Once known as "white gold," sugar now has to own its bad rap. But what's the alternative, when your sweet tooth is screaming so loud that the tooth fairy comes running?
Stevia is popular but can't be the best substitute as it's hundreds of times sweeter than sugar. Agave syrup teeters on the no-no list because of its super-high fructose content. Other sweeteners have any number of additives and chemicals we'd rather avoid. Instead, we like to think outside the sugar box—to (gasp!) actual food.
There are two whole-food sugar substitutes many people don't think of when they crave something sweet. The first is fruit (fresh or dried) and the second is vegetables (preferably starchy).
Why not sugar? Especially if you're a cake connoisseur or a muffin maestro who loves to bake. It's not that adding one cup of sugar to your baking mix is lethal (although it is arguably a toxin). It's that when you get into the habit of adding sugar beyond baked goods, it can be harmful to your organs and becomes a hard habit to break.
A study of sugar done by the Credit Suisse Research Institute found that 30 to 40 percent of health expenses in the U.S. are linked to the overconsumption of sugar. It adds that sugar-related health issues cost the U.S. $1 trillion annually. The obesity and diabetes epidemic is directly linked to excess sugar consumption. So a healthier alternative to table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup is a national necessity.
Let's start with fruit. We recommend replacing that cup of sugar (white, brown, refined, raw—it's still sugar) with a cup of fresh strawberries, raspberries, or blackberries. Throw them into your muffin batter at the end before you bake. Bananas—especially if you leave them on a windowsill to get caramelized by the sun until they're soft, limp and black—are super sweet. If done properly, they'll look golden and glossy like treacle. Apples may be crisp and hard on the outside, but boil them, bake them, and blend them to a pulp and you've got yourself applesauce that you can substitute for sugar in many cakes. You may need to bake it longer than usual if the consistency is too damp, though.
In the veggie family, we recommend starchy veggies that are naturally sweet once cooked, like butternut squash, pumpkin, sweet potato, and yams. It may feel weird at first, but the longer you cook them, the sweeter they'll taste. These veggies are especially delicious if you bake them in virgin coconut oil—one of the healthiest cooking oils out there. Wait until the veggies are soft and caramelized for ultimate sweetness. Then add them to your baking mix.
Check out two recipes below (the first substitutes sugar with fruit and the second with vegetables) to kick-start your new, healthy habit:
Sugarless Polenta Strawberry Muffins
Makes 1 dozen
1 cup polenta or cornmeal
1 cup almond meal
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup almond milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 tablespoons melted coconut oil
2 cups diced strawberries
Preheat oven to 350°F and grease muffin tray with coconut oil. Mix polenta, almond meal, baking powder, and salt in mixing bowl. Whisk liquid ingredients in another mixing bowl. Combine wet and dry ingredients. Toss in strawberries. Spoon mixture into muffin tray. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until slightly golden. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes.
Sugar-Free Butternut Squash Health Muffins
Makes 1 dozen
1/2 cup rolled oats (soaked in milk for 5 minutes to soften)
1/2 cup milk
2 cups whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups butternut squash boiled (or baked in coconut oil) and mashed or pureed
4 tablespoons melted butter
Preheat oven to 400°F. Mix oats and milk; set aside for 5 minutes to soften. Combine dry ingredients in large mixing bowl. In a separate mixing bowl, mix butternut squash puree, and egg. Add the milk and oats to the squash and egg. Make a hole in middle of dry ingredients and slowly pour in wet ingredients and stir. Fold in melted butter. Grease muffin tray with coconut oil. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until a knife poked in a muffin comes out dry.