We all have a sweet tooth, but sometimes we need to take care of our health first, and cravings second. That’s why I’ve devised a list of 10 ways to sweeten food without refined sugar or poisonous sugar substitutes like aspartame, splenda (sucralose), acesulfame potassium, neotame, saccharin, or sugar alcohols (sorbitol, xylitol, and mannitol).
Our innate cravings for sugar usually come from our need to eat sweet, juicy ripe fruit. And that’s how I satisfy my sugar need, but in the phase of transition, sometimes we need a little help. Thankfully, there are a host of different sugar substitutes that don’t come in colourful packets. Trust me – you don’t need to go cold turkey!
How to Sweeten Food Without Refined Sugar
Here are my 10 best suggestions to sweeten food in pretty much any scenario:
Dates are one of my favourite sweeteners of all time. I like to blend soaked dates (2-3 hours is good) with a little bit of water until you can make a paste. You can also buy date paste in stores, but making it fresh is so much better.
Cinnamon naturally has a sweet flavour to it, and can be used as a ground powder or dried stick. Some people like using cinnamon in replacement for their sugar in coffee, stews and curries. I love to sprinkle cinnamon on fruit to liven it up and add extra antioxidants and phytonutrients.
Who doesn’t love vanilla? It is sweet, and fragrant, and makes an incredible sugar substitute when it comes to coffee and desserts like cake and cookies. Not to mention, the active ingredient in vanilla (vanillin) is a polyphenol with strong antioxidant activity, and can help offset oxidative damage to the brain and help prevent Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
A lot of refined sugars are made from beetroot (like the sugar beet) – but why eat that, when you can just go to the source? If you love making juices or smoothies, add a beet to sweeten them up. Finely grated beet, or the pulp from juiced beets can be used to baked goods to up the nutrition (and sweetness) factor.
Obtaining a high quality, dark grade maple syrup is a great source of manganese, zinc, potassium and calcium. I recommend the #3 Dark (D) grade of maple syrup to maximize nutrient intake. Maple syrup is a great replacement for any refined sugar type, and tastes great too! It is also low on the glycemic index and can be used instead of table sugar in some baking.
This is one of my natural raw favourites. It is made from whole Peruvian lucuma fruit, and is low-glycemic. It contains many nutrients like beta-carotene, iron, zinc, vitamin B3, calcium and protein! It has a unique maple-like taste and can be used in many different recipes (cooked or raw). I personally like to mix lucuma powder with a little bit of water to make a cookie-dough like mixture. It even tastes like cookie dough (pretty much the exact same).
Homemade cold-pressed fruit juice is a wonderful natural sweetener, and is naturally high in minerals, vitamins and phytonutrients unlike pasteurized juices. You can use it in smoothies, or even dehydrate it in a shallow dish and then scrape up what is left, blend in a blender, and you have your own natural fruit sugar to be used in anything that requires refined sugar or synthetic sweeteners.
Puréed banana doesn’t just make a great sweetener, it is a wonderful egg substitute. Use mashed bananas in baking or oatmeal instead of adding refined sugar. Puréed bananas can be substituted for 1 cup of sugar in a recipe – just put 1 cup of over-ripe bananas in a blender with a couple tablespoons of water and blend until smooth. Who needs sugar, when you’ve got bananas?!
Yacón syrup is extracted from the roots of the yacón plant. It is a sweet-tasting syrup, with a consistency similar to molasses. It’s a great source of fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which feed friendly bacteria in the intestine and produce short-chain fatty acids, which aids in weight loss. Use it in your tea, or add it to smoothies. It’s best eaten as least processed as you can, so cooking it wouldn’t be the best.
I love using berries as an all-natural sweetener, especially in smoothies! They’re antioxidant-rich, which means a stronger immune system and lower risk of cancer. If you’re fond of jams and jellies, replace them with crushed berries mixed with some date paste and chia seeds. Trust me, you’ll never go back to conventional jams again.