Medically reviewed by Amy Gorin, MS, RDN
Want alternative sweeteners that are naturally sweet? These foods with no added sugar are great options for reducing your total sugar intake!
When it comes to your sugar intake, here's a fact: We should all be eating less added sugar. But how to do it? For starters, no-added-sugar foods with no sugar added can satisfy your sweet tooth. I'm giving you lots of sugar information, including the best natural sugar foods and more.
If you have a sweet tooth like me, then curbing your intake of added sugar isn't the easiest thing for you! And Americans love sugar: On average, we eat about 17 teaspoons of added sugar daily in the form of table sugar, honey, agave nectar syrups, and more.
But there are very doable ways to cut back on this amount. For starters, it begins with the sweet foods list that follows. And hey, cutting back on added sugar can help your health in many ways. It can even help you lose weight for the long term!
What is Added Sugar and What is Natural Sugar?
Have you ever stopped to think about how much added sugar you eat in a day? I'm not talking about the naturally occurring sugars that come from fruit, vegetables (yes, veggies contain some sugar!), or unsweetened milk products. I'm talking about the sugars that are added to foods like baked goods, yogurt and even ketchup.
One of the most common questions I get about nutrition is related to sugar. Added sugar is sugar that isn't naturally occurring in food. Sources of added sugar include granulated sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, and honey.
Not too long ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) set forth sugar guidelines. The guidelines suggest that sugars make up less than 10% of total daily calorie intake.
That's 150 calories of sugar (or about 9 teaspoons or 38 grams of added sugar) per a 1,500-calorie daily diet. For extra benefit, the guidelines suggest further lowering intake to less than 5% of daily calories from sugar.
To put that in perspective, 1.5 ounces of Quaker Instant Oatmeal Maple and Brown Sugar contains 12 grams of added sugar, whereas the same amount of Quaker Original Oatmeal has no added sugar. And a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola has 39 grams of added sugar.
Make sure you're reading food labels! The nutrition facts label on the back of a food package is really helpful. Many processed foods (looking at you, doughnuts and ice cream!) tend to be higher in added sugar.
This 10% recommendation is close to what other health organizations recommend. The American Heart Association, for instance, suggests that women take in about 100 calories from added sugar (or about 6 teaspoons).
For men, this amount should be 150 calories. WHO attempted to release the 10%
recommendation in 2002—but it fell through, likely due to lobbying from the sugar industry.
The WHO guidelines reference two review studies. One study, published in BMJ, shows that lowering sugar intake may lead to a drop in weight of about 2 pounds. The other study, published in Journal of Dental Research, found that intake of free sugars of more than 10% is linked to higher rates of tooth decay.
If you're following a low glycemic index diet to help keep you insulin levels stable, this sugar advice is particularly helpful!
The Health Effects of Added Sugar
No matter the guidelines, the average person consumes much more than any of the recommendations: 24 to 27 teaspoons per day, or 100 to 200 grams of sugar.
This is problematic for many reasons. A review study in Open Heart found that added sugars may be an even bigger
determinant for heart health than sodium. The study authors think that added sugars may increase your heart rate, inflammation, variability in blood pressure—and can even cause disturbances in
In the review study, researchers looked at several studies, finding that eating high amounts of added sugar significantly increases blood pressure. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease.
Even more shocking: One of the studies reviewed found that people who eat 25% or more of their daily calories from added sugar
(so about 98 grams, or 24 teaspoons, for a 1,500-calorie daily diet) have almost three times the risk of dying from heart disease.
If you're wondering about natural sugars—such as those in an apple or handful of berries—these pose no risk, according to the research. Dietary guidelines suggest we drastically reduce this added sugar intake.
Fortunately, there are plenty of naturally sweet foods to flavor recipes. Read on for the best natural sugar foods that curb sugar cravings, plus dietitian tips for reducing your total sugar intake.
Do You Need to Quit Sugar in Order to Eat Healthier?
Let's settle this once and for all: You do not need to avoid all sugar to eat a healthy and well-balanced diet. But there are some types of sugar you should limit and only consume small amounts of. And some of your favorite menu items (ahem, lattes) could be hiding extra added sugar.
Doing so can help limit how often you raise your blood sugar levels and can help you keep weight gain at bay.
So get the scoop, plus tips from yours truly, via this EatThis.com post. Want a tasty dessert without added sugar? Try this fruit-filled dessert idea tonight. You'll find that you can satisfy your sweet tooth without going for super intense sweeteners. You can skip the zero-calorie sweeteners and non-nutritive sweeteners, too (ahem, aspartame and monk fruit extract)!
Naturally Sweet Food: Cooked Fruit
Here's some food science for you: Heat boosts the natural sweeteners in food, especially the sweetness of fruits. Berries, which get their rich color from disease-fighting anthocyanins, are great candidates for a quick sauté and might just be the best natural sweetener out there.
Peaches and apples are also great candidates for naturally sweet fruit that get even sweeter with heat. These fruits are some of my favorite added sugar substitutes.
Make Fruit Oatmeal
Coat a medium skillet with 2 teaspoons grapeseed oil and place over medium-high heat. Add 1 cup berries; cook, stirring often, until soft, 3-4 minutes. Mix berries into cooked oatmeal, along with slivered almonds, flaxseeds, and chia seeds. Top with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt and a dash of nutmeg.
Naturally Sweet Food: Dried Dates
Because fruit is comprised largely of water and sugar, drying concentrates its sugar content, amping up sweetness. Dried sweet dates in particular have a high sweet factor, plus nutrition in the form of fiber.
A honey substitute in smoothies, blended with almond milk and ice for a healthy shake, a binder in fruit-and-nut bar recipes
Make a Smoothie
Blend a pitted Medjool date with a frozen banana, almond milk, and cinnamon for a simply sweet smoothie.
Naturally Sweet Food: Caramelized Onions
Veggies have natural sugars, too, and are one of the best all-natural sweeteners out there. When onions are cooked over low, slow heat, their complex sugars break down into simpler ones, yielding a slightly sweet flavor. Onions also contain the antioxidant quercetin, which may help lower your risk for certain cancers.
Topping for a sandwich, baked potato, or pizza; as an omelet filling
Make an Omelet
Heat ½ Tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add half a sliced onion, cover, and cook until golden, about 10 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high, and cook while stirring until onion browns, 5-10 minutes. Fold a few spoonfuls into an omelet with goat cheese. Save the rest as the best sandwich fillings!
Nutritionist Tips to Curb Your Total Sugar Intake
1. Read the Ingredients List
Examples of sugar are many. Added sugar may be present under many code names—including fructose, maltose, sucrose, cane sugar, raw sugar, molasses, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, corn sweetener, honey, and more.
2. Try Plain Yogurt
A fruit-flavored 6-ounce yogurt can have 27 grams of sugar. Choose a no-added-sugar yogurt, and you’ll take in less than a fourth of that amount—and all the sugar you do get is naturally occurring sugar.
If the plain yogurt tastes too tart, you can add a sprinkle of cinnamon (one of the healthiest natural sweetener ideas out there), sliced fruit, or berries. Plus, yogurt tends to be a high-protein food, which helps to keep you satisfied for longer.
3. Buy No-Sugar-Added Marinara
Tomato sauces can have 8 grams of sugar per a half-cup serving. Look for one that has no added sugar (and thus an impressive sugar label!), such as Lucini Italia Tuscan Marinara Sauce with Roasted Garlic, with only 3 grams of sugar per serving.
You can also make a DYI tomato sauce. “You will feel like an Italian chef with a savory sauce simmering away in your house," says Sarah Pflugradt, MS, RDN, author of Favorite Family Meals.
3. Ask for Just One Pump
Most flavored coffees come with at least a few pumps of sweetener—and each pump contains about 20 grams of sugar, almost an entire day’s worth!
4. Don't Drink Your Sugar
Say bye-bye to sodas and sugary fruit cocktails. “Instead, infuse your water with fruit by combining fresh sliced fruit and water in a pitcher and letting it sit overnight,” advises Natalie Rizzo, a sports dietitian in New York City. “Or for a frozen treat, make fruit ice cubes.”
5. Swap Soda for Tea
Add tea to your list of foods that have no added sugar. “I love to drink fruity herbal teas like peach, apple, lemon, or raspberry—hot or iced—when I want something sweet and I need to make water more exciting,” says Christy Brissette, MS, RD, author of Everyday Low Carb and owner of 80 Twenty Nutrition.
6. Sweeten Oatmeal with Fruit
Frozen fruits are healthy natural sweeteners. “Add frozen berries to your plain, warm, cooked oatmeal bowl instead of purchasing instant oatmeal that's packaged with added sugar,” says Tori Holthaus, MS, RDN, founder of YES! Nutrition.
“The frozen berries melt and nearly liquefy into the oatmeal—and a sweet, delicious flavor results.”
7. Add Some Citrus
Citrus can be a natural sweetener for baking. “It livens up most anything you add it to, and this is especially true for lower-sugar baked goods,” says Regan Jones, RD, cofounder of the dietitian-moderated recipe site Healthy Aperture.
“Add lemon zest to your blueberry muffins, and try cutting back the sugar in the recipe by about a quarter.”
- WHO Calls on Countries to Reduce Sugars Intake Among Adults and Children, World Health Organization
- Dietary Sugars and Body Weight: Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses of Randomised Controlled Trials and Cohort Studies, BMJ
- Effect on Caries of Restricting Sugars Intake: Systematic Review to Inform WHO Guidelines, Journal of Dental Research
- The Wrong White Crystals: Not Salt but Sugar as Aetiological in Hypertension and Cardiometabolic Disease, Open Heart
- Do You Really Need to Quit Sugar in Order to Eat Healthier?,
- Sarah Pflugradt, MS, RDN, author of Favorite Family Meals
- Natalie Rizzo, a sports dietitian in New York City
- Christy Brissette, MS, RD, author of Everyday Low Carb and owner of 80 Twenty Nutrition
- Tori Holthaus, MS, RDN, founder of YES! Nutrition
- Regan Jones, RD, cofounder of the dietitian-moderated recipe site Healthy Aperture
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I'd love to hear from you! Let me know if you try any of these natural sweet foods. Do you have any sugar-reducing tips to add to this list?
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