I recently read that the average American consumes 143 Pounds of Sugar per year - which was a jaw dropping surprise to me. In an effort to continue to clean up my own diet (I am currently gluten-free, lactose-free), I am trying to substitute for sugar where I can. My personal favorite substitute is Agave but there are a few other natural ones to choose from as follows:
Agave nectar is derived from the blue Agave plant (the same plant that they make Tequila from). Agave nectar is sweeter than sugar and will not affect blood glucose levels, however, it is filled with calories, more calories than sugar. Realistically because it is sweeter, you tend to use less and therefore the calories balance out at the end of the day.
To use Agave as a substitute in baking, you will need to reduce the total amount of liquid by 2 Tablespoons and replace every 1 Cup sugar with 2/3 of a Cup Agave. You will also want to reduce the cooking temperature by 25 degrees F as Agave tends to brown at a lower temperature than sugar.
Honey that comes from orange-blossom, red clover or any other single blossom is another great natural sweetener. Honey does not affect the blood glucose levels but is high in both carbohydrates and calories.
Similar to Agave, when using honey to substitute sugar in baking be sure to reduce the cooking temperature by 25 degrees F. Honey can substitute up to one cup of sugar in any recipe at a ration of 1 to 1. Because honey is liquid you will want to reduce the liquids in your recipe by 1/4 of a Cup for every 1 Cup substitution.
Stevia comes from the leaf of the Stevia plant and comes in both liquid and powder form. Stevia is about 300 times sweeter than traditional sugar and has little to no effect on blood glucose levels and virtually no calories.
As mentioned Stevia is significantly sweeter than sugar and comes in both liquid and powder form. To substitute sugar with powder Stevia you will replace: 1 Teaspoon with a pinch of Stevia, 1 Tablespoon with 1/2 Teaspoon Stevia and 1 Cup with 1 Teaspoon. To substitute sugar with liquid Stevia you will replace: 1 Teapoon with 2 Drops, 1 Tablespoon with 6 Drops and 1 Cup with 1 Teaspoon. Because there is such a difference in the amount of Stevia to the amount of sugar you will need to add some "bulk" to your recipe when replacing a large amount. I use 1/4-1/2 cup applesauce or dairy-free yogurt for every 1 cup replaced. You can use any fruit or pumpkin puree that will not affect the taste of your recipe.
Xylitol although it does not sound natural, is derived from the Birch Tree, Berries, Plums, Mushrooms, Oats and Corn. Xylitol comes in powder and crystal form and is about the same sweetness as sugar (crystals tend to be slightly sweeter). Xylitol has fewer calories than sugar and although it does still elevate blood sugar it is not as dramatic an increase as sugar. Unlike sugar, Xylitol has been shown to be good for your teeth, reducing cavities by increasing saliva and killing bacteria.
In cooking, Xylitol powder can replace sugar at a 1:1 ratio. If you choose to use crystals which have a consistency like sugar, you will need to adjust this to taste. I like a 2/3 cup for every 1 cup sugar, some go as low as 1/2 cup for every 1 cup sugar.