How Sweet It Is

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition which affects the way your body processes glucose or blood sugar. A common question I receive from patients is related to sugar and sugar substitutes. It is important to remember that we need to consider total carbohydrate intake, as carbohydrates break down and form glucose in the human body. When reading a nutrition label we do not want to look only at total sugars. 

When we add white sugar to food, each one tablespoon serving size provides 12 grams of carbohydrate.

















Are there other sugar sources we can use in place of sugar?


Honey contains fructose, or fruit sugar. Honey contains small amounts of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, which some may view as a benefit beyond table sugar.  One tablespoon of honey provides 17 grams of carbohydrate. If using honey in cooking, you can substitute ¾ cup of honey in place of 1 cup of white sugar. You will need to decrease liquid in your recipe by 2-4 tablespoons.


Molasses is made from boiling sugar cane or sugar beet juice. It is a source of iron, potassium and calcium. It is important to remember that this is still a form of sugar, so we need to limit our portion size. One tablespoon of molasses provides 15 grams of carbohydrate.

Maple Syrup:

Maple syrup is made by cooking sap of maple trees. It is a source of calcium, potassium, iron, zinc and manganese. One tablespoon of maple syrup provides 13 grams of carbohydrate. If we use large quantities of this product, it will raise blood sugar levels significantly. If using maple syrup in cooking, you can substitute ¾ cup of maple syrup in place of 1 cup of white sugar. You will need to decrease liquid in your recipe by 3 tablespoons.

Coconut Sugar:

Coconut sugar is dehydrated sap of coconut palm. It contains inulin, a fiber which may slow glucose absorption. It provides 12 grams of carbohydrate which is the same as one tablespoon of cane or white refined sugar.

Monk Fruit Sweetener:

Monk fruit sweetener is extracted from monk fruit, a small round fruit found in Southeast Asia. This sweetener contains fructose and glucose.  Its sweetness comes from antioxidants called mogrosides. It minimally influences daily calorie intake, blood glucose levels and insulin levels, as compared to sugar sweetened products. This product is 150-200 times sweeter than sugar.

Agave Nectar:

Agave nectar is a syrup which comes from the fluid inside the blue agave plant. It is 85% fructose, which is a higher percentage than white sugar. It is important to watch nutrition labeling to be sure that additional ingredients are not added to increase carbohydrate content.  Agave nectar provides 15 grams of carbohydrate per one tablespoon serving. If planning to use agave nectar in cooking, you can substitute 2/3 cup of agave nectar in place of 1 cup of sugar. You will need to decrease liquid in your recipe by ¼ cup.


Stevia is 100% natural. It is extracted from leaves of a South American shrub. It does not provide calories. Stevia is 350 times sweeter than sugar. Stevioside is a compound in Stevia which has been shown to decrease blood pressure, blood sugar and insulin levels. You may use Stevia in cooking. You will use 1 teaspoon of Stevia in place of one cup of sugar. You will need to replace bulk with use of applesauce, yogurt or apple butter. Be mindful that applesauce and apple butter will add sugar back to your recipe.


Non-nutritive sweeteners:

Sweet ‘n Low contains saccharin. It is between 300 and 500 times sweeter than white sugar. It has been approved as a sweetener in certain special dietary foods.

Equal contains aspartame. It is 200 times sweeter than sugar. It has been approved as a sweetener and flavor in foods.

Splenda contains sucralose. It is 600 times sweeter than sugar. You may use this product in baking in equal substitution. If your recipe calls for one cup of sugar, you may substitute one tablespoon of Splenda.

So, as we conclude this discussion regarding sweeteners, it is important to remember that portion control and moderation are key points to success. Carbohydrate intake impacts blood glucose control.  Small, controlled amounts of sweeteners can be planned into balanced meals.  More is not better with any of these products.