Nutrition Articles

Sweet Swaps: Baking with Sugar Substitutes

How to Lighten Up Your Favorite Treats

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If you’re seeking to reduce your caloric intake, then sugar substitutes are worth a look. Sweeteners like sucralose and stevia are 200 to 600 times sweeter than granulated cane sugar, and they contain 0 to 5 calories per 1 g serving. When used in moderation, they are a great way to help achieve and maintain a healthy weight. (Learn more about the science and concerns of artificial sweeteners here.)
 
We commonly think about sugar substitutes as colorful little packets at the coffee shop or on a restaurant table. In fact, these ingredients are primarily used to sweeten hot and cold drinks. But more and more, calorie-conscious home cooks are looking to these alternatives to help reduce the sugar content of their favorite desserts and baked goods.
 
However, you can't simply swap these sugar substitutes measure-for-measure in all of your recipes. Let's take a look at sugar’s role in cooking and baking.
 
Sugar and Cooking
Sure, sugar lends a sweet taste to food. But it also adds texture, color, depth and thickness. Sugar helps cookies and cakes bake up high, light and tender, with an airy, porous texture. It helps foods brown and develop a golden crust. It helps thicken puddings and jams, and it activates yeast in breads.
 
Generally, you can reduce the amount of sugar in a recipe by up to half without completely sacrificing all those non-flavor qualities. Depending on the recipe—and the other calorie-contributing ingredients in the recipe like fat—you can make a significant decrease in a food’s calorie count simply by using less granulated sugar.
 
Sugar Alternatives for Cooking and Baking
Here’s a look at the most commonly available sugar substitutes that can be used in home baking and cooking.
  • Sucralose (Splenda) is 600 times sweeter than sugar and has 2 calories per 1 teaspoon serving. It’s made from sugar through a chemical process and contains 96 calories per cup. Sucralose is heat stable, so it doesn’t lose its sweetening power when it’s cooked. Manufacturer's guideline: Use 1 cup Splenda per 1 cup granulated sugar.
     
  • Saccharin (Sweet’N Low) is 300 times sweeter than sugar and made from maltodextrin and sodium saccharin. Saccharin can be used in baking, but the maker of Sweet’N Low recommends replacing no more than half the sugar called for in a recipe with the substitute. Manufacturer’s guideline: Use 6 packets Sweet’N Low to replace 1/4 cup granulated sugar.
     
  • Stevia (SweetLeaf, Truvia, Pure Via) is 200 times sweeter than sugar and has 0 calories; it’s made from the extract of the stevia plant. It’s often blended with granulated sugar. Manufacturer’s guideline: Use 6 packets Truvia to replace 1/4 cup granulated sugar.
     
  •  Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet) is 200 times sweeter than sugar and has 0 calories per serving; it’s made from amino acids. Aspartame is not heat stable (its sweetening capacity may diminish with baking), so manufacturers advise not baking with these products. Instead, use them to sweeten unbaked items, like yogurt, cereal or drinks. Manufacturer’s guideline: Use 6 packets Equal to replace 1/4 cup granulated sugar.
     
  • Acesulfame Potassium (Sunett, Sweet One) is 200 times sweeter than sugar and has 0 calories per serving. It is made from a potassium salt. Acesulfame potassium is heat stable, making it a good choice for baking. It is usually blended with other sweeteners, such as sucralose or aspartame and is most used in carbonated drinks, certain pharmaceutical drugs and protein powders. Manufacturer's guideline: Use 6 packets Sweet One per 1/4 cup  granulated sugar.
     
  • Luo Han Guo (Nectresseis 150 times sweeter than sugar and is made primarily from monk fruit extract, along with small amounts of erythritol, sugar and molasses. It is heat stable and suitable for baking. Luo han guo contains less than 5 calories per serving. Manufacturer's Guideline: Use 1/4 teaspoon Nectresse per 1 teaspoon granulated sugar.
Cooking and Baking with Sugar Substitute Blends
Besides plain artificial sweeteners, home cooks have another option for lower-calorie sweeteners to use in baking and cooking: Sugar substitute blends, made of a mixture of sugar and artificial sweetener.

These blends not only slash about half the sugar calories and carbs from recipes, they also yield a higher-quality baked good. The Better Homes & Gardens Test Kitchen compared sugar and its various substitutes in a baking test involving a simple white cake. Versions made entirely with sucralose, aspartame and saccharin were flat, rubbery, pale and had metallic aftertastes. ''We found it difficult to get good results in baking by replacing all of the sugar with a sugar substitute,'' the test cooks wrote. ''In some cases, sugar-substitute blends produced acceptable cakes, cookies, and quick breads, but often with an aftertaste.'' 
 
For baking, the BH&G Test Kitchen recommends Splenda Sugar Blend—a mix of sucralose and granulated sugar that has half the calories and carbohydrate content of regular sugar. (Splenda also makes a brown sugar blend for baking.) Domino makes a blend of sugar and stevia; SweetLeaf and Truvia make a similar baking blend.


 
Making Smart Sugar Swaps
Think about it: Using a sugar substitute in a batch of chocolate chip cookies doesn’t make much sense; the butter and chocolate account for a whole bunch of calories, too. (Let’s look at the math: Sugar has 775 calories per cup; butter has 1,627, shortening has 1,845 and oil has 1,927.) In many cases, it can be better to treat yourself to one (yes, one) really good homemade chocolate chip cookie, rather than making a batch of high-fat, high-calorie cookies that just happen to have a little less sugar. Says SparkPeople Dietitian Becky Hand: "Using an artificial sweetener in cooking and baking can actually backfire and trick you into thinking you can eat more. Be sure to analyze your reduced-sugar recipe with SparkPeople's Recipe Calculator so you know exactly what's in it."

In other words, don't automatically assume that you can eat a few more treats simply because you're using artificial sweeteners--those calories from all the other ingredients still add up fast! It would make more sense to use sugar substitutes in dishes that don’t include much (or any) fat, or in recipes where you’re taking other steps to reduce overall calorie count.
 
So what kinds of foods lend themselves to smart sugar swaps?
  • Beverages: Stir away in your morning coffee, tea or even a batch of summery lemonade.
     
  • Cereals: If you need a bit of sweet in your corn flakes or hot oatmeal, then a sprinkling of sucralose or stevia is a good choice.
     
  • Puddings, which can be made with low-fat or non-fat milk, are good candidates for sugar substitutes, like this recipe for low-calorie chocolate pudding. Likewise, Chef Meg’s 150-calorie chocolate mousse, which includes fat-free Greek yogurt, is another good recipe where you could substitute a sugar alternative.
     
  • In recipes where you’re taking other steps to reduce overall calorie count. Look for baked goods prepared with applesauce instead of oil, or ones that are partially sweetened with fruit like prunes or bananas. These light lemon-raspberry scones, made with fat-free evaporated milk and less butter, are a great example.


As you consider whether to use a sugar alternative in a recipe, calorie count from sugar alone is only part of the equation. You also need to weigh other questions: Can I do more with this recipe to sensibly reduce overall calorie count from fat and other ingredients? Will the taste of the sugar substitute be noticeable? Is the extra cost of using an alternative sweetener OK for my budget? And perhaps most importantly, Can I avert the ''low-calorie'' trap and avoid eating more than I intend?

 
Sources

Center for Science in the Public Interest. ''How Much Sugar Should You Eat?,'' accessed January 2013. www.cspi.org.

Diabetic Living Online. ''Baking with Sugar Substitutes,'' accessed January 2013. www.diabeticlivingonline.com.

Equal.com. ''Sweetness Conversion Chart,'' accessed January 2013. www.equal.com.

Nectresse.com. "Nectresse Frequently Asked Questions," accessed February 2013. www.nectresse.com.

Sweet 'N Low.org. ''FAQs: How is Sweet 'N Low used to replace sugar in baking?,'' accessed January 2013. www.sweetnlow.org.

Sweetone.com. "Sweet One Recipes," accessed February 2013. www.sweetone.com.

Truvia.com. ''Truvia® Natural Sweetener Conversion Chart,'' accessed January 2013. www.truvia.com.  


 


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Member Comments

  • Stevia also can be bought in bulk...But you only gave the equation for the packets. I want to know, cup for cup, how it can be substituted for baking.
  • ONLYME33
    WHAT??? ANY 'ose' sugar sub product is stored as 'FAT' in the body any unused up s energy that is and I agree with others' comments they are typically artificial and not good for us. Aspartame/Sacchar
    in also chemical substitutes have been shown to be "carcinogens" That is "Cancer Causing Agents" Hello need to hone up on your advice here.
  • What ever happened to good ol' honey? It's natural AND good for you. I'd sure like to know how to substitute it for sugar when baking.
  • I prefer to avoid the sugar substitutes. Most have an awful aftertaste and usually cause me to crave more sweets. If I really want a sweet treat, I simply have a small portion and add it into my tracker!
  • Aspartame? Sucralose? Saccharin? I can't believe SparkPeople is even mentioning these awful chemical-laden health bombs...and especially to diabetics! Only thing mentioned in this article that I ever use in place of sugar is stevia!
  • We do not use artificial sugar. I don't believe those chemicals are good for you. Best to just cut back as your tastes do change as you cut back on sugar. Moderation is key. Best to substitute with natural sweetened sources if you want to, such as applesauce, dates, honey, coconut sugar etc. please skip these artificial sugar choices if you want to continue on a healthy lifestyle path.
  • Good article! I prefer to avoid sugar substitutes because of the after taste most leave. I just program in sweet treats (sometime use baking subs like applesauce or prunes, etc.) but pretty much use the real thing!!
  • AZURE-SKY
    I can't use any type of artificial sweetener for 2 reasons. One - they all have a horrible chemical aftertaste - even Stevia, and two, they increase my cravings for sugar.

    You can change your taste buds to get used to less sugar. Years ago, I used to drink an 8-ounce cup of coffee with 2 heaping teaspoons of sugar. I weaned myself off sugar, and now don't use any sugar in coffee or tea. If I accidently pick up my husband's cup of coffee - with either sugar or Truvia in it, and take a taste, it makes me gag. I cannot drink soda because it's too sweet, and diet soda is even worse.

    I have found that the less sweets I have in my diet, the less I crave them. The easiest way to stay away from sweets is to not buy them in the first place. If they're not in my house, I don't miss them.
  • I stay away from all artificial sweeteners because I have heard that they aren't good for you. I just cut back on sugar. I've been doing it little at a time.
  • Saccharin gives you cancer. Don't fill your body with synthetic chemicals to help yourself get healthier and live longer - a lot of it is poison designed to make you addicted to the manufactured food industry. It is pointless to replace something moderately unhealthy for you with someone that is extremely unhealthy for you.

    Use no-sugar-added applesauce, ripe pineapple chunks, prunes or raisins or any dried or ripe fruit, or 100% fruit juices.
  • LOVEMYCHEROKEE
    everything in moderation..if I want a sweet once in awhile..I will leave some carbs I am counting for that...artifical sweetners r not good for you in my opinion..Sandi.
  • If I'm going to splurge on empty calories like baked goods, I want full fat and real sugar.
    Splenda, Stevia, Truvia are all off the table for me; I love some hilarious earth-shattering flatulence as much as the next guy, but the debilitating abdominal cramps I can do without.

    I put Equal in my morning coffee, and I drink a nice icy cold can of Diet Coke in the afternoon because it keeps me from snacking.
  • I used Truvia in some homemade applesauce last year. It was HORRIBLE! Such a bitter aftertaste. I ended up throwing it away. I don't know if I would try an artifical sweetener again for it. I might just have to portion smaller.
  • I just don't understand why this "healthy" website keeps advocating the use of artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners are much worse for us than actual sugar. I don't get it and I am losing faith in the credibility of SP. Its very disappointing.
  • [citation needed] re: harder to quit sugar than cocaine.
    ---
    But really, I like Truvia a lot because I feel like it has a nice granular texture, although why that matters when I'm dissolving it in my coffee is beyond me. I just do!

About The Author

Bryn Mooth Bryn Mooth
Bryn Mooth is an independent copywriter and journalist focused on food, wellness and design; she's also a Master Gardener and enthusiastic green thumb. She shares seasonal recipes, kitchen techniques, healthy eating tips and food wisdom on her blog writes4food.com.

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