It’s no secret that the U.S. is a nation of sweet-toothed sugarholics. As the world’s largest consumer of sweeteners, high-fructose corn syrup included, we collectively guzzle 10,000 tons of sugar each year. While the American Heart Association recommends only six teaspoons of sugar a day for women and nine for men, the current average is a staggering 22.2 teaspoons.
These numbers are no surprise when you evaluate the average diet. Sugar increasingly sneaks its way into grocery carts in soda, potato chips, pasta sauces and even in salad dressings. Although this sweetness pleases unsuspecting palates, research finds disturbing links to obesity, diabetes and sugar dependency. The good news? Sweet, tasty and healthy sugar alternatives are out there.
Sweet as honey: Follow Pooh’s lead
A great sugar substitute in tea, yogurt and more, raw honey is great for digestive health. Among its many magical powers, honey can act as an antioxidant, strengthen the immune system, stabilize blood pressure, calm nerves and even treat ulcers. Local honey is also a fantastic weapon against pesky seasonal allergies.
Believe the agave buzz
This natural sweetener comes from the plant also used to make tequila. Its health benefits include weight loss and wound healing. Aztecs once used agave syrup for its antibacterial properties. Compared to other sweeteners, agave has a low-glycemic index. However, because of its high fructose content, this sweetener (like everything in life) should still be used in moderation.
Take a stand for stevia
To keep your calorie count down, stevia is a great sugar alternative. This natural sweetener, made from the leaves of the stevia plant, contains no calories or sugar. Not only is stevia kinder to your teeth, its also been said to lower high blood pressure and decrease blood sugar.
Embrace the sticky situation
Satiate cravings by turning to a variety of syrups — from maple and brown rice to barley malt and yacón syrup, which all boast half the calories of cane sugar. You can also try coconut sugar and benefit from its bone-strengthening potassium.
As you take charge of your sugar intake, follow these tips to re-vamp your favorite recipes:
- Instead of adding sugar to cereal or oatmeal, stir in fresh or dried fruit (not the sugar-soaked, canned kind).
- When preparing baked goods, cut the sugar the recipe calls for by one-third or one-half. You can also try substituting unsweetened applesauce (use equal amounts).
- Instead of using sugar in recipes, try extracts like almond, vanilla, orange or lemon.
- Swap in the spice. Add some tang with ginger, cinnamon or nutmeg.
- If you feel that going cold turkey may be your best bet to kick the sugar habit, try a sugar detox like this 10-day course. Or dive into one of the many books on the subject.