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No Sugar? Then What Can I Use?

A fresh pitcher of green tea with honey and orange slices. Yummy.

This was the question that I got e-mailed a bajillion times, and I gave everyone the same answer: sit tight until Friday. Not because I wanted to build suspense or anything, but because my response is so long… I would’ve spent a lifetime trying to say all of this over and over again, and I think because so many had the same questions that it’d be easier to have all the questions on one page for everyone to reference.

The only time I use granulated sugar is when I’m baking for a large event. Other than that? I’ve got some other kind of solution. I just know that too much sugar breeds a habit, for me, that I simply cannot control. So for me, I can – and sometimes do – go a day or so without sugar.

One thing I had to learn about my lifestyle was that my body wasn’t meant to have sugar as often as I was having it, and certainly not in the quantities in which I ate it. 51 teaspoons of sugar each day? NO body is meant to handle that much. So for me, I had to realize that I’d simply have to give up my pop/soda/whatever-you-call-it fetish.

The second thing I had to realize was that I had allowed my pop addiction to change my perception of taste. As sweet as soda pop is, there’s actually a gang of salt in it. Why? Because salt makes you thirsty. Think about it – salt makes you thirsty, sweet makes you crave. They compel you to drink more of what you’re already drinking.

But that combination of salt and sugar changed my perception of how food was supposed to taste! I was looking for that “tart and tangy bite” in everything I ate. In my chicken (hello, American Chinese food), in my pizza (pizza sauce is sweet, crust is bitter?), and anything else…. I was looking for sugary and salty. Not herbs, not appreciating the taste of whatever vegetables (if there were any) were in my dish, not even enjoying the different components of what I was putting on my plate. I just wanted sweet… and salty. Boooooo.

Leaving sugar behind has allowed me to get my darn tongue back! I can taste the difference between garlic salt and onion salt again (before, all I could taste was the salt.) Shoot, I can taste the difference between fresh garlic and canned garlic. At this point, I can tell you if two pieces of garlic were grown in the same garden. I mean, not relying on sugar and salt to bring me my flavors has truly set me free to enjoy the other flavors and tastes that are out there.

The one thing I had to learn, if I was going to give up excessive and unnecessary sugar, was how to still enjoyΒ  “sweet” things. If the problem with sugar was that there was no fiber and no nutrients, how could I still enjoy the occasional sweet and rectify this?

For starters, I limit the amount of “sweet” I enjoy in a capacity where there’s nothing else to soften the blow, like fiber. So sweet drinks are usually out for me. It’s a very rare (and special) occasion where I enjoy a sweet drink.

Mangos, oranges, lemon and kiwi. Yummy.

But how do I make sweet drinks? I use fruits. Lots. I squeeze oranges in my tea, drop a little homemade raspberry jam in there and stir it up. I go out of my way to enjoy different flavors without having to go in on the sugar.That way, I can appreciate flavor over “sweetness.”

I use locally-collected honey. That’s not necessarily an “elitist” principle, it’s a health one. While honey is problematic for some, locally collected honey contains the local pollen, and helps me with my sensitivity to pollen. So, on the rare occasion that I need that kind of sweet (sometimes in a honey stick), I use honey.

I use maple syrup. Not “pancake syrup.” Real genuine maple syrup (I use grade B.) It doesn’t have the same digestion issues as regular sugar, so it doesn’t pack the one-two punch to your blood sugar that regular sugars pack. If I have a giant pitcher of tea or lemonade that I’m making, I’ll use a little maple syrup to add a touch of sweet (and rich) to the batch.

I know that there are plenty of people who are interested in Stevia, and I hear y’all. I see the pretty green boxes with the “healthy-looking” design on the boxes in the grocery, too. The reality of stevia, really, is this – if you can’t get it in its leaf form, you might want to bypass it. Like all things, white powdery stevia is mixed with chemicals to create that “sugar-like” appearance, has more of its medicinal properties removed, and even sometimes has other “sweeteners” added to the mix to make it just as effective as sugar. Stevia is fawned over because it supposedly doesn’t have the same effect on the body’s ability to produce insulin properly (read: doesn’t cause type 2 diabetes,) and is apparently a common herb in Asia and South America. Some turn it away because it has a licorice-ish aftertaste.

If it sounds like I don’t know a lot about Stevia, it should. I don’t. Then again, no one really knows. They just know that it works for them after trying it and listening to their bodies. That’s what I’d do, as well.

There are tons of alternatives for drinks that use real sugar and not chemicals, and I make the decision that works best for me. But I also know that the problem with “sweet” is “sweet without fiber,” so if the context in which I’m enjoying my “sweet” means that there’s no “fiber” – read: coffees, teas, soft drinks, etc – then perhaps I should be having water instead.

The real reality is… sodapop has truly spoiled us. We’ve allowed it to define “sweet,” we’ve allowed it to let us think that we should always have something “sweet,” and it has enabled an addiction to a truly problematic chemical. Once I learned to give that up, I was truly liberated… and hopefully others can step back and do the same.

Note: Those of you who ask about agave nectar, I can’t tell you much about it because I have no experience with it… and here’s why.

By | 2017-06-10T11:22:50+00:00 October 28th, 2014|Healthy Eating|54 Comments

About the Author:

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes health, fitness, nutrition, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss from the National Academy of Sports Medicine, and crtified in sports nutrition by Precision Nutrition. She now lives in New York with her husband and children, and is working on her 6th and 7th certifications because lol why not.


  1. Teresa Hasnon July 16, 2010 at 11:15 AM - Reply

    WOW that was great blog. I love how you explain the effects of our taste buds when we limit the amount of sugar we intake. Really makes me want to look at my sugar intake and reduce.
    Thanks for posting.

    • Erika July 16, 2010 at 2:14 PM - Reply

      Thank YOU for commenting! I swear, changing how I approach food changed my ability to appreciate simpler tastes… and helped me be able to find flavor in things I’d originally called bland before. So you should definitely take a second look – shoot, even *I* could always stand to take a second look – and see what you can make of it. πŸ™‚

  2. Joy July 16, 2010 at 11:37 AM - Reply

    Thank you so much for this post! I have a TON of cold brew tea bags and I really, really hate to use sugar to sweeten it. This weekend, I’m going to try to make it with fresh blackberries and some honey.

    • Erika July 16, 2010 at 2:14 PM - Reply

      Blackberries? Now, THAT sounds yummy. Let me know how it turns out!

  3. Nicole July 16, 2010 at 12:37 PM - Reply

    Hello Soror,

    This was a great article. I enjoy visiting your site. The content write about is always on point.

    • Erika July 16, 2010 at 2:15 PM - Reply

      Awww, why thank you! πŸ™‚

  4. cjbrownsc July 16, 2010 at 2:07 PM - Reply

    Hi Erika!
    Another great blog post!
    Out of all the fruit that I eat on a daily basis, it has never occurred to me that it can be used to sweeten my tea. I put it in my water to give me some flavor and for the visual effect, but never thought about using it as a substitute for sugar.
    This will definitely give me something to experiment with!

    • Erika July 16, 2010 at 2:16 PM - Reply

      Not only can you use the fruit itself, but the juices, too – I’m big on pouring a bit of orange juice in my teas. Works wonders for me. πŸ™‚

      Play with it and see where you find yourself!

  5. Divinely Naptural July 16, 2010 at 10:04 PM - Reply

    Have you tried Agave Nectar? It is the syrup of the blue agave plant. It’s 25% sweeter than sugar per serving and has a low glycemic index so it won’t spike your sugar levels like white sugar can. It has no after taste at all… I’ve been using it throughout my weight loss (40 lbs so far this year) and it is great! You should try it, I’m sure you can find it in Whole foods or some other health food store.

    • Erika July 16, 2010 at 10:19 PM - Reply

      I updated the post to address agave as well. I don’t use it – I’m not enough of a sugar lover to indulge – but I did post something that offers a little insight.

  6. Divinely Naptural July 19, 2010 at 7:47 AM - Reply

    Thank you for that article. That is a shame to hear such bad things about Agave… I have been using it in small quantities over the last few months along with Xylitol. I guess I’ll stick to Xylitol only.

    • Layla June 7, 2014 at 6:29 PM - Reply

      Xylitol isn’t a great choice for a sweetener either. Unless you are buying xylitol made exclusively from birch, which is hard to find and expensive, it is usually made from GMO corn. We only use natural sweeteners, honey and Grade B maple syrup. Also for those who rave about agave, it usually has more fructose than high fructose corn syrup.

  7. CJM July 19, 2010 at 11:15 AM - Reply

    I do drink too much diet soda…generally one a day followed by a headache. Go figure. This comes from me being too lazy to put what I drink at home into a container to take to my office. I like iced tea and contrary to what one woman told me in a restaurant when I requested unsweetened tea, all Southern black people do not like sweet tea. When I make a pitcher of tea at home, I do two cold brew bags and then either one hibiscus (TAZO Passion if you cant find 100% hibiscus) bag or two mint bags. So tasty.

    • elizabeth September 1, 2013 at 3:37 PM - Reply

      my experience with diet sodas is it makes my tongue, throat swell. I get sick to my stomach as well. my daughter gets deathly sick. I talked to another person who had seizures after drinking diet sodas. My mother got headaches. watch Sweet Misery on hulu.com. Aspartame and artificial sweeteners are poison. so, beware. They put it in Alka Seltzer and other otc drugs. they put it in prescription drugs too. So, read the labels. This stuff should be outlawed.

  8. Reecie July 20, 2010 at 12:46 PM - Reply

    I recently put frozen peaches in my iced ginger peach green tea with honey–but I still added sugar, just a smidge. I’m gonna try fresh peaches and other fruits instead next time, and eventually cut the sugar. Because I don’t trust these artificial sweeteners, I stick to the white, but I only use it in tea and coffee. I really need to figure out what else is good in coffee!!! *sigh*

    • Erika July 20, 2010 at 1:11 PM - Reply

      You know, have you tried different flavors of coffee? I used to cling to one in particular that was a chocolate creme flavor.

      I ain’t mad at your use of sugar – I’d rather use white sugar than a strange chemical substance… I’d also rather just limit my exposure to sugar, too. So I’m with you, there.

      There are also different kinds of milk – vanilla almond and coconut milk come to mind – that I know some use to try to add a little sweet to their coffee as well as a nice flavor. A combo of the two – a good coffee that isn’t too bitter and a nice sweet cream – might work, unless you’re anti-cream, lol.

    • thelady April 14, 2014 at 10:40 AM - Reply

      I use maple syrup in my coffee.

  9. Monika August 7, 2010 at 6:22 PM - Reply

    Thanks! Esspecially because of pointing out the not so healthy side effects of Stevia and Agave syrup.I thought I was doing ok with these sweeteners, but BIG mistake. So, thanks for setting this clear!

  10. rissa September 15, 2010 at 2:03 PM - Reply

    omg, so gonna try this with the rawest form of sugar i can find and with the green stevia as soon as i locate some. i thought i had to swear off the jelly.

    erika (yes we are on a first name basis, by the way i’m marissa), you are the bestest.

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