You know how the song goes: “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…”
We know that enjoyment of sweet flavors is an age-old pleasure starting early in life and carrying throughout. Yet, the 2020 International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation Food & Health Survey says that close to three in four Americans are trying to limit or avoid sugars.
Does it have to be all or nothing? Like many nutrition issues, the path to balance lies in understanding the nuances. Two important sugar distinctions:
- Total vs. added. At the broadest level, sugars are classified by how they get into our food. Added sugars are added during the manufacturing process, while natural sugars are those found inherently in foods that offer a full nutrient package (e.g., lactose in milk and fructose in fruit). Experts urge limiting foods with added sugars and eating food groups with natural sugars in recommended amounts (you can get your allotments with your MyPlate Plan).
- Added sugars and health. There are no types of added sugars that are “healthier” than others. All added sugars are used similarly in your body. For instance, your body will use maple syrup or honey added to a dish or meal in the same way it uses granulated table sugar.
Interested in cutting down on your added sugars without sacrificing flavor? Try these sweet sugar solutions:
Sweet Solution #1: Add your favorite fruits to dishes and snacks (they are nature’s most nutrient-rich sweeteners!).
- Dried fruit is concentrated in its sweetness—and offers fiber, too.
- When pureed, some fruits and vegetables offer unexpected sweetness (and nutrients—shhhh!) to your dishes. Notable are bananas, beets, carrots, and cooked onions.
- Cut half of the sugar in a recipe and replace with unsweetened applesauce.
- Use 100% fruit juice in smoothies and marinades.
- Pumpkin is not only seasonally en vogue right now, but it lends sweetness and pairs well with spices, such as nutmeg or cinnamon, for added flavor.
Sweet Solution #2: Look for natural sweeteners that offer zero calories. Bonus: these tend to be many times sweeter than table sugar!
- Stevia is zero calories and offers natural sweetness derived from the Stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni) plant.
- Crystals extracted from monk fruit function great as a sugar replacement in baked dishes because they are heat stable.
Sweet Solution #3: Experiment with various levels of sugar and sweet spices.
- You may find that you can decrease the amount of sugar in your favorite recipes without sacrificing taste—but only if you try.
- “Sweet” spices can be used in recipes to mimic the sweet sensation—test out different combinations and amounts of nutmeg, allspice, star anise, fennel, green cardamom, vanilla extract, etc.