If you’ve browsed the internet, listened to the radio, or watched television over the past few years, you might get the idea that sugar is a deadly substance. And, in fact, you’d be right: diabetes is increasing at an alarming rate; heart disease is soaring, and myriad other illnesses are flourishing because of our obsession with the sweet stuff (even cancer cells feed on sugar).
But . . . it’s hard to give up. Our morning coffee, lunchtime muffin, even pasta sauce at dinner all contain it; sugar seems to be part of just about everything we eat.
If you’re aiming to reduce sugar consumption, here are some natural alternatives to consider next time you think about cookies, cakes, or other sweetened foods. These options won’t spike your blood sugar levels, either, so in the long run, any cravings will likely diminish, too.
Switch It Up: Replace White Sugar with other Natural Sweeteners
A first step to lower the overall impact on blood sugar is using natural sweeteners, all of which are better choices than sugar when it comes to glycemic index (the measurement of how quickly a food spikes your blood sugar levels) and nutritional value. With so many options now out there, it’s fairly easy to find low GI sweeteners that can even be used successfully in baking.
Instead of cane sugar, try coconut or palm sugar, a light brown, granular sweetener that is only slightly less sweet than sugar, yet can be used one-for-one to replace it. There’s also coconut nectar, a thick, caramel-like syrup, as well as agave nectar, which is neutrally flavored. All three are fairly low on the glycemic index. If you’re looking for a natural sweetener that won’t affect your blood sugar levels at all but is still incredibly sweet, try pure stevia (powder or liquid).
Eat It Up: Try Fiber-Rich Fruits and Vegetables
Yes, they contain built-in natural sugars, but most fruits and vegetables (even sweet-tasting ones like pears or sweet potatoes), boast a fairly low glycemic index, partly because they also include healthy fiber. Why not learn to appreciate the natural flavors of fruits and sweet vegetables just as they are, without adornment? There’s nothing quite as delectable and refreshing as fresh, juicy pineapple or watermelon, for instance–these fruits are plenty sweet enough all on their own.
Or try pureeing a ripe banana or pear and using it to replace some of the sugar in your cookies, cakes or muffins. (Purees can also stand in for some of the oil content, so your baked good will be that much healthier). Sweet potato, carrots or beets caramelize when baked, releasing and intensifying their natural sugars. They can be pureed, too, and used instead of oil or eggs in baked goods.
Spice It Up: Use Spices That Offer Natural Sweetness
Some spices like cinnamon, cardamom and ginger offer a naturally sweet flavor, as does carob and even coconut. I find that desserts made with carob simply don’t need as much sweetener added to taste good. Try decreasing the sugar content in desserts made with these ingredients, and see how you like them. You may be surprised at the rich, honeyed flavors, even with less sweetener added.
Give It Up: Remove Sugar Completely
Not surprisingly, the longer you consume reduced and no-sugar foods, the less your palate will demand that over-the-top sweetness to be satisfied. I no longer add sugar to my pasta sauces, salad dressings, or tea and coffee, and habitually cut other sweeteners in half. The key is to start slowly and keep at it. Eventually, you’ll find you’ve reached that “sweet spot”—without sugar.