Sometimes going sugar free or trying to cut back on your sugar intake can feel totally overwhelming, especially once you start to realise just how much hidden sugar there is in your food.
To help make the initial steps a bit easier, I have compiled a list of some of the simplest sugar free swaps for common sugary ingredients in our cupboards so you can feel a little less overwhelmed by it all! 🙂
So here are my suggestions of simple sugar free swaps for your house:
1. Breakfast cereals
Instead of high sugar cereals in every colour, form and texture imaginable in the baffling cereal aisle, make your life and choices easier by sticking to the simple trio of low sugar cereals: Weetabix (low sugar), Shredded Wheat (sugar free) and porridge oats (sugar free).
I also love making my own sugar and dried fruit free muesli by mixing porridge oats with nuts, seeds and cacao nibs. And in the summer, we trade our fruit & nut butter or cinnamon porridge for Bircher muesli by soaking overnight in yogurt, grated apple and frozen berries (no apple juice to keep it sugar free).
And let’s face it, a breakfast of eggs, protein (meat, fish or pulses) and veg is going to keep you fuller for longer and satisfy you far better than a bowl of cereal (sugary or not) ever will!
Swap high sugar fizzy drinks, fruit juice, shop-bought smoothies, hot chocolate, flavoured milks, flavoured coffees, iced tea, lemonade and the like for tap water and sparkling water (plain or infused with chopped fruit, veg, herbs and/or spices), homemade juice-free smoothies, coconut water, kombucha (check labels to make sure there is no more than 1g per 100ml of sugar – anything more is added), herbal teas (Tweeteas and chamomile or Rooibos are the kids’ favourite in this house – always check with a doctor if you have babies or really young children as a few herbs aren’t ok for them), unsweetened tea and coffee for the adults, and of course, good old-fashioned unsweetened full-fat milk (or unsweetened non-dairy milk).
3. Snack bars
One of the most surprising discoveries I made when starting to read labels for sugar content was that the snack bars I’d considered “healthy” (granola bars, cereal bars, kid’s fruit snack bars) that often featured labels such as “no added sugar” or “no refined sugar” were surprisingly high in the stuff, usually in the form of free sugars such as honey, fruit juice, fruit puree or maple syrup. I’d got so used to eating these often that I needed to find some quick and easy alternatives.
I swapped to nuts & seeds, fresh fruit or prepared fresh vegetables, full-fat unsweetened and unflavoured yogurt pots, sugar free oatcakes or crackers, occasional baked vegetable-oil free tortilla crisps, or a piece of 85%-90% dark chocolate. They were just as simple and quick, but far more nutritious, filling and low in sugar.
4. Sauces & Condiments
This is one of the most shocking categories in terms of the sheer amount of sugar these things can contain. I am continually amazed by how much sugar a jar of supposedly savoury food can contain. And the truth is, most of us consume far more in one go than the “one serving” listed on the jars.
So swap sugary ketchup, sweet chilli sauce, low-fat mayonnaise, Heinz-anything, BBQ sauce, salad cream, ready-made dressings, salsas (some are low in sugar – check labels), and jarred curry pastes (again, check labels, some are low in sugar), pasta sauces and stir-fry sauces for mustard, full-fat mayonnaise (ideally olive oil or avocado oil based), pesto, sugar free hot sauce (I love this and put it on everything), tamari, hummus, homemade dips & sauces and (melted) cheese. Instead of dressing, opt for extra virgin olive oil and apple cider vinegar (shake them in a jar with a teaspoon of Dijon mustard to make a thicker proper French vinaigrette – remember that balsamic vinegar is high in sugar so use it sparingly).
On the website: try the sugar free peach BBQ Sauce or sugar free ketchup, or have a go at making some delicious easy homemade pesto. For a curry night, why not make our easy peanut butter chicken with an easy sugar free sauce, or our sweet & sour sugar free sauce that takes less than 5 mins to make? For a pasta sauce, this sardine puttanesca or green mac & cheese make great super-healthy options.
5. Cakes, desserts, treats
It may surprise you to know that I believe these are some of the least of our problems when it comes to sugar. Mostly because we are all very much aware that cake and muffins and doughnuts and the like are high in sugar and not in any way good for us. We tend to view these as “treats” and so make them an occasional occurrence rather than an everyday habit. Still, since sugar is addictive, sometimes willpower is not enough and we find ourselves having these often, so it’s always a good idea to have a few simple swap ideas up your sleeve.
In our house, we make a cake or some sort of treat (often low in sugar or made with a natural sweetener we are comfortable with) at the weekend, and my husband and I will sometimes share something small (and ideally sweetened with just fruit or a little stevia) on a Wednesday night when the kids are in bed. But every other night of the week, if we are still hungry after dinner, we reach for fruit and/or plain full-fat yogurt. Often we have a square of 85-90% dark chocolate with a cup of tea later. Sometimes we will buy some nice cheeses and end on a savoury note. A typical Wednesday or extra no added sugar treat for us is blitzing frozen fruit (bananas, berries, stone fruits, exotic fruits) on their own or with a little yogurt to make a healthier “ice cream”.
When out and about, my coffee shop go-tos are primarily just tea & coffee, but if we are hungry we will sometimes buy a piece of fruit (most sell them now) or ask for porridge without the honey, syrups or purees usually topping it. For a lower sugar (but still treat) option we occasionally get a plain croissant or a crumpet with butter, both of which are better options than sugar laden cakes, cookies, muffins or teacakes. In restaurants, we usually get starters and/or sides instead of dessert, but when we do, we choose the fresh fruit salad option from the kids menu and the cheeseboard for the adults (or split a small pudding as a treat – these days many places offer “mini” desserts with a cup of coffee which we share between the two of us, making it only a very small amount of sugar).
And when the weekend rolls around and we make a treat, we mostly make the recipes that appear on this blog in the dessert section! 🙂
On the website: anything in the “desserts” section. Particular favourites include the low sugar chocolate truffles, sugar free peanut butter brownies, low sugar double chocolate muffins, low sugar flourless chocolate cake, sugar free Jammie Dodgers, low sugar Jaffa cakes, and sugar free vanilla ice cream.
I hope these simple swaps inspire you and help you to see that reducing your sugar intake is not impossible and doesn’t mean giving up on everything you enjoy – there are lots of delicious foods to be consumed without sugar! 🙂