In last weeks episode of the Great British Bake Off (Series 6, Episode 5) saw the contestants tasked with making a cake which was “sugar-free”. This was very misconstrued in the media with people thinking these are going to be healthy alternatives for a cake. It was in fact, a case of testing the bakers with their abilities to bake a cake without vital ingredients we are all so used to using – refined sugar.

Sugar research and why it is bad for human consumption is somewhat inconclusive, but many believe that fructose is more problematic than glucose. The overall consensus in the scientific community is that there is no significant difference between the health implications of eating fructose and glucose. What is clear is that free sugars are bad for health because they add calories and are not bound up with other nutrients.

So, in light of what many people were hoping for – what are the healthier options as opposed to refined sugar when it comes to cooking?

Natural Sugars – Honey and Maple Syrup

Although these are still essentially a very sugary alternative, they contain small offerings of beneficial vitamins and minerals. They are naturally produced alternatives, and can produce heavy cakes that are dark in appearance. Honey is sweeter than table sugar so you can use 25–50% less. It contains both fructose and glucose but the exact ratio depends on the variety. Maple syrup has a similar fructose-glucose ratio to table sugar, but tastes less sweet – therefore you can use much less than you would require both when using refined sugar.

Blackstrap Molasses

Replace 1 1/3 cup for every one cup of sugar
1,002 calories, 259 grams sugar


Replace 3/4 cup for every one cup of sugar
773 calories, 209 grams sugar

Maple Syrup

Replace 3/4 cup for every one cup of sugar
600 calories, 159 grams sugar

Artificial Sweeteners

Many artificial sweeteners present some difficult tasks for bakers, one of the most common issues is a bitter aftertaste they give. However, many sweeteners are available in which are made specially for baking purposes which do not contain unwanted ingredients. Many artificial sweeteners are 200–650 times sweeter than table sugar and as such either extremely low calorie or calorie free, making them suitable for diabetics.

Others, Sweet Extracts and Sugar Alcohols

The first two options are amongst the popular options when it comes to baking, however, sweet extracts and sugar alcohols are two other alternatives. Stevia for example is a sweet extract and is 250-300 times sweeter than table sugar and almost calorie free. It has a liquorice flavour, so is often used in combination with other sweeteners.

Sugar alcohols are found in fruits and vegetables, but are mainly produced industrially. They can be used as a straight swap for table sugar in heavier cakes, but need to be combined with other ingredients to make light cakes.


Replace 1/2 cup for every one cup of sugar
0 calories, 0 grams sugar

Agave Nectar/Syrup

Replace 2/3 cup for every one cup of sugar
449 calories, 100.3 grams sugar