Five Healthy Alternatives to Sugar:
Before we get started, I would like for you to determine for yourself if you have a sugar problem! Take a quick moment to answer these twelve true/false questions to find out!
- I do not eat refined sugar every day.
- I can go for more than a day without eating some type of sugar-containing food.
- I never have cravings for sugar, coffee, chocolate, peanut butter, or alcohol.
- I’ve never hidden candy/sweets around my home in order to eat them later.
- I can stop after eating one piece of candy/bite of dessert.
- There are times when I have no sugar (of any kind!) in my home.
- I can go for three or more hours without eating and not experience the shakes, fatigue, perspiration, irritability, depression or anxiety.
- I can have candy/sweets in my home and not eat them.
- I do not eat something sweet after each meal.
- I rarely drink coffee and eat donuts or sweet rolls for breakfast.
- I can go for more than an hour after waking up in the morning without eating.
- I can go from one day to the next without drinking a sweetened soft drink.
So…how did you do? Dr. Nancy Appleton, the author of this quiz, says that if you answered false to more than three of the above statements, you probably have a sugar problem.
But wait! There’s more. I have mentioned before in a previous post that up to 80% of packaged food items in the United States have added sugar in them. All you have to do to see this for yourself is to start reading the labels of the foods you eat. Most packaged meats are cured with sugar. Sugar is a top ingredient in all breakfast cereals. Canned soups have added sugar. The majority of condiments and dressings contain refined sugar. Salsa has added sugar. You have to spend hours perusing the aisles at the supermarket in order to find any of these items without sugar on the ingredient list. Why? Because sugar is cheap, for one. For two, it is an easy way to add flavor into foods that don’t have much flavor due to being mostly nutritionally defunct. And third of all, sugar is shelf-stable, making it a popular preservative of sorts.
Does factoring in all of the sugar-containing items in packaged foods change the results of your quiz at all? For most people, it does. As a former refined-sugar addict, let me tell you, I used to be the worst of the worst. Sugar-packed yogurt and brown sugar instant oatmeal for breakfast? Yep! Soda and sub sandwich for lunch? Sure! Barbeque sauce with my chicken at supper? Why, certainly! And don’t forget the pint of ice cream for dessert!
When I embarked upon my journey to true health, about three-and-a-half years ago, I was a full-blown sugar addict. I found, as I began to reduce my sugar intake, that sugar had been doing two things to me:
1. It had been replacing other nutrient-dense foods that SHOULD have been in my diet, thus making me nutritionally deficient. Refined sugar contains NO vitamins and minerals. In fact, it is an anti-nutrient because it must leech other vitamins and minerals from bones and tissues in the body in order for the body to process it.
2. My regular sugar consumption was sending the inflammation levels in my body through the roof! This caused me a lot of undue leg, heel, and back pain. (It was also making me fat, despite the fact that I run half marathons as a hobby.)
So how did I get off of sugar? Well, I tried the cold-turkey approach. It would work for a few days, and then inevitably, I would find myself at the bottom of a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Pumpkin Cheesecake Ice Cream, feeling worse than ever. I found that, to have success in staying off sugar for the long-term, I had to find a replacement. Or five!
Here are some of my favorite replacements to refined sugar, along with a little information on each:
- Honey. (And not the processed kind that you find inside a cute bear at the supermarket!) Raw honey contains 27 minerals, 22 amino acids, and up to 5,000 live enzymes. Honey is a natural antimicrobial and antioxidant. (The darker the honey’s color, the higher the antioxidant levels.) It has also been shown to help manage seasonal allergies. Keep in mind that honey is still a high-carbohydrate food, clocking in at 17 carbohydrates per teaspoon. This means that those individuals striving specifically for weight loss may want to moderate honey consumption. Nonetheless, honey is far superior to white sugar.
- Maple Syrup. Maple syrup contains manganese and zinc, which are good for the immune system, prevent damage to the heart, and support the male reproductive systems. It can add great natural flavor to the more bitter roasted veggies, (think brussel sprouts) and natural flavors to coffee and baked goods. One downfall is that real maple syrup can be expensive. Keep in mind, though, that you shouldn’t be guzzling it. A little maple syrup goes a long way!
- Coconut Palm Sugar. This one is my new favorite! It contains B vitamins and has a taste and texture similar to that of brown sugar. It behaves like sugar in baking, and is flavorful on winter squashes. The best part? Coconut sugar has little impact on the blood sugar. With a glycemic index of just 35, it is an ideal sweetener for diabetics or those concerned about developing diabetes.
- Stevia. You’ve probably heard a lot about Stevia. It is the new buzzword in the zero-calorie sweetener world. What makes it different from aspartame, saccharine, and even sucralose, is that Stevia is an herb-based sweetener. Just a few drops of liquid stevia have the sweetening power of as much as a cup of white sugar! What’s more, it is diabetic-friendly, since it causes no disruption in blood sugar. This also makes it ideal for persons who are trying to lose weight. On the flip side, Stevia does not add any vitamins or minerals into the diet like honey, maple syrup, and coconut sugar do.
- Fruit! Last but not least, is fruit itself. It doesn’t get much more natural than this! The further I progress in my wellness journey, the more I realize just how much of a treat an apple, some strawberries, or a nice fruit salad can be. Most fruits are packed with nutrients, and they have hydrating properties. (Especially helpful during hot Summer months.)
That’s it, folks! The top five alternatives to refined sugar. You may notice that aspartame, saccharine, brown sugar, brown rice syrup, cane sugar, corn syrup, and agave are NOT on my list. This is because, for one reason or another, I do not consider them to be healthy/nutritive sweeteners.
As you move forward in your journey to reduce sugar in your diet, you will notice that the less sugar you have, the less sugar you crave. One day, maybe in a few weeks, maybe in a few years, you will go to take that bite of cake and it won’t taste as good as your mind remembers. Don’t believe me? Well, there is one way to find out!
May your dessert never taste the same.
Yours in health,