Sweet Swaps: Finding Alternatives to Sugary Foods

Updated:May 15,2015

Change your sugary waysSweetness can add enjoyment to special celebrations. Too much added sugar can add lots of extra calories with zero nutrients. But there’s no reason to give up sweet treats entirely – even if you want to reduce the added sugars you eat. Instead, swap high-sugar sources out and enjoy sweet substitutions ranging from naturally sweet fruits to low-calorie sweeteners.

Think about a Calorie Budget

Start with the total number of calories you need daily to achieve or maintain a healthy weight. For most adults this is about 1,800 to 2,200 depending upon how active you are.

Select nutritious, low-calorie and no-sugar-added foods to make good “nutrient buys” within your budget. Nutritious foods are foods that will not just provide calories, but provide vitamins, minerals and/or fiber important to good nutrition. Depending on the foods you choose and the amount of physical activity you do each day, you may have calories left over.

These are discretionary calories, or calories to be spent as you choose. For most adults, the American Heart Association recommends that no more than half of a person’s daily discretionary calorie allowance be spent on added sugars – usually between 100 and 150 calories.

To make the most of your Calorie Budget, swap out some of the sources of added sugars for these tasty alternatives:

Swap out: Soda, energy drinks, fruit drinks and sports drinks for:

  • Fruit spritzers: Sparkling water + a small splash of 100% fruit juice
  • Aqua fresca: Water flavored with mint leaves, orange slices or cucumber
  • Tea sweetened with a low-calorie sweetener – like Raspberry Basil Iced Tea

Swap out: Muffins, cakes, cookies and sugary cereals for:

  • 100% fruit & nut mixes
  • Natural sweetness: Substitute applesauce or mashed cooked sweet potatoes for some of the sugar in your favorite cookie, muffin or pancake recipe; for extra sweetness, add a low-calorie sweetener suitable for cooking and baking
  • Overnight oatmeal: Combine ½ cup dry oatmeal + 1 cup fat-free milk + a handful of berries; refrigerate overnight then eat cold or warm in microwave.
  • Whole-grain, non-sugared/non-frosted cereals; if extra sweetness is desired, use a favorite low-calorie sweetener instead of sugar

Swap out: Sugar-sweetened puddings, custards, shakes, ice cream and frozen yogurt for:

  • 1-Ingredient Banana Whip: Puree a frozen banana in a food processor for a dreamy creamy dessert.
  • Fruit Yogurt Parfait: Sweeten plain yogurt with low-calorie sweetener then top with fruit and sprinkle with cinnamon.
  • Easy Chocolate Pudding: Mash an avocado with a banana; add cocoa powder and low-calorie sweetener to taste.
  • Extra-Frothy Shake: Blend fat-free milk + a few teaspoons of sugar-free pudding mix + frozen berries + ice cubes.

Swap out: Barbeque sauces, marinades, relishes and salad dressing with added sugars for:

  • Fresh homemade relishes: Use flavorful combinations of fruits and veggies, such as cucumbers + grapes or strawberries + kiwi
  • Citrus-based homemade dressings such as Lemon Poppy Seed, or simply mix lemon or lime juice + a small amount of olive oil
  • Fat-free/low-fat Greek yogurt-based homemade dressings such as Creamy Ginger, or simply mix plain fat-free/low-fat Greek yogurt + fresh herbs + chopped garlic + fat-free milk to achieve desired consistency
  • Homemade glazes and marinades made with a low-calorie sweetener instead of sugar, such as Balsamic Drizzle
  • Homemade Barbeque Sauce

Article copyright © 2016 American Heart Association. This recipe/article is brought to you by the American Heart Association's Simple Cooking with Heart © Program. For more articles and simple, quick and affordable recipes, visit heart.org/simplecooking.


Last reviewed 5/2015