Natural Sweeteners for Healthier Baking

Natural Sweeteners for Healthier Baking

Publish Date September 25, 2023 4 Minute Read
Author Kroger Health Team

The holiday season is a time of joy and indulgence, especially when it comes to baking holiday treats. While it’s not uncommon to acquire a seasonal sweet tooth, eating too many sugar-laden treats can leave you feeling restless and regretful. You can reduce your refined sugar intake, cut calories and enjoy healthier holiday baking by exploring the wondrous world of natural sweeteners.

What are Natural Sweeteners?

Before diving into the benefits of natural sweeteners, it’s important to first understand what they are and where they come from. Common natural sweeteners are derived from plants and fruits, offering a healthier alternative to heavily processed sugars. Some popular natural sweeteners include stevia, monk fruit extract, erythritol, honey, maple syrup, date paste and coconut sugar. These sweeteners are sweeter than refined sugar, each offering their own unique flavors:

  • Stevia - Stevia is a sweetener that comes from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant, which is native to South America. Stevia is often described as having a sweet, slightly herbal taste like licorice.
  • Monk Fruit Extract - Monk fruit extract is derived from the fruit of the Siraitia grosvenorii plant, which is native to southern China and Thailand. Monk fruit extract is around 100 to 200 times sweeter than refined sugar, and is characterized by its clean, intense sweetness.
  • Erythritol - Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that occurs naturally in some fruits and fermented foods. Commercially available erythritol is typically produced through a fermentation process using glucose from sources like corn or wheat. It’s known for its sweet sugary taste and nonexistent after-taste.
  • Honey - Honey is a sweet substance made by bees using flower nectar. It’s characterized by its natural sweetness, and flavors ranging from mild and floral to rich and robust.
  • Date Paste - Date paste is made from dried dates that have been ground into a smooth, thick and naturally sweet paste. Its flavor is warm, rich and reminiscent of brown sugar and caramel.
  • Coconut Sugar - Coconut sugar, also known as coconut palm sugar or coco sugar, is a natural sweetener derived from the sap of the flower buds of the coconut palm tree, Cocos nucifera. Coconut sugar is available in granulated form, like traditional table sugar, making it easy to use as a one-to-one replacement in recipes. Its flavor is mild, earthy and caramel-like.
  • Maple Syrup - Maple syrup is made from the sap of sugar maple trees, or Acer saccharum. It’s known for its rich and complex flavor profiles. Give these maple- sweetened muffins a try!

Nutritional Benefits

Unlike refined sugar, natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup and date paste contain small amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Adding these sweeteners to your baked goods can provide subtle nutritional benefits, making your treats even more wholesome. Using natural sweeteners can also significantly reduce the calorie content of recipes, assisting in weight management without compromising flavor.

If you’re managing diabetes or want to avoid spikes in your blood sugar, natural sweeteners with low glycemic index values, like stevia and monk fruit extract, are a great choice. These sweeteners won’t cause rapid fluctuations in blood sugar levels and help promote stable energy throughout the day.

Possible Side Effects

Some people may experience some digestive discomfort when consuming a large quantity of certain natural sweeteners, like erythritol. While rare, some individuals may be allergic to specific natural sweeteners like stevia or monk fruit extract. If you’re trying a natural sweetener for the first time, watch for signs of an allergic reaction, like skin rashes, itching or respiratory symptoms.

Though natural sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit extract have minimal effects on blood sugar levels, other sweeteners like honey and maple syrup can still raise blood sugar levels to the same extent as refined sugar. Individuals with diabetes or insulin resistance should be mindful when using these sweeteners and monitor their blood sugar levels accordingly. Meet with a dietitian or healthcare provider for guidance.

Substituting Natural Sweeteners in Holiday Recipes

Making the switch from refined in your holiday recipes is easier than you might think. Try these tips for incorporating natural sweeteners in your holiday baking:

  • Reference the conversion ratio for your chosen sugar substitute to ensure the right level of sweetness in your dish. Keep in mind that natural sweeteners are often sweeter than sugar, so you may want to use smaller quantities.
  • Since natural sweeteners often have a different texture than sugar, you may need to make slight modifications to batter or dough recipes to achieve the desired consistency, such as adjusting the amount of liquid in the recipe.
  • Certain natural sweeteners pair well with specific recipes, adding unique flavors and enhancing the overall taste. For instance, maple syrup can infuse warmth and richness in holiday treats like pecan pie, while date paste can bring a delightful caramel-like sweetness to cookies. Choose your sweeteners thoughtfully, keeping the overall flavor of your recipe in mind.
  • Natural sweeteners may brown more quickly than refined sugar. Keep a close eye on baked goods to prevent over-browning or burning, adjusting temperatures and cooking times as needed.

Ready to Enjoy a Healthier Holiday?

As with any indulgence, moderation is key. While natural sweeteners offer numerous benefits over refined sugar, naturally sweet treats should still be enjoyed in moderation. Combine natural sweeteners with whole, nutritious ingredients to balance your holiday baking. Remember that everyone’s taste preferences are unique, so have fun experimenting with different natural sweeteners. Visit our blog for more healthy holiday inspiration, like tips for healthier holiday eating, healthier baking swaps and more. Looking for personalized advice? Schedule a Telenutrition appointment with one of our dietitians.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and is not meant to provide healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.