Updated: Oct 25, 2019
Those donuts look so good don't they?! One of the most difficult aspects of my health journey so far has been reducing my sugar intake. I love all things sugary : donuts, cupcakes, cookies ... if it's a dessert, I want it in my belly.
However, as delightful as sugar tastes, it comes with a plethora of negative health effects. Sugar is oh-so-sweet and delicious, but it:
*Causes skin breakouts
*Weakens the immune system
*Raises risk of diabetes
*Causes weight gain
*Feeds cancer cells, increasing cancer risk
*Raises risk of heart disease
*Causes hyperactivity in children
In addition to these, eating sugar is extremely habit-forming. A study on rats to determine the addictive qualities of sugar revealed that sugar is highly addicting, more so even than strong narcotics! Consuming sugar lights up the pleasure receptors in the brain that keep us craving and coming back for more.
The American diet is so saturated in sugar; it's hard to even calculate how much sugar the average American ingests in a day. Here are some commonly consumed food and drinks and their sugar content:
1 cup of low fat yogurt - 12 teaspoons
1 tablespoon ketchup - 1 teaspoon
Glass of fruit juice - 6 teaspoons
Sports drinks - 8 teaspoons
Vitamin Water - 8 teaspoons
Average can of soda - 7 to 12 teaspoons
Average serving of cereal - 3 to 4 teaspoons
These are shocking facts considering the recommended maximum amount of sugar is 3 teaspoons a day for a child, 6 for a woman, and 9 for a man. In my opinion these recommendations are still too high when taking into account all of the risks that come with eating sugar.
So what is the average American to do? What about those who, like me, have a sweet tooth?
First of all I'd just like to say that although I am passionate about healthy eating, we follow the 90/10 rule when it comes to sweets in this house. No sugar 90% of the time, but we do enjoy the occasional cupcake or donut because honestly, sometimes you just gotta treat yourself! When we do decide to indulge, we choose the better option of organic and dye-free treats, even gluten-free when available.
The rest of the time, we satisfy our sweet tooth with homemade treats that are free of refined sugar. Now, these should be consumed in moderation as well, but they are a far superior alternative to sugar filled desserts. Pinterest is a great place to search sugar-free recipes and in my experience, these recipes taste just as good as their sugary counterparts.
Some healthy alternatives to cooking with refined sugar :
*Honey - We use honey in muffins, fat-bombs, and in our morning coffee in place of sugar.
*Dates - Many desserts can be sweetened using date paste, a simple concoction made with pitted medjool dates and water.
*Syrup - This is a great sweetener for baked goods, and perfect for those going vegan. Side note, I just recently realized that vegans don't eat honey because it comes from a bee, who knew?!
*Coconut sugar or date sugar - This is a processed sugar made from either coconuts or dates. This is a great option as well to substitute in baked goods.
*Mashed bananas - Bananas are high in natural sugars which are much better for the body than refined sugars. A perfect substitute in baked goods as well.
Another way to drastically reduce sugar intake is to consume water the majority of the time. As you see, even so called healthy drinks like vitamin water and juice are loaded with added sugars. Truthfully, water is all we need to drink. From toddlers to adults. Our bodies need water to function properly. Most are severly dehydrated which causes a whole other slew of health problems...but that's another blog for another day.
My best advice if you are looking to transition into a sugar-free (or mostly sugar-free) lifestyle is to become a label reader. It may take a little longer at the store, but your health will thank you! Also beware of the other names sugar goes by such as: glucose, dextrose, fructose, lactose, maltose, sucrose, and high fructose corn syrup.
In addition to these, you can avoid as much sugar as possible by shopping the outer perimeter of the grocery store. By choosing mostly fresh, whole foods, rather than packaged and processed goods, you willl greatly minimize your sugar content.
Here are a few of our favorite refined-sugar free recipes:
Fat bombs - These are sugar-free and full of good-for-you fats. They turn out like little chocolate "candies", my little guy loves them!
Banana muffins - These are super yummy, and the perfect breakfast muffin or snack. We add a couple teaspoons of chia seeds as well, and sometimes chopped nuts.
Double chocolate banana cake - This cake is so moist and delicious! The recipe does call for brown sugar but this can be replaced with date paste or coconut sugar. Leave off the chocolate chips unless they are sugar-free.
Also, these are our favorite quick on-the-go treats that can be found at whole foods or any natural health food store. They are sugar free, delicious, and also loaded with healthy fats!
Do you have any favorite sugar-free desserts? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below!