First off, many people will argue that “all sugar is bad for you”. Well, I know that some are worse than others… AND… how MUCH you consume makes a big difference too.
Interesting call out: It’s estimated that the average American consumes 17 teaspoons of sugar every day AND approximately 57 pounds of added sugar each year!!! Many don’t realize just how much sugar is in the foods they consume. It’s hidden in so many of our everyday convenience foods (i.e., some peanut butters, ketchup, soups, and more).
Just to set the stage, here are the differences between Glucose, Fructose and Sucrose.
Glucose: This is the body’s primary energy source, called blood sugar. Your body processes most carbohydrates you eat as glucose. They are either processed right away or stored in the body (muscle cells or the liver) for later use. Unlike fructose, insulin is secreted primarily in response to elevated blood levels of glucose. Insulin initiates the entry of glucose into cells. Here are further scientific details of glucose. Note: Glucose is the first sugar the body uses for energy. Any excess fructose that is NOT needed, is stored for future energy as fat.
Fructose: This is sugar found naturally in many fruits and vegetables… AND added to beverages like sodas and juice drinks. Yet, it is metabolized by the body differently than Glucose, as it is metabolized in the liver. It is more fat producing, called lipogenesis.
Sucrose: Also known as table sugar, is an equal combination of glucose and fructose. It typically comes from sugar cane and beets. When eaten, they split into glucose and fructose and metabolized separately.
I stumbled upon this article that was super helpful in explaining sugar, how to identify it, what it does to the body and how to reduce the desire for it.
For me, I tend to focus on reducing the amount of ALL sugars I eat. Yet, life is short. I try to live life to my fullest and want to experience some sweet treats on occasion. My goal is to keep my sugar intake very minimal. I read labels on everything I buy, and do a “swap” when baking treats for the family. (Plus, I also know that if I overconsume, I don’t feel the best. It’s just not worth it.)
One other quick note, at the time I hit my worst health in 2011, I began learning more about sugar and what it could be doing to my body. I watched a documentary called Fed Up. It was eye opening to the impact sugar has on our health! After watching this documentary, I opened my eyes on the hidden sugar or “sugars” in foods that I was consuming.
Here are my top 5 favorites replacements and how I use them (with recipe links included):
1. Raw Honey. Raw honey is AMAZING! The word “raw” means it was not pasteurized or processed in any way. Its’s right off the comb, so it is packed with nutrients too (like enzymes, antioxidants, iron, zinc, and more). It’s incredibly sweet and did you know… raw honey NEVER expires! Cool hah?
How I use it: If I get a “sweet tooth”, you may find me taking a tiny scoop of it to curb that desire. I also add it to teas (when the tea isn’t super hot – to keep the natural enzymes alive). I also top plain yogurt with honey, granola, berries and chia seeds for a filling and nutrient dense meal! Honey aids in taking the tartness out of the plain yogurt.
Even though I try not to bake/heat honey, I do use it in select baking recipes. This is a super easy an almond flour scone recipe that I love as it’s easy and delicious! (Note: I don’t make the scones in a triangles. I just make smaller flattened individual circles.)
I also use honey to make my protein bites, which include: whole oats, peanut butter (real peanut butter – no sugar added), chia seeds, and some optional ingredients. I mix it all together, roll into balls/bites, and store in a glass storage container.
2. Coconut Sugar. This has become my #1 replacement for dry sugar for ANY recipes that calls for white or brown sugar. It has a slightly lower glycemic load than table sugar. It’s not perfect, but better.
How I use it: Yet, when I need to make cookies for an event or something, I replace the white sugar with coconut sugar. Simple.
Recipe with real sugar to swap: The Most Wonderful Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies
A cookie recipe with coconut sugar
3. Maple Sugar or Syrup. This one has two parts as you can now buy a maple sugar! You can also MAKE maple sugar from maple syrup. (Cool hah?)
Note: Packaged maple sugar is not cheap, but just like anything, you get what you pay for. Sometimes you find better prices on Amazon or Thrive Market. (Since I had been so sick in the past, I prefer to put my money into my food vs. doctor’s bills and prescriptions.)
How I use it: Just like coconut sugar, I do this as a one-for-one to cane sugar in recipes. (Easy peasy.)
4. Dates or Date Sugar: Got a sugar craving? Just like a tiny bit of honey, a dried date or two is sweet and will satisfy that desire for sweetness. I prefer medjool dates as they are easy to de-seed and use in recipes. (I even found a large container of them at Costco!)
Dates have a deep brown color and similar to caramel to me. They are soft in texture. The other part I like about dates is that they are loaded with fiber. (Here is a great article all about dates. You won’t believe the health benefits of dates. For instance, if you are having trouble with constipation, eating a couple dates may help “move things along”. Plus, since they are low on the glycemic index, they don’t impact blood sugar like refined sugar.
Just like maple sugar, you can make date sugar yourself. Here is a 3 minute video showing how to make date sugar using an air fryer and blender.
How I use these: Besides just having 1 or 2 for dessert or when a “sweet attack” hits, I use it in recipes, like healthy bars. Check out this recipe: Morning Energy Bars (Raw Food Recipe)
Just like coconut sugar, I do this as a one-for-one to cane sugar in recipes. It’s a little “lighter” in consistency than coconut sugar so it works well as a “dusting” sugar for donuts, muffin tops, etc. Check out this recipe for unbaked brownies using dates! Yum!
5. Bananas. They are so naturally sweet. In some recipes they are used in combination with a sweetener above to make some amazing muffins, breads and even pancakes! Loaded with potassium and fiber, a ripe banana can make a great sweet alternative. (I even just eat a banana with peanut butter for a snack.)
How I use it: Bananas make a great addition to sweeten up a smoothie, but check out these recipes I have tried before and loved!
Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookie Pancakes
Banana Oat Greek Yogurt Muffins
One last thing I discovered was that my palette changed over time. The more I ate healthy foods, the more sensitive it seemed to be. So, when I ate something sweet I had eaten before, it seemed even sweeter! This seems to be a common perception of others, as I have heard similar experiences.
Thank you for reading. I hope you found this helpful.
Stay sweet, blog reader! 😉