Sugar, Sugar: Surprising Sources, How To Look Out For It, And Healthier Swaps

It’s no secret that we collectively have a sugar problem; that constant hankering for something sweet that we just can’t shake. While dessert may be an obvious sugar culprit, it’s not necessarily the primary issue. For most of us, the bulk of our sugar intake comes from hidden sources — items that don’t seem indulgent but are packed with sugar and ultimately reinforce our sugar addiction, leaving us none the wiser. Identifying sneaky sugar sources and implementing simple swaps is the best way to create a healthier relationship with sugar, which is what we want to help you do!

A healthy relationship with sugar means that you can have a wonderful piece of cake for your birthday, occasionally indulge in a freshly baked pastry from your favorite in-town shop, and sample sweet delicacies from a French or Italian bakery on a beautiful autumn day. Quick aside: you’re day-dreaming of international travel too, right? Indulging in this way is part of life and something to be savored and enjoyed. It is not something to feel guilty for, and when you can mindfully enjoy sweet food like this, and appreciate the moment and enjoy it for what it is, it can feel liberating. 

But when you have that everyday and constant sugar craving and feel you need to hide it, or deny it, or feel guilty about it, it only means one thing: your relationship with sugar is unhealthy. The answer isn’t to restrict that birthday cake or pass on that freshly baked pastry. The first step to look for all the sugar that lurks in your daily diet and reinforces that constant sugar craving and get rid of that. The next step is to make some simple swaps in your cooking and baking for more natural sugar sources.

Step 1. Identify sneaky sugar sources

The sneakiest part of all is that sugar is often hiding out in “healthy” grab-and-go snacks. Here are some surprising sugar sources: 

  • Store-bought bars
    • Protein bars, granola bars, cereal bars, vegan energy bars
  • Packaged fruit
    • Dried fruit and canned fruit
  • Pre-made sauces
  • Canned soups
  • Store-bought popcorn
  • Store-bought breakfast foods
    • Instant oatmeal, cereals, granola, muesli
  • Condiments
    • Salad dressing and ketchup
  • Drinks
    • Energy drinks, flavored seltzers, bottled teas, flavored coffee
  • Flavored yogurts

Step 2. Learn where to look for added sugar

Reading and understanding food labels is the ticket here. Check out how many grams of Sugars are listed, and keep in mind this will include natural and added sugars.

Then scan the ingredient list. Phrases that end in “syrup”, words that end in “-ose”, as well as any malts, dextran, ethyl maltol, fruit concentrates, disaccharides, and maltodextrin all mean one thing: sugar. The ingredients on a food label are listed according to weight, with the heaviest at the beginning, so the first 3 or so ingredients make up the bulk of what you’re consuming. But keep an eye out for that sneaky sugar!

Step 3. Make some more natural sugar swaps

Living an entirely sugar-free life is incredibly difficult (maybe impossible by now). There are plenty of natural sugars in fruits and vegetables, which are worth it in moderation because they are so rich in other essential nutrients we need. And sometimes a girl just needs a piece of cake to celebrate. We’re all about moderation and making healthier choices where possible, and these 9 sugar swaps offer up more natural alternatives than your standard granulated sugar options.

  1. Manuka honey contains amino acids, minerals, and enzymes, and if you buy locally it can even help with your allergic reactions to common pollens in your area. The best part is Manuka honey doubles as an amazing DIY face mask due to its antibacterial properties.
  2. Agave nectar comes from the sap of agave plants and has a more mellow honey flavor. It has a lower glycemic index, but it is high in fructose, so as with all sugars, consume in moderation.
  3. Pomegranate molasses is a tangy salad dressing alternative as long as it doesn’t have any sugar added, as it boasts B Vitamins.
  4. Stevia is a natural sweetener from the stevia plant. It’s really sweet but it doesn’t contain any calories and won’t raise your blood sugar levels. It’s still highly processed, so again, moderation is  key.
  5. Raw sugar is real sugar just without the processing that gets us to white sugar. The sugar content is the same, so be mindful of that, but it’s a decent baking alternative to granulated sugar. 
  6. Coconut sugar has more of a caramel flavor and contains a fiber called inulin, which slows the digestion of the sugar. It comes from the sap of coconut palms so you won’t get any of the benefits that you would with the coconut fruit. 
  7. Blackstrap molasses has antioxidants, Vitamin B6, as well as iron, calcium, magnesium, and selenium. It works great with ginger based baked goods or drizzled over oatmeal.
  8. Maple syrup has a 33% lower sugar content than granulated sugar and it’s high in manganese and immune-supporting zinc. Make sure to opt for 100% pure maple syrup, though it can be difficult to find and expensive depending on where you live. Keep in mind that maple-flavored anything is just pure sugar. 
  9. Applesauce is a fantastic sugar swap for your baking needs. The natural sugars from the apples will sweeten your baked goods while keeping them wonderfully moist.

For more recipes designed to get you the nutrients you need most in preconception, pregnancy, and postpartum be sure to download the Baby2Body app on iOS.

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