It’s no secret that sugar is bad for you. It poses so many health hazards that scientists call it the white death. Luckily, you can bake luscious cakes and cookies without having to use sugar.
When you substitute jam for sugar in baking, your baked goods may end up with a collapsed texture and pale color. However, they’ll be much healthier. If you’re not a fan of jam, you can use dates, pure maple syrup, coconut sugar, monk fruit crystals, and stevia.
In this article, I’ll detail the harmful effects of sugar, why jam is better, and what each of the previous alternatives has to offer. Let’s go!
Before we start discussing how you can replace sugar in baking, let’s take a quick look at how sugar can hurt you in the long run.
Researchers found that high sugar levels may cause inflammation in the brain. This inflammation commonly targets the memory centers, which is why you might feel that you can’t remember things as sharply as before.
To make matters worse, this inflammation may also target other areas in the brain, resulting in impaired thinking, hand tremors, vision problems, and much more. These defects may take some time to develop, but they’re quite imminent with a high sugar intake.
Looking on the bright side, studies found that these changes aren’t permanent. You can undo most of the damage by committing to a low-sugar and low-glycemic diet.
Everybody knows that eating too much sugar can lead to obesity, but some people don’t realize that this directly contributes to a high risk of heart disease.
How? Well, as your body grows bigger, your heart has to work harder to drive the blood to every single cell in your body. This increased force strains your blood vessels, causing them to stiffen, which raises the blood pressure.
With time, as your heart works way harder than usual, you’ll be more susceptible to heart attacks, irregular heart rate, and even heart failure.
You may not realize it, but sugar is highly addictive. As you eat more of it, your brain will subconsciously tell you to consume more dessert, soda, sweetened coffee, etc. Such cravings will indeed make it harder for you to keep tabs on your weight.
I know what you’re probably thinking. Sugar is notorious for boosting the energy of young kids. Give them some ice cream and they’ll literally bounce off walls!
But the worst thing about that energy boost is that it doesn’t last for a long time. After it fades away, you’ll feel tired and grumpy, which is why you’ll start craving more sugar.
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Alright, now that I’ve explained why sugar is detrimental to your health, let’s see why jam deserves to be your ideal alternative.
Technically speaking, most store-bought jams will contain unhealthy amounts of sugar, mostly because sugar is essential for the final consistency.
However, you can prepare your own sugar-free jam at home to make it healthier.
Whether store-bought or homemade, any jam must contain a fiber called pectin, which is mainly added to thicken the consistency.
When pectin reaches your stomach, it nourishes the friendly bacteria that lives there. I know that “bacteria” isn’t usually synonyms with “friendly”, but this bacteria actually promotes digestion, protects you against chronic diseases, and improves your immunity.
[Related Article: What Is a Good Substitute for Chocolate Syrup?]
If you don’t have time to make your own sugar-free jam, don’t worry. You can still evade the harmful effects of sugar by opting for one of the following natural sweeteners.
I like using dates because they have a unique caramel-like taste. And since they’re rich in many nutritional compounds, they can promote your overall health and protect your organs against chronic damage.
And let’s not forget that dates have a specially high amount of fibers, which should be perfect if you’re having problems with your bowel movement.
Swap every cup of table sugar for 2/3 cup of date sugar. Don’t go above this limit because dates are super-rich in fructose (the natural form of sugar).
To prepare date sugar, you can puree 8–10 deseeded dates with 1/4 cup of water in your blender. Make sure to pulse the mixture well until you achieve a smooth consistency.
If you’d rather stick with powder, dry your deseeded dates in the oven at 250 °F for about 10 minutes. Then, pulse the dates in your food processor. Now sieve the processed powder to remove the large granules.
You may throw these granules back into the processor if you don’t want to waste anything.
After you become happy with the consistency, store the powder in an airtight container and put it in a shaded, cool area. It’ll stay edible for about 2 months, so you shouldn’t prep a large amount at once.
You probably heard hundreds of nutritionists screaming at the top of their lungs about the harmful effects of maple syrup.
If we’re talking about the table or pancake syrup, then yes, that’s something you should avoid because it’s highly processed.
On the contrary, 100% pure maple syrup is directly extracted from the maple tree sap, making it one of the best untampered sweeteners. Try to get the darkest product you can find — the darker color correlates with a higher percentage of beneficial antioxidants.
Better yet, the same product is also available as powder crystals.
Swap every cup of sugar for 3/4 cup of maple syrup.
Keep in mind that using maple syrup to bake cakes and cookies will make them moister than usual. As such, you should reduce all the liquids listed in your recipes by 2–4 tablespoons.
Also, maple tends to speed up the browning rate of baked goods, so you may want to dial down the oven temperature by at least 25°F.
Swap every cup of sugar for 3/4 cup of maple crystals.
I prefer the crystals over the syrup because I don’t like to alter the liquid amount or temperature settings. Plus, these crystals give an interesting texture, especially when baking cookies and bread.
Despite its name, coconut sugar doesn’t actually taste like coconuts! When baked, it gets some sort of a toasty, molasses flavor. It also gives a darker, direr look to your baked goods, so it might not be a good idea if you’re concerned about the looks.
In terms of benefits, however, coconut sugar excels over any other natural sweetener. For one, it includes a special fiber that’s called inulin, which improves digestive health, promotes weight loss, and relieves constipation.
Besides, coconut sugar is rich in proteins, fatty acids, iron, potassium, and zinc.
Replace each cup of raw sugar with 1 cup of coconut sugar.
You wouldn’t have to alter your recipe for the most part. You can try to decrease the oven temperature if you want to dial down the unsightly effects of coconut sugar.
The monk fruit is a small gourd that looks relatively similar to melons. The old Chinese used it to heal colds and alleviate digestive problems.
Today, several brands produce monk fruit crystals by fermenting the fruit’s pulp. This process removes almost all the sugar, which makes it the best sweetener for diabetic people.
Replace each cup of table sugar with 1/2 cup of monk fruit extract. Going with a higher amount will make your food too sweet.
Stevia is widely famous in weight-loss diets because it contains zero calories. Diabetic patients also use it because it can decrease insulin and blood sugar levels. It’s commercially available in three forms: liquid, powder, and dried leaves, but the powder form is the most practical one.
Similar to monk fruit, stevia is nearly 200 times sweeter than table sugar. So, you should replace every cup of table sugar with only 1 teaspoon of stevia.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of stevia because it doesn’t provide any texture to baked goods.
You can add baking powder to your recipe to improve the texture and help your cakes to rise more. You can also experiment with some fruit purees to promote moisture.
Honey is one of the best natural superfoods, so many people use it as a sugar alternative. And although it does make the food taste super luscious, you should never use it when baking.
Why? Well, natural honey contains a substance called 5-hydroxymethylfurfural, but let’s just call it HMF to make things easier.
At room temperature, HMF doesn’t pose any dangers. In fact, it’s responsible for many of the health benefits attributed to honey.
However, when you heat this substance, it rears its ugly head by transforming into a toxic substance that your body can’t excrete. As this substance builds up inside your body, it may raise the risk of developing cancers.
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Although I’m always trying to cut down my sugar intake, I must say that I do miss it in my recipes.
I don’t miss the sweetness, though. As I showed you earlier, some sweeteners are way tastier than table sugar. Instead, I yearn for three aspects: texture, color, and moisture.
- Texture: Air bubbles stick to the rough edges of sugar crystals, allowing your cakes to rise and become lighter. Without sugar, cakes may sink in the middle.
- Color: When you heat the sugar, it turns into a darker caramel, making your baked goods look more appetizing. Natural sweeteners (except coconut sugar) give some sort of a pale look.
- Moisture: Sugar forces the proteins to form weaker bonds, which yields a tender, soft crumb.
It can be hard to swap out sugar when baking, especially because it’s essential for developing texture, color, and moisture. However, these sacrifices will indeed pay off in the end.
Remember, you should never bake with honey because the heat will toxify its substances. With honey out of the picture, you can use dates, pure maple syrup, coconut sugar, monk fruit crystals, and stevia.
Have fun baking!