Eating right is often an effort, so you want to make sure you’re doing the best you can. Oftentimes, it’s the foods you don’t think about, or can’t even see, that hurt you the most.
Take refined sugars, for example. They’re added to a bunch of different food items and they don’t really do anything good for you. At best, they’re added calories. And at worse, they could lead to other health issues.
Now, there are ways to replace those sugars and still get the sweetness you crave in your favorite foods. So, whether you need to jazz up some oatmeal or bake cupcakes, here are 7 options to help you skip sugar while keeping your favorite treats sweet.
What Makes Refined Sugars So Bad?
Well, it’s kind of fat’s fault.
You see, for years people thought fat should be avoided no matter what. So, they stayed away from fat — even good fats. The thing is, people just started eating more refined sugars instead of substituting with healthier foods1
The average American eats 22 teaspoons of refined sugar every single day!2
That’s a lot considering the American Heart Association recommends limiting refined sugar intake to no more than nine teaspoons a day for most men. And women should try to have less — no more than six teaspoons a day.3
Also, if you happen to eat a lot of processed foods, you’ll likely notice the negative results when you glance at your waist or stomach. Of course, calories fuel many of your body’s functions, but if you don’t burn that fuel, the sugar can sit there and take the form of body fat.4,5
You don’t want to sabotage your diet, but the excess sugar consumption could be connected to various health issues. For instance, people who get 25% or more of their caloric intake from sugar are more than twice as likely to develop serious heart issues.6
In fact, lowering your sugar intake may even help in an otherwise poor diet. One unique study profiled children ages 8 to 18. These children had a special menu designed to match the calories they normally ate per day.
However, the major difference was that every bit of sugar was replaced by a starch. The results were quite positive.
The children showed lower fasting blood sugar levels, less fat in the liver, lower levels of LDL cholesterol, and some participants’ insulin resistance got better.7
So, lowering your added sugar may be one of the best ways to see your health improve.
So, What are Your Choices?
There are lots of ways to sweeten your meals without using refined sugars. Here are 7 examples:
Medjool dates are full of important nutrients like potassium. Getting more potassium in your diet can help with blood pressure and even serve as a natural diuretic.8
Furthermore, the potassium content in dates is also linked to lowered levels of LDL cholesterol in the body. So, if those refined sugars are pumping up your cholesterol levels, replacing them with dates may help bring things back to healthy levels.9
2. Maple Syrup
Lately, researchers are finding that maple syrup is rich in some pretty helpful nutrients like phytochemicals, zinc, manganese, and calcium.10
In fact, 100 grams of maple syrup also contains a whopping 165% of the recommended daily value for manganese.11Perhaps the most nutritional value lies in the antioxidant content of maple syrup, though.
And one study found as many as 24 antioxidants in a single serving.12 The fact that these help reduce cell damage means there could be a ton of health applications for maple syrup in the future.13
Now, maple syrup is still a sugar — and should be used in moderation — so remember. You don’t need much to sweeten your favorite meals.
Stevia is an herb that’s been used as a sweet treat and remedy in South America for centuries. So, you may want to add it to your sweetener rotation.
Perhaps one of the most important ways that stevia can help is for those with issues regulating glucose. One study showed that having stevia before a meal reduced blood glucose and insulin levels.14Studies have also shown that it might reduce blood pressure when taken as a supplement.15
Plus, Stevia is non-caloric. Seriously. There’s not a single calorie in stevia. So, if you’re putting together a weight loss plan or counting calories, stevia can be an invaluable tool.
4. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are yummy and they’re a great option if you’re looking for ways to sweeten a meal. Did you know recent studies have pointed to the sweet potato as one of the best sources of beta-carotene? And apparently, the sweet potato can work wonders to help increase the body’s vitamin A and antioxidant content.16
Fiber helps your digestive system and sweet potatoes have plenty of it. Fiber might also support heart health and lower your risk of certain conditions.17
Adding berries to your meal-plan can bring extra sweetness. Blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries have incredibly high antioxidant content — especially when compared to other fruits.18
All you need to give you an idea of how nutrient-rich berries can be is to take a quick look at the nutritional value of one cup of blackberries:
Vitamin K: 36% of your daily recommended value
Copper: 12% of your daily recommended value
Vitamin C: 50% of your daily recommended value
Manganese: 47% of your daily recommended value
Folate: 9% of your daily recommended value19
Berries have been shown to support healthy cholesterol levels as well.20
Fresh, dried, and raw bananas are a great substitute for refined sugars because they have lots of potassium and vitamin A.21 These fruits also are rich in fiber to help with digestion and support satiety. Plus, they’re relatively low in calories.22
Finally, when it comes to seeking out natural sweeteners, start with what you know.
Honey is great because it might even help you lose weight. Studies have shown that honey could help activate hormones that help suppress appetite.23
When it comes to buying honey, local raw honey is the way to go. And it may even offer another unique benefit: cutting down on allergy symptoms.
One study showed that high doses of honey can improve allergy symptoms over a few weeks. This includes itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, and other symptoms.24 In addition, honey’s high antioxidant levels can help your immune system fight off other conditions and diseases.25
Natural Sweeteners In Review
Overall, there are a pretty wonderful collection of alternative sweetening options out there — many of which have plenty of health benefits in their own right.
So, before you add sugar to your morning coffee or to your favorite baking recipe, consider one of the natural alternatives listed above. Your body will be glad you’re still feeding it something sweet, but it’ll be grateful you’re also feeding it something healthy.
Learn more about going sugar-free:
Healthy Cranberry Sauce Recipe (no refined sugars added!)
Harvard Scientists Paid To Lie About Sugar Health Risks
Sugar-Free Raspberry Walnut Bars (Unbelievable Recipe!)