When was the last time you ate something that didn’t have added sugar?
From obvious suspects like cloying cappuccinos to concealed culprits like salad dressings, sugar is in everything.
Sugar addiction has corrupted our taste buds.
We have forgotten how to appreciate the nuanced bitterness of black coffee, the addictive tartness of fresh raspberries, the satisfying smoothness of pure butter, the pungent saltiness of moistened olives.
A sugar-free diet – i.e., one without added, unnatural, or processed sugars – reacquaints you with the real flavors of real foods.
This article lists twenty-five (alphabetized) natural ingredients that will reenergize your taste buds and restore your health with their rich and diverse nutrients.
(Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. Please do not blindly follow these suggestions. When in doubt, consult your doctor and consume in moderation.)
With nearly twenty vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients in a 1 oz. serving, this fleshy, fibrous, and filling fruit is the superfood of all superfoods.
Avocados offer numerous advantages, such as blood sugar regulation, blood pressure control, and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s high fiber and protein content also mean that you need a lot less to feel full faster and build muscle.
Avocados are misunderstood because of their high fat and calorie content. But the fats in avocados are monounsaturated, making them the kind that protects against heart diseases, obesity, and cancer. Best of all, avocados contain the lowest sugar out of all the fruits.
Slather them on a sandwich, toss them into a salad, whip them into a smoothie, use them to provide texture in baking, or just gobble them the classic way – as a guacamole.
The explosion of juices and textures as you pop each berry into your mouth and gently bite into it cannot be described – it can only be felt.
Berries are chock-full of antioxidants – those disease-fighting, cell-protecting, immune-strengthening miracles – that protect against cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart diseases, and inflammation. Berries are also high in Vitamin C, manganese, and fiber.
Raspberries and blackberries, in particular, would be fine additions to smoothies and oatmeal, not only as sweeteners, but as satiety-enhancers.
The spice of all seasons, cinnamon lends taste, texture, and nutrients to your meals.
The best part? You only need a pinch to feel a positive difference.
Research has shown that cinnamon contains anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial properties. A potent source of manganese, iron, and calcium, cinnamon improves skin, freshens breath, fights infections, aids in digestion, and prevents diabetes.
Caution: Ingesting high levels of cinnamon can cause lung damage, premature labor, blood thinning, and constipation.
Unless you are lactose intolerant (or allergic), dairy products make fine additions to your daily diet.
Full of protein, calcium, potassium, and B-Vitamins, dairy promotes bone health, regulates nervous systems, strengthens the immune system, lowers blood pressure, aids digestion, and improves kidney function.
Fortified products also contain Vitamin D, which is critical for the absorption of calcium and phosphorus.
Caution: Stay away from artificially sweetened flavored yogurts or milk.
The nutritional profile of eggs run a mile long: protein (all nine essential amino acids), folate, Vitamins A, D, E, K, B5, B6, B12, folate, choline, omega-3 acids, manganese, iodine.
Eggs are crucial for mental health, weight loss optical acuity, cognitive functioning, muscle growth and repair, and metabolic functions. One egg alone contains 5 to 8 grams of protein (depending on the size).
Yolks contain saturated fat (2 g for one large egg) and high cholesterol content (184 mg per yolk). Instead of avoiding them completely, limit your intake of yellow per day and eat more egg whites.
Few fruits are as multi-colored as figs: red, brown, green, and purple, to name a few. But these natural sweeteners do a lot more than brighten a boring plate.
High in fiber, and packed with gut-healthy, bone-healthy and heart-healthy vitamins and minerals, figs are nutritional powerhouses. They prevent constipation, regulate sugar absorption, reduce the risk of cancers, forestall macular degeneration, improve sexual stamina, and inhibit hypertension.
That being said, the high sugar content of figs can lead to blood sugar spikes, decayed teeth, and diarrhea.
Pro Tip: Space out your consumption through the week to reap the rewards without paying the dues.
Ghee, or clarified butter, is a staple food in South Asian countries, with a special nod to India.
Ghee is prepared by boiling unsalted butter and straining the melted mixture to remove milk solids (which is why it contains minimal lactose). When cooled, the golden-brown liquid pure ghee solidifies into a creamy semi-solid.
Ghee’s high smoking point allows you to cook foods at high temperatures without being unduly worried about destroying nutrients. It contains fat-soluble vitamins A, D, K, and E, which are especially necessary for healthy metabolism, bone growth, balanced hormones, and improved skin.
Despite these life-changing benefits, don’t start gulping ghee by the spoonful. Undue consumption of this saturated fat will hurt your health. The good news is that you only need a teeny bit – even 1/4th tsp – to experience its flavor and receive its benefits.
Pro tip: Unchilled ghee blends better with foods and also tastes fresher.
The jewel of Mediterranean diet, hummus is simple to prepare, beneficial to long-term health, and is delicious to boot.
The basic version of hummus is prepared using chickpeas, olive oil, and tahini (a dash of lemon and salt lend an extra kick!). But hummus can also – and often is – adapted to individual tastes. Bell peppers, spinach, garlic, edamame, mushroom, avocado, cheese, beans – you name it and it has found its place in hummus.
Traditionally prepared hummus is rich in fiber, proteins, minerals, vitamins, manganese, copper, folate and essential fatty acids.
From regulating blood sugar levels and aiding digestion to giving relief from rheumatoid arthritis and reducing risks of cancer, hummus provides a gamut of benefits.
However, hummus is high in calories – just 1 tbsp is equal to 25 calories – and has to be portion controlled. It sucks to not be able to dip your finger into a hummus bowl, I know.
Note: The nutritional profile varies according to the ingredients in hummus. E.g, adding spinach would up the iron content while adding avocados will increase Vitamin B-6.
Iodine is required for the proper functioning of the thyroid glands, which, in turn, controls your body’s “base metabolic rate”. Your base metabolic rate affects key processes, including your food intake, sleep, heart rate, toxin removal, fetus development, blood pressure, mineral absorption, and body weight.
Lack of iodine leads to a host of emotional and physical disorders, including depression, broken skin, fatigue, mental retardation, obesity, goiter, and poor fertility.
A salt that is fortified with iodine derives these benefits.
The American Heart Association recommends you limit consumption to within 1,500 mg per day (which amounts to 1/2 tsp of salt). Don’t ever go beyond 2,300 mg per day.
Excessive salt increases the amount of sodium in your body, which can lead to serious illnesses like kidney stones, high blood pressure, clogged arteries, and heart complications.
Java aka COFFEE
Turns out drinking the “most commonly consumed psychoactive substance” – aka caffeine – is incredibly beneficial.
Black coffee improves mood, metabolism, energy levels, memory, alertness, physical performance and cognitive capabilities.
The primary nutrients in coffee – Vitamin B2, potassium and manganese – support eye health, protect skin and hair, enhance muscular strength, lower risk of cardiovascular diseases, regulate body fluids, reduce headaches, and regulate blood pressure. Coffee’s anti-inflammatory properties lower the “chances of chronic inflammation” and other serious diseases, such as cancer.
Unfortunately, we negate these benefits by loading our cups with sweeteners (artificial and natural), cream, and other unhealthy additions.
It’s time to dump the sugar and reconnect with the teasing aroma and trenchant flavor of black coffee.
If you judged a fruit by its cover, you would miss out on the mouthwatering sweetness of kiwi. Its scruffy skin conceals a vivid green interior with an oval center that’s surrounded by black seeds.
Kiwi is not just a pretty face in a salad bowl, a smoothie, or atop your yogurt. It is a nutrition powerhouse with high levels of Vitamin C, Vitamin K, potassium, lutein, folate, copper, and fiber. Consuming kiwis on a regular basis boosts your heart, gut, skin, eyes, nervous system, immune system, optic system, and bones.
Ingesting too many kiwis per day can mess up your blood sugar levels. One small kiwi has 7 grams of sugar – which is a lot for a fruit of this size. Kiwis are also commonly associated with allergies, mouth rashes, and skin lesions. If in doubt, consult your doctor to avoid inadvertent reactions.
Pro tip: A pinch of salt (1/16 tsp) will balance out the sweetness of a cut kiwi.
Legumes – a category that encompasses almost 13,000 varieties of beans, lentils, and peas – are one of the most filling and flavorful foods.
Each legume has a different ratio and combination of nutrients. Soya beans, for example, have much higher calcium content than dried peas, which in turn have much higher potassium than garbanzo beans.
Legumes support normal fetal development, hormone balance, muscular development, cognitive functioning, digestion, cardiovascular health, blood sugar management, bone strengthening, nervous system maintenance, and energy production.
Caution: Excessive legume consumption can lead to flatulence, stomach aches, bloating, diarrhea, and potassium toxicity.
Meats have acquired a not-so-positive reputation because of their high cholesterol and saturated fats content. However, not all meats are the same. Natural lean meats provide the same benefits with minimal health hazards.
Meats are a source of complete proteins (all 9 essential acids), B vitamins, iron, and zinc.
The B vitamins break down macronutrients into energy, and promote nervous system health and cardiovascular wellness.
Iron is essential for the protein metabolism and production of red blood cells.
Zinc increases immunity, prevents diabetes, improves mood and energy levels, aids in nutrient absorption, and supports liver health.
Put it all together and you have a superfood in lean meat.
Caution: consuming too much protein can lead to weight gain, constipations, mood withdrawals, or even bad breath. Limit daily consumption to less than 4 oz. of lean meat.
Are there any other foods with as many varieties as heart-healthy, memory-enhancing, immune-strengthening nuts?
Nuts are fantastic sources of protein, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, iron, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, selenium, calcium, potassium, thiamin, phosphorus, copper, manganese, and folate.
Now that’s a mouthful.
Of course, not all the nutrients are present in every nut. Walnuts, for example, are the best sources of omega-3 (heart-healthy) fatty acids, while pistachios lead the roost in iron, and almonds are relatively high in fiber.
The bad news? High calories.
I get it – it’s hard to stop at just one cup.
Pro Tip: Stay away from honey roasted, cinnamon coated, cocoa coated nuts.
Oatmeal is a whole grain that rivals eggs as America’s favorite breakfast food (not counting bacon, i.e.) – and for numerous reasons.
- The fiber promotes weight loss, good gut bacteria, and moderates insulin responses.
- The protein builds muscle mass, maintains bone health, synthesizes ‘feel good’ hormones like dopamine and serotonin, promotes cognitive functions, and balances blood pressure.
- The complex carbs “release slowly into the bloodstream” to reduce energy crashes, improves mood, enhances alertness, and reduces jitteriness.
- It is low in saturated fats.
- It is packed with vitamins and minerals that support the heart, the bone, the tissues, the muscles, the gut, the brain, the nervous system, the skin, the eyes, the immune system, and the blood cells.
Opt for steel-cut oats and rolled oats over instant oats and quick oats (Ignore sugary packaged oats like the plague).
Sometimes the supporting star steals the show.
Black pepper adds a delicious “kick” to savory dishes, such as soups (tomato soup and pepper go together like PB and J), marinades, curries, and eggs.
Black pepper is an abundant source of manganese, iron, dietary fibers, proteins, and Vitamin K. It provides relief from digestive problems, nutrient absorption, cardiovascular problems, memory loss, macular degeneration, respiratory disorders, gas, arthritis, body toxins, bloating, infections, earaches, and sinus congestions.
Note, however, that excess pepper can not only upset your stomach, but it can also irritate your intestines. ½ to 1 tsp is enough to receive the umpteen benefits of black pepper.
Pro Tip: Drinking a blend of yogurt, water, and a pinch of black pepper powder AFTER a meal aids digestion.
Over the last few years, quinoa, a gluten-free and wholesome seed, has emerged as a much-loved multipurpose food that has found a place in breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and dinners.
Much like oatmeals, consuming quinoa regulates insulin production in your body and reduces the risk of Type 2 Diabetes. The potassium stabilizes body fluids and blood sugar, alleviates stress, and prevents muscle cramps. Magnesium is known to provide relief from headaches by relaxing the blood vessels in the brain. Phosphorus enhances brain processes, reduce muscle fatigue, maintains healthy bones, and supports digestive health.
Caution: Quinoa has often been linked with allergies and stomach pains.
This superstar of Asian cuisine is an immensely adaptable food that can be turned into a porridge, blended with vegetables, served plain with curries, or used as a flour to thicken dishes.
Short-grain and long-grain white rice are refined carbohydrates with low fiber and a high glycemic index. They are quickly digested and converted into blood glucose. This leads to a spike-and-crash of blood sugar levels, which stimulates hunger. Always supplement white rice with fiber-rich veggies and protein-rich dairy to improve satiety.
Brown rice is the whole grain and unrefined version of white rice. It has more fiber, more proteins, and a richer nutrient profile: selenium, magnesium, zinc, fiber, and Vitamins E, B1, B3, B6.
Brown rice relieves a gamut of illnesses, including imbalanced blood sugar, hypertension, depression, skin disorders, digestion, insomnia, inflammations, and neurodegenerative disorders.
The best things come in a couple of teaspoons.
Well, at least when it comes to seeds.
Seeds are abundant sources of nutrients, fiber, proteins and good fats.
For instance, chia, flax and hemp seeds, three of the most popular seeds, provide copious benefits: blood cell formation, energy production, cholesterol reduction, skin (nails, and hair) health, immune system maintenance, muscular strength, satiety, gut health, and stress reduction.
Note: Seeds are high in calories and fat. Stick to 1-2 tbsps. per day to receive the benefits without the guilt.
One of the primary sources of proteins in vegetarian diets, tofu is a gluten-free dish prepared from soybean curd.
A long list of nutrients is sure to provide a long list of benefits.
Tofu’s “anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and blood pressure lowering” properties alleviate bad cholesterol, liver damage, and congestive heart failures. The protein and fiber content wards off frequent hunger pangs and unhealthy snacking. A snapshot of its nutrients:
Tofu is also used to decrease the severity of menopausal symptoms, such as depression, hot flashes, fatigue, hormonal fluctuations, weight gain, and breast cancer.
Note: Those who take medications for depression must consult your doctor before consuming tofu. The soy in tofu increases the risk of blood clots.
Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
What’s better than sipping a cup of hot chocolate (with marshmallows) while watching snowflakes twirl and turn and tumble to the ground with a silent sigh?
Unsweetened cocoa powder is a beneficial alternative to the packaged “sugary” versions. Not only is the subtle sweetness comforting, a single teaspoon includes a variety of body-loving nutrients.
Following is a nutritional chart for 1 tbsp of unsweetened dry cocoa powder:
Unsweetened cocoa powder is essential for your immune system, bone maintenance, blood flow, cardiac health, brain functions, nutrient metabolism, energy production, and cell development.
The next time the urge to spike your cocoa with sugar hits, stop and take a sip of the real stuff. You might never go back.
Granted this is a broad category, but, really, every vegetable is a veritable jewel. It is impossible to pick one over another.
A balanced diet includes a variety of vegetables: starches (e.g. potatoes, corn), cruciferous vegetables (e.g. broccoli, cauliflower), allium vegetables (e.g.onions, scallions), grass family veggies (e.g. corn, bamboo shoots), goosefoot veggies (e.g.,beet, spinach), legumes (e.g., peas, green beans), gourds (e.g. zucchini, pumpkin), composite vegetables (e.g.lettuce, artichoke) etc.
Here are the nutrients in just a handful of veggies
Raw, cooked, pureed, blended, steamed, cut, or uncut, veggies reign supreme over all. Experiment to your heart’s content and enjoy the leafiness, yumminess, and wholesomeness of veggies.
Caution: Fibrous vegetables can cause bloating, gassing, and constipation. Starches have higher calories and glycemic indexes, which hinder weight loss and throw blood sugar levels out of whack.
We destroy our bodies with artificially sweetened energy drinks, caffeinated fluids, and fructose-filled juices. Meanwhile, water – a clean, FREE, zero-calorie drink – eagerly awaits its turn to quench thirst, reduce headaches, release body toxins, moisturize skin, regulate body temperature, oxygenate the body, ease digestion, increase energy, clean colon, and alleviate tiredness.
Did you know that you can last much longer without food than you can without water?
That said, overhydrating your body is not recommended. There is such a thing as overhydration, and it leads to an imbalance of fluids, low levels of sodium, nausea, dizziness, and bloating.
Do not think of water as a substitute for food. And do not drink water if you feel uncomfortably full. When you consume the appropriate amounts of water – no more and no less – your body will thank you.
Pro Tip: Drink a glass of water after meals/snacks/coffee to reset your taste buds and feel satiated.
Yeast (not the beer kind)
Nutritional yeast is a yellow-colored deactivated yeast which, unlike brewer’s yeast, doesn’t foam, froth or ferment. Consequently, it cannot be used to produce baked goods or alcoholic drinks.
What it can do is supply you with a number of health benefits, primarily due to its significant concentration of B-vitamins, fiber (¼ cup – 5 grams), and complete proteins (¼ cup = 9 grams). It’s also gluten-free, has no added sugar, and contains low fat and sodium.
Nutritional yeast has a cheesy or nutty flavor and is usually sold as granules, flakes, or a powder. It can be used to thicken soups, sprinkled atop veggies (and popcorn!), and in smoothies (some people even use it on bread!).
Note: Fortified nutritional yeast has a richer nutrient profile than regular nutritional yeast. One serving (1/4 cup) contains anywhere from 200% to 800% of the daily recommended value for B-vitamins.
You might have just found your new favorite topping.
The next time you are about to toss orange or lemon rinds in the trash, don’t. You might just be getting rid of a superfood.
Orange peels, for instance, contain Vitamins C and A, pectin (a form of soluble fiber that slows digestion), enzymes and fiber. It is often used as a remedy for cold, flu sinus congestion, histamine overload, skin irritations, allergic reactions, “respiratory distress”, lung cleansing, and oxidant damage.
Lemon peels are not far behind. They are amazing sources of Vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and citric acid. They support bone health, boost oral hygiene, eradicate toxins, fight cancer, remove body toxins, reduce cholesterol, heal dermal ailments, and promote heart health.
Other common fruits and vegetables with nutritious peels: apple (potassium, fiber, calcium, Vitamins C, A and K), potatoes (iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamin B6, vitamin C), cucumbers (fiber, potassium, Vitamin K), eggplant (anti-inflammatory and antioxidant phytochemicals), mangoes (omega-3 and omega-6 acids), bananas (fiber, potassium).
Who would have thought fruit peels could be this wholesome, eh?!
So Many Choices, So Little Time
A sugar-free diet isn’t about counting your carbs; it’s about celebrating your taste buds. It isn’t about shunning food groups; it’s about savoring wholesome meals. It isn’t about shedding pounds; it’s about sustaining your health.
This is by no means a comprehensive list and is only meant to get you started on the right track. It is my hope that you will embrace the diversity, flexibility, and delicacy of these natural foods and find your own ways to enjoy them.
So, tell me, what’s your favorite food from this list?