Alternatives to carbs: 7 ways to eat less sugar

No added sugar. Healthy. With sweeteners. "Anti-sugar" marketing is more and more visible in the supermarket aisles. While sometimes dishonest, at other times it leads us to make much healthier choices. So how can you eat less sugar without being too frugal?

 Alternatives to carbs: 7 ways to eat less sugar

As time goes by, there seem to be more and more studies showing how dangerous excess sugar is for our health. We currently know that the overconsumption of carbohydrates leads to health problems ranging from digestive disorders to respiratory diseases and even weaker immune systems. Not to mention that carbs continue to fuel our dependency on that oh-so-tasty, comforting flavour. 

The only way to stop ourselves feeling hooked on sugar is to pick up healthier eating habits and gradually get our brains used to having less of it. 
Discover our 7 tips for eating less sugar each day!

TIP #1: Go for natural sugars

Natural sugars have several benefits.
First of all, since they haven't been processed, they remain nutritious. In other words, they're not just "empty calories". They provide the vitamins and nutrients our bodies need to function. This means you can enjoy them while also doing yourself some good!

As well as that, some natural sugars will have a lower glycaemic index (GI) than white refined sugar.

What is the glycaemic index?

It represents a food's capacity to increase our blood sugar levels. The higher the index, the higher our blood sugar levels will be. Repeatedly high blood sugar levels will tire the body out. It's therefore important to prioritise low- or medium-GI sugars.

Here are a few types of natural sugar that you can keep in your store cupboard to replace white refined sugar: 

* coconut sugar, which has the lowest GI of all;
* whole cane sugar or rapadura;
* maple syrup;
* honey;
* ripe, mushed banana, which can also replace the egg in some recipes;
* date puree or medjool dates, which are the plumpest!

These natural alternatives are perfect for all sorts of uses: to sweeten a yoghurt, coffee or tea, to make cakes, to spread on toast or a pancake, etc.

TIP #2: Have healthier pre-dinner drinks

Having a quick drink before dinner often means consuming a lot of sugar in the form of alcohol or fizzy drinks. It's a bad trap to fall into, since a glass of pop contains the equivalent of almost 50 cubes of sugar! Yet it's so easy to have one glass, or even two… Instead, opt for natural drinks to drastically reduce your sugar consumption.

A few alternative pre-dinner drinks to try:

* still or sparkling flavoured water: stick some sliced lemon, cucumber, orange or grapefruit, or even some mint leaves or mixed berries, into your water;
* kombucha: a slightly sparkling, fermented drink rich in probiotics that's great for looking after your intestines;
* kefir: like with kombucha, kefir is a drink that's rich in probiotics;
* iced tea: I don't mean the kind you buy at the supermarket! I'm talking about the kind you make at home. Simply brew the tea of your choice in a large jug. Leave it to cool down, then place it in the fridge to enjoy the next day. You might want to add a tablespoon of a natural sugar to make it tastier.

TIP #3: Choose the right sweeteners

Sugar is often replaced by low-calorie sweeteners in the "sugar-free" or "no added sugar" versions of products (drinks, desserts, "diet" fizzy drinks). They do a great job of sweetening things because their sugary flavour is around 200 times stronger than that of sugar.
The amount of sweeteners in our food has grown hugely in recent years, both visibly and invisibly. Food manufacturers are increasingly incorporating them into cereals, biscuits, cakes, dairy products such as low-sugar fruit yoghurts, and even certain medicines.
Check out our article on hidden sugars.

The risk with this practice is that we remain accustomed to the taste of sugar and can't ever kick the habit.
The other problem is that there's a very wide range of sweeteners, and not all of them are better for our health. In fact, some of them disrupt the balance of our gut flora and increase our sensation of hunger, leading to digestive disorders. 

Only a few natural sweeteners are a good alternative to sugar. They are: 

* stevia;
* erythritol;
* xylitol: may have a laxative effect in large quantities.
These three sugar substitutes are all of natural origin. They vary in terms of sweetness, sweetening power, digestive tolerance, how they look, and how they're used.

Again, remember that these products are a good first step towards eating less sugar, but don't allow us to rid ourselves of our sugar cravings.

TIP #4: Fool your brain

Another great alternative to eating sugar is to make our brains believe that we're giving them sugar, even though that's not the case.
There are three ways to do this, all of which are natural and will bring nutritional benefits. 

Cinnamon

By stirring a bit of cinnamon into your coffee or other hot drink, adding it to cake or even putting it in a creamy dessert, you'll get that sensation of sweetness without eating sugar!
And as an added bonus, cinnamon is a hypoglycaemic agent, which means that it reduces our blood sugar levels after a meal. Ideal for not tiring out your pancreas!

Vanilla extract

Vanilla gives your dish a naturally sugary taste. This natural flavour is great for sweetening recipes while reducing their added sugar content. It's perfect in chocolate mousse, for example. Orange blossom extract and even mint extract can also work very well. 

Nut butter

Instead of covering your toast or pancakes with sugar-rich chocolate spread, try peanut butter or even whole almond butter or hazelnut butter. These alternatives are perfect for reducing your sugar consumption and will fill you full of good fats and plant protein!
Provided that there's no added sugar and no added oil, of course!
Read our articles on protein and fat.

TIP #5: Go 100%!

100% cocoa chocolate

Yep, you read that right. It's perfectly possible to enjoy a square of 100% cocoa plain chocolate with no added sugar in it. With a bit of patience and planning, you'll get there! 

My tip is to take things slowly. For example, if you like 70% cocoa chocolate, have a square of 75%, then finish with your normal square of 70%. Then the next week, start with a square of 80% and finish with a square of 75%. Your taste buds will gradually get used to it and you'll come to appreciate your plain chocolate more and more.

100% fruit jam

The jam you buy in the supermarket is packed full of sugar! In fact, half of every jar is sugar - and not always very good quality sugar at that.
But I've got a solution! You can make your own fruit jam really easily. For a mixed berry jam, simply defrost some frozen berries in a casserole dish, add 2-3 tablespoons of chia seeds (for consistency and some vegetable protein), then add 1-2 tablespoons of a natural sugar.
Cook it, then keep in the fridge to have with breakfast or dessert.

TIP #6: Try legume pasta

Sugar isn't just present in sweet-tasting foods. It's also found in cereal products such as pasta, rice and semolina.
A good alternative is to occasionally replace your wheat-based pasta with a legume-based one (lentils, chickpeas, split peas, etc.).
The next time you want to make tomato penne, try using some red lentil pasta. As well as lowering the carbohydrate content of your meal, you'll increase the amount of plant protein you're eating! 

TIP #7: Get moving!

Just like sugar, doing sport and getting active releases endorphins: the happiness hormone! Dancing, walking, running, fitness classes, yoga, stretching and pilates are all great ways of helping beat your body's addiction to sugar! 

Completely cutting out sugar may seem very complicated. After all, sugar is also a source of energy. And it'd be a shame to go without it entirely!
But being aware of how much hidden sugar there is in our diets and making better choices to limit sugar consumption are healthy ways to prevent a whole host of illnesses. So, what alternatives are you going to try?
And once we've dealt with sugar, it's time to take on fat! 

 Alternatives to carbs: 7 ways to eat less sugar

alexandra

Naturopath & Yoga Teacher - Diet and Sport Consultant

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