Let’s be real — fruit has really been getting a bad rep lately. With so many fad diets touting the high fat/low carb approach to eating, fruit has really gone out of vogue. However, I, along with nearly all registered dietitians would agree that fruit not only fits into a healthy diet, it’s an important piece of one! Ahead, learn more about fruit sugar, plus how to use fruit to replace sugar in all of your favorite recipes.
Is Fruit Sugar Bad For You?
No! The sugar in fruit is not bad for you. Fruit contains both fructose and glucose (two types of natural sugars), along with fiber, important vitamins and minerals, phytochemicals, and water. Since fruit sugar comes along with the fiber and water in the fruit, your body takes more time to break it down. This is in contrast to the highly processed added and manufactured sugars that are worse for your health and are found in sugar-sweetened foods, like corn syrup, galactose, sucrose, maltose, and high fructose corn syrup. These processed sugars are metabolized very quickly by the body, leading to blood sugar spikes, hormonal changes, and cravings.
Again and again, research correlates sugar with an increased risk for health conditions like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. However, the sugar studied is always the added refined sugars, not the natural sugars in fruit. In fact, studies show that consuming the recommended servings of fruit daily can actually reduce the risk for obesity, heart disease and improve overall health.
The increase in fiber intake from upping your fruit game can also support weight loss, improve gut health, and reduce risk for several chronic diseases.
The Benefits of Using Fruit to Replace Sugar
Let’s dig into some of those benefits of fruit sugar, shall we?
Fruits are packed with fiber, which supports a healthy digestion and gut bacteria. Fiber also promotes fullness, so if you’re replacing sugar with fruit in a recipe, it’s likely that you’ll be feeling more satisfied for a longer period of time after eating that treat. For example, a brownie sweetened with applesauce will likely keep you more full compared to a brownie sweetened with cane sugar, which will leave your stomach growling 30 minutes later.
The water and fiber in fruit will work together to improve your digestion, keep things moving along regularly, and promoting healthy gut bacteria.
Weight Loss and Healthy Weight Management
Thanks to the fiber causing increased fullness and improved digestion, you’ll be feeling more regular, more satisfied, and more energized by eating fruit-sweetened foods. This should, over time, lead to weight loss if that’s your goal or keep you at a healthy weight.
This is a tough one to feel the benefits of right away, but increasing the amount of whole, real fruits in your diet and upping your fiber intake is associated with a lower risk of disease later in life. This promotes longevity, setting you up to live a longer, healthier life overall.
The Best Fruit Sugar Substitutes
Ripe bananas make a fantastic sugar substitute, not only because they’re packed with minerals and vitamins but also because they’re always around! Raise your hand if you’ve ever blinked and your bananas were suddenly too ripe to enjoy. Those are perfect for recipes. Just mash them up and add them to any recipe calling for sugar. My favorites to use banana in are muffins, breads, and cupcakes.
Two pureed bananas makes 1 cup, and you’d replace 1 cup of sugar with 1 cup of mashed banana! Of note: when replacing sugar with banana in a recipe, aim to reduce the liquid ingredients in the recipe by just a little bit to account for the consistency of the banana. For example, if the recipe calls for 5 tablespoons of milk, try adding just 4 tablespoons or so.
#2 Unsweetened Applesauce
Keyword: unsweetened! Applesauce is a great source of fiber and vitamins and can be purchased ready to use or made fresh from past-their-prime apples. It tastes delicious in virtually any recipe calling for sugar and can even replace the fat/oil in a recipe as well!
Use a 1:1 ratio to replace sugar with applesauce, and just like with bananas, aim to cut back the liquid ingredients a bit when using it.
#3 Dates and Figs
Dates and figs are nutritional powerhouses that are often overlooked. Dates are packed with fiber, and figs have the highest combined mineral concentration of any cultivated fruit! The best way to prep dates and figs for use is to make a puree at home (have no fear — this is super easy to do). Simply soak dried pitted dates or figs in warm water for a few hours (or overnight), then blend in the blender with some of that water until smooth! Add just a bit of water at first and increase the water added until the consistency is thick but pourable.
Use ⅔ cup of date or fig puree for every cup of sugar called for.
#4 Monk Fruit
When it comes to replacing sugar with monk fruit in recipes, it’s important to look at the ingredients listed on your brand of monk fruit, as many brands use fillers like maltodextrin or erythritol as the primary ingredient. These are artificial zero-calorie sweeteners and do not have the same benefits as fruit substitutes.
The ratio of monk fruit to sugar in a recipe depends on the brand of monk fruit sweetener you’re purchasing and typically varies around ⅓ to ½ cup monk fruit sweetener to every 1 cup of sugar.
Naturally Sweet Recipes
Ready to see just how delicious naturally sweetened recipes are? Here are two recipes that use fruit as the sweetener, making them guilt-free, but still full of flavor.
No-Bake Banana Bread Energy Bites
Naturally sweetened with bananas and dates, these no-bake banana bread energy balls are the perfect afternoon treat or post-workout snack!
- ¾ cup raw walnuts or pecans
- ¾ cup raw almonds
- ¾ cup rolled oats
- 1 large ripe banana
- 1 cup Medjool dates, pitted (about 5-7)
- ½ tbsp vanilla extract
- 1 pinch sea salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1-2 tbsp almond milk (as needed to blend)
- 2-3 tbsp chocolate chips (or roughly chopped dark chocolate), optional
Step #1: In a food processor or high-speed blender, combine the nuts and rolled oats. Pulse into a flour-like consistency. Then, add all of the remaining ingredients, except the optional chocolate chips. Blend until you’ve reached a smooth consistency. If the mixture is too dry, option to add 1-2 tbsp of non-dairy milk as needed.
Step #2: Once a dough-like consistency is achieved, stir in optional chocolate chips. Then, roll into bite-sized balls. Place in the refrigerator to firm, about 20-30 minutes.
Step #3: Enjoy immediately, or store in an air-tight container in the fridge until ready to enjoy!
Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chip Nice Cream
The most delicious dairy and refined sugar-free “ice cream,” this tasty treat is perfect for when you’re craving a refreshing frozen dessert.
- 2-3 large spotty bananas, frozen and sliced
- ¼ cup of oat milk (or non-dairy milk of choice)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1-2 tablespoons cacao nibs or dairy-free chocolate chips
- 2 tbsp creamy peanut butter, unsweetened (or nut butter of choice)
- 1-2 Medjool dates, pitted (or 1 tbsp sweetener of choice), optional for added sweetness
Step #1: Add the frozen bananas to a high-speed blender or food processor with vanilla and optional sweetener. Blend until smooth, thick, and creamy. Note: this may require stopping the blending process and scraping down the sides as needed to blend.
Step #2: Add 1 tbsp of non-dairy milk at a time, as needed to blend. Once desired consistency is achieved, add peanut butter and chocolate chips and pulse until combined.
Step #3: Portion into bowls and serve immediately. Enjoy with toppings of choice, such as additional cacao nibs, chopped nuts, or a drizzle of creamy nut butter. Enjoy!
Chocolate Covered Fruit
Simple to make and easy to customize, this chocolate-dipped fruit recipe is a delicious and nutritious dessert option.
- 1-2 cups assorted fresh fruit of choice (such as strawberries, diced banana, orange slices, and pineapple chunks)
- 1 cup chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chips of choice
- ½ tsp coconut oil
Optional toppings: such as unsweetened shredded coconut, chopped nuts, and hemp seeds
Step #1: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and thoroughly wash and dry fruits. Then, prep fruits accordingly, such as chopping fruit as necessary (for fruits such as banana, pineapple, and orange).
Step #2: Add the chocolate chips and coconut oil to a microwave-safe bowl and microwave at 15-20-second intervals until melted. Stir between intervals to prevent chocolate from burning.
Step #3: Once melted, dip your fruit of choice in the melted chocolate mixture. Option to fully or partially coat.
Step #4: Place chocolate-coated fruit on a plate lined with parchment paper. Then sprinkle fruit with any optional toppings of choice, such as coconut flakes or chopped nuts.
Step #5: Refrigerate for 15-20 minutes, or until the chocolate coating has hardened. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Enjoy!
Desserts Have Never Been Healthier
All in all, the sugar in fruit is a healthy replacement for added sugars, and the fiber, vitamins, water, and minerals in fruit help your body metabolize the natural sugars. There’s also no research indicating that natural sugar from fruit is unhealthy for you, but plenty of research indicating that fruit is, in fact, beneficial to your health. Eating fruit is an important part of a balanced, healthy diet and should be enjoyed!
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