By Stephanie Kay, Registered Holistic Nutritionist
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you know how hard it can be to cut sugar out of your diet completely. That sweet and satisfying taste is highly addictive so removing it all together is a big adjustment for many people. So, one of the best tricks to learn when improving your diet is how to sweeten food without sugar and still satisfy your sweet tooth.
I used to be addicted to sugar. I would eat it in every meal and snack during the day, whether I knew it or not. Almost every packaged food I bought contained added sugar, be it my morning granola, salad dressing, protein bars or sauces and marinades, it was hiding in everything I ate. So when I decided to cut it out cold-turkey, it was a real surprise to me that almost everything in my fridge and pantry needed to go. Very quickly I realized how addicted I was to sugar, as my sugar cravings became more and more intense, so I really had to look for simple and healthy ways to satisfy my sweet tooth without downing an entire bar of dark chocolate.
Although there are lots of great natural sweeteners that you can use to sweeten your food, if you really want to cut out your sugar cravings it is best to try and limit those as well. I’m all for maple syrup, but not if you’ve got a 1/4 cup of it on your morning oatmeal, so perhaps one of these simple suggestions will help you find a new way to sweeten your food without sugar and help put your sugar demons to rest.
Cinnamon was one of the first tricks I discovered to help me crush my sugar cravings. I honestly never used to buy or cook with cinnamon until a read about how it can help to manage cravings by balancing blood sugar. I now often use cinnamon in my morning oatmeal, like my Chai-Spice Apple Oatmeal, add it to smoothies, or simply sprinkle it on sliced apple for a healthy snack. You can also add it to your morning coffee to help provide a little bit of sweetness without any added sugar.
Realistically any fruit can help to provide natural sweetness without adding sugar, however bananas are particularly useful because they have a slightly higher natural sugar content than most fruit. Although many people might think this is a bad thing, it is nothing to worry about, especially if you are opting for a banana over a donut. (Let’s keep things in perspective.) Bananas are most commonly used in smoothies, but they are a great tool in baking, like my Banana Bread Bites, and also make a satisfying snack slathered in almond butter. Plus, for those late night cravings on the couch when all you want is ice cream, they make the perfect all-natural sweetener for my homemade Chocolate Peanut Butter Nice Cream.
Dried fruit, such as dates, raisins or cranberries, are a very concentrated form of fresh fruit so I always suggest you use them sparingly, however they can really help satisfy a sweet tooth. When buying dried fruit, be sure to read the ingredients list to ensure that it really only includes dried fruit as some brands will add extra sugar to sweeten them. A dried date or two makes a tasty sweet treat paired with a handful of nuts, or if you want to get extra fancy my Carrot Cake Energy Bites or Homemade Turtles are always a hit.
Not everyone is a fan of the flavour of coconut, but if you are, this one is so versatile. I rarely used shredded or flaked coconut, until I once had it in trail mix and realized how naturally sweet tasting it can be. Shredded or flaked coconut is really easy to find, any baking aisle or bulk food store will carry it, and as long as you buy the unsweetened stuff you can pretty much use it in anything. I personally love to add flaked coconut to trail mix instead of dried fruit, or my Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding instead of maple syrup, and the shredded version works really well in a bowl of plain yogurt or oatmeal with lots of fresh fruit.
Fresh berries are delicious, but when cooked or crushed they provide an extra level of sweetness, especially frozen berries. I like to keep a bag of frozen raspberries or blueberries in the freezer just in case I want to add a little sweetness to something. By simply warming frozen fruit on the stovetop (or in the microwave) it really helps to bring out the natural sweetness and makes a great topping for yogurt, overnight oatmeal, chia seed pudding or my Almond Banana Pancakes.
Apple sauce might seem like a baby food snack right out of the 1980s, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work for adults too. Aside from just eating it right off the spoon, it also works really well in baking to help sweeten and provide added moisture, like in my Blueberry Oatmeal & Maple Muffins. I’ve also been known to add it to my morning oatmeal or use it as a condiment for savoury dishes like pork.
Vanilla extract and vanilla powder are a delicious way to add sweetness to breakfast or snack time. A little splash of vanilla into your morning smoothie, oatmeal or plain yogurt can help to add an extra little touch of sweetness and flavour. Vanilla extract can be a little acidic tasting so be sure to use it in cooking, but vanilla powder works well in everything from yogurt to coffee.
This one might seem odd, but sweet potatoes are a delicious way to satisfy a sweet tooth. Baked long enough a sweet potato becomes rich, sweet and creamy and can really help take the edge off a craving. They can be baked right into recipes like my Morning Glory Muffins, or eaten on their own as a dessert topped with almond butter, cinnamon and shredded coconut. Give it a try, you’ll be pleased you did.