Natural Sweeteners

It was a slow and hard process, but we finally did it. I have cut processed sugars out of our diet. Let me clarify, we do still eat desserts made by other people with processed sugars, but I no longer cook or bake with them myself. I have had two people in the last week ask me about substitutions in my cooking, so I felt it was necessary to share it here too.

What is out

The sweeteners that I used to cook with include, white/table sugar, brown sugar, processed maple syrup (Aunt Jemima), Splenda, corn syrup. I’m sure there are a few more I could add to the list. These sweeteners are either (a) heavily processed or (b) a synthetic compound aka not real food.

Based on decades of research and my own gut feeling, I am not comfortable cooking with these sweeteners any longer. I understand that most people do and will continue to do so. However, I would like to share some ways to cut down on the processed sugar you use. This post isn’t where I’m going to lay out the research on artificial sweeteners, but if you are interested in learning more the research is there. You won’t have to look far. One post for your reading pleasure.

What is in.

As far as the things I bake with, cook with, or give a little sweeten to, I use honey (which, yes, can be processed), 100% maple syrup (organic when I can afford it, look for Grade B), and an array of fruits, including bananas, applesauce, dried fruits like dates, prunes, cranberries, to name a few, and 100% cocoa powder.

Depending on what it is you’re making, you will want to choose your sweetener accordingly. In most instances, you can probably guess or eyeball, but I’ll provide you with a few ratios to have on hand.

 Honey for Sugar

  • Honey is actually sweeter than sugar, so for amounts under one cup make an equal substitution. Don’t get disheartened if your cookies aren’t as sweet as you’d like. Dunk them in milk, and eat them anyway and vow to do better next time. 🙂
  • Anything over one cup, decrease the amount of honey you use just a bit. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, use about 1/2 cup of honey. Based on your own tastes this process may take some tweaking. Anything less than a cup, use the same amount. For instance if a smoothie calls for 2 tablespoons of sugar, use 2 T. of honey.  
  • Since we are replacing a dry ingredient (sugar) with a wet (honey) we want to decrease liquids by about 2 tablespoons, whether it’s milk, water, oil, whatever. 
  • I don’t recommend using more than 1/2 cup of honey in any baked good. It will result in a gummy product. If your recipe calls for more sugar then use some dried or pureed fruit for the rest.
  • Eat your goods within a few days or store in the freezer. Honey is more moist than sugar and will promote molding.

100% Maple Syrup

Look for Grade B here, “B is Better”. Replace 1 cup of sugar with 3/4 cup of maple syrup. Also, decrease other liquids in the recipe by 3 tablespoons. Also, mix syrup into your yogurt, oatmeal, and smoothies.


Oh, yum. I love them, some people do not eat them because of their high levels of fructose, a natural occurring sugar. This is why bananas are perfect to bake with (or just to sweeten a smoothie). In baking you can substitute 2 bananas or about one cup of mashed, ripe bananas for one cup of sugar. I would not recommend baking cookies only using bananas as a sweetener though, use some honey or other form of natural sweetener as well.


Again, fruit in place of processed sugar is always healthier. Use a little more applesauce than a recipe calls for sugar. For instance, one cup of sugar can be replaced with 1 1/3 c. applesauce. Looking for an easy way to make your own applesauce? Check out my crock pot applesauce recipe here.

  Dried Fruits

If I am making cookies, cupcakes, muffins, or pancakes I always try to incorporate some sort of dried fruit to naturally sweeten them.  Chop them up for more evenly distributed sweetness. 


If you’re baking something that doesn’t call for spices, add them yourself. One of the easiest and healthiest ways to flavor your treats is to use spices. I recommend cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and cloves in baking.

Cocoa Powder

I love using 100% cocoa powder when I’m needing a little chocolate fix. Whether I add it to my oatmeal, smoothie, or throw it in some cookies, it doesn’t disappoint. Cocoa has a strong flavor so you’ll want to add it in small increments. I would just recommend adding a tablespoon at a time to baked goods, stick your finger in there and see if you want more chocolate flavor. I won’t tell.

Fresh Fruit

Try using the zest of lemon, lime, or orange to flavor baked goods. Also, adding apples to muffins or other fruits help sweeten. Throw a 1/2 cup frozen raspberries into your waffles.

Rule of Thumb

A rule I try to live by in baking/cooking: always, always find ways to incorporate more fruits and veggies into every single dish. For instance, we never have scrambled eggs alone, we always put whatever veggies we have on hand in there. Scrambled eggs with broccoli anyone? This way of cooking adds vitamins and nutrients and is a more natural way of cooking than using granulated sugar.

Another rule to think about, don’t get discouraged. Especially when you first start making substitutions in your cooking. You will inevitably forget that honey is a 1/2 cup to 1 cup sub and have sticky muffins. It’s okay. We’ve all done it. If  you’re just starting out, I would suggest typing up a chart of these substitutions and hanging it on your fridge or taping it to your cabinets, put it somewhere you will see it when you’re cooking. 

This Chick Cooks provides another list of natural sweeteners as well as several links with more information. 
Modern Alternative Mama gives us ways to satisfy your sweet tooth with real food.

Lastly, some whole food treat recipes
My Flexible Cookies. Seriously, these cookies are so adaptable, make them anyway you want. Chocolate oatmeal, cranberry raisin, chocolate chip, cherry almond, etc etc.
Joanna’s Breakfast Brownies. 
Lori’s Banana Coconut Chocolate Chip cookies (must make soon).

What types of natural sweeteners do you use in baking? Are you trying to cut out processed sugars from your diet?


2 responses to “Natural Sweeteners

  1. I just put your applesauce in our pancakes! We had about 1/2 left in a small jar left. Tasted great! I also use cinnamon, local honey, and agave. What is your take on organic agave nectar?


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