Sugar may possibly be one of the most harmful substances that you can put into your body. It is also one of the most prevalent ingredients found in your food, and cutting it out completely is no easy task. Luckily, by swapping out some high-sugar foods with low-sugar alternatives, you can still enjoy flavorful foods with less of the harmful effects.
Is Sugar Really That Bad?
The average American consumes more than 150 pounds of sugar each year. Sugars are added to manufactured products, and may be listed as cane or beet sugar, or as a corn sweetener like high fructose corn syrup, glucose, and dextrose.
When you eat sugar (sucrose), your body breaks it down into two simple sugars: glucose and fructose.
- Glucose is the primary source of fuel for every cell in your body. If you do not get enough from dietary sources, your body can manufacture glucose.
- Fructose is only broken down in the liver. There is no biological need for fructose.
Excess fructose has been linked to harmful and dangerous conditions including fatty liver disease, obesity, high levels of LDL cholesterol, insulin resistance, and heart disease.
The most dangerous thing about sugar is the way it impacts your brain. Sugar is addictive.
Sugar causes the release of dopamine in the brain’s reward center. Researchers have identified specific addictive behaviors with sugar similar to those of drug abuse, such as bingeing, withdrawal, craving, and increased response to other addictive substances.
Cutting back the amount of added sugars you consume is not only good for your physical health, but it is good for your mental wellbeing, as well. If going cold turkey sounds like a difficult task, you can ease back on your sugar intake by trying these low sugar food alternatives instead.
1. Maple Syrup
Replacing refined sugar with equal parts real maple syrup will cut the amount of sugar in that recipe. Maple syrup is lower on the glycemic scale than refined sugar, which means it is slower to raise your blood sugar levels. Real maple syrup comes from the sweet sap of the maple tree, and is a natural source of minerals and antioxidants. Maple syrup is not a “health food,” but it is a better alternative than refined sugar.
Half of the sugar found in honey is fructose, but it is still a better choice than refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup. While honey will still raise blood sugar levels, it will do so less than dextrose or sucrose. In one study, honey lowered the body weight, triglycerides, and total cholesterol of diabetic participants. While honey is a better alternative than refined sugar, it will still raise blood sugar levels, and should be avoided by diabetics or people trying to lose weight.
Antioxidant rich dates make a healthy sugar alternative. Soak dates in hot water until soft, and then pulse in your food processor until a paste forms. Dates contain beneficial vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and have a lower glycemic index than refined sugar.
4. Pureed Banana
Even though bananas and other fruits are natural sources of fructose, it is in amounts that your body can process. When you eat fructose from a banana, it is stored in the liver as glycogen until your body needs it. Use pureed banana instead of sugar in baked goods, and you will also get a punch of potassium that can benefit blood pressure. One cup of pureed banana can substitute for one cup of sugar.
Applesauce is another healthy sugar alternative that can be used to sweeten baked goods, like a delicious applesauce cake. Apples contain pectin, a water soluble fiber that helps regulate blood glucose levels. Make your own applesauce to be sure you aren’t inadvertently consuming added sugars from a manufactured one.
6. Yacon Syrup
Yacon syrup is made from the South American Yacon plant. Yacon contains a specific fiber called fructooligosaccharides; these fibers feed the good bacteria in your intestines and are referred to as prebiotics. One study showed yacon to cause weight loss in overweight women.
7. Prune Puree
Like dates, prunes can be a great sweetener for your baked goods. Prunes (dried plums) are naturally sweet, and can help add moisture to your foods. Rehydrate and process into a paste, then stir into your favorite recipes for muffins, breads, or brownies to cut the sugar while adding beneficial nutrients and fiber.
The leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant produce a low calorie sweetener that is very popular as a sugar substitute. Stevia is 100 times sweeter than sugar, and may be the best sugar substitute for diabetics – Stevia has been shown in studies to improve blood glucose levels in diabetics.
Simply adding some dried cranberries, blueberries, or goji berries can naturally increase the sweetness of a dish without any need for sugar or other sweeteners. Try adding a handful of berries to oatmeal, granola, or homemade energy bars. These berries have some of the highest levels of health promoting antioxidants than any other foods around.
Cinnamon has been found to lower blood sugar levels, and it can be a healthy alternative for sugar. Replace the sugar in your morning coffee or cup of tea with cinnamon, or add it to oatmeal or plain, unflavored yogurt.
Reducing the amount of refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup you consume will have an incredible impact on the way you look and feel. Next time you want something sweet, try one of these healthier low sugar alternatives for better weight and improved health.