Sugar and Sugar Substitutes in Your Cooking

Sugar Substitutes for Diabetic Recipes

You've probably encountered this misperception before:  people think that since you have diabetes, you can never have sugar again.  Sound familiar?  As you probably know, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) published their latest dietary guidelines in 2013. According to the ADA, the new guidelines said that there is no "conclusive evidence of an ideal amount of carbohydrate intake for people with diabetes."

However, the authors of the guidelines suggest that whatever carbohydrates are eaten should come from vegetables, whole grains, fruits, legumes and dairy products, over other sources that contain added fats, sugar or sodium.

Here are some highlights from the guidelines:

  • People with diabetes should limit or avoid intake of sugar-sweetened beverages (from any caloric sweetener including high fructose corn syrup and sucrose) to reduce risk for weight gain and worsening of cardiovascular risk profile.
  • The recommendation for the general population to reduce sodium to less than 2300 mg per day is also appropriate for people with diabetes, with additional reductions individualized for those who have high blood pressure. Studies show most Americans eat far more sodium than they should.
  • Table sugar and other forms of sweeteners (honey, molasses, brown sugar, etc.) can be included as part of a diabetes meal plan. What's important is that you keep close track of your total grams of carbohydrate every day.

Sugar and Sugar Substitutes in Diabetic Recipes


Sugar provides sweetness, tenderness, and color in baking. With most recipes, you can reduce the sugar by at least one-third without changing the taste and texture.

Fruit juices and frozen fruit juice concentrates may be used to sweeten baked goods. Since these baked goods are high in carbohydrate, it important to eat these treats in moderation and to count every gram of carbohydrate, not exceeding your recommended total for that meal.

Sugar-free products can give you added flexibility in your meal plan because they tend to contain few grams of carbohydrate and frequently are lower in fat and calories.

Artificial sweeteners provide almost no calories and will not affect your blood sugar levels. However, not all artificial sweeteners can be used for baking and prolonged cooking. Read the labels and only use those that say the product can be used for baking.

We particularly like using the one-to-one sugar substitutes. Two are readily available on most supermarket shelves:  Splenda and Sugar Twin (the later comes as both white sugar replacement and brown sugar replacement).

Another favorite is DiabetiSweet, which is available online and in many supermarkets, drug stores, and discount stores.

All of these sugar substitutes are excellent for prolonged cooking and baking. Neither leaves that tell-tale bitter or metallic aftertaste that many sugar substitutes have when heated. These are all measured out just like sugar, one cup for one cup, 1 tablespoon for 1 tablespoon, etc.

Newer sugar substitutes on the market include Stevia. Stevia is made from a South American plant, has been around for centuries. Among brand names, SweetLeaf is a sweetener made from stevia extract, and both Truvia and Pure Via are stevia-based.  These products have been FDA approved, while whole-leaf stevia or extracts have not. Stevia is not a one-to-one substitute for sugar, so the makers recommend you consult their conversion tables.

Agave nectars and syrups are commonly marketed as healthier alternatives to sugar and honey.  Unfortunately, the fructans in these products are broken down into smaller fructose chains, which means that they still affect blood sugar levels like high fructose corn syrup.

Special Considerations when Baking with Sugar Substitutes

The manufacturer of Splenda suggests that when you're making cakes with Splenda, for every 1 cup of Splenda used, add 1/2 cup sifted nonfat dry milk powder and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda to the dry ingredients.

When baking bar cookies, brownies, muffins, and quick breads, add 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda for every 1 cup of Splenda used.

In muffins and quick breads, also add 1 to 2 tablespoons honey or molasses for extra flavor and moistness. For further tips on using Splenda in your holiday cooking and baking, visit their website.

Sugar Twin states on their product label that it may be necessary to experiment with reduced amounts of Sugar Twin to achieve the best results. They also state that recipes calling for using more than 1/2 cup of Sugar Twin replacement are not recommended.

The makers of DiabetiSweet do not give specific recommendations for using DiabetiSweet in cooking or baking other than to use it just like sugar, one cup for one cup.

They offer a new free recipe booklet on the website and graciously allowed us to print 3 of their delicious recipes in this article. We have noted the carbs and total fat grams so be sure to make sure you can fit these treats into your meal plan before you indulge.

Chocolate Brownies
Yields: 16 servings

What You Need

  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup non-fat plain yogurt
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 cup DiabetiSweet
  • 3/4 cup egg substitute
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

What You Do

  1. Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Spray a 9" x 13" pan with cooking spray.
  2. Melt butter and chocolate over a double boiler set at a gentle simmer.
  3. Sift the dry ingredients.
  4. Add the DiabetiSweet to the chocolate and butter and stir to blend. Add the applesauce, yogurt, egg products, extracts and blend thoroughly.
  5. Add the dry ingredients and stir just until blended.
  6. Add chocolate chips or optional nuts and stir until combined.
  7. Spread in the prepared pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Nutritional Information

  • % of KCALS (184) 1 serving (no nuts)
  • Protein 8%
  • Carbohydrate 55%
  • Fat, total 37%

Editors' Note: Each brownie contains about 31 grams of carbohydrate and 9.1 grams of total fat.

Coconut Cookies
Yields: 2 dozen

What You Need

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose vegetable shortening
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup DiabetiSweet
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup pastry flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

What You Do

  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Spray 2 cookie sheets with cooking spray.
  2. Toast the coconut for 7 to 8 minutes on a cookie sheet.
  3. Except for coconut, sift the dry ingredients.
  4. Cream the butter and shortening. Add the DiabetiSweet and blend thoroughly. Add the vanilla extract and stir until well creamed.
  5. Add the flour and coconut and blend until thoroughly combined.
  6. Pinch off pieces of dough and shape them into 1-inch balls. Place balls on the cookie sheets and bake at for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they turn golden brown.
  7. Cool on pan.

Nutritional Information

  • % of KCALS (116) 1 serving (computed with sweetened coconut)
  • Protein 3%
  • Carbohydrate 36%
  • Fat, total 60%

Editors' Note: Each cookie contains about 11 grams of carbohydrate and 8.3 grams of total fat.

First published on: December 1, 2002
Updated on: December 11, 2014