How to Reduce Sugar Intake: 7 Healthy Tips

Edited on 7/3/2011: Much more up to date with my current nutritional knowledge now!

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The main gripe I have with other people’s cooking (and eating out in general) is the massive (unnecessary) addition of sugar to every dish. I have no problem with healthy fats (possibly the most important part of my diet) and I love my protein (in moderation), but excess sugar is something I just cannot stand (mentally or physically). One of my goals for this blog is to offer healthy alternatives to the standard American sugar-laden diet. We don’t have to resort to unhealthy choices just to make dishes more appealing.  Healthy fats, fresh ingredients, and creative spice combinations will give any dish the spark it needs. Sugar is not necessary. Some of my favorite low- and no-sugar recipes are at the bottom of this list.

How to Reduce Sugar Intake: 10 Healthy Tips

  1. Use fruit instead. I like adding mashed bananas or applesauce in place of a processed sweetener like sugar or honey.
  2. Use a sugar substitute. There are plenty of natural zero-calorie sweeteners out on the market now. My favorite is NuNaturals stevia. They have a whole line of sugar-free (and zero calorie) sweeteners for baking, adding to coffee, in packets, etc…
  3. Reduce flour in baking. While flour is not sugar, it’s a highly processed grain. Instead, use half flour and half oatmeal. For every 1 cup of flour that you replace, use 1 heaping cup of oatmeal. You cut calories, increase fiber, and reduce the processed carbohydrates. You can also experiment with low-carb flours like almond or peanut flour. I don’t think it matters much if you choose to use white over whole wheat as long as you keep your intake low. I personally prefer the taste of whole wheat bread simply because I think it has more flavor!
  4. Add spices. When you cut out sugar, you can add spices and herbs to give the dish more flavor. Curry, cumin, chili powder, garlic, turmeric, oregano, basil, and ginger are just a few that I’m fond of.
  5. Experiment with potatoes and squash. Instead of grains, try white or sweet potatoes, butternut squash, or – my favorite – kabocha. Squash are especially delicious as French fries. Mashed squash (any type – butternut, acorn, carnival, etc…) is also delicious. Top it with a spot of butter for added flavor. If you’re watching all carbs, a good substitute for mashed potatoes is mashed cauliflower. Try it with ground cumin.
  6. Reduce pasta eating. Like flour, pasta is not exactly sugar – but it is a highly processed carb. I have two great substitutions here – the first is spaghetti squash. I make an amazing version of Eating Well’s Spaghetti Squash stir-fry, substituting seitan for the pork. The second is a Japanese product called Shirataki Noodles. Made from some kind of yams, these noodles have zero calories and zero carbs
  7. Eat rice, but in moderation. If you usually use rice as the base of a meal, try substituting lettuce or vegetables instead. Make lettuce wraps with stir-fried tofu – you’d be surprised at how much more you enjoy the flavor of the tofu on its own. I like both white and brown rice and I usually make them with some butter or bacon fat for some extra flavor and healthy lipids.

Some Delicious Low and No-Sugar Recipes

These tips on how to reduce sugar intake are simple, I think. I only listed a few recipes, but just about everything I make is low or no sugar. Check out my stir-friesratatouilleleek soupspring rolls, and some Delica salads for more light ideas. And here is my recipes page.

Low Sugar Black Bean Brownies

When I saw this recipe over at 101 Cookbooks, I knew I had to try it. Many Asian desserts use the red adzuki bean and I always like them a lot. I recently bought a loaf of red bean bread, which is similar to cinnamon swirl – except the swirls were a smooth and creamy red bean paste. It was delicious. I wanted to try this recipe with the adzuki beans, but alas, I was short on time and couldn’t find canned adzuki beans. I did buy a bag of dried adzukis for another time, but decided to settle for black beans, at least for now.

I also decided to try three permutations of the recipe. I love butter, but some people watch calories. I subbed out the butter in 2 variations and tried them with applesauce and then with mashed banana. I made three half batches and tested them on my coworkers, friends, and roommates. I think the banana won out in the end, but the applesauce was a close second and (surprisingly) butter was a definite last.

Another change I made had to do with the sweetening method used.  I always cut down the sugar when I bake so this time I severely reduced the amount of agave nectar called for. If you like your desserts very sweet, up the amount of agave nectar to up to a 1/2 cup for the recipe listed below. You can also substitute honey for agave nectar at a ratio of 1:1. If you don’t know where to find agave nectar, try Trader Joe’s or any local health food store.

I made three half batches, so I’m going to list the recipe for a half-batch below.

  1. In the first version, I used creamy unsalted butter.
  2. In the second I used unsweetened applesauce.
  3. In the third I used mashed banana.

This is how (my version of) the recipe goes.

Adapted from Baking With Agave Nectar: Over 100 Recipes Using Nature’s Ultimate Sweetener by Ania Catalano.

Black Bean Brownies

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter OR 1/2 cup applesauce OR 1/2 cup mashed banana (about 1 medium)
  • 1 cup soft cooked black beans, drained
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/8 cup instant coffee
  • dash of salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons agave nectar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325F. Line a 9×9-inch pan with wax or parchment paper. Spray with nonstick cooking spray (optional – but makes for much easier removal, as I found out. I did not use the spray, and mine stuck to the paper.)
  2. Melt the chocolate and butter/applesauce/banana in the microwave (about 1 minute). Stir to melt completely. Place the beans, 1/4 cup of the walnuts, the vanilla extract, and a few spoonfuls of the melted chocolate mixture into a food processor. Mix on high until creamy, about 1.5-2 minutes.  The beans should be smooth.*  Set aside.
  3. In a separate medium-sized bowl, mix together the rest of the walnuts, the remaining chocolate mix, the instant coffee, and the salt. Mix and set aside.
  4. In another bowl, beat the eggs until light and creamy (I did this by hand and didn’t get them as creamy as I would have liked; the brownies turned out fine anyway). Add the agave nectar and set aside.
  5. Add the bean mixture to the chocolate mixture, stirring well. Then add in most of the egg mix, saving a few tablespoons to drizzle on top.
  6. Pour the batter into your baking pan. Beat the remaining egg mixture a big more, then drizzle overtop of the batter. Using a toothpick, mix around the batter and egg drizzle to create a marbled effect.
  7. Bake about 35-40 minutes, until brownies have set. You can use a clean toothpick to determine whether they are done. Let cool, then cut into squares. It’s best if you refrigerate them before cutting as they are quite soft.

These are the ones with applesauce (I mixed the beans a little bit longer than I did with the buttery batch, so they look very smooth):

And these are the banana ones (they were slightly thicker because I used a different shaped pan):

The butter ones are pictured at the beginning of this post – as you can see, they are a little more chunky than either the applesauce or banana ones! As I kept on making batches, I learned the proper times for mixing the beans and the appropriate amount of egg mixture to reserve for drizzling. It all comes down to personal preference, so bake as you like!

*Note: In Asian desserts, sometimes the red beans are whole. If you want more of the bean flavor in these brownies, don’t blend them too long in the food processor. When I make these with red beans I’m only going to mix for about 30 seconds to keep some of the beans from being completely mashed.