It sounds good in theory but the agonizing reality of transitioning to a healthy lifestyle eventually smacks us in the face. Frantic, we conduct our own research, hoping to uncover that hidden gem that will make the process easy. We go scouring the earth for that diamond in the rough- you know, that one study or tip that would prove we can be healthy without sacrificing our sweet treats.
As of now, no such breakthrough exists. I am, what you can call, a recovering sweet addict. If it’s sugary and flavorful, you’d find my name all over it. Any time, any day- I didn’t discriminate. Until that day…the day I made the decision to stop ignoring all the things I knew were wrong. The day I made the choice to adapt a healthier lifestyle.
All of my favorite foods were out of the question and I was going through withdrawals. One day, I discovered a host of natural sweeteners. They taste just as good as, if not better than, processed sugar, but they’re straight from nature. Below is a list of treats from the Earth that will make the pickiest dessert connoisseur jump for joy. Of course, sugar is sugar and all of these options may not be considered “the most healthy”, but in my opinion they are far better than processed white sugar or corn syrup.
Of everything on this list, Agave offers some of the best versatility. Initially, I was intimidated by it. For no other reason than I never heard of it before. (Except in tequila, but that’s neither here nor there!) After doing some more research on the hazards of high fructose corn syrup, I decided to try Agave Amber. The first selling point was that it’s organic. It’s healthy enough for diabetics, and blends well with plenty of recipes. Lastly, it’s delicious. The rich maple flavor tastes amazing served over pancakes and waffles. It’s even great for baking. Switch Agave for conventional sugar in your baked beans, peach cobbler, candied yams and sweet potato pie recipes. At one point, I went Agave crazy. I even made a (delicious) batch of sweetened cornbread with it.
Raw agave has a more neutral taste. Without the maple flavor, you can add this style of agave to virtually anything. I like to use it to sweeten my fresh fruit and herb water. But you can literally use it on whatever you want.
Raw honey has been used as a natural sweetener for centuries. Unlike processed sugar, honey is full of vitamins and nutrients. It’s rich in antioxidants and is low glycemic, making honey a tasty natural sweetener for weight management or just a healthy transition. A spoonful of honey can remedy coughs and sore throats, cleanse the skin, and combat insomnia.
Honey can be purchased in different forms including regular, raw, Grade A, Grade B…you can even find cactus honey powder. Processed honey has been stripped of the vital nutrients that made raw honey appealing to past our ancestors. Some forms of honey are better for preparing meals, others are great as condiments. Purchasing locally grown honey stimulates the economy within your immediate community. You’ll be patronizing small businesses before making your way home with some of the freshest honey you’ve ever tasted.
Derived from the stevia rebaudiana shrub found in the heart of South Africa, Stevia is quickly replacing artificial sweeteners such as Sweet N Low and Equate. In its crystallized form, the plant extract is 300x sweeter than processed sugar so, whenever you’re using it, remember less is more. Powdered Stevia is the healthiest form available but it may be more difficult to get your hands on.
If health concerns are your primary focus, you should consult with your primary physician to determine whether it’s a good idea for you to substitute the sugar in your diet with Stevia. Together, you and your doctor can develop a healthy action plan.
Here’s one not many people know about. The natural sugars in fruit can be more than enough to satisfy your sweet tooth. Try using a cup of applesauce in your favorite recipes. Add it to pancakes, muffins, or cookies for a moist (and naturally sweet) treat.
Bananas are another fruit that’ll make you forget about processed sugar. Puree a ripe blend and mix it with a baking recipe for natural sweetener. You can also mix in fruit and other tasty ingredients then place it in the freezer for banana popsicles or ice cream.
Pineapples are so deliciously perfect; any excuse to add them to a meal must be a good cause. Add a couple slices to a pitcher or water, stir in finely chopped mint and let it marinate overnight. In the morning, treat yourself to a fresh glass of homemade fruit water.
When using fruit as a sweetener, it’s important to make sure to keep your goods properly refrigerated. Fruit doesn’t preserve like processed sugar and may spoil quickly. Mangos, grapes, apples and oranges are also great picks for your sweet tooth.
No not the artificially flavored high fructose corn syrup you see in the commercials, but real, natural, authentic maple syrup. Used as a sweetener for as long as honey has been, maple syrup has many of the same nutritional properties. Maple is also an antioxidant.
About 3x sweeter than white sugar, 2/3 to 3/4 cup will easily replace 1 cup of processed sweetener. The flavor and consistency of maple syrup and honey is so similar, the two ingredients can be evenly switched. When using maple instead of sugar, be sure to reduce the amount of liquid in your recipe by 3 tbsps. for each cup of syrup used.
A down-home alternative that has made its way to kitchen tables around the world, molasses is another natural sweetener that can eliminate your need for sugar. Molasses claims third place for the lowest glycemic index on this list (behind maple syrup and agave nectar). However, it is the most nutrition rich option. Molasses offers the highest amounts of Vitamin B6, potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium, and manganese. Due to its rich flavor, molasses isn’t the most versatile ingredient. However, when used in the right recipes, it’s a tasty treat full of bold, dark sweetness.
Date sugar and date paste are becoming staples in the realm of natural sweeteners. Medjool dates are healthy carbs. Unlike processed sugar, it gives your brain the substance it needs to use these carbs for good. Using dates as a sweetener increases your family’s copper, magnesium, potassium, manganese, and vitamin B6 consumption.
Blend dates with nuts like pecans and almonds to make a sweet, nutritious pie crust. Pitted and blended with water, you now have homemade date syrup. Use date sugar to sweeten your homemade salad dressing or date paste for a homemade caramel syrup. The sweetening potential knows no limits.
Nature is the birthplace for everything we need. Looking out into it’s wonders, you can find every taste from spicy to sour, and salty to sweet. It’s ok to treat ourselves to some of the things we love. If you use the right ingredients, you don’t have to sacrifice your health in the process.