Sugar & Alternatives

Welcome to my summary of all I have been learning regarding sugar. This has been taken directly from my old blog, "The Cook's Sponge," for quick access here at The Sponge. My updated stance on sugar alternatives can be found at the end of this post, and I'll be continuing to experiment with these on The Sponge. I'm so excited by all the good alternatives available that I've highlighted them so you can find them easily.

All of my points below are based on research by Robert Lustig, found in his seminar "Sugar: The Bitter Truth," and David Gillespie's book "Sweet Poison." I highly recommend you watch and read these yourself.

Some of it you will find hard to believe, and some of it might make you mad. If you have any questions, please read my summary of Robert Lustig's "Sugar: The Bitter Truth" and David Gillespie's "Sweet Poison."   (these links will take you over to The Cook's Sponge)

In fact I encourage you to read these posts anyway. If you don't find the answers there, do ask.

For further discussion you may like to click on my link Sugar Free Sweetness to look at all posts on The Cook's Sponge, including experimenting with sugar alternatives, on this topic.

The problem with sugar is fructose.

  • Table sugar is 50% glucose and 50% fructose.
  • Our bodies need glucose to function - in fact almost all food we eat gets converted in to glucose and then in to energy.
  • Our bodies can't use fructose. As with poison (and as with alcohol), fructose gets sent to the liver to be dealt with as it can not be used anywhere in the body.
  • Once the liver has metabolized fructose as best it can, about 30% ends up being stored as fat. 
  • Fructose bypasses all of our fat control mechanisms. When we eat it, it doesn't trigger our "I'm full" response so we keep coming back for more and more. We end up eating far more food than we need, and certainly far more fructose than our bodies can handle.
  • Chronic fructose consumption leads to a large number of health complications such as obesity, increase in blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, myocardial infarction and Type II diabetes.

But what about fruit?

"But fructose is natural!" you all cry. "Fructose is in fruit, and fruit is good for you."

  • Eating a small amount of fructose in whole fruit is fine. Fructose in fruit is combined with fibre. Fibre helps our bodies to process the fructose, and the fibre triggers the "I'm full" mechanism.
  • Too much fruit, however, does equal too much fructose. It is possible to eat more fruit than is good for you. Don't eat it all day, get some veges in to you instead.

Remember that while fruit has plenty in it that it good for you, the argument that something occurs naturally so therefore must be good for you holds very little logic.

Fruit Juice

  • Fruit juice has had all the fibre stripped out of it, so we are left with nothing but fructose and a few vitamins. Without fibre our bodies can't manage the fructose and our brains don't receive the message that we are full, so drinking fruit juice is a fast and effective way of overloading our systems with fructose.
  • A glass of fruit juice could easily contain the juice and fructose of 7 pieces of fruit. That's a LOT of fructose.
  • Choosing to drink all natural 100% freshly squeezed juice is an unhealthy option.

Dried Fruit

  • "Dried fruit is approximately 30% water and 70% sugar. Different dried fruits have different proportions of glucose and fructose, but you're essentially eating sugar with a mild vitamin tablet. Dried fruit is especially dense, having lost a water. You wouldn't eat a dozen apricots but you could easily eat the dried equivalent." (

Sugar and Saturated Fat

In the 1970s fat was identified as the food product that was making us fat. Removing fat from our food took away the flavour, so much of it was replaced by sugar. Foods that are low in fat are considered healthy, but they are often laden with sugar. Stop falling for the marketing and start reading the labels.

There are many, me included, who believe saturated fats (ie. animal fats) are not as bad for you as we have been told. And certainly not as bad for you as sugar. If you want to get your head around why they're not so bad, and we've had it wrong all this time, here's my summary of Robert Lustig's explanation:

In the 1970s we learnt that dietary fat increased LDLs ("bad cholesterol"). An increase in LDLs led to Cardiovascular Disease. And so we were told to decrease our fat intake. HOWEVER:
We now know that there are actually 2 kinds of LDLs, the neutral ones, that have no effect on our arteries, and the "bad guys." Dietary fat increases the number of neutral LDLs. And guess what increases the bad guys? Carbohydrates. But, we decreased fat in our diets, and replaced it with carbohydrates, specifically - sugar. And that was the worst thing we could do.


Exercise it good for you and is important, but there is no way we can exercise enough to work off the amount of sugar we, as a society, are eating. Let's not fool ourselves. We need to run for 1.5 hours to work off all the calories in one can of soft drink, and swim for an hour to burn all the calories in one chocolate bar (David Gillespie, Sweet Poison, Pg 137 - 138).

Fructose consumption has increased in the past century by over 30 times in the USA and over 20 times in Australia. Things have gotten way out of hand, and it's time for a change.

Sugar Alternatives

The Goodies  

Honey is high in fructose but contains all kinds of good things that can't be found elsewhere, and my latest piece of reading suggests it doesn't seem to have quite the same negative effects as other fructose-laden foods. Have a read here if you're interested. As Robert Lustig said about fruit, "when God made the poison He packaged it with the antidote" and I am keen to believe this is the case with honey. The above reading suggests it may be so, and I've come across this idea more than once. But as with fruit, eat in moderation. Honey is certainly a better option than sugar.

Glucose/Dextrose. Studies have shown that the ill effects caused by sugar are not caused by glucose. "Your body converts all carbohydrates (except fructose) and most protein to glucose anyway. Your appetite control system is perfectly adapted to dealing with glucose. In fact, it has evolved on the assumption that what you eat will either be glucose or converted to it." (David Gillespie, Sweet Poison, Pg 183-184).

Glucose is my number one sugar alternative and I have been using it in almost all my home baking. See recipes on The Cook's Sponge to learn more about baking with glucose. Or simply use it in place of sugar (it works especially well in cakes and puddings but doesn't give a crunch to biscuits or a meringuey-ness to meringues.)

Use glucose powder in place of sugar, and liquid glucose in baking in place of golden syrup and condensed milk. You won't find it very satisfying as a replacement for maple syrup on your pancakes.

Rice Syrup/Rice Malt Syrup. Produced from cooked rice and malted barley. Made up of complex carbohydrates, maltose and just 3% glucose, this is a new alternative to me that is looking and tasting very good. Use in place of any sweet liquid in your baking, on your pancakes and drizzled over your cereal if you wish. I have more experimenting to do, but this is a really exciting option so far.

Barley Malt Syrup. Produced from malted barley. Very similar to rice syrup, but with a malty flavour. Made up of maltose and complex carbohydrates, so again, no fructose. The malt flavour is quite strong when eaten straight off the spoon but adds a nice depth when added to baking/sauces.

Stevia. After much reading it seems that the World Wide Web agrees this is the king of all sugar alternatives and I have finally purchased some. Stevia has caused some controversy in the past but I have concluded that it is a safe option. The challenge with Stevia is that it is very sweet so you can't simply substitute it for sugar in your recipes. You need such a small amount that it messes up the proportions and textures of your batters. I'll do the hard work and let you know how to work around this.

 The Baddies

Agave Syrup is very high in fructose. It is absolutely not a healthy option, despite being marketed as one. It can contain as much as 90% fructose (Sugar is 50% fructose. High Fructose Corn Syrup is 55% fructose). Agave is presumably marketed as healthy because the high fructose levels make it low GI).

Xylitol is a naturally occuring alternative which I have been a fan of for a long time, it is low in calories and actively good for your teeth. I have done a lot of reading about it recently, just waiting to hear the bad news and I have found it; xylitol gets rapidly converted to fructose by the liver.

Artificial Sweeteners are bad for us, we all know that. Well, there's enough evidence for me, and if you want more detail I suggest reading Chapter 13 of "Sweet Poison" by David Gillespie. Most of us are prepared to slam artificial sweeteners because somehow we just know they're bad for us, yet my reading has left me convinced that fructose is as bad, or actually, worse.

Further reading:
Robert Lustig's "Sugar: The Bitter Truth" - The Cook's Sponge summary.
David Gillespie's "Sweet Poison" - The Cook's Sponge summary
The Cook's Sponge conversations "Sugar Free Sweetness"


  1. What a great overview of alternatives to sugar! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Thank you so much - really interesting!! Have book-marked so can return again and again to re-read for reference :)