Coming from the nutritionist who has led sugar cleanses for the last 5+ years, one might think I have a hard line in the sand when it comes to sugar.  While I focus on a whole foods based, plant forward way of eating, I’m human too. Below are my top 4 sweeteners of choice that I use in my own home, recommend to my 1-1 clients, and to those who complete my 25-day guided sugar cleanse program.

Completing a sugar cleanse and learning to eat in a balanced way does break the craving cycle. And sweet things, once reintroduced, most often taste far to sweet to enjoy like we once did. So while folks minimize sugar or don’t need as much as before, we all still want to enjoy that occasional treat (I know I do). I recommend choosing more whole foods based sweets and choosing wisely.

In other words, pass on the grocery store cupcakes…. Hershey’s or Dove chocolate… or commercially produced chocolate chip cookies. And be a little snobby when it comes to desserts. When you do it, make it worth it. Keep the portion size reasonable. Slow down to savor and fully enjoy every. single. bite. And then move along.

Let me say this first…. sugar is sugar is sugar. There are uber processed versions of it with preservatives added like white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and dextrose. And whole foods based versions that are cleaner and have more vitamins and minerals, like coconut palm sugar, dates, and maple syrup.

But they all have one thing in common – they break down into glucose and fructose molecules and spike our blood sugar.  Even if we choose the whole foods based sweeteners, we still don’t want to accumulate the burden of too much sugar in the body. Consistent consumption still inflames. It still burdens the liver. It still suppresses our immune system. And it still depletes our minerals and triggers the reward/addiction cycle in the brain.

For some more than others, that cycle is more easily triggered. And frankly, that’s important information to know about yourself. You may be someone who does best cutting sugar out entirely. It’s a hard line to draw, but for many, it’s worth it.

You should still listen to your body for what works best for you, always.
Healthier versions should still be special treats and portions minded, cool?

I know I sound like your nutritionist mother speaking. Just want to be clear with these parting words before I send you off with dessert recipes.


General Guidance
Make desserts homemade so you know and can control the ingredients that go in them. And, of course, share! Or read labels carefully for minimal, whole foods ingredients you can recognize. Ideally, it should contain one of the top 4 sweeteners below.

Top 4 Recommended sweeteners

  • local, raw honey
  • 100% maple syrup
  • medjool dates, date paste, date syrup
  • coconut palm sugar


Ok, so what about…

Artificial sweeteners: like saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose. Let’s keep this simple. They were engineered in a lab and are not a real food. Don’t put it in your body.

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana): stevia is plant based and low glycemic. But unless you’re using the plant leaf, it’s highly processed so doesn’t earn a spot on my go-to list. If you have a choice between stevia and an artificial sweetener, stevia all the way. Read ingredients labels carefully as some brands mix stevia with artificial sweeteners.

Agave (Agave tequiliana): also derived from a plant and lower glycemic than cane sugar, but still so so processed. I don’t recommend agave unless someone backs you into a corner and makes you choose between cane sugar or agave nectar.

Monk fruit or Luo Han Guo (Momordica grosvenori): monk fruit impressively comes with a whole host of health benefits, is low carb, low glycemic, and doesn’t have that strange aftertaste like stevia. It’s a great choice when looking for sweetened food products, such a proteins shakes. Though the dried version of this fruit sweetener is still relatively new to the market, so I wouldn’t make it a staple. Let’s see how things shake out over time.

Xylitol: A sugar alcohol derived from the birch tree. Commonly used in the diabetic and keto communities because of its low impact to blood sugar and insulin levels. But it can also be hard on the gut with many reporting diarrhea, gas, and bloating. I do not recommend adding xylitol to foods but if you’re purchasing tooth paste for example, choose the xylitol-sweetened variety over the artificially sweetened ones.


Healthy Dessert Links that I like:
Will Frolic For Food (most all gluten and dairy free recipes)
Vegan Dessert Blog by Chocolate Covered Katie (link to 45 healthy holiday recipes to peruse)
Elena’s Pantry for Paleo Dessert Recipes
Cotter Crunch for Gluten Free, minimal sugar options

Honey-kissed Dark Chocolate Bark w/ Pink Salt by Shelly Rose

Chaga Chocolate Date Balls by Shelly Rose

Spelt Chocolate Chip Cookies by One Degree Organics
Grain-free Chocolate Chunk Nut Butter Blondies by My New Roots
Grain-free Chocolate Sea Salt Granola Hunks by The First Mess
One Bowl Pumpkin Chocolate Muffins by Oh She Glows


Best: organic, fair trade, with as few ingredients as possible, 73% or higher. There are many fantastic brands to choose from; here are a few of my favs: Theo ChocolateAlter EcoHu Kitchen, Evolve.


Subbing sugar in recipes
This gets trickier as it changes ratios and texture, etc. Without going into experimental foods lab over here, either be willing to play with a recipe to test how subbing maple syrup works in place of cane sugar, while cutting liquid somewhere else in the recipe — or — look for a refined sugar free recipe, since there are sooo many already out there. Here’s A Primer On Baking w. Alternative Sweeteners by Bon Appetit that may be helpful.