Sugar Fix: Healthy Ways to Satisfy Your Sweets Desire

Last Editorial Review: 5/19/2006

By Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

WebMD the Magazine

May/June 2006

Sugar Fix

Healthy ways to satisfy your sweets desire. Plus, recipes that are light on sugar, heavy on flavor.

WebMD Feature

By Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD

Got a sweet tooth? Blame it on Mother Nature.

Babies are born with a preference for sweet tastes, most likely a survival impulse passed down through the ages. Breast milk, rich in fat and other nutrients necessary for fueling an infant's rapid growth, is mildly sweet. (So is infant formula.) This desire doesn't end in early childhood, however. Most people continue to love sugary fare, reinforcing their inborn craving.

Beyond enticing newborns to eat, sugar provides calories. Whether the sugar is from an apple or a candy bar, the body quickly converts it to glucose, a simple sugar found in the blood that helps energize your cells.

So why all the scorn for sugar? It could be the company it keeps. Most sweetened fare --- cookies, cakes, and candy --- is also high in fat and packed with calories that contribute to unhealthy weight gain. Even fat-free sugar-filled foods, such as jelly beans, provide little more than calories. Foods rich in natural sugars --- including fruit and certain vegetables such as peas and corn --- are better for you because they supply nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber while satisfying your sweet tooth.

How much sugar is OK to eat? The World Health Organization suggests that healthy people limit added sugar intake to 10% of total daily calories. On a 2,000-calorie diet, that translates into a maximum 50 grams of added sugar a day (12 ounces of regular soda supplies 35 grams; one teaspoon of table sugar contains 4).

Your sugar allowance includes the added sweeteners in processed foods that don't seem sweet, including bread and cereal. Knowing your sugar allotment helps with label reading. You'll find that the sugar content (most often added sugar) of processed foods is listed under "carbohydrate" in the food label's Nutrition Facts panel.

Once you cut back on the sweet stuff, you may be able to get by with even less. Try these strategies for giving sugar the slip:

  • Make your own. Skip store-bought flavored yogurts in favor of mixing 8 ounces of plain low-fat yogurt with fruit, a teaspoon of low-sugar fruit preserves, honey, or molasses. Wean yourself and your child off higher-sugar brands by mixing low-sugar selections into the same size bowl. Aim for no more than 4 grams of sugar per serving of cereal.
  • Go whole. Indulge in whole-grain graham crackers and fig bars instead of store-bought chocolate chip and cream-filled sandwich cookies.
  • Use less. Use one-quarter to one-third less sugar in quick bread and muffin recipes.
  • Make the switch. Consider substituting artificial sweeteners for some sugar, but don't go overboard. Baked goods and candy with the likes of aspartame and sucralose are not calorie-free.

As those of you who consider dessert a primary food group know all too well, balancing healthy foods with a desire for sweets is challenging. The following recipes offer nutritious ways to get your sugar fix.

No-Cook Nut Butter Crunchies
Makes 16 one-inch balls (8 servings)

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 medium dessert

A cross between candy and cookie, these crunchy delights serve up sweetness and heart-healthy fat.

1/2 cup smooth almond, peanut, or soy nut butter
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup nonfat powdered milk
2/3 cup crispy rice cereal
(such as Rice Krispies)

In a large bowl, blend together the nut butter, honey, and vanilla. Add the powdered milk and the cereal. Blend well. Form into balls.

Per serving (made with peanut butter): 197 calories, 7 g protein, 27 g carbohydrate, 8 g fat, 1.6 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 g fiber, 145 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 36%.

Blueberry Crisp
Makes 12 servings

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 serving bread + 1 serving fresh fruit


According to the USDA, there is no difference between a “portion” and a “serving.” See Answer

This recipe calls for just a half-cup of brown sugar for 12 servings. Rolled oats and wheat germ add the goodness of grains.

5 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (don't thaw before using)

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup rolled oats, uncooked
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened but not melted

Preheat oven to 375? F. Place the fruit in a 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Combine the brown sugar, oats, wheat germ, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Cut in the margarine with a fork until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Sprinkle the brown sugar mixture over the top of the blueberries. Bake for 25 minutes or until the fruit is tender. Cool before serving.

Per serving (made with margarine): 152 calories, 3 g protein, 22 g carbohydrate, 7 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 68 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 41%.

Chocolate-Kissed Strawberries
Makes 4 servings

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 serving fresh fruit + 1 teaspoon chocolate spread

Strawberries and dark chocolate supply disease-busting phytonutrients.

2 ounces 60% bittersweet chocolate
1 pint strawberries

Rinse fruit well. Do not remove stems. Blot dry with a paper towel and set aside. Melt chocolate in the top of a double boiler, stirring constantly. When chocolate has melted, remove top portion of the double boiler.

To coat strawberries, hold one at a time by the top and dip into chocolate. Coat completely except for stem area. Let cool.

Per serving (1/4 recipe): 123 calories, 2 g protein, 19 g carbohydrate, 5 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 1 mg cholesterol, 4 g fiber, 3 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 36 %.

Cherry Vanilla Smoothie
Makes 2 servings

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 4 ounces yogurt plain + 1 serving fresh fruit

Fruit supplies natural sweetness and beneficial fiber and phytonutrients.

1 medium frozen banana
1/2 cup frozen sweet cherries
3/4 cup plain low fat yogurt
Sugar or artificial sweetener to taste, if desired

In a food processor or blender, process banana until smooth. Add cherries and yogurt. Process until well blended. Serve immediately.

Per serving (without added sugar or artificial sweetener): 155 calories, 5 g protein, 35 g carbohydrate, 2 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 4 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 114 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 11%.

Lighten up your cooking by going to onhealth & living Healthy Recipes

Originally Published May 19, 2006.
Medically Updated May 2006.

RECIPE SOURCE: The Flax Cookbook by Elaine Magee, MPH, RD. Published July 2005.

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