Baking with sugar substitutes

Topics, What You Should Know

You’ve been craving your grandmother’s famous chocolate cake and decide to look up the recipe. As you glance through the list of ingredients, you are shocked to learn how much sugar is in there...no wonder grandma’s cakes always tasted so good! But before you reach for that bag of sugar, you remember that conversation with your doctor and his concern over your upward trend of fasting blood glucose levels.

Sugar helps make baked goods puffy, golden brown and moist. Finding alternatives for sugar in baking can be tricky. You need to be a savvy consumer when it comes to selecting sugar alternatives.

Here are some tips to help you decide before you spring for that pricey bag of sugar substitute.

Go Natural
While there are many advantages to substituting sugar for a natural ingredient such as honey or agave nectar, there will still be carbohydrates and calories to consider. And even though these products are labeled as “natural,” they may still undergo processing. Some of these alternatives may be sweeter than sugar so you can use less, but your recipe may require additional tweaking (reducing other liquids, reducing cooking temp, etc.).

1 cup of sugar contains 773 calories and 200g carbohydrates. You can substitute 1 cup of sugar for:

3/4 cup Agave Nectar, which contains 720 calories and 192 grams carbohydrate
1 cup coconut sugar, which contains 723 calories and 192 grams carbohydrate
3/4 cup honey, which contains 765 calories and 208 grams carbohydrate
3/4 cup maple syrup, which contains 626 calories and 161 grams carbohydrate.  

Whole fruit or fruit puree is another option for substituting sugar, but you will have to alter other wet or dry ingredients, and the texture will most likely be altered too. 

Sugar Substitutes
Sugar substitutes are considered nonnutritive artificial sweeteners, meaning the product contains little to no calories in a serving and they don’t impact blood glucose levels. But you must be savvy...many products are marketed as “sugar free,” but they are often blended with other products, including sugar alcohols, which are a form of carbohydrate that can impact blood glucose levels. 

The instructions for use will vary by product and since most are sweeter than sugar, the amount needed could be much less. Be sure to check the package and follow the manufacturers recommendations.  

Aspartame (Equal®): Not recommended for baking as it can lose sweetness when it is heated, but it can work for cold recipes. 

Saccharin (Sweet'n Low®): Can be used in baking but the results are not ideal as it can produce a strong aftertaste. 

Steviol glycosides:  Steviol glycosides are natural elements of the leaves of the stevia plant. They are non-nutritive sweeteners that are reported to be 200 to 400 times sweeter than sugar. While stevia products work well in baking, they most likely are mixed with other ingredients that contain sugar alcohols. For example, Sweet Leaf® Stevia Better Than Sugar is marketed as ZERO calories and measures “cup-for-cup” like sugar. One teaspoon has approximately 12 calories and 3 grams of carbohydrate. If used in a recipe one full cup would contain 144 grams of carbohydrate which would no longer make it carbohydrate or calorie free.

Sucralose (Splenda®): Regular Splenda is not ideal for baking as it does not brown or create desired texture. Splenda blends for baking are available with better results (but also provide more carbs and calories). 

Xylitol (Lite & Sweet™, XyloSweet®):  Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that has about 40% less calories than sugar.  It can be used in baking, but some recipes might require a smidge more liquid. Just keep this treat away from your pets as Xylitol is toxic for dogs.