Refined sugar has been blamed for many lifestyle diseases including heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and some forms of cancer. A diet high in refined carbohydrates, sugar and fat also contributes to a weakened immune system and high blood pressure. It is little wonder that when choosing to eat more healthfully, white sugar is often the first thing to go. Making the decision to go sugar-free means different things to different people. Some eschew all types of sweeteners, while others take a more moderate approach and experiment with sugar substitutes.
Switching to alternative sweeteners is probably the easiest way to begin, especially for people who have a big sweet tooth and might not be ready to quit cold turkey. These are easy to use and many of them will already be familiar. Honey, blackstrap molasses, maple syrup, and maple sugar are a few examples and they are fairly easy to source. Sucanat and granulated FruitSource work well in any recipe using white sugar. Other alternatives include brown rice syrup, Amasake, sorghum syrup, barley malt syrup, agave, Stevia, and date sugar. All of these sweeteners can be used alone or in combination to provide different flavours and varying levels of sweetness.
For those who choose not to use alternative sweeteners, fresh fruits and dried fruits are a particularly good option as they are whole foods with all of their vitamins, minerals and fibre intact. Juicy fresh fruits, mashed or pureed, can perform double duty as a sweetener and a fabulous fat substitute. Dried fruits such as dates, raisins, prunes, and figs can be used as is or made into a thick sweet paste or syrup. Pure fruit juices, fruit juice concentrates, and the liquid from soaking dried fruits can also be used to good advantage.
Over all, no matter your sweetener of choice, the goal should be to reduce the amount consumed. And that is only half the battle. It is very important to remember that refined carbohydrates of any kind are metabolized by the body in much the same manner as white sugar. So that lovely loaf of homemade white bread isn't doing you any good even if you did remove the sugar from the recipe. The good news is that whole grains are pleasantly sweet and are a wonderful addition to breads and baked goods. Items like warm sweet spices, flavouring extracts and bright citrus zest can also be used to accent the natural sweetness of your desserts and baking. Reducing the sweetener is not only good for your health, it allows other flavours to shine through. It can be a nice surprise to discover the chocolate in your chocolate cake or the lemon in your lemon pie, to taste something other than sugar and enjoy it more. How sweet is that?