Sweeteners: A Chef’s Perspective

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The sweetener series continues this week with a chef's perspective on sweeteners. Today's post is all about making delicious drinks and yogurt snacks with fewer added sugars. Want to catch up? Here are the previous posts in the series...

There are many ways to add a sweet flavor to iced tea, water, and yogurt -- without adding sugar or artificial sweeteners. In fact, most of the tools you need are probably sitting in your cupboard or refrigerator right now.

Why would you want to start switching from sugared drinks to unsweetened ones?

I'm glad you asked!

1 cup of soda usually contains around 100 calories, and this includes 26 grams of added sugars. That's about 6.5 teaspoons! No one really only drinks a cup, but a cup of soda per day would add up to 36,500 calories per year. This is bad news for your health, especially since some research indicates that these calories don't really make you feel full. Plus, soda doesn't contain nutrients, so all those calories are empty ones.

But we all like our sugar and sweetened flavors, so it's not always easy to switch from soda to water. Here are ways you can make delicious drinks that have a sweet flavor and are fun to drink, using items you already have on hand!

Make iced tea and keep it ready-to-go in your refrigerator. Iced tea is a great replacement for soda because it contains all sorts of healthful phytochemicals (plant chemicals that are beneficial to humans) and is often cheaper than ready-made beverages and mixes. Plus, if you don't add sugar, then it contains zero calories!

Want things a little sweeter? Here are some ways to sweeten your tea without sugar:

  • Citrus: lemon slices or orange slices
  • Herbs: mint, basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, lemon grass
  • Spices: cinnamon, all spice, nutmeg, cloves
  • Fresh fruit (choose ones that won't oxidize, like peaches, cherries, berries, or melon)

You can also make combinations using fruit, spices, citrus, and herbs! Consider:

  • Peach green tea
  • Black tea with orange slices and cinnamon
  • Green tea with rosemary and lemon
  • Minted iced tea
  • Black tea with nutmeg, cherries, and oranges

Now let's look at another great drink that you can make at home: flavored water.

Flavored waters can be similar to tea. Many Latin cultures have a drink called agua fresca -- it's very refreshing and delicious. Aqua fresca means "fresh water," and the beverages are usually a blend of water, mint, and cucumbers. Or watermelon and lemon. Or berries with water. Etc.

Sometimes sugar is added, but it really isn't necessary. Simply peel a cucumber or melon, then blend in a blender with water. Use about 1 part fruit/vegetable to 3 parts water. Often aqua frescas are served in large jars where the liquid can be drained from the bottom, but you can also use a pitcher or bowl and ladle for a pretty beverage.

But wait, there's more to the flavored water story! You can also flavor your water with the same ingredients I listed for tea. Consider throwing in a few orange or lemon wedges for a citrus flavor infusion. Or use up the last lingering berries or melon slices in the fridge. Simply dice, add to a pitcher of water, and keep refrigerated until ready for use!

Now let's turn our attention to yogurt.

Great SnackPlain Greek yogurt is often less expensive than flavored yogurt, especially when you buy it in a larger container. One comparison shows that it costs $0.21 per ounce to buy a 32-ounce container of plain Greek yogurt, while it costs $0.30 per ounce for a 5-ounce container of sweetened yogurt. Plus, a 6-ounce serving of plain Greek yogurt has just 105 calories, while a serving of the same kind of yogurt that has been sweetened contains 140 calories!

Want a sweet treat without all that added sugar? Yogurt is always better with fresh fruit. Or consider a serving of fruit with yogurt as a garnish. If you want to add a sweet flavor to your yogurt, then consider adding any of the following...

  • Sweet spices like cinnamon, apple pie spice, pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg, or allspice
  • Mashed bananas
  • Unsweetened apple sauce
  • Baby food pears or prunes

So there you have it. A few chef-tested ways that you can sweeten drinks and yogurt without adding any processed sugar. Enjoy!

By Judy Doherty, PC II and Founder of Food and Health Communications Inc.

If you like what you saw and want to share it with your clients, then be sure to get this free PDF handout. It outlines a few highlights from today's post...

Yogurt Tips from a Chef

Of course, the fun doesn't stop there! Members can also get a closer look at natural sweeteners, with another new PDF handout available at no extra cost...

Natural Sweetener Handout

And, as always, there are fantastic new products in the Nutrition Education Store. Which ones will make your life easier?

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