I’m now celebrating a year strong without added sugar. How many people can say sugar gave them laryngitis? Getting sick and losing my voice every time I had dates or cookies was confusing, frustrating, and has yet to be explained by a doctor. But I’m certainly not alone in my intolerance to sweets. Over 10% of my fellow U.S. Americans are diabetic, and many mindful eaters would rather swap empty calories with bountiful nutrition.
Accepting my unusual throat condition meant no more conventional desserts, but I wasn’t about to give up life’s sweetness! Here are my 4 takeaways to enjoy plant-based health the sugar-free way.
Eat fruit — especially for breakfast
I’ve noticed something — I only crave desserts when I haven’t been having my morning grapes! Not only is “nature’s candy” decadent on its own, but fruit can be frozen and blended into sorbets, banana ice creams and milkshakes, parfaits, slushies, and shaved ice. Other amazing fruit desserts include persimmon pudding, watermelon cake or pizza, and grilled pineapple kebabs. I’m also a huge fan of splashing various berries and tropical fruit chunks in a bowl of cold-pressed OJ and calling it a raw “fruit soup.”
Commercial fructose is linked with liver and blood sugar issues. By contrast, studies found whole fruit did not cause these problems. Thanks, fiber and phytonutrients! Berries actually reduced the insulin spike from eating high-glycemic foods… “So if you’re going to make pancakes, make sure they’re blueberry pancakes,” suggests Dr. Michael Gregor.
Green smoothies are my favorite lazy breakfast — plentiful servings of fruit and leafy greens, with less chewing! The reason I eat fruit first in the day is my digestion. The effect of food combining on digestion has not been properly studied. Yet, it’s easy enough to keep a “digestion diary” and see what works for you. In my experience, when I choose ripe fruit, eat it on an empty stomach, and follow most of the suggestions on food combining charts, I avoid bloating and maximize my digestive comfort.
In addition to a digestion diary, I’ve thought about buying my own glucometer. This can show you how different meals affect your blood sugar. If you’re concerned about glycemic index but want to get your day off to a sweet and hydrating start, apples, pears, citrus fruits, stone fruits (like peaches), and strawberries are among the lower-glycemic fruits.
Use clever swaps in your cooking and baking
Even for savory meals, I’ve leaned on certain veggies for their natural sweetness. Corn and tomatoes (technically fruits), legumes like peas and red lentils, and various root vegetables from beets to carrots to chestnuts make my dinners merry. I’m also told I need to try rutabaga!
My top sugar-free swap? Instead of pumpkin pie, make sweet potato pie! The yellow and purple varieties of sweet potatoes, too, have become staples in my kitchen. They add lively color to salads, soups, pancakes, fries, and casseroles. A slab of sweet potato can even top a sandwich, bake into a muffin, or bring a smile to your coconut milk latte. Although to be honest, I savor tubers so much, I usually eat them plain and straight out of the skin!
Applesauce and mashed bananas are the bomb for baking. They replace not only sugar, but help the consistency when eggs, butter, or oil are called for in a recipe. Don’t forget berries, cinnamon, coconut, vanilla, and nuts! Who needs added sugar when you have creamy cashew dressings, crushed pecans, and peanut butter everything? Although my finicky throat can’t handle dried fruits, for most folks they’re fine — dates could be the secret ingredient in your next batch of brownies.
Find the best sugar substitutes for your pantry
Research points to erythritol and allulose as two of the most harmless sugar substitutes which even bring benefits. Allulose lowers blood sugar and prevents fatty liver, as reported by Healthline. Erythritol has an antioxidant effect. Monk fruit is another popular health-conscious alternative. Stevia may be a good option; however, the World Health Organization suggested limiting stevia to due to possible DNA damage in larger doses. Last, xylitol has outstanding oral health benefits, but too much creates a laxative effect.
NutritionFacts.org gave me confidence in erythritol and proved a helpful resource in my sugar-free quest. Now when cinnamon, almonds, and mangoes aren’t enough to flavor my oatmeal, a sprinkle of Lakanto (erythritol and monk fruit) will finish the job!
Treat yourself to sugar-free versions of your favorite ready-made foods
I’m a fiend when it comes to protein bars. The abundance of options at health food stores like Sprouts blows me away. The bar brands I’ve loved lately are called No Cow, Dang, Good to Go, Garden of Life, and (the newest) IQ Bar. The Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough bar by Bhu Fit was to die for and still sells online.
Prepping food at home is preferable to reduce plastic waste, but it’s a joy to have my food bar faves for treating myself and travel. Whether you’re all about chips, bread, plant milks, you name it, healthy food outlets make it easier than ever to shop for no added sugar. So there you have it. I hope my fruit enthusiasm, baking cheats, and shout-outs to erythritol and allulose have assisted you in your healthy living journey. Sugar-freedom can feel perfectly sweet!
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Photo: Brooke Lark via Unsplash; Charles Deluvio via Unsplash