Are There Any Healthy Sugar Substitutes Out There?

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Sugar Alternatives

Just this week I was speaking with a client on the phone and the topic of sweeteners came up. Our way of eating is so focused on sweet taste that we’ve created a number of sugar alternatives–a misguided attempt to create the illusion of diet and health food using chemical sweeteners–not good.

Ironically, it is much better to just eat real sugar in small amounts rather than all these substitutes. The substitutes are not only unhealthy, they can be downright dangerous to our health.

Good Sugar Alternatives

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana)

For many years now, stevia has seen widespread use in the United States as a sweetener. You can find it in many forms from tincture to powder. It is about 300 times sweeter than beet or cane sugar. In Japan, stevia corners about 47% of the sweetener market, but not in “leaf” form. They isolate only the compound called stevioside. Perhaps this type of use has encouraged us all to see stevia as merely a sugar substitute.

In fact, when stevia is consumed in its whole plant form there is much more to be had from this amazing plant. (Stay away from stevia that is a white crystalline color – this is not whole leaf stevia.) It has the ability to regulate blood sugar, both high and low. If your focus is on balanced hormones, the ability to replace chemical sugar substitutes and processed beet and cane sugar is an important one. We must keep in mind that insulin, after all, is a hormone. Hormonal imbalance can involve our adrenal glands, thyroid, and even our blood sugar levels.


Healthy Sugar Substitutes

If you wish to keep your blood sugar and hormones balanced, you should be eating sweets in moderation and definitely only those that contain maple syrup, raw honey, sucanat, or evaporated cane juice.

Unhealthy Sugar Substitutes

Truthfully, everyone should stay away from the chemical creations meant to fool our bodies into thinking we’re eating something sweet. Every last one of them have side effects that are not worth the chemical taste they add to food. While we have a problem in our society with a sweet tooth, it is much better to eat sugar than to reach for foods that are filled with these franken-sweeteners.


Aspartame is sold around the world as NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonfuls, Canderel, Bienvia, NatraSweet and Miwon. According to Nourishing Traditions:

Aspartame is a neurotoxic substance that has been associated with numerous health problems including dizziness, visual impairment, severe muscle aches, numbing of extremities, pancreatitis, high blood pressure, retinal hemorrhaging, seizures and depression. It is suspected of causing birth defects and chemical disruptions in the brain.

The FDA recommends that pregnant and lactating women, people with advanced liver disease and phenylketonurics avoid products containing aspartame due to concern over metabolizing phenylalanine. This metabolizes due to heat or prolonged storage and results in a known carcinogen.


Found in numerous sodas and other processed foods. It is listed by name and is a neurotoxin and strong allergen. Those with sulfa allergies should be especially cautious.

Sucralose (Splenda)

This chemical byproduct of chlorine and sugar has not been tested enough to show any kind of data on safety. The studies that have come forth indicate an ability to cause mutation. They also show a negative effect on diabetes and blood sugar levels. In laboratory settings it has been shown to cause damage to the thymus gland, liver and kidneys of rats.

How about you?

Which sweeteners do you use, and which do you stay away from?


About Dawn Combs

Dawn is a wife, mother, farmer, author, ethnobotanist, professional speaker, and educator. She has over 20 years of ethnobotanical experience, is a certified herbalist, and has a B.A. in Botany and Humanities/Classics. Dawn is co-owner of Mockingbird Meadows Farm. Her books include Conceiving Healthy Babies and Heal Local.

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  1. Hilda Hurtel says

    Although I do still use some saccharin, it is in moderation because it doesn’t taste so good in yogurt or on cereal. For that I use Stevia, but I find that limited by the fact that sugar alcohol affects my digestive system.
    I also avoid Sucralose because I suffer muscle pain when using it. Reading labels has become a necessary evil. Many manufacturers add it in.
    Some of the other sweeteners mentioned, I have not come across yet. Maybe I’ll go exploring but I seem to be more content with fruit and grains that have a natural sweetness.

  2. Kim says

    I use Trader Joe’s organic 100% Stevia Extract. The only ingredient listed is: Organic Stevia Extract (Leaf). It is a white crystal powder. Are you saying this is or isn’t okay to use?

  3. Loraine says

    So if you were to add to this article/post, I would suggest adding in::
    the why NOT for Agave (cause many people don’t know it’s not a health food) and also include information on whether or not Xylitol is a good alternative… I’ve hear mixed reviews of this…. and also the other natural sweeteners that are good for you: erithritol, yacon syrup, coconut sugar… of course Maple syrup & honey are good for you as well, but an important point in lieu of avoiding even evaporated cane juice is that it is WAY more addicting than any other sugar…. like I think I read recently it was 8 times (or something) more addicting than heroin!!

  4. JoAnn Gauldin says

    I would like to grow some Stevia plants. Does anyone know where to purchase them? I live in Alabama.

  5. Paulina says

    My boyfriend just boght on some nutrition convent something called sugavida, as we read studies stevia may cause cancer and we don’t like the taste anyway. That is what u can find about sugavida on their website: ‘THE ONLY BIO-AVAILABLE, PLANT-BASED SOURCE OF VITAMIN B12 FOUND IN NATURE.

    1 tablespoon is:
    • 36% RDA of Vitamin B12
    • 210% RDA of Vitamin B6 – known as the “sex drive” vitamin
    • 500% RDA of Vitamin B1

    Uses 50% less in recipes than sugar.

    Already recommended in the UK and Europe by top nutritionists and dieticians as a “must-have” for vegans and for children.

    Safe for diabetics. Also used by professional bakers, chocolatiers and Michelin starred chefs.’

    • Dawn says

      I’ll have to reserve judgement on that one for right now. The only information I can find is that it might be a derivative of palm sap. If the process of extracting and processing this sap is no suspect I’ll be open to it…. they aren’t forthcoming with their process as of yet, so I wouldn’t rush to get on the bandwagon just yet.
      Stevia, the plant, does not cause cancer… though I agree on the taste. I might be suspicious of “processed ” stevia products though.

  6. Jean King says

    Sugar itself is horrible for anyone to eat!! There is so much research out there on the harm it is causing and the huge amounts we are eating of it. It is being linked to Alzheimer disease and diabetes among others. I think Stevia is the safest sweetner to consume because it is natural and I’ve found no harmful side affects so far.

  7. Mitch Sasil says

    I must say that it’s worth reading this article.. My mother has a diabetes and its really hard to see that shes suffering and adjusting her foods to eat and watching us while were eating our delicious and sweet deserts.. I must find this alternative sugar near us too and try it as well. Thank you Miss Dawn!xx

  8. Joanne Walsh says

    Yakon Syrup. I’m posting this again. It was new to me until I found it at our local farmers mkt. Also this was made public on Dr Oz. Not sure what year.

  9. fran says

    I’d be happy if someone would recommend a brand of Stevia that they buy. I have been using Stevia in the Raw from Costco and have purchased Stevita online. I use it to try to curb calories. It seems that since starting out in my 60’s I have been steadily gaining a few pounds each year and prior to age 60 I was always able to maintain my weight with diet and exercise; now it’s a huge problem! I have used artificial sweeteners for several years! I alternately do use turbinado sugar or honey.

  10. Hans @ Qberry Farm says

    I enjoy raising stevia plants each year. I surprise visitors by plucking a leaf and handing it to them wit the request; taste this and tel me what you think. They are dying back now but I will save the dried leaves for sweetening tea or adding to my fruit when I am steaming it for juice and fruit butters.

    • JoAnn Gauldin says

      I would like to try growing some Stevia plants. I live in Alabama. Where could I find some to purchase?

  11. Nina Jankowski says

    I use natural sugar instead of white sugar. And I also use honey. Those two are best. Thanks.

  12. Evelyn says

    I attempt to eat as natural as possible. I do not have a sweet tooth, but one practice I learned from middle eastern friends a long time ago, is that some cultures put out dish of dried fruits as natural sweetener to eat with the foods. ie take bite of date or apricot with the food. rather than adding artificial sweetener to the dish. So if I want sweeter flavor I add fruit, such as raisons. or apples. use fruit as sweetener rather than concentrated sugar substitute. In this country sugar is used in such an addictive way in majority of foods, even things like rice are coated with sugar in this country.

  13. JoAnn Gauldin says

    I have been using Organic Agave natural sweetener . What do you think about using this as a natural sweetener?

    • Dawn says

      I’m not a fan for many reasons. Chief among them is that it is detrimental to the way the body handles sugars and can lead to complications with diabetes…. I know, I know, everyone talks about it as a healthy substance because of its low glycemic index, but that’s not the whole story. I’m definitely doing a follow-up for next week and I’ll lay out my thinking better so you can see my reasoning.

  14. vivian says

    I have a stevia plant and dry the leaves. After they are dry I crumble them. I really love it in say, a fruit/veggie shake. I have hypoglycemia so I don’t indulge much in sweets. I use coconut sugar and raw honey if I do.

    Dr. Hyman has a book and DVD called the 10 Day Detox, the Blood Sugar Solution. Turned my life around.

  15. Ms Linda says

    I don’t like or use any artificial sweeteners. Raw honey, organic cane sugar, turbinado sugar are what I use for my scrubs, baking and general sweetening needs. I’m planting a stevia plant in my herb plot as soon as the weather warms back up 😉

  16. Confused Suzanne :) says

    OK ladies so now I am REALLY confused. I have been using Stevia for some time. I only use it for my coffee but I use 3 packets for every lets say 8 oz. I like my java sweet. So, Stevia is not safe? What is the healthiest and best to use then? The Coconut Palm Sugar? If so where do you get it from? Thank you

    • Dawn says

      Stevia is fine! Just don’t buy weird processed stuff “based” on stevia. I personally can’t stand the stuff- weird taste- but there’s no reason you need to stop using the true plant.

  17. Jill says

    Thanks, Stacie. I remember that now…I’m interested in how it’s made…are there any residual chemicals that may be harmful?

  18. Linda says

    Coconut sugar! Stevia tastes terrible, I’d prefer nothing over stevia, just like I’d rather never have chocolate again than to pretend I’m eating it with carob.

  19. Patti Griffin says

    I would like to know more about monk fruit also. I heard it is natural and a good choice too. I’m so curious about xylitol.

  20. Laurie says

    I always research “new” sweeteners. I want to know as much as I can about what is out there behind the “too good to be true” hype.

    Below is some information that I found…and remember, just because something is recognized as GRAS, doesn’t mean it IS safe. More often than not, there is industry money, biased studies, omitted or ignored results, and the best lawyers behind the results and GRAS decisions. There are many examples of this out there…like synthetic colors for example.

    Also, if you are considering Truvia, which sounds fantastic, just research the company who makes it and how this stuff is made. I think that I read the patent info on Truvia when it appeared in the stores. Not good in any way.

    if something has to be extracted from food, generally you are best off eating the whole food. That way, you get the fibre, enzymes, minerals & vitamins and so on, that will all work in sync with each other, giving you a proper amount of that substance without all of the bad side effects.

    I prefer my sweeteners to be pure and straight forward…not messed with by man.

  21. Gail Miller says

    This article has truly opened my eyes to the “wrongs” of artificial sweetners. Thank you greatly, my daughter is right LOL.

  22. Nancy says

    I have been using the white Stevia for a few yrs now. Thought I was doing good! lol Ill be looking at trader Joes & Whole Foods for the stevia leaf powder.. hopefully they have it! Thank you for the info!

  23. Elise says

    I will also chime in about coconut palm sugar and wonder what your take is on that one. ??? I usually use that and a mix of honey when I bake. I have tried stevia in many forms and find that it has an aftertaste to me, just like artificial sweeteners. Thanks for the article!

  24. Leigh says

    I use naturally occurring sugars found in fruits — dates, prunes, figs and bananas work well for me.

  25. Erin says

    I’ve been using Raw Monk Sugar (which is supposed to be natural). I get the impression it is ‘good’ for you as a substitute. Do you have any additional information about it?

    • Dawn says

      I don’t know anything about it, so can’t weigh in…. I’ll be looking into it though, thanks!

      • Jemima says

        I would appreciate your opinion on the coconut sugar. I’m from Australia and I’ve heard of the other sweeteners mentioned but I haven’t seen any coconut sugar around. The most common “healthy” low gi sweetener used here is dark Agave syrup. It is similar to maple but I was of the understanding that maple was not low gi. Is this true?
        Thanks :0)

  26. Jill says

    I also would like more info in Xylitol. I know it’s lethal to dogs, but are there any other drawbacks?

    • Stacie says

      Xylitol is great for reducing cavities, and I use it in a homemade toothpaste. The only drawback I am aware is that too much consumption can cause diarrhea.

    • Dawn says

      Sharon Wheeler and Jill, I would not use xylitol. It is a chemical that is created through the process of hydrogenation. In most cases this means a catalyst of powdered nickel/aluminum alloy. We avoid hydrogenated oils, so in our house we also avoid hydrogenated sugar. It can be made from birch bark, in which case I would ask why don’t you just use birch syrup or maple syrup to begin with instead of buying something that takes these ingredients into a lab to “create” something new. Most likely it is made from corn instead since this is abundant and cheap…. so it is highly likely that your xylitol is made with GMO corn. There is so much that I would say about xylitol… perhaps I will do a blog next week and expand on this with more of the pros and cons….. but my answer for myself and my family is “NO”.

  27. Patty says

    I have been using the white powder stevia for about 6 years. So this is not a good idea? I use dates, raw honey and maple syrup but I also use coconut sugar in baking and you did not mention it as a good source. What do you think


      I have been using Xylitol since my Holistic MD in Palm Desert, CA recommended it years ago. It is a bit expensive but I think worth it.
      If a recipe calls for one cup sugar, one cup of Xylitol can be substituted and it does taste like sugar.

  28. Anne brierley says

    my friend has 3 sweeteners per drink – at least 10 times a day so about 30 per day
    he is diabetic and has MS what sort of impact might this have?

    • Dawn says

      Well… I think you can take a look at some of what we know about these sweeteners and surmise that a lot of degenerative diseases can originate with overuse of them. Your friend is not doing himself any good and would do much better just using real sugar.

    • LittleG says

      Diabetes is just a name given by modern medicine to identify the condition where a person’s thyroid/insulin metabolism is out of balance.

      It can be cured without any side-effects with Homeopathy. Find an experienced practitioner near by and stick to it for at least an year.

      “Homeopathy cures a larger percentage of cases than any other form of treatment and is beyond doubt safer and more economical.”
      ― Mahatma Gandhi

  29. Leslie says

    I only use Coconut Palm Sugar. With a Glycemic Index of 32, it is lower than raw honey(65).
    It does not affect my blood sugars negatively and it works well in baking, canning, I even used it to sweeten my homemade Grape jelly this year. It is a bit pricey at ~$4/lb but still my choice in sweetener. ✌

    • Stacie says

      I like coconut sugar as well, particularly as it is not overly sweet and does not have the after taste that Stevia has.