Spotlight on sugar
Looking for a sugar substitute for your cooking? Here’s what you need to know about your options.

Low-down on sugar


It’s no surprise that humans have a preference for sweet foods – in fact, for millennia we’ve been foraging for honey and berries to satisfy our sweet tooth. Nowadays, sugars and sweeteners come in many different forms with an ever-expanding range at the supermarket. Foods with naturally occurring sugars, like dairy foods with lactose and fruit with fructose, contain important nutrients that our bodies need – these are not the kinds of sugars we’re concerned about. The real focus should be on reducing our consumption of food and drinks that are high in added sugar. If you choose, you can switch to a sugar alternative in some places. Here’s what you need to know about some of these options.


Sugar, honey, syrups, and nectars


Consuming food or beverages that are high in added sugar may lead to higher kilojoule intake. Plus, these foods often take the place of more wholesome foods such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, and wholegrains. There’s a link between the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (like soft drink and cordials) and increased risk of weight gain in adults and children. However, sugar and other natural sweet sources, such as maple syrup, are not bad for you if you only have a little sprinkle or drizzle here and there. It’s important to note, however, that a sugar is a sugar and replacing table sugar with honey doesn’t do anything to lower the SmartPoints.


Palm sugar/coconut sugar


What is it? A natural substance produced from the sap of palm or coconut trees. Perfect in Asian cooking such as Thai curries, it balances the flavours of salty fish sauce or spicy chilli.

Watch out! These sugars are no healthier than regular table sugar and both have a similar SmartPoints.




What is it? A natural substance made by bees. The subtle flavour of honey differs between leatherwood and eucalyptus varieties and depends where the bees have gathered their nectar. You may have heard about the health benefits of manuka honey, but more scientific evidence is needed to support these medicinal claims.

Watch out! No matter the type of honey, it still has 2 SmartPoints value per teaspoon.


Agave nectar (syrup)


What is it? Produced from agave plants, Mexico’s famous succulent used to make tequila, agave nectar is one and a half times sweeter than sugar, so you can use less. It’s popular as a vegan alternative to honey in cooking.

Watch out! The health claims of desserts, bliss balls and raw brownies made with agave nectar may be misleading as the total sugars and SmartPoints can be as high as table sugar.


Brown rice syrup


What is it? A natural substance made by fermenting brown rice into a syrup. It has a rich caramel flavour that’s perfect for drizzling on pancakes or using in baking.

Watch out! Popular diets that cut out sugars or fructose often recommend replacing with rice malt syrup or brown rice syrup. However, be aware that the glycaemic index of these products is very high (GI=98 ) and should be used sparingly.