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You don’t need us to tell you that white sugar is among the least healthy ingredients you can use. But sweetness is an essential part of life – not only the occasional sweet treat and a little sweetener in your coffee or tea, but also sweetness as a way to balance sauces, dressings and other recipes. Given that we all need some sweetness in our lives, and we all want to be healthy, here are three sugar substitutes that can help you enjoy your food and stay well at the same time.
1. Coconut sugar
This is one of the easiest substitutes for sugar. It’s also granulated, so you don’t have to worry about changing the amount of liquid in your recipe. Made from the sap of the coconut palm tree, which is boiled and then dehydrated, coconut sugar is less processed than white sugar and contains trace minerals. Its flavor is richer, slightly less sweet and more molasses-y than white sugar; the flavor is more like brown sugar, and it will impart a light tan color.
2. Honey or maple syrup
Both of these natural sweeteners can substitute for white sugar in some applications. They work particularly well as a substitute in dressings and sauces, or in sweetening beverages, where you would be dissolving the sugar anyway. It’s trickier to swap in baking, but not impossible. Use slightly less (2 to 3 tablespoons less if subbing for a cup of sugar), and adjust the other liquids in the recipe accordingly. Add ¼ teaspoon baking soda per cup to bump up the leavening. Both impart specific flavors, so factor that in when swapping. Generally speaking, the darker the maple syrup or honey, the stronger its flavor (though there are exceptions, so be sure to ask your purveyor if you need stronger or milder flavor).
3. Monk fruit sweetener
Made from a small fruit native to Southeast Asia, this sweetener miraculously has no calories and is a fan favorite among low-carb eaters. Monk fruit sweetener is available in liquid and granulated forms; the latter is often mixed with sugar alcohols such as erythritol. The granulated form is easier to use as a sugar substitute in recipes that call for a lot of it, such as baked goods. But, some people don’t tolerate sugar alcohols well and can experience digestive problems, so that’s something to consider. Liquid monk fruit is usually highly concentrated and is great for sweetening beverages as well as sauces and dressings. It’s much sweeter than sugar – up to 200 times sweeter – so a little goes a long way.