Low-Sugar Baking for the Holidays

Emily Campbell, RD CDE MScFN

Looking to indulge in something sweet, but feeling overwhelmed with following a kidney-friendly diet? Then you are in the right place. Baking can be a challenge when you have chronic kidney disease CKD), but with some helpful tips and ingredient substitutions, you can continue to eat some of your favourite treats.  

Most Canadians consume too much added sugar often found in processed and pre-packaged foods including cakes, cereals, yogurts, and sweetened beverages. Extra sugar can add extra calories, which may lead to weight gain as well as contribute to high blood glucose and high cholesterol levels.

High blood glucose levels can put extra stress on the kidneys, therefore controlling your blood sugar is an important first step to slowing down the progression of kidney disease if you have diabetes. Up to 50% of people with diabetes will have signs of kidney damage in their lifetime. Added sugars and fat, often found in sweets or baked goods, can also contribute to high cholesterol values. Protecting the heart and preventing high cholesterol levels is important because those living with kidney disease are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. With careful planning, you can follow a kidney-friendly diet and still control your blood sugar and cholesterol levels while enjoying something sweet.

Sugar comes in many forms. Honey, brown sugar, white sugar, and maple syrup all contain the same number of calories. Sugar is also naturally found in fruit, and many dairy and grain products. Consuming natural sugar from these sources is a healthier option.

When making modifications to sugar in dessert recipes, the more sugar you cut, the drier and crumblier your baked goods will be. Less sugar may also prevent them from caramelizing or browning, as well as shorten their shelf life.

Here are some tips to reduce sugar when baking:

  • Take advantage of fruit’s natural sweetness. Including fruit in your recipes is a great way to add flavour, moisture, and fibre without excess sugar. Try applesauce or other fruit purées, banana (if potassium is not a concern), or even canned fruits (packed in water).
  • When using vanilla, almond, maple, orange, or lemon extracts, try doubling the amount for added flavour.
  • Sweet-tasting, calorie-free spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, cardamom, and ginger are another great way to add tang to recipes.
  • Experiment. Up to 25 to 33% of the sugar in most recipes can be eliminated without a noticeable difference in the final product. Reducing sugar is usually easy to do when making cookies, cakes, quick breads, and no-bake bars. Alternatively, try replacing sugar with an artificial sweetener like sucralose (Splenda). One cup (250mL) of Splenda is equal to one cup (250mL) of sugar. Note that brown sugar Splenda contains a mix of Splenda and brown sugar, therefore is not recommended.

When considering something sweet, many recipes can be adapted to be more kidney-friendly. Yet remember portion control is also important.

Looking for some low-sugar baking ideas? Try these recipes from The Kidney Foundation’s Kidney Community Kitchen:

Zucchini Brownies

Raspberry Cheesecake Mousse

Almond Meringue Cookies


  1. Diabetes Canada. Kidney Disease. 2021. Available from:  https://www.diabetes.ca/managing-my-diabetes/preventing-complications/kidney-disease
  2. Davita. Cholesterol and Chronic Kidney Disease. 2021. Available from: https://www.davita.com/education/kidney-disease/risk-factors/cholesterol-and-chronic-kidney-disease
  3. King Arthur Baking. Baking with Reduced Sugar. 2017. Available from: https://www.kingarthurbaking.com/blog/2017/07/11/baking-with-reduced-sugar