Healthy Eating

These Are The Sweetest Fruits You Can Use to Replace Sugar

Plus, two delicious recipes.

By: Lisa Mastela, MPH, RD

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? 

Increased Fullness

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. 

RELATED: 95% of People Don’t Get Enough of This Nutrient 

Improved Digestion

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. 

Disease Prevention

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

#1 Bananas

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. 

Vegan Chocolate Banana Muffins 

Naturally sweetened with bananas and dates, these muffins are the perfect afternoon treat. 

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups almond flour
  • 3 tbsp chia seeds, soaked
  • 2 bananas, mashed
  • 3 dates, pitted
  • ¼ cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup (optional)
  • 2 oz dark chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp chia seeds

Directions: 

Step #1: Preheat the oven to 160°C or 320°F. Grease a muffin tin with olive oil or coconut oil spray.

Step #2: In a blender, add all of the ingredients, except the chocolate and 1 tsp chia seeds. Blend until you’ve reached a smooth consistency.

Step #3: Spoon the mixture into the muffin tray, pressing pieces of chocolate into the middle of the muffins and also on top. Sprinkle with extra chia seeds and cinnamon. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the muffins are golden and cooked through. 

Step #4: Serve warm with a dollop of ricotta or almond butter. Enjoy!

Peanut Butter Nice Cream

The most delicious dairy and refined sugar-free “ice cream,” this tasty treat is perfect for when you’re craving a refreshing treat. 

Ingredients: 

  • 2 frozen bananas, cut into chunks
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp peanut butter
  • 2 tbsp peanuts
  • 2 tbsp almond milk, or milk of choice

Directions:

Step #1: Place all of the ingredients into a blender or food processor. Blend until you’ve reached a thick and creamy consistency. 

Step #2: Serve in bowls and decorate with extra nuts and cinnamon. 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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