Sugary treats can seem like a best friend … we turn to them to comfort us when things get too stressful, when rewarding ourselves for a job well done, or when celebrating life’s big events. However, sugar might just be your worst enemy!
Dubbed ‘Sweet Poison’ by Australian writer David Gillespie, some studies have even shown that sugar may be just as addictive as cocaine. It may not surprise you to read that too much sugar can lead to weight gain, tooth decay and diabetes, but did you also know that it is linked to impaired brain function, depression and anxiety, cancer and heart disease?
Why is Sugar So Deadly?
Dr Robert Lustig, an American pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, is one of the most vocal proponents of eliminating sugar from our diets. He claims that the fructose in sugar is what causes all these health issues, and more. While fructose is found in fruit, it is definitely not recommended to cut fruit out of your diet – the issue lies in the fact that sugar and certain sweeteners contain a higher percentage of fructose than fruit. Processed sweeteners, even some natural ones, can have additional fructose added in. Lustig explains that instead of helping to satisfy us, fructose fools our brains into thinking we aren’t full, so we overeat. Furthermore, excess fructose is turned into liver fat which can eventually lead to diabetes and heart disease.
For more on the damage caused by sugary foods, check out Lustig’s video ‘Sugar: The Bitter Truth’ which has been watched over 5 million times on YouTube. If that’s not enough to persuade you to eliminate the sweet stuff, check out this list of 10 Convincing Reasons You Need To Quit Sugar, Right Now!
Cutting Down on Sugar
Found lurking in ketchup, salad dressing, items marketed as fruit juices, canned fruit, sports drinks and baked goods – under names like high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, sucrose and maltose – sugar can be a hard habit to quit.
While it is advised that you steer clear of many ‘artificial sweeteners’ including aspartame (which has been linked to cancer, birth defects, weight gain and other nasty side effects), you don’t have to completely deprive yourself of treats. These 10 great natural alternatives should satisfy your sweet tooth and help you cut down on your sugar intake. Of course, while nutritionally superior to refined sugar, many of these replacements also contain some fructose, so keep in mind that old adage: ‘everything in moderation’!
10 Tasty Natural Alternatives To Sugar
Using simple applesauce in place of sugar in baked goods can be a fantastic calorie-saving substitute. As you can replace it cup for cup, you’ll be cutting out huge amounts of calories – in fact, you’ll spare yourself 670 calories when replacing one cup of sugar with one cup of unsweetened apple sauce! (You can also use it in place of oil or margarine in baking recipes). Applesauce contains dietary fiber which is necessary for a healthy functioning digestive system and helps you feel fuller longer. One cup also contains up to 86% of your Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of Vitamin C and is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. If buying applesauce, always go for the unsweetened version with few additives and choose organic where possible. Even better, make your own – using just three simple ingredients – so you know exactly what you are eating.
(Note: when baking, you will need to reduce some of the other liquids in the recipe to compensate for the liquid in the applesauce.)
Bananas naturally become sweeter as they ripen, so use some ripe bananas as healthy and dairy-free base to your next milkshake instead of ice-cream. It’s also great in banana bread (use extra bananas instead of the sugar) or to sweeten up a sugar free cereal or oatmeal. You can also whip up this super sweet yet sugar free ice-cream using just one ingredient – frozen bananas – it doesn’t get much easier! Bananas are a great source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, potassium, manganese and vitamin B6 and are a fantastic energy booster. This yellow fruit can also help overcome stress and depression as it contains tryptophan, an amino acid that helps relax the body and mind.
Don’t forget to keep the skins and put them to good use with this list of 16 Ingenious Ways To Re-Use Banana Peels.
Known as ‘nature’s candy, dates are deliciously satisfying. Low in calories, they are an excellent source of dietary fiber and important minerals like potassium, manganese, magnesium and copper. They also provide some calcium, iron, vitamin K, vitamin B-6 and folate. With a low glycemic index, dates are an ideal substitute for sugar – although they do contain fructose so intake should be limited. Opt for Deglet Nour dates – dubbed ‘Queen of all Dates’ – as it has a subtle honey-like taste and a lower fructose level (2.6 grams each) than Medjool dates (7.7 grams each).
Fill a date with a little nut butter for a sweet and satisfying snack or add one to your morning smoothie for an energy boost. Make date puree by soaking dates overnight, draining and blending (adding a little of the date-water if necessary) – you can substitute this paste for sugar when baking at a ratio of 1:1. You can even retain the water you used for soaking and add it to baked goods (replacing some of the recipe’s liquid) or smoothies to give it a sweeter kick without any refined sugar!
Grown in China and Thailand, monk fruit is a round, green fruit which resembles a melon. A zero-calorie and non-glycemic sweetener, said to be between 200 and 500 times sweeter than sugar, it is rapidly gaining popularity as a healthy substitute. Used for centuries as a remedy for coughs, colds, fever and digestive disorders, monk fruit is considered an extremely safe sweetener. It comes in liquid and powder form and can be easily used in cooking and baking but, because it’s so much sweeter than sugar, you need only add a fraction of the amount of sugar a recipe calls for. While it has no aftertaste or bitterness, it still doesn’t taste exactly like sugar so you’ll need to see if it’s for you!
This thick dark syrup is produced when the sugar cane plant is processed to make refined sugar. Molasses contains all the vitamins and minerals which were absorbed by the plant, and is therefore a fantastic sugar substitute. It’s not the sweetest of substitutes but as you begin to cut out sugar from your diet, you’ll notice your palate becomes more discerning as you pick up on the subtle sweetness in natural products.
With probably the highest nutritional content of any sugar substitute, molasses is a great source of magnesium, manganese, copper, vitamin B6, calcium and potassium. This fat free, low calorie sweetener has a moderate glycemic index of 55, meaning it won’t cause blood sugar spikes; and is fantastic for those on a vegan diet, thanks to its high iron content (with two tablespoons containing over 13% of our RDI).
Add it to barbeque sauce (which often calls for sugar or sugar-laden tomato ketchup), gingerbread cookies, oatmeal and more. Just start off small and adjust to your liking – it can be an acquired taste!
Harvested from the sap of the Maple Tree, this all-natural sweetener – which contains 54 beneficial compounds – has been consumed for centuries. Low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, maple syrup is an excellent source of manganese (essential for the processing of cholesterol, carbohydrates, and protein) as well as a good source of zinc, which is excellent for boosting the immune system.
Maple syrup can be used on more than just pancakes – use it to sweeten cookie and muffin mixes or in jams in place of sugar, and add a teaspoon to your coffee if you need that sweet morning kick. Make sure to ditch store bought hot cocoa drinks in favor of making your own with organic cocoa powder and a hint of maple syrup – you’ll never look back!
When buying maple syrup, always check the ingredients to ensure it is 100% maple syrup and not just ‘maple-flavored’ which can be loaded with refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup.
Even better, why not make your own maple syrup by tapping maple trees in your area? Here’s a tutorial for that.
This ancient natural food, while high in fructose and calories, is also extremely high in antioxidants and contains elements such as zinc and selenium, as well as vitamins. It’s also free from preservatives and other additives. Moreover, it contains more complex sugars than the straight-up refined stuff, meaning your body uses more energy breaking it down, leaving you storing fewer calories. Not all honeys are created equal though – avoid the mass-produced sweetener you find in the supermarket and buy only raw, organic, local honey. Not only will you help save the bees (and here’s why we need to!) but you’ll avail of some fantastic health benefits too. Swap sugar for honey in tea, on toast, with your morning oatmeal and in baking.
Made from the sap of the coconut plant, this natural sugar boasts an impressive amount of nutrients like iron, zinc, calcium and potassium, as well as short chain fatty acids, polyphenols and antioxidants that may also bring health benefits. Coconut sugar has a low GI, of 35, which means it won’t cause the blood sugar spikes that leave you feeling drained of energy. It also contains a fiber called Inulin, which may slow glucose absorption and acts as a prebiotic, supporting gut health, metabolism, and immunity.
With a subtly sweet caramel flavor and sold in a variety of forms – syrup, block, soft paste and granulated – it’s easily substituted for refined white sugar in baking. It’s also great in homemade granola, making caramel sauces and caramelizing or stewing fruits.
Stevia is one of the biggest sugar substitutes around and is extensively used in dairy, baked goods, confectionery, beverages, snacks and more. Harvested from the stevia plant, it’s been around for centuries and used in South America for its medicinal properties, although it only gained FDA approval for use as a food additive in 2008. This no-calorie sweetener doesn’t raise blood-sugar levels or cause tooth decay (although some people experience somewhat of a bitter aftertaste). Available in liquid drops, dissolvable tablets, and powdered form, stevia can be used in tea or coffee, lemonades, homemade puddings, frosting and ice creams. Stick to the liquid form of stevia where possible as it’s the least processed and usually leaves little to no aftertaste when compared with the powdered format.
Naturally found in melons and pears, this sugar alcohol boasts statistics that make it appear to be an ideal sugar substitute, particularly for those with diabetes or who are overweight. Erythritol contains just 6% of the calories of sugar, but 75% of the sweetness. As the body can fully absorb erythritol but can’t break it down, it doesn’t produce a glycemic response and is gentle on the stomach. It’s also considered tooth friendly as it doesn’t cause cavities in the way that sugar does. Sold mainly as a beverage sweetener, it is frequently added to packaged food products, and is heat stable so it can be used for baking – just remember you may need to add more erythritol than sugar to get the same sweetness level.
Play around with the different sugar substitutes to find your favorites, and see which ones work best in different situations – there is no need to limit yourself to just one or two! However, remember that any foods containing sugars (even natural ones) should be eaten in moderation and as part of a balanced diet. Those with insulin resistance are advised to avoid all sweeteners since any sweetener can decrease insulin sensitivity and worsen resistance. If you’re trying to cut down on sweeteners and still have cravings, make sure to check out these 12 Genius Tricks To Curb Cravings Naturally!