How to Sweeten Paleo Recipes Without Table Sugar

Oct 2, 2013

One of the main criticisms of the Paleo Diet is that it is “restrictive”. This diet excludes many staples of the modern Western diet including processed foods, refined flour and even table sugar. Unless you already have some experience with the Paleo Diet under your belt, you may be wondering just how you can get by without these staples – especially if you have a sweet tooth.

For many people, the transition into the Paleo Diet is a difficult one, but it does not have to be. The key to success in following the Paleo Diet is to focus not on what you can’t have, but on the things you can have. The Paleo Diet is based on whole foods, the type of foods our Paleolithic ancestors would have used in their hunter-gatherer lifestyles.

It should go without saying that our ancestors didn’t have the technology needed to produce refined sugar and artificial sweeteners, so these items are not included in the Paleo Diet. This does not mean that you must kiss your sweet tooth goodbye – you simply have to learn the ins and outs of Paleo sweeteners. While Paleo sweeteners may not work the same way that refined sugar does, they can still give your recipes that sweetness you crave.

Options for Paleo Sweeteners

When it comes to sweetening Paleo recipes you have several options to choose from. Below you will find a brief description of each of these options:

Raw Honey

This sweetener is one of the preferred sweeteners of followers of the Paleo Diet. Raw honey does, of course, contain sugar but it is all-natural and unrefined. It is important to note that, while it is all-natural, honey is high in carbs and still produces an insulin response in the body so it is best used sparingly.

Pure Maple Syrup

Another excellent option as an occasional Paleo sweetener is pure maple syrup. Pure maple syrup, unlike commercial brands including Mrs. Butterworth and Aunt Jemima, is unprocessed and unrefined. Unfortunately, raw maple syrup can be difficult to find and is often fairly expensive. It does work well as a Paleo sweetener, however, so you may choose to use it if you like.


This sweetener comes from the leaves of a South American plant and it is 30 to 45 times sweeter than table sugar. The fresh or dried leaves of this plant, as well as a fine green powder made from grinding the leaves, are all considered Paleo but beware commercialized versions of this product such as Truvia. Your best option is to buy a plant yourself and grow it right in your own home.

Fruit (Dried and Fresh)

Fresh fruit is a natural source of sugar and sweetness – it is also fairly easy to incorporate it into your recipes. Substitute a mashed banana or pureed apple for half the fat in your recipes to add some sweetness while also reducing the calorie content of the final product. You can also use dried fruits like pitted dates and organic raisins to provide a lightly sweet flavor. Just be careful to avoid juice cocktails and juice concentrate that is not made from 100% real juice.

Other Options

The options described above are widely accepted as Paleo. There are, however, a few other options that you may be able to use. While not all followers of the Paleo Diet accept these foods as completely Paleo, an argument can be made that they adhere to the guidelines of the Paleo Diet. These sweeteners include:

  1. Coconut Nectar
  2. Coconut Sugar
  3. Palm Sugar

Using Paleo Sweeteners

As you may already know, switching to the Paleo Diet will take some getting used to – you may not be able to use the ingredients you once regarded as staples of your diet and you might have to adjust some of your recipes. This is certainly true in the case of Paleo sweeteners because not all sweeteners will act the same way that sugar does. Liquid sweeteners like honey and maple syrup, for example, may require you to increase the amount of flour you use in your recipes while other options like cane sugar and coconut sugar may not.

As you learn the ins and outs of Paleo sweeteners, give yourself some room to experiment. Try out different types of sweeteners to see which you like best and what works for each type of recipe. Before long you will get the hang of it and will have no trouble modifying your favorite family recipes into Paleo-friendly versions the whole family can enjoy! 

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