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Our Top Hacks for Reducing Sugar in Your Baking (and a Clean Plates Original Banana Bread Recipe!)

By Lisa Waterman Gray
October 19, 2021
Image credit: Lisa Waterman Gray

I’ve loved to bake for many years and have a serious sweet tooth. However, I’ve been trying to cut back on my sugar intake because added sugars have been shown to be inflammatory. I’ve learned some great ways to reduce the amount of sugar in some of my favorite recipes — and I’m sharing the top tricks I’ve developed with you here.  

Read next: 5 ways to curb sugar cravings

If you love chocolate, here’s a quick, easy way to reduce sugar in your chocolate chip cookies: Gradually introduce bittersweet chips, instead of the more traditional semisweet chips. Then increase the amount of bittersweet chips over several cookie batches until that’s all you’re using. This way, your family has a chance to adjust to the new flavor profile and soon they’ll be eating (and loving) a healthier type of chocolate chip. But is the sugar difference between semisweet and bittersweet really significant? You bet: one tablespoon of semisweet chocolate chips has eight grams of sugar, whereas in one tablespoon of bittersweet chocolate chips, there are only five grams of sugar. 

In most cases, you can make slight sugar reductions in baked goods without a huge change in texture. In my orange cinnamon bread with glaze, for instance, I’ve removed ¼ cup of sugar from the batter ingredients listed for the original recipe. I have also reduced the amount of sugar in the bread glaze from ⅓ cup to ¼ cup. 

Read next: These “health” foods have way more sugar than you think. 

Here’s another great idea: After I made a zucchini pie the first time, I cut the amount of sugar-y streusel topping in half. (The pie already tasted plenty sweet.) You can do this with any recipe calling for a streusel topping. And in my oatmeal raisin cookie recipe, I use only ¾ cup instead of a whole cup of brown sugar. 

Sugar levels aren’t the only thing I change as I bake sweet treats. I began using whole wheat pastry flour for all my baked goods more than a decade ago because I liked the idea of incorporating whole grain. I quickly learned that this flour variety also has a lighter texture than regular whole wheat flour does. In fact, these two flours are milled from completely different wheat varieties. As a bonus, whole wheat pastry flour also features lower gluten levels, compared with whole wheat flour. 

A word about sugar substitutes: I may substitute a slightly smaller amount of honey for sugar, accounting for its sweetness and liquidity, such as 1/3 cup honey rather than ½ cup sugar in banana bread. But when I tried using stevia in a recipe, my throat began to itch and I tasted some bitterness. So while it may work for you, I personally steer clear of this sugar stand-in. 

Lower-Sugar Banana Bread Recipe


Makes 1 loaf


10 min


55 min


2 medium, quite ripe bananas

½ cup organic sugar

⅓ cup mild extra virgin olive oil or safflower oil

1 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour

½ cup rolled oats (do not use quick oats)

2 eggs

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Pinch of salt

½ cup of ground walnuts (optional)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a standard bread pan.

Combine all ingredients except walnuts, if using, in a food processor until smooth. Fold in walnuts.

Pour batter into pan and spread top with a spatula.

Bake for 55-60 minutes, until top is golden brown.

Cool at least 20 minutes before removing from bread pan.

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