There’s no escaping it, sugar persists in almost every kind of food there is nowadays. From the spoonfuls of sugar that you put in your coffee each morning to the industrial amounts added in sodas and other processed foods, sugar has come to dominate our diet. With the ever expanding epidemic of obesity in the world and our greater understanding of the health risks associated with increased sugar consumption, the hunt is on for sugar alternatives.
According to the World Health Organization, adults with a normal body mass index should only have less than 5% of their daily calories from added or natural sugars. This works out to about 6 teaspoons or 25 grams of sugar a day.
Artificial sweeteners may offer as an alternative. The Mayo Clinic defines artificial sweeteners as “…synthetic sugar substitutes but may be derived from naturally occurring substances, including herbs or sugar itself.” However, Studies on the advantages and disadvantages of using artificial sweeteners are inconclusive.
Fortunately, there are natural ways to enhance the sweetness or flavor of some foods without resorting to sugar or artificial sweeteners.
This may seem counterintuitive, but a tiny pinch of salt can enhance the natural sweetness of many foods, especially fruits. Salt helps to release fruits’ natural juices through osmosis. This is the tendency of water to move towards the side where salt is more concentrated. So if you add a pinch of salt to a strawberry tart, the juices within its cells will move out through its cell membrane to dilute the salt.
Salt also has an innate ability to suppress and enhance flavors. For instance, salt is known to enhance sweet and sour tastes in small amounts. So next time you have a fruit salad or smoothie, try adding a pinch of salt. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that their natural sweetness has been enhanced.
Apples have more carbohydrates and sugar than most fruits. One large apple can contain as much as 34g of carbohydrates, including 25g of sugar that come in the form of sucrose, glucose and fructose. Yet despite its high sugar content, apples have a low glycemic index (GI). GI is the measure of how fast a carbohydrate-containing food is quickly absorbed and its effect on our blood sugar. Apples have a GI of 38, making them ideal snack food for diabetics.
Unsweetened apple sauce is a classic ingredient for cutting refined sugar from recipes. Add apple sauce in your next pancake or cake batter. This won’t only add sweetness but will make them extra moist as well.
- Milk or Cream
Those who suffer from lactose intolerance know too well that milk and cream are full of it. Lactose is actually a natural sugar, which can help lend a hint of sweetness to all sorts of food that they’re added to. Just think of how milk or cream lends a hint of sweetness when added to coffee or tea.
Carrots contain carbohydrates, almost half of which comes in the form of sucrose. While the sucrose found in carrots is the same as table sugar, carrots have a glycemic index of 35. This is because carrots contain fiber which helps slow down the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar.
Try adding grated carrots instead of sugar next time you’re cooking spaghetti sauce. Not only will it add the right amount of sweetness, it’ll also give you a healthy dose of vitamins A and K.
- Sugar Beets
Sugar beet is a type of root crop that contains a high concentration of sucrose, making them an important source for the production of refined sugar. They have been used as an alternative source for refined sugar since the 18th century. But it was not until the 19th century when it was commercially manufactured for sugar. Napoleon helped catalyzed its popularity as a primary source for refined sugar during the blockade of Europe by the British Navy and the importation of sugar was impossible. To date, the world’s leading producers of sugar from beets include the Russian Federation, France, the United States, Poland and Germany.
Try grating beets into the batter next time you’re making brownies or a chocolate cake. You can also try it with your smoothies or soups for a surprising sweet taste.
Stevia is an herb that has become popular as a sugar substitute in recent years. Its plant is native to South America, where it has been used by its people to sweeten their foods for hundreds of years. Stevia is 300 times sweeter than sugar in the same amount. It has no calories and no glycemic impact, making them suitable sugar replacements for diabetics and people on a diet.
- Fruit Juices
Fresh fruit juice is a great source of fructose, a type of sugar found in fruits. While fruit juice wouldn’t make delectable additions to your coffee or tea, they do make wonderful additions to cakes and cookies. To get the full benefit of fruit juices, make use of freshly made or freshly squeezed fruit juices as the manufacturing process can strip them of their flavor and nutritional content