Guess what!! Its day 29 of Sugar Free September, which means (if you were on board) that you only have 1 more day to go. I want to extend a big congratulations for getting this far and I hope that you are feeling the benefits of this little self-experiment. Go ahead… Pat yourself on the back. If anything, I hope that you will be finishing September with a better awareness of what foods contain sugars and have armed yourself with a few strategies on how to avoid refined sugars in the future.
What now? You are now free to go stuff your face with a block of chocolate, but do you really want to? I hope that you were able to manage any cravings that you experienced and as a result slayed that sugar dragon and no longer feel like you need it in your diet. My plan is to continue avoiding refined sugars and just use natural sweeteners sparingly. Yes, I’m sure there will be a little bit of dark chocolate here and there along with the occasional pear cider but I know that I don’t need refined sugars in my diet and reminding myself how good I have felt without sugar, will help me avoid them more effectively.
So what about those natural sweeteners that I said I will be using sparingly? Here are some of the ‘healthier’ alternatives to refined table sugar. While I don’t consider all of the following ‘natural’, by natural I mean sugar sources that are close to the state in which they are found in nature that way you are getting some vitamins and minerals. It is important to remember that most sweeteners still contain fructose and still raise your blood sugar levels so please don’t use the healthy or natural tag as an excuse to go overboard.
Image from Dorian Zest
My personal favourite is raw local honey. I love this for the taste and the added benefit of enzymes, vitamins and minerals. Yep that’s right, this sweetener has health benefits, winning. Honey has the ability to build up your immunity to allergens, reduces inflammation, increases antioxidant levels, lowers LDL cholesterol and blood glucose in people with obesity, and is a natural antibacterial with antiviral properties. This doesn’t mean however that you should overindulge and these benefits don’t apply to most store bought honey which is usually pastuerised (killing off the goodness) and contains added sugar. Most farmers markets that I have been to have a stall selling a variety of raw honey. Try a few to see what you like, some are quite mild and smooth while others really strong.
Stevia. Stevia is a leafy herb and in the extract form, is up to 300 times sweeter than table sugar. Because stevia contains no fructose, it doesn’t have a significant effect of blood sugar levels however because it’s so sweet but contain barely any calories it can cause your body to send mixed hormonal signals so best to avoid if trying to balance hormones or maximize fertility. It is often used as a sugar replacement in baking and can be purchased from most supermarkets in the powder or liquid form and in some health food stores in the whole leaf form. While I think this is a healthier alternative to table sugar especially for those with blood sugar issues I don’t use it often because I think it has an almost metallic taste and because most available forms are highly processed.
Rice Malt Syrup. I was introduced to Rice Malt Syrup after reading Sarah Wilson’s book, I Quit Sugar. Sarah recommends it because it is 100% fructose free, comprising of the complex carbohydrates, maltose and glycose. It is made from fermented cooked rice and can be found in most supermarkets in the health food section. It has a taste and texture to honey but milder and not quite as sweet.
Blackstrap Organic Molasses. This full bodied sweetener is made from boiled sugar cane juice and contains high levels vitamins and minerals. Just 1 tablespoon can provide you with 20% of daily potassium requirements, 15% iron requirements, and up to 10% daily requirements for each of magnesium, calcium and vitamin B6. I use Molasses in very small amounts as the flavour can be very overpowering.
Real Maple Syrup. Similarly to honey, maple syrup is often confused with sneaky shop bought imitations so if you want to use maple syrup, make sure it is 100% pure and not maple flavoured syrup which is made with sugar or HFCS. The real deal is made from boiled down maple tree sap and if you buy the grade B maple syrup it is stronger in flavor, contains more minerals and is less refined then grade A. Personally I have never used maple syrup in my cooking but I imagine it would be used as you would honey or rice malt syrup.
Coconut products such as coconut sugar, nectar and syrup which are made from the flower buds of coconut palms. They have similar properties to table sugar in regards to fructose content, calories and carbohydrates however they provide a more stable release of glucose into the blood and contain potassium, iron and some vitamins. These sweeteners are becoming more and more popular and can be found in most supermarkets next to the health foods or sugars. While I love coconut products, I tend to avoid the sweeteners because I don’t feel there is much benefit to them but still agree that they are a better alternative to table sugar.
Whole fresh or dried dates. I felt dates needed a category of their own because they are so sweet. You can use them to make bliss balls, such as these (super food bliss balls and 3 ingredient bliss balls), throw a couple in a smoothie or make a paste by blending soaked dates with a bit of water. Be careful because they can be very easy to over eat in which case they can have a nasty side effect (yes I am referring to gas).
Whole fresh or dried fruit. When I want to sweeten smoothies, desserts or baked treats, whole fresh fruit is usually my go to sweetener. As I’ve cut down on my intake of sweeteners over the years, I have a much lower preference for sweet things and fresh fruit is usually enough. Over ripe bananas are perfect and they freeze really well. Just peel, freeze in zip lock bags and defrost when ready to bake or throw in smoothies frozen. They also make awesome soft serve mock ice cream (sorbet) and 2 ingredient pancakes (combine mashed banana & egg, then cook as you would normal pancakes).
You may have noticed that Agave Syrup wasn’t on my list. It is a common ingredient in many ‘health foods’ such as chocolate, snack bars and coconut yoghurt which is why I wanted to mention it. Be warned that it is far from a healthy alternative due to being highly refined and extremely high in fructose (90% yikes) which as you may recall from my Q & A post comes with a whole host of negative side effects. I know I will continue to avoid this.
Thank you for joining me on this rewarding challenge. I hope that like me you have experienced some incredible benefits and I look forward to continue sharing recipes and blog posts with you.
Ps. Let me just leave you with a drool worthy sweet treat (refined sugar free of course) recipe that I am looking forward to sinking my teeth into… hehe. Enjoy.
Chai spiced banana bread – I plan on making without the stevia because I think the bananas will make it sweet enough