Today we’re taking on Part 2 of the Healthy Substitutions 101 journey, and it’s all about sugar! Who doesn’t love the sweetness that sugar provides?? Sugar isn’t actually a bad thing, but unfortunately, as with so many things, it has become processed and unrecognizable. The artificial sweeteners we have come to rely on can actually inhibit weight loss and potentially cause weight gain [even if they are low or zero calorie]. And a lot of the time, recipes call for a lot more sugar than what is truly necessary; so even without making substitutions, you can usually decrease the sugar by at least a third and not notice a difference in the taste ;)
Nothing is wrong with a little sweetness but let’s make sure we are feeding our bodies the good stuff, don’t you agree? Plus, once you start minimizing your sugar intake from unnatural sources, those natural ones will become so much sweeter! I honestly never realized how sweet an apple was until I changed my own habits.
So let’s talk about sweeteners. Here are 7 of my favorite ways to sweeten things up without adding unnecessary chemicals to a perfectly good recipe!
1. Unsweetened Organic Applesauce: Applesauce is a great substitution for sugar, though it’s not as easy as a 1:1 ratio. It can also provide some added moisture to the mix, so you’ll have to take that into consideration. If the food will not be heated, replace the sugar with an equal amount of applesauce. In heated sweet side dishes, as well as cookies, brownies and muffins, you can replace up to two thirds of the sugar. For cakes, however, replace only half the sugar with applesauce. Use about one third more applesauce than the amount of sugar you replaced. For example, in a cake recipe that calls for a cup of sugar, use half a cup of sugar and about 3/4 cup of applesauce [from experience as well as multiple sources].
2. Mashed Ripe Banana: A ripe banana should never be thrown out as there are so many great uses for them! Frozen, they can be added to smoothies and shakes. And mashed or pureed, they can be used as a substitute for butter or sugar! Just sub in one ripe banana for a cup for sugar, they get sweeter as they ripen so there is no need for anything extra. Keep in mind, you will also need to cut back on your wet ingredients a little to compensate for the added moisture.
3. Coconut Sugar: Coconut sugar can easily replace sugar 1:1, though I still tend to lessen the amount in the recipe by 1/4 to 1/3. Coconut sugar is not quite as sweet but has more flavor like that of brown sugar. Because it is relatively low on the glycemic index (which measures the effect of carbohydrates on blood sugar) it does not cause your blood sugar to spike as quickly, which is definitely a plus for diabetics or anyone concerned about mood swings due to sugar overload. Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about.
4. Honey, Agave Nectar, or Pure Maple Syrup: Ok, ok, I know this is actually three things in one but 7 substitutes sounded better than 9 alright? The other reason I love grouping these three together is they are mostly interchangeable, meaning you can almost always replace one for another in a recipe. Don’t get me wrong, I am usually specific in the one I choose for a recipe but it doesn’t usually matter too much.
5. Stevia: Stevia is a natural zero calorie sweetener, and while it looks similar to cane sugar, it is actually much sweeter so you only need about 4 tbs to every cup of sugar. In my experience each brand does produce slightly different results so it definitely depends on the brand and recipe.
6. Pure Vanilla Extract: No imitation stuff. Pure vanilla extract can boost the sweetness of a recipe – 1/2 tsp. vanilla will reduce the amount of sugar needed by 1/2 cup.
7. Medjool Dates: Pie crusts, smoothies, homemade bars, cookies, chopped up on a salad, blended into a salad dressing or just straight up – this fruit is a great sugar alternate! For baking, soak pitted dates and then puree with just a bit of water for a “date paste” consistency. You can substitute sugar 1:1 with this paste, but I tend to only substitute about 3/4 of it with the date paste and the last 1/4 with coconut sugar, as the date paste isn’t quite as sweet.
Do you have a favorite sugar substitutes that I haven’t included? Leave yours in the comments below!