3 Healthy Ways to Sweeten Food Without Sugar

And we don't mean anything artificial, either. Better yet, you probably already have these healthy sweeteners in your pantry.

We know that lowering our sugar intake is one of the best ways to improve our health. But it's not just Snickers bars, Skittles, and soda that are wreaking havoc on our diets. "Added sugars show up in nearly 70 percent of packaged foods, including should-be healthy foods like cereal, granola, nut butters, yogurt, and 'health' drinks," says Anisha Patel, MD, MSPH, coauthor of Half the Sugar, All the Love: 100 Easy, Low-Sugar Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

The good news is there are smart, simple ways to sweeten foods without adding sugar or artificial sweeteners because—let's face it—liking sweet foods is what makes us human. We spoke with Half the Sugar, All the Love coauthor Jennifer Tyler Lee about the most effective ingredients for cooking and baking with less added sugar. "These ingredients, available in most well-stocked grocery stores, preserve texture and add flavor so you won't miss the sugar one bit," says Tyler Lee. Sweetness.

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High-Fiber Fruits and Vegetables

Avocado, Banana, and Cocoa Smoothie recipe
Emma Darvick

Ripe, fresh fruits—like dark-speckled bananas, pears, and pineapple—along with vegetables like sweet potato, add naturally sweet flavor without added sugar. "There's an important distinction between added sugar—like granulated sugar, honey, and agave—and naturally occurring sugar found in fruit and vegetables," explains Tyler Lee. "Fiber is one huge difference." It helps slow your body's absorption of sugar, making it easier to process, and helps you feel full longer.

"Pears add natural sweetness and creamy texture to everything from poppy seed salad dressing to blueberry scones," says Tyler Lee. "And sweet potato is the secret ingredient in my double-chocolate brownies—it boosts sweetness while cutting down added sugar by two-thirds compared to a boxed brownie mix."

Similarly, add pumpkin to sweeten and add depth of flavor to treats like waffles, pies, and cakes. Also, keep frozen fruits and vegetables on hand: They're widely available and shelf-stable.

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Nuts and Seeds

Walnut Energy Bars Recipe
Jennifer Causey

"Nuts and seeds are another one of the secrets to cooking with less added sugar," says Tyler Lee. Toasting nuts is a small step that pays off by amplifying flavor without adding sugar.

Nuts also add texture, which helps round out low-sugar recipes. "Pecans, walnuts, and almonds are the nuts I rely on most." Unsweetened nut butters can also add sweetness to everything from sauces (like hoisin sauce) to cakes and smoothies.

For someone with food allergies, pumpkin and sunflower seeds are an easy swap for nuts, and sunflower seed butter or tahini can substitute for nut butter.

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Banana Bread on Wooden Cutting Board with One Slice Cut
Grace Elkus

Spices are essential to low-sugar cooking. "I use them liberally...to enhance flavor," says Tyler Lee. Using vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom in your favorite recipes adds the suggestion of sweetness without added sugar, she continued. Caution: Some brands of vanilla extract contain added sugar, so check the label.

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