am so blessed to receive this knowledge that i gave you an award. 🙂 check out my blog to see it!
Would LOVE to know more about evaporated cane juice. Someone (was it you?) said it messes with adrenals. I would love to see a link here to information about it. 😀 It is in the Enjoy Life chocolate chips which are GMO free as well as top 8 free. The only ones my son can have. And since I have been trying to go white sugar free, they are a good option for me right now. But I cannot afford to mess up his adrenals nor do I want to mess up mine. THANKS!! 😀
I use one glass of milk, about 8oz. A eating teaspoon, not the set of spoons, of the cacao. And a dollup of maple syrup. Mix it all in the blender, and you are set for yummy town!
OK, I went to add the “best to worst” list and I ended up adding comments about each one and it got long, so I’m going to just add to this post soon and do a “part 2”!
Thanks Julie, I’ll have to try that recipe!! 🙂
Teena, your question prompted me to add a list of best to worst in my post…
JC, without a doubt! They turn to sugar quickly inside us.
Thanks for the breakdown of sugars. It was a hard habit to kick but now I’m off of refined sugars. I do indulge in maple syrup in my yogurt and honey in those irresistible carob chews but I think it is much better than the daily haagen-dazs I used to do (ew!)
The odd thing is that I had been off of refined sugar for 2 months and I was beyond craving it but when I stopped eating gluten all of a sudden I craved sugar (and mind you I was only eating sprouted or fermented whole grains at that point). I thought it was interesting. Now, 2 weeks later, I don’t miss the wheat and my sugar cravings are gone.
So, I think we can even venture to list refined carbs as a sugar?
A great list! Good reminders for sticking to honey and maple syrup around here. I am wanting to try coconut sugar one of these days though.
We were JUST talking about this in my natural chef class yesterday…since I have been told by Dr. Cowan (who wrote Fourfold Path to Healing with Sally Fallon) that I am to stay away form agave nectar for the reasons noted. And here I have been promoting it due to it’s low GI affects! Sucanat is the purest form of raw cane sugar (no molasses – it just hasn’t been as processed.) But alas, there really are no ‘healthy sugars,’ and I, like you, Kelly, hope to one day kick the habit.
My Boys' Teacher says
Where does Stevia fall in your assessment?
My Boys’ Teacher
What a great post, Kelly! I love how many past articles you were able to link to. Your site is so informative, a veritable goldmine.
Thanks too, for participating in today’s Fight Back Fridays. This is just the kind of thoughtful post that will challenge & encourage everyone.
Kyle, yes, I have tried Blackstrap Molasses and it is good. I really like it, but it is a sweetener that has a strong personality–It’s great in molasses cookies or a gingerbread, or in rye breads. But, for other things it is overwhelming. It is high in iron, so if you need to build up the red blood count, it’s good to have on hand. Actually, it’s also good in coffee with lots of cream.
Rosy – can you post like specific measurements for the chocolate milk? I know that can be hard to do because a lot of times you just do how much you feel like.
I’ve heard that blackstrap molasses are good for you too. Anybody tried that?
Brown sugar is just white sugar with molasses coating it. It is not better than table sugar. If you are looking for a great brown sugar try sucant, or rapandura, they haven
I know to avoid HFCS and aspertame (sp?) on labels but what about the brown sugar or regular sugar in my cupboards? Is “raw” sugar better?
Thank you for this post! Very helpful!
I’m lucky in that my brother in law gives us maple syrup from his trees in Vermont. This year he also gave me a recipe to try using maple syrup. It’s rich, it’s sweet, it’s GOOD—no it’s GREAT! I humbly submit this recipe and hope you will enjoy it as much as we did:
Maple Bavarian Creme
Heat 1 1/2 cups maple syrup just to the point where it starts to bubble. Take from heat.
Dissolve 1 packet of Knox brand unflavored gelatin in 1/3 cup cold water.
Stir the gelatin mix into the maple syrup. Mix well as the gelatin is quite clumpy (is that a word?) Allow this to cool to room temperature. Then stir in until well blended: 1 1/2 cups heavy cream. Pour into ramekins and chill until ready to serve. Makes 6 servings
I topped mine with toasted pecans. Very tasty. It would also be good with fresh berries on top.
Sally A Farrington says
Oh that sounds SO GOOD. I’ve been on a maple syrup kick lately. I’ve been making granola with nuts, dried fruit, coconut oil, and maple syrup (and some cinnamon oil). Freakin’ delicious.