Sweeten (Other Than Sugar)
Honey is antimicrobial, antibacterial, and antifungal—so much so that it’s even been used to treat wounds. Its distinctive brand of sweetness is welcome in almost any dish. Just remember that it’s not chemically the same as sugar: If you’re making a swap, substitute no more than one-third of the sugar for honey.
This may seem a bit counterintuitive, but a tiny pinch of salt can enhance the natural sweetness in many ingredients and dishes—and especially in anything with fresh fruit. Before you add something to sweeten that next smoothie, try a little salt and taste it again. The natural sweetness will be more pronounced. Go easy on the shaker, though: Excess sodium harms your heart.
Milk or Cream (Not Necessarily Organic)
Those who can’t stomach the stuff know all too well that milk and cream are full of lactose. It’s less well known that lactose is, in fact, a type of natural sugar that lends a gentle hint of sweetness to all kinds of recipes. (For the lactose intolerant, there are lots of great options.) Think about how a little cuts the bitterness in your coffee. It’s especially good from bring a touch of sweetness to a savory soups and stews. Consider the calcium you’ll get as an added bonus.
You know how your grandmother’s recipe for spaghetti sauce calls for sugar? Try grated carrots instead. Their natural sugars bring just the right amount of sweetness (and a dose of vitamin A and beta carotene)–with no added sugar.
Much of the refined sugar you eat comes from beets—and for good reason. They are among the sweetest plants growing. In fact, the original red velvet cakes used grated beets to achieve its earthy sweet flavor and ruddy hue. Try them in smoothies, grated into your next chocolate cake, or in soups for an unexpectedly sweet taste.
Salad dressings are prime suspect when it comes to identifying hidden sugar in your diet. Make your own salad dressing with olive oil and lemon juice, and sweeten it slightly with a splash of vitamin-C-packed, fresh-squeezed orange juice.
It sounds strange, but onions have a surprisingly high sugar content. It’s just that we don’t taste it in their raw state, when those harsh, sharp, eye-burning flavor compounds hog our attention. Rich in polyphenols, onions are one of the healthiest common vegetables and a nutrition-packed addition to your meals. Cooked slowly over a low heat, the sweetness comes into focus. They can replace corn-syrup-laced condiments, like ketchup, on your next burger.
This sweet stuff isn’t just for pancakes. Its complex flavors bring sweetness to baked goods and is a big improvement over granulated sugar in your morning coffee. Luckily, it doesn’t just taste fantastic. With slightly fewer calories and more minerals than honey, this antioxidant-rich elixir has health benefits, too.
Applesauce (no added sugar, please) is a classic ingredient for cutting fat and sugar out of recipes. Grated whole apples can work this way, too. Try some in your next batch of whole-wheat pancakes and you may not even want to reach for syrup. Diced apples also make a fiber-rich sweetener for plain yogurt. Just don’t peel the skin; that’s where most of the disease fighting compounds are.
If none of the above solutions solves your sugar dilemma, you may want to reach for a sugar substitute. Of the currently available options, stevia, which is derived from an herb and has been used in certain parts of the world for centuries, is probably your healthiest bet. It’s super sweet (many times sweeter than sugar or honey) and should be used in moderation.