Real Food Sweeteners 101: The ultimate guide to healthy real food sweeteners that won't ruin your health, but taste amazing!

A heaping tablespoon of peanut butter carefully dipped into a jar of snow white sugar.

That, my friend, was one of my favorite treats growing up. My dad introduced me to the sweet and gooey sugar-coated peanut butter treat that always stuck to the roof of my mouth…part of the sweet experience. Thank you, Dad!  That peanut butter treat was just the start of my love for sugar.

Even as a young child I knew sugar wasn’t very healthy (I was listening Mr. Dentist), but my sweet tooth always took over.

My greatest concern after taking the plunge into a real food lifestyle was sugar. I knew a life of no cakes, cookies, or donuts would be the end of me. (I know, a bit dramatic, but my love for sugar was intense.) After months of sugar deprivation and feeling like a total real food failure, I discovered real food is not about avoiding sugar, rather just moving away from the overly processed white crystals I loved as a kid.

Real Food Sweeteners 101: What you need to know eat real food treats without the refined sugar!

Replacing white sugar with better alternatives took a bit of work at first due to the limited information and recipes available (thankfully today there are many more real food resources, including Live Simply!), but once I learned the basics and stocked my pantry with better sweeteners, naturally sweetened real food treats became second nature.

Real Food Sweeteners 101: What you need to know eat real food treats without the refined sugar!

With Valentines Day right around the corner there’s no better time to dive into the world of real food sweeteners. With real food sweeteners in your pantry and a bit of practice, I know you’ll come to love naturally sweetened treats just as much as I do!

Real Food Sweeteners 101: What you need to know eat real food treats without the refined sugar!

Real Food Sweeteners 101

Raw Honey:  My preferred sweetener of choice is raw honey. Raw honey retains beneficial properties, so it not only sweetens, but can also help fight colds, allergies,and even acne. In small quantities raw honey can be an expensive purchase. Finding a local bulk supplier from a farm, farmer’s market, or natural food store is usually the best option. I use honey to naturally-sweeten baked goods and drizzle over pancakes, waffles, yogurt, and homemade ice cream.

Maple Syrup Avoid buying the less expensive pancake or imitation syrups which are nothing more than highly processed liquid sugar in a fancy bottle. The only ingredient in pure maple syrup should be: “maple syrup.” I use maple syrup to sweeten baked goods and drizzle over pancakes and waffles. I prefer “Grade B” maple syrup.

Sucanat: My preferred dry sugar choice is sucanat. Sucanat is pure dried sugar cane juice that undergoes much less processing than white or brown sugar. Due to minimal processing this sugar retains its molasses content and minerals resulting in dark granules. To create the sucanat granules the cane juice is extracted, heated, and then cooled resulting in a dry sugar that can be used to replace white or brown sugar in most recipes.

Yes, sucanat is processed, but the process results in a sugar that’s much more natural and true to its original state than the high processing, stripping, and bleaching used to produce white sugar. Sucanat subs 1:1 in most recipes calling for white sugar. Note: Baked goods made with sucanat will have a slight molasses flavor and darker color. 

Coconut Sugar Coconut sugar has gained popularity over the last couple of years. This sugar is obtained by heating and dehydrating the sap of the coconut palm. Coconut sugar is minimally processed and can be used as a substitute for most recipes calling for white sugar. I prefer sucanat over coconut sugar, however, I believe both are excellent real food sweeteners. Coconut sugar subs 1:1 in most recipes calling for white sugar.

Muscovado When a recipe calls for brown sugar I often turn to muscovado. Muscovado is a sticky minimally-processed brown sugar made from the juice of sugar cane. This brown sugar alternative can be very pricey, so I keep it on hand exclusively for recipes that depend on brown sugar for a distinct texture and taste (such as: chocolate chip cookies). Muscovado subs 1:1 in most recipes calling for brown sugar.

Stevia I personally don’t use stevia (except to sweeten  toothpaste), however, if you’re looking to avoid sugars, stevia is a good option. Stevia is super sweet and can’t be substituted for honey, maple syrup, or sugar. Stevia comes from the stevia plant and should be pure, without added ingredients.

Dates:  Dates are one of the best kept secrets in the world of natural sweeteners. Dates are rich in minerals and pack just the right amount of sweetness without industrial processing. Pitted dates can be blended in the food processor to create sweet raw treats (try my raw brownie bites or Lara-like bars). One or two soaked dates can also be added to smoothies. Dates can be made into date syrup, a natural sugar replacement similar to honey (find a recipe tutorial here).

Fruit: Fruit is naturally sweet, making it the perfect sweetener for quick breads, pancakes, and waffles. I like to add one or two mashed bananas to my pancakes and waffles instead of using extra sugar. This same technique can be used in many muffin and quick bread recipes. Naturally sweet fruit that’s perfectly ripe can also be used to sweeten plain yogurt (simply add blended fruit to yogurt or Go-Gurt-Like Yogurt Sticks).  Fruit also adds sweetness to smoothies and homemade ice cream.

Real Food Sweeteners 101: What you need to know eat real food treats without the refined sugar!

With real food sweeteners stocked in my pantry, our family is able to enjoy treats without compromising the taste or sweetness of classic childhood indulgences. Peanut butter and honey anyone?

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  1. Hi Kristin!
    Great article on real food sweeteners. We use jaggery to sweeten food. Just wondering are sucanat, muscovado and jaggery same or they’re different from each other?

  2. This is a great article! I’ve been trying to cut out processed sugar but been so confused! I still have a question tho. I need to know what to use in place of powdered sugar. I have a thing for cake which of course needs frosting! 🙂 I need to be able to make my favorite fudge frosting!!

    1. Hey Paula,

      I’m so glad you found the article helpful.

      Thank you for mentioning powdered sugar as I’m sure many people wonder how to make frosting a bit more real. When I make frosting I go with an organic powdered sugar. Organic powdered sugar is still more processed than the natural sugars mentioned above, but for a special treat (like cake and frosting) I believe it’s a great alternative choice to the regular powdered sugar found on store shelves. I really like the brands, Woodstock Farms and Wholesome Sweeteners.

      Another option is to make powdered sugar at home. Here’s a great recipe:

  3. Hey Kristin
    Forgive me if you addressed this above…I didn’t get a chance to read thoroughly yet. Do you use sucanat in your coffee? Can’t give up sweetening my coffee. Using sugar in the raw now but I know that’s not to much better than refined white stuff.


    1. Hey Tami, I take my coffee black or with cream now, but when I first made the switch I was using coconut sugar in my coffee. Sucanat has a maple taste, so it changes the flavor of coffee. Some people like the change.