Sweet Swaps: Baking with Sugar Substitutes

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

thank you Report
great article Report
Very good article! Most of the different kinds of sugar are mentioned, which is pretty amazing considering all the different types on the market.. Taking out suggestions that apply to me, yet we can leave the rest alone. In the end, we are responsible for our own choices Report
I try to totally stay away from Aspertame but did you know, of your sugar free products and other things, there is over 500 products with it in. I am "floating" back to sugar products when buying mixes etc. or jello and puddings of which I do use a fair amount. Report
MOMOTHEGREAT
Why did you leave out xylitol? Report
Great article with really good information. Thanks. Report
I didn't see anything about Swerve. It is a 1 for 1 exchange & comes in both sugar & confectioners sugar.
http://swervesw
eet.com/about
/whats-swerve
-made-of

Also, I RUN from anything Splenda! No one needs to put a chlorine "mix" into their body!

http://www.prev
ention.com/fo
od-nutrition/
healthy-eatin
g/a20457205/s
plenda-side-effects/ Report
Great article! Report
I was not aware there was a Splenda sugar blend available. I have been mixing it myself for certain items like some pies. Thank you. I will look for it. Report
Great article! Report
Some of the ideas are strictly applicable to weight loss but are inappropriate for diabetics and people with other conditions including obesity that require them to eliminate sugar - they too enjoy baked goods and would like recipes that don't result in in cardboard or rubbery cakes and awful cookies. Report
NANAW12001
Thanks. I use Stevia. Report
Sugar does more than sweeten, it changes the texture of food. Artificial sweeteners available to retail consumers won't counteract the lack of sucrose. Report
I use Swerve which measures like sugar and is not overpoweringly sweet. My sister is diabetic and can not tolerate the artificial sweetners. I have always just reduced the sugar, but now I use half sugar and half Swerve (which I buy at our local food coop, expensive but worth it). Report
POLYSUBWAYMAMA
I use and have used Splenda Blend as my cooking/baking substitute of choice. People can not tell it from real sugar and is easy to use as is 1/2 the amount of regular sugar. Report


 

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.