The dreaded sweet tooth strikes again. Most of us know sugar isn’t the healthiest food item, but the risks go way beyond a sugar crash or a cavity Sugar-sweetened beverages, weight gain, and incidence of type 2 diabetes in young and middle-aged women. Schulze, M.B., Manson, J.E., Ludwig, D.S., et al. Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Mass. JAMA, 2004 Aug 25;292(8):927-34.. And artificial sweeteners can sometimes add even more calories to a meal. Instead of going cold (and sugarless) turkey, try some of these healthier sugar substitutions:
1. Agave Nectar. History lesson time: The Aztecs used agave thousands of years ago and praised this syrup as a gift from gods. A derivative of the same plant as tequila (cheers!), this golden sweetener tastes similar to honey and is perfect in hot or iced tea. But be sure to use in moderation—agave's high fructose content can sometimes cross it in to the dangerfood zone!
2. Maple Syrup. The benefits of maple syrup are aplenty: It comes directly from a plant’s sap and contains over 50 antioxidants. Make sure to grab the real stuff (sorry, Aunt Jemima) and spread it over waffles or use it in homemade granola.
3. Lemon. Fans of gin can skip the extra sugar in a Tom Collins and add an extra lemon squeeze—we promise no one will notice.
5. Applesauce. Instead of a half-cup white sugar in a batch of oatmeal cookies, swap in an equal amount of applesauce! The natural sweetness from a Golden Delicious or Fuji apple is perfect in an after-dinner treat. Purchase the no sugar-added kind, or make some at home.
6. Erythritol. This sugar alcohol is practically a guilt-free sweet solution. (And the FDA says it’s safe!) At 0.2 calories per gram, the white powder from a plant occurs naturally in many fruits. Plus, it doesn’t lead to tooth decay and other not-so-sweet effects of sugar consumption. It’s not quite as sweet as natural sugar, so try it in chocolate baked goods like brownies.
7. Raisins. For a creative spin on things, blend a cup of raisins in a food processer. With antioxidants and fiber, these little dried grapes add a kick to any baked good.
8. Cinnamon. Spice up a morning cup of coffee with cinnamon. This super spice adds subtle sweetness while boosting immunity, no calories included.
9. Unsweetened Cocoa Powder. For a warm winter treat, mix some unsweetened cocoa powder in a glass of hot water or skim milk. It’ll satisfy that sweet tooth without all the extra sugar the sweetened version includes. Add a splash of vanilla extract for extra flavor!
12. Processed Dates. Grab a bunch of dates for an extra boost of antioxidants in the next baking experiment Total antioxidant content of alternatives to refined sugar. Phillips, K.M., Carlsen, M.H., Blomhoff, R. Biochemistry Department, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2009 Jan;109(1):64-71.. With a low glycemic index and some subtle sweetness, it may be perfect for brownie batter or the base of homemade granola bars Glycemic index of 3 varieties of dates. Miller C.J., Dunn E.V., Hashim I.B., Department of Family Medicine, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, United Arab Emirates University, United Arab Emirates. Saudi Medical Journal, 2002 May;23(5):536-8.. Substitute two-thirds cup for one cup of regular sugar.
13. Grapefruit. For a daily dose of vitamin C, opt for grapefruit juice in a cocktail over soda or tonic water. It’ll add a sweet and sour kick to any beverage.
14. Coconut Sugar. Get a little tropical and use coconut sugar in a fruit smoothie. Made from the sap of coconut flowers, this natural sugar comes in block, paste, or granulated form. Plus, it’s loaded with potassium, which helps keep our bones strong.
15. Brown Rice Syrup. Brown rice syrup comes from (you guessed it!) brown rice. More nutritious than its high-fructose alternative, this buttery and nutty flavored syrup is perfect in granola bars and baked breads.
16. Rapadura. This sweet treat’s made from sugar cane but skips the refining stage, so it retains vitamins and minerals lost when white sugar is processed. Keep the one-to-one ratio when swapping rapadura for sugar in baked goods.
17. Lime. Make juice boxes a thing of the past and spice up a glass of sparkling water with a squeeze of lime. The tart and tang will keep taste buds satisfied without the extra sugar rush.
18. Puréed Banana. In the next loaf of banana bread, try using extra-ripe bananas and eliminating the sugar. The fruit naturally becomes sweeter as it ripens, so there’s no need for extra sugar Determination of optimum harvest maturity and physico-chemical quality of Rastali banana (Musa AAB Rastali) during fruit ripening. Kheng, T.Y., Ding, P., Abdul Rahman, N.A. Department of Crop Science, Faculty of Agriculture, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Selangor, D.E. Malaysia. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 2012 Jan 15;92(1):171-6..
19. Milk. The natural sugar in milk adds a touch of sweetness to that morning cup of Joe, so think twice before adding a teaspoon or two of sugar. The lactose in milk may do the trick.
20. Frozen Juice Concentrate. Use apple juice concentrate in homemade apple pie. With additional fiber and antioxidants, the pie will be a sweet solution for a nutritious dessert!
21. Barley Malt Extract. Derived from barley, this protein-packed syrup is perfect in a pecan or pumpkin pie. The dark syrup’s similar to molasses and will enhance the flavor of any baked treat.
22. Sucanat. Introducing sugar in its most natural state! Sucanat is a sneaky acronym that stands for SUgar CAne NATural. This sweetener is made from organic cane sugar and packs in some nutrients white sugar lacks.
23. Apricot Puree. Apricots are a nutritional A+ with vitamin C, fiber, and iron. Make some of the sweet stuff right at home and mix it in plain Greek yogurt or enjoy it with hearty whole-grain bread.
24. Fresh-Squeezed Orange Juice. In a batch of homemade bread, swap out the sugar for fresh orange juice. Looking for a cool treat? Freeze some juice in an ice-pop mold rather than buying what’s in the freezer section.
25. Club Soda. Health up that next large glass of fruit juice with some club soda—even a simple three-to-one juice to club soda ratio saves some major sugar calories.
26. Rum. Alcohol ain’t just for drinking—caramelize a few slices of pineapple in rum and add them to pancakes or unsweetened yogurt. Now that’s a fancy way to stay sweet!
27. Tea Leaves. Fruity or earthy leaves like pomegranate and green tea are naturally sugar-free and add an extra nutritional kick to any beverage. Use them in liquor for a surprising healthy twist.
28. Molasses. What happens when sugar cane, grapes, and beets get together? Molasses! Use this dark syrup in a recipe for gingerbread cookies. It’ll add some extra iron and calcium, which makes the cookies healthy, right?
29. Balsamic Glaze. Ditch the Funfetti frosting and add a generous drizzle of balsamic glaze to angel food cake. Simply simmer balsamic vinegar until it forms a thick syrup.
30. Yacón Syrup. A sweetening agent extracted from the yacón plant, this molasses-y syrup has hints of apple and just half the calories of cane sugar. It’s sweet just like honey, so a little goes a long way in baked goods and raw fruit smoothies.