Natural Balance Foods

Natural sugar and sugar alternatives

coconut sugar

So we know that too much of the sweet stuff can be bad for you, especially if you’re eating refined or man-made snacks or products. Our expert nutritionist, Lucy-Ann is back with the next part of her look at sugars with some lovely natural alternatives.

What are the best substitutes for sugar in cooking and baking?

Firstly, we don’t always need to look for products as such, when needing to add sweetness and texture to recipes. Innovative ways of using naturally sweet foods such as raisins, dates, and dried figs are numerous when trying out healthier versions of traditional recipes. For example, try soaking oats overnight with a handful of raisins, and see just how sweet your bowl of cereal can become! Alternatively experiment with pureed banana or apple in recipes, as well as grated or mashed carrot, parsnip, beetroot or sweet potato. All these veggies can be a big part of delicious cake and muffin recipes.

If you love to bake and need some healthier alternatives to table sugar in specific amounts, here are some suggestions. However, as with all sugar alternatives, don’t go too crazy! Use in moderation…


Xylitol is a naturally occurring substance that looks and tastes just like sugar. It even has some documented health benefits. Firstly, it has a very low GI (glycaemic index), and is therefore helpful and suitable for diabetics. It is also lower in calories than regular sugar. Xylitol was first extracted from the bark of birch trees after the Second World War, when sugar was in short supply. It’s also found in a whole host of plants and fruits, such as raspberries, plums and strawberries and can be used in baking and most recipes where you’d normally use sugar. 

Coconut Palm Sugar

Coconut sugar is growing in popularity. Like Xylitol, it also has a low-GI, and is a useful fructose-free alternative to regular table sugar. Just to remind you, “low GI” means it releases its sugar (or energy) more slowly into the body, resulting in less of a sugar rush, helping to keep blood sugar levels stable. Coconut sugar is made from the nectar collected from the blossoms of the coconut palm. It has a caramel-like flavour and tastes similar to brown sugar. It works well in desserts, or any recipe requiring sugar. However, less is normally required to achieve the same level of sweetness as cane sugar.

Maple Syrup

This is one of my favourite go-to “natural foods” when looking for a touch of sweetness in my life! I enjoy the taste of maple syrup, and although it does contain some vitamins and minerals, it is still pure sugar, so I would still “go easy” with it!

If you don’t want to use maple syrup, but need a syrup-type sweetener, you could look to rice syrup or agave syrup. However, both are quite different to the original “plant”, and once refined and processed, much of the original health benefits are lost.

Stevia Leaf

Stevia leaf is often called the “sweet herb”, and has been used for centuries in traditional South American cultures. Now available and approved as a healthy sweetener, stevia can be used just like sugar in granule form, or as an extract in drops or as a powder. You can also buy raw whole or crushed stevia leaves. Stevia is much, much sweeter than sugar, so it needs to be experimented with in recipes, but it’s certainly worth trying and investigating!


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