I love indulging in a delicious sweet treat from time to time. Take this double chocolate cake or these fudge brownies, for example. I’m hungry just thinking about them! While these treats taste sinfully delicious, if you read through the ingredient list then you know these recipes are actually guilt-free. Along with using gluten-free flours, I ditch the refined sugar. So rather than loading up on the white stuff that’s been linked to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and tooth decay, I stick with natural sweeteners. My motto? If you’re going to indulge then you might as well make it better for you!
If you’re looking to cut down on the refined sugar in your cooking then try these natural options:
1) Medjool Dates
I love using Medjool dates to sweeten cookies, cakes, and energy bites! Along with how good they taste, they’re extremely nutritious, easily digested, and help metabolize proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Plus, did I mentioned how easy they are to use? First, make them into a paste by soaking them in hot water and then put them in a food processor to create a thick, rich paste. Once they reach the consistency of peanut butter, you’re good to go. Date paste can usually be used one-to-one in recipes.
Honey is like nature’s candy. It seriously takes my gluten-free doughnuts with salted caramel sauce to the next level! Along with the great taste, honey is considered a superfood that packs some powerful vitamins and minerals. Next time you use honey in your baking, make sure you reach for one that’s raw and organic. Unfortunately, most honey bottles stocked on the shelves of your local grocery store are heavily processed. Once honey has been pasteurized, it loses most (if not all) of its health benefits. So rather than buying honey at the grocery store, look for it at your local farmers market. You can also get it directly from local beekeepers!
3) Maple Syrup
This is another versatile natural sweetener that I like using to sweeten my dishes. You can use it for everything from overnight oats to smoothies, baked goods, and even salad recipes. I recently used it to sweeten the pumpkin in my roasted pumpkin and crunchy quinoa salad. Yummmy! Just like with honey, though, make sure to look for a raw maple syrup that hasn’t been processed. Raw maple syrup is an excellent source of antioxidants, calcium, potassium, and zinc.
4) Coconut Sugar
Coconut sugar is a staple in my house. I use it in a lot of my baked goods – from my chocolate macaroons to my mini raw chocolate bars. I’ve even used it to make salad dressing.
You’ve probably heard of the many benefits of coconut oil, coconut water, and coconut milk. Well, coconut sugar is no exception. Coconut sugar also touts minerals such as iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, and antioxidants that work wonders for health. Coconut sugar is made by extracting sap from the blooms of a coconut and then heating it. Through the evaporation process, you get coconut sugar.
Stevia has zero calories, zero carbohydrates, and none of the negative side effects that artificial sweeteners have. Sounds good to me! This natural sweetener is extracted from the leaves of a South American plant called Stevia rebaudiana. It’s available in liquid drops, packets, dissolvable tablets, and baking blends. Don’t go crazy on this stuff, though. Stevia is 200 times sweeter than sugar – so a little goes a long way! Speaking of taste, some people experience a slight metallic aftertaste. If you’ve tried Stevia before and had that experience, don’t give up on it just yet! Try a brand that is higher in steviosides (that’s the element in the leaves that make it sweet).
6) Blackstrap Molasses
While there are several types of molasses, I recommend using blackstrap molasses. It’s made from boiling raw cane sugar and is rich in minerals such as copper, calcium, iron, potassium, and manganese. Along with being rich in nutrients, it’s also rich in flavor! Again, only buy raw, organic blackstrap molasses.