Favorite Natural Sweeteners as Sugar Substitutes: Xylitol, Agave Nectar & Stevia

We have tried a lot of natural sugar substitutes, including xylitol, stevia, agave nectar and monk fruit extract. There is a use for each one of them in my kitchen, but my favorite by far has been xylitol.natural sugar substitutes like xylitol Why? Because it tastes the closest to granulated table sugar (sucrose) and has almost half the calories. If you blindfolded me and put some xylitol on my tongue, I wouldn’t know that it isn’t sugar. In contrast, if you were to give me stevia blindfolded, I would know right away because I am sensitive to the bitter aftertaste. Here is a review of the three natural sweeteners we use the most as an alternative to white sugar.

What is Xylitol?

I have already mentioned briefly what xylitol is in our Xylitol Sugarless Gum Review page, but here is a review. Xylitol occurs naturally in plants and is extracted mostly from either corn or North American hardwood trees such as Maple or Birch. Personally, I stay away from xylitol, or any food products for that matter, sourced from China.

Chemically, xylitol is classified as a polyol or sugar alcohol. Polyols such as xylitol have less calories because they are not completely absorbed by the body like sugar. This is beneficial, but also has one consequence. Xylitol Side Effects: If you consume too much xylitol, it can cause bloating, gas and diarrhea. What’s too much? Well your body can adjust to using xylitol, but for starters, I wouldn’t bake a batch of brownies using only xylitol and eat several all at once. I haven’t had any issues so far when using xylitol. The most concentrated way I have used it is one teaspoon of xylitol in a 6 oz cup of chai tea with no stomach problems, just an enjoyable sweet cup of tea without the sugar and added calories.

US xylitol sweetener from birch trees

Xyla is made from 100% North American Hardwood Trees, Not from China.

Xylitol Benefits

  • As sweet as sugar, but 40% fewer calories: 1 tsp xylitol = 9.6 calories vs 1 tsp sugar = 16 calories.
  • Low glycemic index (GI) compared to sugar: 7 vs 65! Absorbed by the body as a complex carbohydrate, preventing blood sugar spikes.
  • Does not promote cavities. Many sugarless gum brands use xylitol as a tooth-decay preventative ingredient; inhibits plaque formation.
  • Use in 1:1 ratio like sugar for cooking and baking – with the exception of recipes that use yeast.

Recommend Product: Emerald Forest Xylitol Sweetener Why? Because the xylitol is 100% sourced from North American trees and I can get it in bulk for cheap online from Amazon. I have not found xylitol for less in any of my local grocery stores nor any bigger stores.

Dog Owner Warning: Xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs!

Agave Nectar

Agave nectar or syrup comes from the juice (aguamiel) of Agave plant species (from which Tequila is made), including blue agave and white agave. You can purchase agave in light, amber and dark varieties as well as in raw form. The darker the color, the more caramel-tasting notes it will have. It is composed primarily of fructose, ranging anywhere from 55% to 90%, with the remaining sugar in the form of glucose.

fair trade raw organic agave nectar

Raw, Fair-Trade Organic Agave Nectar

Agave Benefits

  • 1.5 times sweeter than sugar
  • Agave nectar GI ranges 15-30 vs 65 for sugar
  • Dissolves easy, even in cold liquids. Great honey (GI: 62) and maple syrup (GI: 54) substitute.

You won’t be saving any calories when using agave. One teaspoon of agave nectar has 20 calories compared to 18 calories in one teaspoon of sugar. However, because it is 1 1/2 times sweeter than sugar, you’ll use less of it which theoretically means you will consume the same amount of calories, perhaps less. The main benefit of using agave over white sugar would be its lower glycemic index.

Recommended Product: Madhava Raw Organic Agave Nectar. Madhava was the first company to offer agave nectar in the US back in 2002. Their raw, organic agave comes from high quality Weber blue agave and is a Fair-Trade product.

What is Stevia?

The sweetener referred to as Stevia comes from a the native South American chrysanthemum, Stevia rebaudiana. Steviol glycosides or steviosides are what makes Stevia sweet. A concentrated, pure stevioside extract that is used in several stevia sweetener products, such as Truvia and PureVia, is Rebaudioside A. In this concentrated form, it is 200 times more sweeter than sugar.  Reb A has the least amount of bitterness of the steviol glycosides in the plant. I have used stevia in cooking as a sweetening ingredient in addition to regular sugar or combined with agave or xylitol, but never use it as the primary sweetener because of the bitter aftertaste. This is something you have to test yourself. Some people don’t notice any bitterness, while others taste it strongly.

Stevia Benefits

  • Stevia sweeteners using Reb A are up to 200x sweeter than sugar
  • GI is < 1 vs 65 for sugar
  • 1 tsp stevia= < 1 calorie vs 1 tsp sugar = 16 calories
  • Won’t promote tooth decay, inhibits plaque formation.
  • Can be used in cooking and baking (except when yeast is used)
stevia sweetener sugar substitute

SweetLeaf Brand is 100% Stevia with no other additives or chemicals and is non-GMO.

Stevia sweeteners can be purchased in many forms, from a less sweeter green powder made from dried Stevia leaves to a super-sweet, concentrated liquid extract. Some products are 100% pure Stevia while other are blends, such as stevia with erythritol. One product, Stevia in the Raw is actually a blend of stevia, dextrose and maltodextrin which will effect your blood sugar. So be sure to read labels and know what your are buying. Some reported stevia side effects include bloating and nausea, usually from those who have been using large amounts of stevia. As with xylitol, slowly incorporate it into your diet to discover your tolerances.

Recommended Product: SweetLeaf Natural Stevia Sweetner. Sweetleaf contains nothing but stevia. There are no additives or other sweeteners, no chemicals and is non-GMO. The stevia is extracted using only cool, purified water.

What is your favorite natural sugar substitute? Have you tried xylitol, agave, stevia or other natural sweeteners? Let us know in the comments below.

Note: As with any dietary changes, consult your physician first before using any of these products, especially if you are diabetic. More about natural sugar substitutes here.


  1. Xylitol is so good for us, but deadly to dogs. I almost accidentally killed my dog when he got into my xylitol. 🙁

  2. Cheryl Simpson says

    Going plant-based & all natural and love your informative website! Please add me to your mailing list.

  3. Thank you for this info it was highly informative. Also thank you for mentioning how toxic Xylitol is for dogs. It can literally kill them and I appreciate you advocating that for the fur babies out there.

  4. I have been using the xylitol gum for years. I love it! Why isn’t there more xylitol used in, say, soda pops, candies, and other things I have had to give up because of the calories in sugar?
    Thank you, Susan

    • Susan – There are some brands that use xylitol in soda, candies, and, as you mentioned, gum, but since xylitol, especially xylitol sourced from North American trees (as opposed to xylitol made in China), is much more expensive than sugar and corn syrup or artificial sweeteners, there won’t be a lot of products unless there are customers willing to pay extra and create the demand. Sorbitol, for example, is similar to xylitol, but it is cheaper to make.

  5. annamarie says

    I wish major soda companies would try other sweetners. I can not drink their diet sodas. I have migranes and they make migranes worse. they also taste horrible.

    • Annamarie – Which artificial sweetener is the worst for your migraines? Aspartame?
      Apparently, an article in the NY Times claims that “Despite widespread anecdotal reports, most studies have not found an association between artificial sweeteners and headaches.
      I bet you would argue that statement. Have you tried the brands of soda that use Stevia? Personally, I have not found one I like because my taste buds are sensitive to the bitter components of Stevia.

  6. I posted on your gum site about the non-gmo corn being used for some xylitol sweeteners. The 3 pound swanson brand has twice as many one ⭐️ negative comments as the five ⭐️ positive comments. Someone said “The new formulation is corn instead of birch, has a powdery texture, strong after taste and does not sweeten in the same way as before.” I know you check natural sweeteners and would like your assessment of this new ingredient. I have found a couple so far that are still from the birch tree to order.

    • I have not tried xylitol made from corn, but xylitol.org seems to think it produces a better product than from birch:

      The conclusion from our research is corn cob based xylitol appears to be a better product in all arenas.

      Here is the link for Corn Xylitol Vs. Birch Xylitol.

  7. Alexis Bailey says

    I recently tried Agave sugar rather than syrup. It’s fine as an alternative to icing sugar but not as good as xylitol as an alternative to sucrose because of the texture.

Comments, Opinions, Questions?