You might be smashing your fitness programme, getting the required 8 hours of sleep a night, and following a generally healthy diet. These are all fantastic for our well-being. But for many of us, it’s those sugar cravings that are the hardest to crack down on. Here’s some good news for all you sweet tooths out there – you don’t have to go without your sweet fix! Here are some of our favourite refined sugar alternatives for you to try. All natural, why – with its lack of vitamins and minerals – would you have refined sugar anyway?  natural sugar alternatives
No.1 on our list, honey is a real superfood! Produced by bees using the nectar of flowers, honey is a natural sweetener that’s been used for centuries. Raw honey, though more expensive, is the best option as it’s packed with additional vitamins - vitamins A, C, D and K, B vitamins, potassium, calcium, etc. - which can be lost when honey is processed. Together, these nutritional goodies help to encourage improved digestion, so the advantages really are mega. The options for enjoying honey are limitless – stir it into Greek yogurt, drizzle it over healthy pancakes or even use as part of a salad dressing. You can also use it for baking or add to warm drinks, but note that heat does remove some of the nutritional value.
Another one of our faves, maple syrup was founded in North America and comes from the xylem sap of various types of maple tree. With much to boast about – it’s antioxidant-rich and packed with calcium, potassium, manganese, riboflavin and more – it deserves to be a staple in everyone’s food cupboard. The other great benefit of maple syrup is that heat doesn’t remove any of its nutritional value, making it a better option than honey for baking and sweetening up your morning cup of joe. But just like honey, you can also use it to sweeten up just about anything, even roasted veggies! Just make sure you opt for pure maple syrup, as others usually contain added sugars.
We can’t go wrong with whole fruits, can we? Incredibly versatile, fruit can be eaten as it is, or you can blend it up into tasty smoothies, use it for baking, add to yogurt. The possibilities are huge. Bananas are fantastic as an easy sweetener. You can mash it up into porridge oats, use it as a main ingredient in pancakes, or add to the full spectrum of sweet baked goods. You can make healthy blueberry oat bars or muffins, add apple puree to healthy cookies, use freshly squeezed fruit juice to sweeten up just about anything. Fresh fruit is pretty cheap too, so it’s a health-conscious sweet lover’s saviour. Remember that some fruits are heavier on the natural sugars than others. Berries are always the best option, with bananas being one of the highest for natural sugar. It’s recommended we consume 2-3 portions of fruit a day, so just be mindful not to overdo it!
If you’re not familiar with dates, you don’t know what you’re missing. Try one of the stickier varieties – Medjool dates are one of the most popular – and that sweet tooth may feel like it’s having a mega treat. Loaded with potassium, iron, magnesium and more, dates are easily digested and they give you a nutritional hit too. You can eat dates straight out of the box, or use them in cooking by making them into a paste. This is one of the simplest processes ever. Simply soak the dates in hot water till they’re soft, remove the dates from the water, add to a food processor with a few tablespoons of the soaking water and blitz it into a paste. This can then be used to make healthy sweet goodies, such as brownies, muffins, breakfast bars with oats, etc.
Another nutrient-rich offering, coconut sugar is simply the heated sap extracted from coconuts. Containing heaps of minerals – iron, potassium, zinc and more – it’s no wonder it’s increasing in popularity with health foodies all over the globe. A great advantage of it is that it resembles refined sugar, it’s just a little coarser. Measuring just like sugar, it makes it even easier to use it as a replacement in recipes.
One of the more obscure sugar substitutes, molasses is a thick, dark syrup with a black treacle consistency. It’s actually created as a by-product when sugar is processed to form refined sugar. Basically, juice is extracted when sugar cane is crushed and the juice then goes through a boiling process. There are different types of molasses: light molasses, created from being boiled just once, dark molasses (two boils) and Blackstrap (three boils). Blackstrap contains the most vitamins, but is the most bitter. Light molasses is the most popular. It’s pretty versatile – use for baking scrummy healthy sweet treats, or add to sauces and meat glazes.
As with everything, all the above sugar alternatives should be consumed in moderation. They all contain natural sugars, so limiting how much you have is a wise move. The great thing is that these options offer nutritional value unlike artificial sweeteners or, of course, refined sugar itself. And with 2-3 portions of fruit being recommended on a daily basis, you can enjoy your sweet hit every single day. Now you don’t ever have to say no to dessert again!