Guide to Clean Eating Sweeteners

Guide to Clean Eating Sweeteners from eMealsFor those of us who love chocolates, sweets, and delicious desserts, it can be tough to navigate the waters of Clean Eating. With a few small switches, you can enjoy delicious desserts and maintain your Clean Eating lifestyle.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that we all need to reduce the amount of added sugar in our diets, and if you’re following a Clean Eating lifestyle, you’ll want to avoid refined white table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup altogether. White table sugar is sucrose and is made from sugar cane or sugar beets and is highly processed. Brown sugar and turbinado (raw) sugar may sound like better choices, but they’re also sucrose.

Many processed foods have added sugars and sweeteners that may not be so easy to spot. If any of these appear in the ingredient list, the product contains added sugar and you should consider putting it back:

  • Brown sugar
  • Corn syrup
  • Dextrin
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
  • Maltodextrin
  • Raw sugar
  • Sucrose
  • Sugar

A Clean Eating lifestyle eliminates artificial sweeteners, as the safety of these products is controversial. These are some main ones to stay away from:

  • Acesulfame-K
  • Aspartame
  • Saccharin
  • Sucralose

But don’t fear Clean Eaters—here’s a list of our favorite minimally-refined sweeteners to satisfy your craving. Just remember to watch your portions, because all of these sweeteners are carbohydrates, providing 4 calories per gram and cause blood sugar levels to rise.


Although it’s similar in calories to table sugar (21 calories per teaspoon for honey compared to 16 calories per teaspoon for table sugar), honey is slightly sweeter, so you may be able to use less honey than you would sugar. Honey contains small amounts of vitamins and minerals and is thought to have antioxidant disease-fighting properties. It’s been recommended to help treat allergies, fight infections and provide cough relief. Honey has an intense flavor that varies depending on the source, so be sure to taste it before adding to recipes.

Agave Nectar

Made from the agave cactus that is also used for making tequila, this sweetener ranges in color from light amber to dark caramel and is 25 to 40% sweeter than table sugar and has the same calorie content per teaspoon as honey. Agave nectar contains trace amounts of minerals, and has been touted as a healthier choice because of it’s Glycemic Index profile, which shows that agave may not raise blood sugar levels are much as other sweeteners.

Pure Maple Syrup

Maple syrup contains slightly fewer calories (17 calories per teaspoon) than honey, and is made from the sap of maple trees. It has small amounts of zinc, iron, calcium, potassium and manganese, and like honey, it contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds. Just be sure that the syrup you purchase is “pure” and not maple-flavored.

Need help simplifying your Clean Eating lifestyle? Check out the eMeals Clean Eating Meal Plan, which provides seven approachable clean eating dinner recipes and a shopping list each week.

Check out these Clean Eating Dessert Recipes:

Clean Eating Pumpkin Oat Balls

Clean Eating Toasted Pecan Tart

Balsamic and Ginger-Glazed Plums

This post was written by our Clean Eating meal plan writer, Ashley Strickland Freeman.

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8 thoughts on “Guide to Clean Eating Sweeteners

  1. James

    I know a few people who use Sugar in the Raw and I notice that you have raw sugar in the no list. So is Sugar in the Raw not acceptable then?

    1. Jessica Cox, RD

      James – “Raw sugar” isn’t exactly raw – it’s just less processed than white table sugar. There is no nutritional benefit in replacing white sugar with sugar in the raw. So in general, aim to reduce both white table sugar and sugar in the raw in your diet for a clean eating lifestyle.

  2. Inga Eanes

    I was surprised that Xylitol is not on the list. I am not fluent in all that is Clean Eating so it might not be applicable, but it is considered acceptable by other diets that eliminate sugars because of its anti-bacterial properties and low gylcemic levels. Also, I recently read on Dr. Mercola’s website that there are very few Agave syrups that are processed with out chemicals; Very disappointing to read. I would like to know which brands are not processed with chemicals.

    1. Jessica Cox, RD

      Inga – We did not include Xylitol on this list because it is not widely available and is relatively expensive. Xylitol is also processed to create the edible form. It is used as a sugar substitute because it has less calories than sugar. Agave is also processed to create the edible form. Note that although both Xylitol and agave syrup are often labeled as “all-natural,” the raw product that occurs in nature is still processed to produce the final edible form you find in the grocery store.

  3. Claire McManus

    Im trying to find out if Cane sugar syrup / Cane sugar is clean. Kashi cereal say they are all natural but their Shredded Wheat has cane syurp…..

    1. eMeals

      Hi Claire,
      Our registered dietitians say that this is not clean eating approved because it’s refined. As far as Kashi’s “all natural” label, “all natural” is not a regulated term and doesn’t necessarily mean that something isn’t refined. Hope this helps!

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