Home Healthy Eating No Sugar? Then What Can I Use?

No Sugar? Then What Can I Use?

by Erika Nicole Kendall

This was the question that I got e-mailed a bajillion times, and I gave everyone the same answer: sit tight until Friday. Not because I wanted to build suspense or anything, but because my response is so long… I would’ve spent a lifetime trying to say all of this over and over again, and I think because so many had the same questions that it’d be easier to have all the questions on one page for everyone to reference.

The only time I use granulated sugar is when I’m baking for a large event. Other than that? I’ve got some other kind of solution. I just know that too much sugar breeds a habit, for me, that I simply cannot control. So for me, I can – and sometimes do – go a day or so without sugar.

One thing I had to learn about my lifestyle was that my body wasn’t meant to have sugar as often as I was having it, and certainly not in the quantities in which I ate it. 51 teaspoons of sugar each day? NO body is meant to handle that much. So for me, I had to realize that I’d simply have to give up my pop/soda/whatever-you-call-it fetish.

The second thing I had to realize was that I had allowed my pop addiction to change my perception of taste. As sweet as soda pop is, there’s actually a gang of salt in it. Why? Because salt makes you thirsty. Think about it – salt makes you thirsty, sweet makes you crave. They compel you to drink more of what you’re already drinking.

But that combination of salt and sugar changed my perception of how food was supposed to taste! I was looking for that “tart and tangy bite” in everything I ate. In my chicken (hello, American Chinese food), in my pizza (pizza sauce is sweet, crust is bitter?), and anything else…. I was looking for sugary and salty. Not herbs, not appreciating the taste of whatever vegetables (if there were any) were in my dish, not even enjoying the different components of what I was putting on my plate. I just wanted sweet… and salty. Boooooo.

Leaving sugar behind has allowed me to get my darn tongue back! I can taste the difference between garlic salt and onion salt again (before, all I could taste was the salt.) Shoot, I can taste the difference between fresh garlic and canned garlic. At this point, I can tell you if two pieces of garlic were grown in the same garden. I mean, not relying on sugar and salt to bring me my flavors has truly set me free to enjoy the other flavors and tastes that are out there.

The one thing I had to learn, if I was going to give up excessive and unnecessary sugar, was how to still enjoy  “sweet” things. If the problem with sugar was that there was no fiber and no nutrients, how could I still enjoy the occasional sweet and rectify this?

For starters, I limit the amount of “sweet” I enjoy in a capacity where there’s nothing else to soften the blow, like fiber. So sweet drinks are usually out for me. It’s a very rare (and special) occasion where I enjoy a sweet drink.

Mangos, oranges, lemon and kiwi. Yummy.

But how do I make sweet drinks? I use fruits. Lots. I squeeze oranges in my tea, drop a little homemade raspberry jam in there and stir it up. I go out of my way to enjoy different flavors without having to go in on the sugar.That way, I can appreciate flavor over “sweetness.”

I use locally-collected honey. That’s not necessarily an “elitist” principle, it’s a health one. While honey is problematic for some, locally collected honey contains the local pollen, and helps me with my sensitivity to pollen. So, on the rare occasion that I need that kind of sweet (sometimes in a honey stick), I use honey.

I use maple syrup. Not “pancake syrup.” Real genuine maple syrup (I use grade B.) It doesn’t have the same digestion issues as regular sugar, so it doesn’t pack the one-two punch to your blood sugar that regular sugars pack. If I have a giant pitcher of tea or lemonade that I’m making, I’ll use a little maple syrup to add a touch of sweet (and rich) to the batch.

I know that there are plenty of people who are interested in Stevia, and I hear y’all. I see the pretty green boxes with the “healthy-looking” design on the boxes in the grocery, too. The reality of stevia, really, is this – if you can’t get it in its leaf form, you might want to bypass it. Like all things, white powdery stevia is mixed with chemicals to create that “sugar-like” appearance, has more of its medicinal properties removed, and even sometimes has other “sweeteners” added to the mix to make it just as effective as sugar. Stevia is fawned over because it supposedly doesn’t have the same effect on the body’s ability to produce insulin properly (read: doesn’t cause type 2 diabetes,) and is apparently a common herb in Asia and South America. Some turn it away because it has a licorice-ish aftertaste.

If it sounds like I don’t know a lot about Stevia, it should. I don’t. Then again, no one really knows. They just know that it works for them after trying it and listening to their bodies. That’s what I’d do, as well.

There are tons of alternatives for drinks that use real sugar and not chemicals, and I make the decision that works best for me. But I also know that the problem with “sweet” is “sweet without fiber,” so if the context in which I’m enjoying my “sweet” means that there’s no “fiber” – read: coffees, teas, soft drinks, etc – then perhaps I should be having water instead.

The real reality is… sodapop has truly spoiled us. We’ve allowed it to define “sweet,” we’ve allowed it to let us think that we should always have something “sweet,” and it has enabled an addiction to a truly problematic chemical. Once I learned to give that up, I was truly liberated… and hopefully others can step back and do the same.

Note: Those of you who ask about agave nectar, I can’t tell you much about it because I have no experience with it… and here’s why.

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Teresa Hasnon July 16, 2010 - 11:15 AM

WOW that was great blog. I love how you explain the effects of our taste buds when we limit the amount of sugar we intake. Really makes me want to look at my sugar intake and reduce.
Thanks for posting.

Erika July 16, 2010 - 2:14 PM

Thank YOU for commenting! I swear, changing how I approach food changed my ability to appreciate simpler tastes… and helped me be able to find flavor in things I’d originally called bland before. So you should definitely take a second look – shoot, even *I* could always stand to take a second look – and see what you can make of it. 🙂

Joy July 16, 2010 - 11:37 AM

Thank you so much for this post! I have a TON of cold brew tea bags and I really, really hate to use sugar to sweeten it. This weekend, I’m going to try to make it with fresh blackberries and some honey.

Erika July 16, 2010 - 2:14 PM

Blackberries? Now, THAT sounds yummy. Let me know how it turns out!

Nicole July 16, 2010 - 12:37 PM

Hello Soror,

This was a great article. I enjoy visiting your site. The content write about is always on point.

Erika July 16, 2010 - 2:15 PM

Awww, why thank you! 🙂

cjbrownsc July 16, 2010 - 2:07 PM

Hi Erika!
Another great blog post!
Out of all the fruit that I eat on a daily basis, it has never occurred to me that it can be used to sweeten my tea. I put it in my water to give me some flavor and for the visual effect, but never thought about using it as a substitute for sugar.
This will definitely give me something to experiment with!

Erika July 16, 2010 - 2:16 PM

Not only can you use the fruit itself, but the juices, too – I’m big on pouring a bit of orange juice in my teas. Works wonders for me. 🙂

Play with it and see where you find yourself!

Divinely Naptural July 16, 2010 - 10:04 PM

Have you tried Agave Nectar? It is the syrup of the blue agave plant. It’s 25% sweeter than sugar per serving and has a low glycemic index so it won’t spike your sugar levels like white sugar can. It has no after taste at all… I’ve been using it throughout my weight loss (40 lbs so far this year) and it is great! You should try it, I’m sure you can find it in Whole foods or some other health food store.

Erika July 16, 2010 - 10:19 PM

I updated the post to address agave as well. I don’t use it – I’m not enough of a sugar lover to indulge – but I did post something that offers a little insight.

Divinely Naptural July 19, 2010 - 7:47 AM

Thank you for that article. That is a shame to hear such bad things about Agave… I have been using it in small quantities over the last few months along with Xylitol. I guess I’ll stick to Xylitol only.

Layla June 7, 2014 - 6:29 PM

Xylitol isn’t a great choice for a sweetener either. Unless you are buying xylitol made exclusively from birch, which is hard to find and expensive, it is usually made from GMO corn. We only use natural sweeteners, honey and Grade B maple syrup. Also for those who rave about agave, it usually has more fructose than high fructose corn syrup.

CJM July 19, 2010 - 11:15 AM

I do drink too much diet soda…generally one a day followed by a headache. Go figure. This comes from me being too lazy to put what I drink at home into a container to take to my office. I like iced tea and contrary to what one woman told me in a restaurant when I requested unsweetened tea, all Southern black people do not like sweet tea. When I make a pitcher of tea at home, I do two cold brew bags and then either one hibiscus (TAZO Passion if you cant find 100% hibiscus) bag or two mint bags. So tasty.

elizabeth September 1, 2013 - 3:37 PM

my experience with diet sodas is it makes my tongue, throat swell. I get sick to my stomach as well. my daughter gets deathly sick. I talked to another person who had seizures after drinking diet sodas. My mother got headaches. watch Sweet Misery on hulu.com. Aspartame and artificial sweeteners are poison. so, beware. They put it in Alka Seltzer and other otc drugs. they put it in prescription drugs too. So, read the labels. This stuff should be outlawed.

Reecie July 20, 2010 - 12:46 PM

I recently put frozen peaches in my iced ginger peach green tea with honey–but I still added sugar, just a smidge. I’m gonna try fresh peaches and other fruits instead next time, and eventually cut the sugar. Because I don’t trust these artificial sweeteners, I stick to the white, but I only use it in tea and coffee. I really need to figure out what else is good in coffee!!! *sigh*

Erika July 20, 2010 - 1:11 PM

You know, have you tried different flavors of coffee? I used to cling to one in particular that was a chocolate creme flavor.

I ain’t mad at your use of sugar – I’d rather use white sugar than a strange chemical substance… I’d also rather just limit my exposure to sugar, too. So I’m with you, there.

There are also different kinds of milk – vanilla almond and coconut milk come to mind – that I know some use to try to add a little sweet to their coffee as well as a nice flavor. A combo of the two – a good coffee that isn’t too bitter and a nice sweet cream – might work, unless you’re anti-cream, lol.

thelady April 14, 2014 - 10:40 AM

I use maple syrup in my coffee.

Monika August 7, 2010 - 6:22 PM

Thanks! Esspecially because of pointing out the not so healthy side effects of Stevia and Agave syrup.I thought I was doing ok with these sweeteners, but BIG mistake. So, thanks for setting this clear!

rissa September 15, 2010 - 2:03 PM

omg, so gonna try this with the rawest form of sugar i can find and with the green stevia as soon as i locate some. i thought i had to swear off the jelly.

erika (yes we are on a first name basis, by the way i’m marissa), you are the bestest.

Kenya October 19, 2010 - 7:43 PM

This post is so on point. I never knew how much sugars, even hidden sugars was affecting my weight loss goals. As I’ve started to get a handle on that as well, it is like the weight is just melting. Crazy.

Kjen April 18, 2011 - 2:32 PM

i had seen this post/article before, but i didn’t put any of the advice to real world use. But it was the recent article about how sugar is really sent me back to read this post more seriously.
me and sugar use to be likethis, but i’m willing to give it up for a healthier lifestyle.
i’m actually writing notes this time around. but i think it would be most effective if I went cold turkey/just say no to any food that requires me to sweeten it for a while. I need to “forget” the sweetness of sugar right now, because i know i would compare all alternatives to sugar and that just leads to frustration.

Dalila October 18, 2011 - 1:44 AM

Have you tried Stevia? I hear it’s a plant that’s naturally sweet and doesn’t give you the side effects of sugar. I haven’t tried it yet, but it seems like it’s promising lol

@AmariahSTyler January 27, 2012 - 4:23 PM

I have been changing my eating habits and gradually reducing the amount of sugar and salt from my daily eating habits. Being from the south, I grew up putting sugar and salt on EVERYTHING. I love sweets especially cookies, pies, and sweet tea! However, a trip to the mall a few weeks ago made me realize that it’s time to stop beating around the bush and change my diet and my life. I’ve been eating clean for the past couple of weeks, and like you stated, I can feel my taste buds returning. I’m not as easily tired and I feel great. I had already stopped drinking Cokes (I used to be a Cokeaholic) and I finally stopped with the sweet tea. I’ve always drank lots of water, but now that has increased. If I have a craving for something sweet, I usually eat some fresh fruit or go brush my teeth lol. I’m pretty sure I’ll slip up along the way, but not go into overkill. Especially with the holidays (and peach cobbler and banana pudding season) being over. Thanks for your site and the great info. Keeps me in check out here!

Vee February 27, 2012 - 2:25 PM

I have to try Maple B grade syrup.

Stephanie April 18, 2012 - 3:17 PM

I recently gave up sugar for Lent and immediately lost all the bloat that I had been holding on for months. I kept wondering why I wasn’t losing weight anymore. It was my sugar consumption. I was always craving sugar – because I was hungry. I didn’t realize it until I took a step back. Not sugar is a treat instead of an every day necessity.

Vee April 30, 2012 - 3:22 PM

Erika what do you think of Grade B molasses?

Erika Nicole Kendall April 30, 2012 - 8:17 PM

I’m a big supporter of grade B in both molasses AND maple syrup. Molasses is an extremely acquired taste, though. Just…just consider that fair warning. LOL

Vee May 1, 2012 - 8:04 AM

Erika I made some protein pancakes this morning and I tried them with molasses and they were pretty good 🙂

LBrooke June 11, 2012 - 8:18 PM

Girl, can I tell you how I’m about to go out, buy some new printer ink, and print these articles out one by one to read them as a Bible?

Dominique June 11, 2012 - 8:48 PM

I’m not a HUGE ‘sweet’ person and I only have soda and juice a couple times a month but I love tea (cold and hot). A few months ago I was up to 4 packs of sugar per mug of tea. Smh. A friend recommended I reduce the amount of sugar I use by one pack each week until I’m at 0.

OMG! I learned most of the teas I drink taste better on their own than with the sugar! It’s allowed me to be more open to trying different teas because I don’t worry about having to sweeten it. Some things really are just better WITHOUT sugar……

Kel Green June 11, 2012 - 9:56 PM

Last year, I lost around 115 pounds simply by eliminating sugar & carbs from my diet. Since beginning to eat sugar & carbs again, I’ve gained back 43 pounds! Sugar is very addictive & has the chemical properties of cocaine. At this point, I’d rather have cocaine in my diet. . . JK. But I’m trying to get going again because I know its the best thing to do for my health and I have too many clothes I can’t fit because of the gain. 🙁

Jak June 12, 2012 - 8:55 AM

I have been reading your information via facebook and have learned so much about who I am through my weight. I have begun my journey of losing weight last month and already feel light but more so have my blood pressure under better control. My goal is to lose 40lbs and keep it off. I am doing it ALL new this year, I have changed my home to truly suit me and my tastes, have met new people in my process and even considering going natural with my hair..(im six weeks without my stylist…arggghhh!) but I’m feeling good and saving money too. Thanks for the motivation, it began with my weight but ending with a better me!

Brownie September 4, 2012 - 3:19 PM

What do you think about raw/turbinado sugar? I use only honey for coffee and raw sugar for baking….if you have insight, I would love to know!

Erika Nicole Kendall September 4, 2012 - 6:49 PM

Honestly, I think it depends on what you’re using it for, what the other ingredients are and what your goals are for avoiding the sugar. With baking, I’d say your raw/muscovado/turbinado sugars are definitely cleaner than the standard. 🙂

Brandie September 18, 2012 - 9:47 AM

Hi! I just came across your blog, I’m looking at how to cut sugar out of my diet… it’s a HUGE problem for me. I’ve been using stevia for years, BUT I do use the extracts (highly refined) and I think I’ve overdone it – been having some crazy GU problems and I can’t figure out what’s causing it, so I’m cutting the stevia out for a little while too, to see if that’s it. There isn’t MUCH available online regarding GI issues linked to stevia, but I’ve found a few – enough to make me think it COULD possibly be my problem… anyway .. I LOVE tea, and have despaired as to how I can sweeten it without sugar or stevia! I don’t want to go back to sugar… but… I hadn’t EVER thought to squeeze fresh fruit into it! I am so stoked that I found this post of your, for that idea! Thanks so much 🙂

Kitana February 1, 2013 - 6:39 PM

I totally get what you mean about being spoiled on sweet tastes. I switched over to greek yogurt from normal yogurt and then, for some reason, my boyfriend decided to go out and buy normal yogurt. I tried one and I swear, I could *feel* the sugar on my tongue, it burned a little bit even. I’ve never experienced that before but I know it means I should stay away from regular yogurt.

Annette February 2, 2013 - 5:08 PM

Just wanted to add:

Raw Honey
Coconut Nectar
Coconut Root – which is in a powder form
Brown Rice Syrup
Stevia Plant

I was listening to an online lesson talking about sweeteners and the hypoglycemic index. Basically about getting close enough to the source but also use in moderation. Changes can be made a step at a time don’t wait until the emergency room. We are worth it.

Kami March 6, 2013 - 9:33 AM

Right now I am loving the organic grade B maple syrup grade b maple sugar and raw honey. I have tried vegan brown sugar or sugar in the raw and evaporated cane juice ( vegan) I dont like it that much it is to sweet. I am trying to find something where the molasses is left in. Does anyone know how the turbinado , sucanet taste and coconut palm sugar taste.
I will be trying them next when they are on sale.

Susan April 24, 2013 - 2:03 PM

Hi there and THANK you for this very nicely written and provocative consideration of sugar substitutes. I’ve been hooked on “Sweet N Low” since I was a teen and am trying to figure out how to get off.

I was encouraged by your words and then did read the links about the Agave plant (OMG: DO NOT use that); and then read about the Stevia option which was a link on the Agave link you gave (thanks oodles for this info!).

I do think I may need to simply begin to reduce altogether and get off using sweetener. You said it, I would enjoy getting improved tastes!

My sweet-tooth is more about carbs…breads, rices, potatoes, etc. But I manage those better these days…licking the ‘sweet’ in my coffee is a next-step. Thank you for your encouragement in sharing!


Singram June 6, 2013 - 10:45 AM

I wanted to bake to help keep myself off the sugar so I did some homework and over the last few years have experimented with some options that I’ll share with you.
Some good sugar substitutes that I have tried are: indeed stevia, try going to mountain rose herbs and ordering it online in its dried powdered form, which is green not white so you know you’re not getting the highly processed kind. Its super sweet so you unfortunately cannot bake with it but it can be easily added to drinks if you MUST have something to sweeten, and the cool thing about stevia is that it actually helps curb the desire for sweets and helps lower blood sugar. Its an acquired taste and you have to play with it to see how much u can tolerate at a time, and trust me its such a leeetle amount, so start off small.

Coconut sugar is good for baking because of the volume, and low glycemic index. Its not too sweet, but here’s where u can add a touch of that stevia to the recipe just to taste And then again if you have gotten to the point where sweet is sometimes too sweet, the coconut sugar will be just enough sweet.

Erythritol, a sugar alcohol, is also useful for baking but it has to be done in such a particular way so as not to dry out your baked goods and that takes some practice. Now erythritol (SOUNDS like one of those artificial ones cuz of its scary name but its not) is granulated and white, and appears much like table sugar but it has almost a negative sugar grams/serving. Because its white, it’s obviously processed but its a better alternative to sugar and the other “substitues”. The cool thing about erythritol is that it doesnt cause tooth decay 🙂 Maltitol is another scary sounding named one. Its another sugar alcohol with an almost nil glycemic index. Lots of treats prepared for diabetics use this one however, I stay away from it as too much can and will cause diarrhea (aint nobody got…lol). Do a little digging on these and see what may work for you 🙂
ps. i LOVE when people call it pop!!! Im a midwest girl, It makes me smile!

Erika Nicole Kendall June 8, 2013 - 4:46 PM

Neither Erythritol nor Maltitol are clean, and the question still remains as to WHAT ARE YOU PUTTING IT IN?

Furthermore, I’m not entirely convinced of a) these things actually being beneficial for people who, in fact, have sugar addictions and b) these things aren’t actually triggering other biochemical reactions in the body that would be disadvantageous to someone who wants to be healthier. If you’re baking with erythritol, sure, it might be great that you’re cutting the calorie count, but what are you baking? It’s still gonna be cake. It’s still gonna be a super sweet calorie bomb. And, if you have a sugar addiction, you’re STILL enabling yourself into a bad habit.

I’m at the point, now, where I believe that you should definitely clean up whatEVER you’re using, but if you’re using it mindlessly or as an extension of your addiction, that you’re screwed, no matter HOW clean your alternative might be.

Singram June 9, 2013 - 11:23 AM

oh i wouldnt say “mindlessly”, I did a lot of reading to make that decision which is why I said “Do a little digging on these and see what may work for you”
(and you did). The reason i started using it to bake with is because it was a jump off point for me to stop consuming processed sugary goods from the stores and bakeries. I was baking vegan cakes and it was very seldom. I didnt have calorie counting in mind only grams of sugar. What it in effect does is starve the candida environment in the intestines of the sugar it needs to survive. Once die off happens you dont crave sugar and you dont even crave sugar substitutes at all. It helped me to gain control but it may not work that way for everyone. I didnt know it wasnt considered “clean” to which end, yes if it doesnt work dont use it.

Singram June 9, 2013 - 11:29 AM

**and when i say “if it doesnt work” I mean if it doesnt fit the tenets of a clean diet, it should not be used.

Anna moore June 17, 2013 - 5:54 PM

Hi but what if u dont have sugar or fruits for your sweet tea then what? What can I put In there?

Erika Nicole Kendall June 18, 2013 - 9:52 AM

Are you looking for someone to say “just use the sugar?” I think the end goal is to say to yourself, NOW, that you need to always make sure you have alternatives on hand, just like you’d make sure you had sugar on hand.

Tyna July 23, 2013 - 7:58 AM

I’ve started to use coconut sugar as a substitute for sugar when baking or cooking. What’s the lowdown on coconut sugar?
I have used date sugar also.

Erika Nicole Kendall July 24, 2013 - 10:02 AM

Honestly, I’ll have to write a completely separate post on that. I wrote this post long before most of these alternative sweeteners were even created and became popular. LOL

Ally Fiesta November 2, 2014 - 10:30 AM

Im going to have to squeeze juice in my tea. I live in Texas and enjoy sweet tea several times a week. Usually I just have regular tea and never enjoy it. Giving up soda is easy with no soda fountain at my office but there is a regular design to drink 3 cans at once.

Robin September 6, 2015 - 7:34 AM

Hi! Love the article. I just discovered that I have high triglycerides, and of course I am overweight, so your blog is very inspiring to me right now. I will be visiting often for lots of dietary tips and recipes. My current dilemma is sweetening my tea. It is highly recommended by all docs to avoid honey, sugar, molasses, agave, maple syrup, etc to sweeten. And I love my tea sweet with some plain almond milk! So I am going to try orange slices squeezed into the cup with a dash of cinnamon and some plain almond milk. I am praying this soothes my need to have my tea sweet….Thanks for all the great tips.

Renee December 8, 2015 - 12:33 PM

I’ve had an awful time trying to lose weight over the last few years. I’ve tried about every exercise program possible! Zumba, Zumba Tone, 5k programs, Beachbody, while monitoring what I eat, with no results. None!!! I gave up exercise entirely and weighed the same as I did when I felt like I was killing myself with diet/exercise. The one constant in my life is sugar. I have been looking all over for ways to substitute sugar, and you might just have my answer!!! Thank you for this post-you’ve gained a follower!!

Shonda Bailey April 24, 2016 - 10:46 AM

Hello. How much honey and orange slices would you use to sweeten a gallon of green tea? I make at least 2-3 pitchers a week. I don’t care for lemon slices in my tea but, am open to other suggestions.
Thank you.

Erika Nicole Kendall May 4, 2016 - 1:32 PM

A gallon?! Probably way more than I’d like to be caught using at any given time. I’d make a simple syrup using juice or honey, and then just test pour as I go. But I couldn’t imagine drinking that much of a sugar-sweetened drink.

Grannie Vee April 5, 2017 - 10:23 PM

Unfortunately these are all versions of sugar. Fruit contains sugar. I have a fructose intolerance and can’t have any sugar, including artificial. Fructose in fruit is a different type of sugar, but is still sugar. ;( White sugar (sucrose) is 50% sucrose and 50% fructose.

Erika Nicole Kendall April 15, 2017 - 4:53 PM

You’re right, but that’s not quite the point.

In a world filled with artificial flavors and an artificially high understanding of what it means for something to be “sweet,” it’s important for people to get used to the idea of what “natural” sweetness is instead of the level of sweet we often find in processed food. Ketchup is sweet. Ranch dressing is sweet. Sodapop is obscenely sweet. Most people don’t even taste that anymore, though. Getting used to the kind of sweet you naturally find plays a huge role in being able to divorce oneself from sweets and sugar cravings altogether, since fruit doesn’t give off the same kind of brain response as, say, a Little Debbie.

This isn’t the kind of list that would help someone like you with an actual allergy, but it—though it might seem misleading—certainly serves a purpose. I hope you get the help/list you need, though!

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