What Can You Use to Replace Sugar in the Kitchen?

It's not always easy and efficient to replace sugar in the kitchen, so sometimes the best option is to reduce its presence in the diet.
What Can You Use to Replace Sugar in the Kitchen?
Saúl Sánchez

Written and verified by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez.

Last update: 31 May, 2023

Replacing sugar in the kitchen can be decisive in improving health and reducing the incidence of complex problems such as type 2 diabetes. And we’re talking about an ingredient that, in excess, has a negative impact on metabolic function, which ends up affecting the ability to use energy substrates. With this in mind, it’s important to know how to replace sugar in the kitchen.

For many people, reducing sugar in the diet isn’t easy. It is true that there are a large number of industrially processed products that have this element in their composition. Therefore, it’s best to prioritize the consumption of fresh foods. However, managing to replace sugar in homemade preparations will also be of great help.

Sweeteners to replace sugar in the kitchen

When we talk about replacing sugar in the kitchen, the first thing that comes to mind is artificial sweeteners. Saccharin could be a good example of them. They have sweetening power but without providing calories, which at first may seem very interesting. However, all that glitters isn’t gold. At the organoleptic level, artificial sweeteners work well, but their safety on health in the medium term raises doubts.

According to a study published in the journal Nature, the regular consumption of these additives can negatively impact the composition of the intestinal microbiota, affecting density and diversity. This process would also end up compromising glucose metabolism, causing intolerance or low capacity to process and use nutrients efficiently.

Experts currently suggest that the mere recognition of sweet taste at the oral level already generates a sudden release of insulin, which in the medium term would result in cellular resistance to the hormone. This is one of the steps prior to diabetes. To prevent the situation from escalating, it will be decisive to resort to a series of good habits, among which the regular practice of physical exercise stands out.

Likewise, sweeteners could also be linked to a higher incidence of certain chronic and complex diseases. In fact, some have already been withdrawn from the market due to solid indications of generating these problems in the medium term.

And there’s some evidence about the harmful effects of many of these elements on the renal system. To this, we must add that the modification of the quality of the microbiota can have a negative impact on the levels of inflammation in the internal environment.

So, artificial sweeteners aren’t a good alternative?

A woman adding artificial sweetener to her coffee.
Although sweeteners aren’t exempt from associated problems, their use can be considered occasionally.

Based on what has been said, it might seem that artificial sweeteners have more cons than pros and that they’re not a good alternative to replace sugar in the kitchen. This isn’t entirely true either. The fact of the matter, it’s not a black-and-white issue. Artificial sweeteners can be used, although the quantities should be moderated. In general terms, it’s best to limit the presence of sweet tastes in the diet, regardless of where they come from.

On the other hand, it’s important to note that not all sweeteners produce the same effects. For example, stevia seems to be more respectful of the microbiota and safer in the medium term. This is evidenced by research published in the journal Cardiovascular & Hematological Agents in Medicinal Chemistry. It could be an option to take into account. However, you have to pay attention to the labels, as sometimes it’s accompanied by other chemicals.

Be that as it may, it seems clear that what should prevail in this regard is the precautionary principle. Sugar or sweeteners are normally added to many products that can do without them, such as yogurt or coffee. By adding them, the presence of sweet tastes in the diet is increased, which could end up generating stress at the pancreatic level and problems in metabolic functions.

People who’ve already developed problems with insulin resistance must be especially careful. In this case, the most beneficial thing may be a radical reduction in the intake of both simple and complex carbohydrates in the diet. Relying on the practice of physical activity on a regular basis and introducing certain dietary supplements into routines could also help to reverse the process.

Honey to replace sugar in the kitchen

Honey is another of the foods most frequently used to replace sugar in the kitchen. It has the advantage of presenting some quality bioactive substances and antioxidants inside. But let’s not kid ourselves, it’s basically sugar. Its glycemic index is high and it will quickly trigger insulin production, which can cause damage in the medium term if it’s included in the diet in large quantities.

It’s true that royal jelly from honey and propolis has been shown to have positive effects on the human body. However, thanks to advances in food technology, you no longer need to consume pure honey itself to benefit from both compounds. Supplements can be included in the diet that provide them in sufficient quantities to stimulate immune function or to achieve an oxidative balance in the internal environment.

Of course, in the case of using honey in the kitchen as a substitute for sugar, it’s always best to look for one that’s as pure as possible. The quality of the product will determine the presence of antioxidants and bioactive elements inside, these being positive for human health. As with artificial sweeteners, the best thing is moderation. It’s not a good idea to abuse the intake of honey but rather consume it only in moderate amounts.

Fruit to sweeten preparations

Currently, the use of fruit purees to sweeten many culinary preparations is trendy. The most typical example would be that of date paste. Actually, we’re once again using sugar as the main ingredient, as simple carbohydrates abound in this type of preparation. This fruit as such has a significant dose of fiber but, when crushed, it loses part of its effects.

It’s true that if fruit purees are used instead of table sugar, a greater contribution of antioxidants is achieved. But this may not generate significant health benefits. Maintaining oxidative balance is key, but modulating inflammatory states and preventing the pancreas from presenting alterations in its normal functions is also crucial. A lack of control in glycemia in the medium term ends up settling with type-2 diabetes.

When using fruit to sweeten, it’s best to include small pieces of it or a puree with chunks in the recipes. In this case, more of the fiber is used. According to a study published in the journal PLoS Medicine, we’re talking about a determining substance to control blood glucose levels and prevent the development of metabolic diseases. It’ll also be positive to improve the functioning of the digestive tract.

Specifically, apple is one of the best options, with a quality superior to that of dates. We can highlight the presence inside of pectins, a type of soluble fiber. If this isn’t crushed excessively, it’ll be capable of serving as an energetic substrate for the bacteria that inhabit the digestive tract, thus preventing the development of dysbiosis that affects digestion. Research published in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics confirms this.

Physical exercise is one of the best ways to stop worrying about sugar

A man and woman running on stairs.
Regular physical activity is the perfect complement to a healthy diet in order to have a good lifestyle.

So far, we’ve talked about ways to replace sugar in the kitchen. The truth is that none of them is excessively effective. They can fulfill the function at a certain time, but it’s best not to abuse them. However, there’s a mechanism that makes it possible to include a greater amount of simple carbohydrates in the diet without detrimental consequences for the state of health in the medium term. We’re talking about physical activity.

Glucose is the main energy substrate for carrying out high-intensity activities. Therefore, if it’s included within the context of sports practice, it’ll be used quickly. This prevents its accumulation in the form of adipose tissue, which in the medium term would cause the dreaded effect of insulin resistance. For this, above all, strength work will have to be prioritized, as muscle is essential to prevent inflammation and to achieve a balance at the hormonal level.

In addition, it’s important to take into account that in the case of athletes, the ability to accumulate glycogen is increased. Under this context, a large part of the sugar consumed in the diet will remain in the liver and muscles for a few hours waiting to be used. If a physical stimulus is offered, meaning will be given to the intake, and in no case will it be negative for the body.

In the same way, after carrying out an intense activity, glycogen stores will be diminished. In this case, it’ll be important to include simple and complex carbohydrates in the diet to replenish the lost substrate and thus improve recovery capacity. Otherwise, performance would be conditioned in subsequent sessions. You might even experience an increased risk of muscle injury.

Therefore, in the context of sports, it’s possible to maintain a marked presence of sweet flavors in your diet. This doesn’t mean that complex carbohydrates shouldn’t be prioritized over simple ones, but it does mean that greater flexibility can be maintained in this regard. The same doesn’t happen in the case of sedentary people, who are much more sensitive to carbohydrates. Here, it would be necessary to take extreme precautions and above all guarantee the consumption of fiber.

It’s not easy to replace sugar in the kitchen

None of the existing options to replace sugar in the kitchen is particularly efficient. They can hit the mark from the organoleptic point of view, but in the medium term, they’ll have a negative impact on the functioning of the pancreas, increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This is a situation that should be avoided at all costs, as it’s followed by the appearance of other types of complex diseases.

However, in order to maintain a good state of health, taking care of your diet isn’t enough. Other habits will manage to make a difference over the years. It’s especially important to guarantee the practice of physical activity on a regular basis, placing special emphasis on muscle strength work. This will improve glycemic control and keep inflammation in the internal environment under control.

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