Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that is known and loved by our taste buds. However, overconsumption of added sugar can be harmful to areas of our health, posing increased risk of high blood pressure and blood sugar levels, unwanted weight gain, and high cholesterol. Added cane sugar is often found in processed or packaged foods and offers no health benefits and is high in non-nutritive (empty) calories.
Although it can be difficult to avoid sugar completely, it is important to find nutritious alternatives that not only your taste buds, but your body will enjoy as well. By choosing foods that have a variety of vitamins and natural nutrients, we benefit our well-being and provide ourselves with needed energy and balance.
As you consider swapping sugar for one of the items listed below, be aware of heavily advertised “healthy sugar alternatives” that are not any more beneficial than sugar itself. The FDA has approved five artificial sweeteners: saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame (NutraSweet), neotame, and sucralose (Splenda). These are not necessarily good for you. Often they are highly processed, offering no vitamins or nutrients, and are linked to unwanted side effects like weight gain, stomach aches, and headaches.
Ultimately, when choosing sugar substitutes, always remember to check the labels and strive for unprocessed and naturally made products and produce.
- Natural sugars are found in whole foods such as fruit, vegetables, or dairy that offer fiber and antioxidant benefits. Antioxidants help defend from potentially harmful or cell-damaging molecules. Fiber helps to regulate sugar in the body and control hunger and blood sugar. Whole foods that contain naturally occurring sugars allow the body to process sugar slower, due to other ingredients within the food, aiding to prevent rapid blood pressure spikes. Fruits high in natural sugars include: mangos, bananas, grapes, cherries, and pomegranates, to name a few.
- Sweeteners made from monk fruit juice do not impact blood sugar levels and there is no evidence that it has any known negative side effects. Monk fruit is found in Southeast Asia and is estimated to be 100 to 200 times sweeter than sugar, meaning you only need a small amount in a recipe or food product to serve its purpose. Sweeteners that are made from monk fruit are found at most local groceries.
- Raw honey- meaning there are no added sugars or preservatives- is an alternative containing beneficial antioxidants also found in many fruits and vegetables. (Honey is not recommended for infants 12 months and younger.) Raw honey also contains anti-inflammatory micronutrients such as: calcium, potassium, magnesium, niacin and other minerals. It can easily be swapped for sugar in everyday items such as coffee, tea, pastries, waffles, or other food products that you would typically use a syrup or honey-like texture or flavor.
- Along with raw fruits, dried fruits and fruit purées offer substitutions in your favorite foods and sweets. Dates are a sticky-sweet dried fruit with notes of caramel and butterscotch, that is often pureed or used as a sugar substitute in smoothies, sweets, or paired with peanut butter for a late night treat. Furthermore, dates contain fiber, potassium, vitamin B6, and magnesium.
- 100% pure maple syrup contains the sweetness you crave with traces of calcium, iron, zinc and more beneficial minerals also found in raw honey. Maple syrup has a low glycemic index and tends to be sweeter than sugar, meaning you only need a small amount to obtain efficient sweetness. Maple syrup is made from the sap of maple trees, this means it offers a slightly more earthy flavor compared to honey, which offers a more floral-like taste. It is important to keep this in mind, depending on your intended purpose for sweetening.
- Whole fruits can be mashed, dried, or puréed into jams or jellies for toppers or spreads. Fruit purées (often mashed bananas, berries, or applesauce) can be used in place of sugar for recipes like muffins, pancakes, breads, and more. If you are not making your own applesauce or fruit spreads at home, it is important to read nutrition labels to be confident you are selecting products with no added sugar or preservatives.