By Mary Beth Wallace
While reading food labels can make you more mindful of your sugar intake, you can also try incorporating different sugar alternatives to naturally sweeten foods. Here, we’re discussing all-natural sugar substitutes that will help you cut back on the white stuff.
Why Cut Back?
Sugar has gotten a bad rap in recent years, and for good reason. Consuming excess added sugar (not the natural kind found in fruit and dairy products) has been linked to a number of negative health effects, from obesity and type 2 diabetes to tooth decay and fatty liver disease. Added sugars have no nutritional value and can spike blood glucose levels, causing an energy boost that’s shortly followed by a sharp decline. This kind of energy rollercoaster leads to headaches, tiredness, and difficulty concentrating. Not to mention, added sugars are everywhere: Pasta sauce, peanut butter, sandwich bread, and a myriad of additional processed foods contain them, making it difficult to keep track of how much you’re actually consuming.
How to Naturally Sweeten Foods
Thankfully, your sweet tooth doesn’t have to be comprised to maintain a healthy diet. In fact, when it comes to sugar substitutes, you can have your cake and eat it too! These five get the job done:
This childhood staple not only sweetens your favorite bakes, it’s also an effective fat-replacer. Store-bought brands often contain extra sweeteners, so it’s important to study the label before purchasing. Applesauce can easily be made at home, and you can even freeze it for future use – choose a sweeter apple variety, such as Golden Delicious or Fuji, for the best taste.
- Nutritional benefits: Applesauce contains fiber and a trace amount of nutrients, such as vitamin C and potassium. It also promotes good digestion.
- Use it in: Quick breads, waffles, muffins, brownies, and oatmeal.
Naturally high in sugar, dates are best described as nature’s candy. While dates are tasty snacks on their own, date paste is a popular sweetener that can be incorporated in recipes. Date paste can be purchased or made at home; simply blend pitted dates in a food processor with water and vanilla extract.
- Nutritional benefits: Dates are rich in fiber and minerals like calcium and iron. That’s good news for your bones, stomach, and blood!
- Use it in: Smoothies, oatmeal, salad dressings, tarts, and energy bars.
The key to using bananas as a sugar substitute is the ripeness – the riper the banana, the sweeter it is. This is another freezer-friendly food that can be sliced and saved for later. When ready to use, mash bananas with the back of a fork until reaching your desired consistency. Keep in mind that baking with bananas will produce a strong banana flavor, so plan accordingly.
- Nutritional benefits: Bananas are best known for their potassium, which is essential for heart health.
- Use it in: Ice cream, pudding, smoothies, pancakes, and muffins.
No longer relegated to summer salads, beets are popping up as a go-to baking ingredient. This root veggie turns up most often in chocolate desserts, where it adds moisture but won’t overpower the taste. Roast or boil your beets before puréeing and mixing into your latest culinary creation.
Nutritional benefits: A beet’s impressive nutritional profile includes vitamin C, manganese, folate, and fiber. It also lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Use it in: Cakes, brownies, sorbet, and smoothies.
This classic spice adds a dash of warm, sweet flavor to drinks and dishes, helping you cut back on your sugar intake. It has zero calories but numerous health benefits. Ground cinnamon is more commonly used in baked goods, while whole cinnamon sticks can be infused in liquids for maximum flavor.
- Nutritional benefits: With anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antioxidant properties, cinnamon earns its reputation as a powerhouse spice.
- Use it in: Oatmeal, coffee, tea, applesauce, and fruit-flavored desserts.
Cutting back on sugar consumption can seem like an impossible feat. Fortunately, kickstarting a low-sugar lifestyle is easier than you think!
These local ladies have found the sweet spot – here are their tips.
“I am a total sugar fiend, but I’ve found some good ways to cut down while still satisfying my sweet tooth. Every morning, I make a smoothie with frozen banana slices, natural peanut butter, kefir, frozen spinach, flax, chia, and bee pollen. I slice and then freeze a ton of bananas at once by laying the slices on a baking sheet and layering with wax paper. I also love the maple and agave syrup blend from Trader Joe’s to use as a replacement for honey or syrup on things like waffles, Greek yogurt, or anywhere you need a little sweet flavor. I even drizzle a little on some figs and goat cheese for dessert. It’s very flavorful, and a little goes a long way!”
“My husband, Bo, and I love farmers markets and roadside stands, and we are always on the lookout for local honey. We use it as a substitute for artificial sweeteners, and it tastes good in everything from tea and coffee to drizzled over oatmeal or biscuits. Since it is a little sweeter than sugar, we tend to use less, but still get the same sweet taste. We are constantly on the go and can pack portable honey sticks to take with us. Most restaurants also offer honey, so it can be a staple in your diet. Some of my favorite ways to use honey are to substitute it for syrup to top wheat waffles or on top of apple slices for a quick snack.”
“Working in bariatric/obesity medicine, I found that small changes can have a domino effect when it comes to healthier eating practices. For example, I eliminated diet sodas, and my cravings for sweeter foods decreased! I also prefer to control the amount of sweetness in my food. My go-to snack is plain Greek yogurt topped with seasonal fresh fruit (instead of the flavored yogurts). Another of my go-to quick snacks is banana muffins, because with a toddler in the house, we always have an abundance of bananas in various stages of ripening.”
Erika Krcelic’s Banana Muffins
• 2 eggs, beaten
• 2 ripe bananas, mashed
• 1 Tbsp. butter, melted
• 1 1/2 cups almond flour
• 3/4 tsp. baking soda
• Pinch of salt
Mix ingredients together in a large bowl. Pour mixture into a greased muffin tin and bake at 350° for 16-18 minutes. HS