Honey. Agave Nectar. Molasses. Brown Sugar. Beet Sugar. Are these healthy alternatives to sugar?
Call your sugar alternative what you will, but by any other name (and there are 60 different varieties), it is still sugar. This sweet additive is found everywhere, in all of our favorite foods and in the majority of processed foods found on the grocery store shelf. You may be thinking, “I don’t eat processed foods, so I must not be getting the extra sugar,” but if you ever use ketchup, salad dressing, teriyaki sauce, or even some over-the-counter cough medicines, you are ingesting hidden sugars.
The recommended maximum daily intake of added sugar is 6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men, but the average daily intake for most Americans is 19.5 teaspoons of sugar each day. At 15 calories a teaspoon, there is nothing wrong with sugar, if consumed in moderation. The naturally occurring sugar in a piece of fruit is fine but if we can reduce some of the added sugar in our diet than we can remove some of the empty calories. That said, for those of us with a sweet tooth, it can be hard to avoid sugary treats.
So how can you cut down your sugar intake without resorting to so-called “healthy” alternatives? Here are four suggestions.
1. Stay hydrated
I know that sounds crazy, but people will reach for a sugary pick-me-up when they really just need some good ol’ H2O. People tend to feel sluggish if even a little dehydrated, so thinking they need a quick energy boost they will reach for a snack, generally a sweet one. Next time you are feeling low, first grab a big glass of water, or even better, hint water with the natural essence of fruit and no added sugar. Gulp that down, wait a moment, and discover that you may not want that sugary snack after all.
2. Fuel up
When our blood sugar crashes because we’ve gone too long without eating, our body goes into survival mode by looking for the quickest source of energy to bring blood sugar levels up. It’s an amazing built-in survival mechanism but it can end up sending us straight to the cookie jar. Instead, fuel your day with balanced whole-food, plant-based meals full of fiber and complex carbohydrates, for a long, slow release of glucose (sugar) into your bloodstream. This will provide lasting energy without the sugar crash.
3. Avoid the fake stuff
Sugar substitutes are nothing more than chemical compounds produced in a lab, are very low- or no-calorie, can be up to 600 times sweeter than sugar and play tricks on your brain. These artificial sweeteners do not raise your blood sugar and have no calories, so they will not satisfy your hunger. They also have been associated with weight gain. When consumed, your brain gets a dose of artificial sweetness but feels unsatisfied. This leaves you looking around for more food to bring up your blood sugar levels and satisfy your brain. While these sweeteners can be useful for diabetics, the rest of us should stick to the real stuff in moderation.
4. Enjoy natural sweetness
As I mentioned, there is nothing wrong with enjoying the natural sweetness of fresh or dried fruit, as well as sweet potatoes, yogurt, carrots, almonds, grape tomatoes, oatmeal, pumpkin, and butternut squash. Top them off with a dash of vanilla extract and cinnamon for an extra dose of flavor. These foods are chock full of good nutrients and will help to curb your cravings for the refined white stuff. And on occasion, never feel bad about indulging in the goodness of homemade cookies, cakes, and pies. After all, life is short.