As I have gotten more and more conscious of my health and what I eat, one of my biggest challenges has been how best to deal with my sugar intake. I like to taste sweet stuff (and no, I refuse to be called sweet-toothed). However, with the ever-increasing rates of diabetes and other sugar-related ailments, I have had to find other ways of eating clean without necessarily eating dull. A question here and a trial there; I gradually fell in love with a few vegan sugar substitutes in no time.
Now the great thing I have found about going with these vegan alternatives is that they are both ‘sweet’ (enough for me at least) and organic at the same time. By using them in the stead of processed sugar, I have found and so far, maintained the balance between sating my sweet tooth and eliminating completely (or at worst reducing) any potential health issues that could arise from an unhealthy sugar intake to the barest minimum.
The following substitutes more than the rest, have found their permanent places in my everyday meals and I feel the better for it. I hope they find their ways into your meals as well.
1. Sugarcane extracts
Sugarcane is the source of regular sugar; the packaged sort that can be found on all shelves and tables worldwide and usually labelled white, brown or raw. Before it lands on those counter-tops for sale though, the initial sugarcane extract often goes through such a myriad of industrial processes that it more or less transmogrifies into an artificial sweetener at best.
The alternative I have found here is simple; sugarcane extracts in their natural form. In the part of Nigeria where I live, almost all farmers already plant and harvest their own sugarcane in the ordinary cause of daily living. Many others go further to extract the sugary liquid from the cane, refrigerate this extract as a whole and break-up the frozen shape into smaller squares right before they sun-dry them. Buying these extracts as replacements for sugar has proven far cheaper, and using them has made me repeatedly wonder at why I settled for industrial sugar all these years.
The first time I tried banana as an alternative to sugar was in 2016. I was having oats for breakfast with a colleague at work and as she added her banana slices as I firmly stirred white sugar into mine. We got into a whole conversation about how much healthier banana is on the one hand, and how not-so-sweet it could prove to be for me on the other hand. She promised to buy me lunch for a week if I tried bananas with my oats for the rest of that week and still preferred sugar.
By the end of the challenge, even though I would have loved a week of that free lunch, I had to admit that the bananas were really good and I’ve been a fan ever since.
Since then, I have experimented more boldly and discovered a tip or two. For instance, I have found that maximum enjoyment of my oats stretches even further whenever I refrigerate my banana bunch before use. I also feel fuller and somehow lighter still.
There are very few things in life as sweet as dates (the actual nuts, not, you know, going out with someone). Dates have been serving as sugar substitutes for centuries. It features prominently in the diets of people in the Middle East and North Africa and it is a rich source of potassium and vitamins for the human body.
They can be eaten either while fresh and plump from the tree or when dried. In whatever form, dates are incredibly healthier replacements for any form of candy made in any form of factory in whichever corner of the world today.
In my experience, dates can also be dried and ground and refrigerated for use in a granular form.
Honey from bees is easily one of nature’s best gifts to us. This is the only food substance completely produced without the destruction of any resource or latent nutrient in its entire production process. Honey is by far the most popular sugar substitute and as the saying goes, there is nothing sweeter than honey.
One of the best qualities of honey as far as I know is its versatility. Since it comes ‘already-made’ in a liquid form, it is very easily adapted to any kind of meal. It finds its way into my cup of coffee with as much ease as it does into my sandwiches, my custard bowl, my cereals and in as many other beverages as I have invented for myself.
Now one might argue that this class of sugar substitute isn’t nearly as sweet as some other class -say honey- but it surprisingly works for my diet as well. Occasional slices of coconut in my morning oats for instance, rolls up the milky and crunchy feel I want in my meal all in small bites. I have also found that my roasted corn goes with coconut best, and recently I have taken to making homemade coconut chips for snacks; and I’m loving every single bite.
Giving up room for some of these substitutes was easier than others but I am healthier for it. My jar of white sugar has slowly been nudged out of my kitchen counter to God-knows-where but that’s okay because it turns out eating healthier doesn’t have to mean eating bland.
It’s only been a short time but I know that these alternatives have come to stay. Try them out when next you can. Who knows, you too might learn a thing or two.
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