Most of us tend to eat richer, sugary foods during the holiday months. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year all have their array of decadent sweets. While many of us have wholesome memories related to trick-or-treating or grandma’s cookies, the excess sugar doesn’t do us much good.
According to Harvard Health, a diet high in sugar (25% or more of total calories) may increase our risk of dying from heart disease. It’s been linked to weight gain and cavities, and it provides our bodies with empty calories and no nutrition.
Having too much added sugar each day can make us feel low energy, cranky and moody. If you can relate, maybe it’s time for a little sugar detoxing. Thankfully, there are some healthier alternatives to traditional refined sugar that still allow you to enjoy the sweetness without the downsides. Below are the top five.
Fruits are nature’s candy. If you have a sweet tooth, fruit is a great place to start. Try having a banana, some grapes, strawberries, cherries, mangos or other fruits when you feel the need for sugar.
For extra sweetness, dried fruits like dates, raisins and prunes are good choices because their sugars are more concentrated. Try using banana puree, applesauce, date puree or prune puree in baking recipes. They add natural sweetness and extra nutrition. You can also use fresh fruits in dressings or blended into a homemade smoothie.
#2 Sweet Veggies
Our palates adapt to whatever we continuously feed them. Say goodbye to the refined sugars and you’ll be surprised how much more you appreciate the tastes of simple, whole foods.
Start with vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes that are higher in natural sugars. Over time, they’ll start to taste sweeter and more satisfying, and you’ll actually crave them!
Stevia has become very popular in recent years as a healthy alternative to not only sugar, but also artificial sugars. In its pure form, it’s completely natural and doesn’t contribute sugar or calories while being almost 300 times sweeter than sugar.
Pure stevia leaf is a good substitute for sugar in drinks like coffee or tea, smoothies and certain baked goods.
Note: Some Stevia products are mixed with ingredients like maltodextrin or erythritol, which is a natural sugar alcohol. While these ingredients are generally safe, the overall product is more processed than pure stevia.
#4 Blackstrap Molasses
Although this is still sugar, it’s the lowest of any cane sugar product and (unlike regular sugar) gives us a good dose of iron, magnesium, calcium, selenium and vitamin B6. Consequently, this higher nutrient content might help us digest it more slowly and not spike blood sugar.
In addition, a little blackstrap molasses is great in baking recipes, as a sweetener for coffee or tea, added to yogurt or oatmeal, or cooked with roasted vegetables.
#5 Raw Honey
Like blackstrap molasses, raw honey also contributes some sugars, but it provides a lot of nutrition and is lower on the glycemic index than most sugars. This makes it a nice alternative.
Raw honey is also rich in nutrition. It contains:
- Polyphenols: antioxidants found in many fruits and vegetables that fight free radicals
- Vitamins: thiamine, vitamin B6, niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid
- Minerals: calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, phosphorus, manganese, sodium, potassium, zinc
Besides being a sweetener, people use raw honey as a remedy for seasonal allergies, energy support, an aid for wound healing, and even support for sleep issues. A study at San Diego State University in 2011 showed that replacing normal sugar with honey may help reduce weight gain and promote lower serum triglycerides.
Remember, quality matters with honey. Look for unpasteurized, unfiltered pure raw honey. Stay away from the generic processed honey, as it’s been heated and filtered and doesn’t contain the same benefits.
The Bottom Line
Armed with these alternatives, think about ways you can replace refined sugars in foods or drinks you currently consume with these healthier sweet options. You’ll be well on your way to kicking that sugar habit, having more energy, and making a great choice for your health.