Americans consume way too much sugar. Although the American Heart Association recommends no more than 3 tablespoons of sugar per day for children and no more than 5 to 8 tablespoons for teens and adults, most of us consume way more than that. In fact, the average American consumes about 130 pounds of sugar a year, which has led, in part, to health problems such as childhood obesity, type II diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.
Cutting sugar from your life isn’t as easy as it sounds. Although it’s easy to eliminate the obvious foods like desserts and sodas, many everyday foods are made with sugar—and sneakily labeled, too. If you’re trying to cut sugar from your life, you’ll have to look closely at the ingredients label on common foods before buying. Terms like barley malt, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, sucrose, maltodextrin, and even fruit juice can signify sugar content in a product.
If you don’t want to give up sweets but want to cut refined sugar from your life, check out these natural sweeteners and alternatives to sugar.
Honey: Rich in antioxidants, this common sweetener contains essential minerals, amino acids and B vitamins. When substituting honey for sugar in recipes, use about half as much honey as you would sugar. (Not all honey is made equally though. Read about the health and safety issues concerning imported honey—and why you should buy local.)
Stevia: Unlike other natural sweeteners, zero-calorie stevia doesn’t affect blood sugar levels. Heat stable, stevia is an ideal sweetener for baking with. Because it’s overly sweet and concentrated, a little goes a long way. You can replace one cup of refined white sugar with just one teaspoon of stevia. (Learn how to grow your own stevia plants.)
Agave: This southwestern succulent produces a nectar that is sweet, low in calories and contains small amounts of calcium, potassium and magnesium. Because agave nectar has a high fructose-to-glucose ratio, it ranks low on the glycemic index, meaning consuming it won’t produce dramatic spikes in blood sugar like eating refined sugar does.
Maple syrup: Like agave and honey, pure, unrefined maple syrup is rich in vitamins, minerals, amino acids and antioxidants. And like other natural sweeteners, maple syrup is low in calories—one cup contains just 80 calories. Substitute one and a half cups of maple syrup for one cup of granulated sugar. (Learn more about the health benefits of maple syrup as a natural sweetener, as well as how to cook and bake with it.)
For more on baking with natural sweeteners—and for some scrumptious recipes—check out the article “Smarter Sweets” from Natural Home & Garden magazine. For more on cutting sugar from your life, check out the post “4 Ways to Reduce Sugar Consumption.”
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