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What are the sugar alternatives and are they any better than the refined version?

Let me start by saying that sugar is sugar. It gets processed exactly the same in the body whether you have honey on your toast or you have a bag of Haribo. But, it’s the refined sugar we want to try and avoid, as is has absolutely no nutritional value. Having a banana however, gives you a multitude of different vitamins along with the naturally occurring sugar fructose.

Of course, if you have sugar in your tea, you can’t exactly switch to a banana in your tea, so what other alternatives are there and are they any better for you?


A natural sweetener this can be used for all sorts of purposes but not all honey is created the same! Raw honey comes straight from the beehive and is totally unheated, unpasteurised and unprocessed. It’s packed with protein that is combined with amino acids, that can be easily used by your body. Bee pollen is used to improve unbalanced nutrition, vitality, longevity, energy. Regular honey does not contain bee pollen so simply doesn’t have the same qualities and contains around 80% of fructose sugar which isn’t any better than actually consuming refined sugar. Check the purity of your honey before you buy it with this guide.

Agave syrup

This comes from an agave plant and tastes sweeter than refined sugar, so you don’t need as much of it. It is on the low glycemic index so you don’t need to worry about sugar spikes, but it is high in fructose (70-90%, where as an apple has around 7%). This high level of fructose leads to many health issues including heart disease and obesity and is actually higher than the content in refined sugar so actually isn’t a great substitute at all.


This comes from a stevia plant (native or Paraguay) and is carbohydrate and calorie free. It has also been shown to lower high blood pressure and blood sugar levels. You again don’t need as much of this as it tends to taste much sweeter (about 200x), but you can’t do a like for like swap with real sugar in your baking – pick a recipe specifically made for using stevia. PS. I did try one and to be honest it doesn’t taste the same!


A natural-occurring sweetener extracted from fibrous plants such as berries, mushrooms and cauliflower! Used in a lot of sugar-free sweets, gum and also in toothpastes as it’s shown to cause fewer cavities (the bacteria in the mouth can’t digest xylitol). It can be used like sugar but has 30-40% less calories. It’s also shown to increase your body's absorption of calcium. So as well as being good for your teeth it’s also good for your bone density, which can help protect against osteoporosis . Don’t eat too much though as it does sometimes have side effects like gas, bloating and diarrhea.

Yacon syrup

Sourced from a yacon plant native of South America, this a black syrup with 40–50% fructooligosaccharides, which are a special type of sugar molecule that the human body cannot digest. It contains one third of the calories of refined sugar. Good for good gut health but again excess consumption can give digestive issues. You can’t cook or bake with this, but it’s good one for adding to hot drinks and mixing in with porridge.

So in summary, Stevia and Xylitol win, but ultimately you’d be better off just cutting down on the sugars in general and opting for healthier alternatives – apples and oatcakes instead of cakes and biscuits!

Just remember refined sugar has many side effects, which include diabetes, tooth decay, obesity, heart disease, certain types of cancer and even poor cognitive functioning, so by cutting it out as much as possible you’ll reap the rewards!


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