About a year ago, I had the realization (or simply came out of denial…) that I needed to do something about my sugar intake. I love sweets, but whenever I really indulged, I noticed I didn’t feel great after. My stomach would become uneasy and I felt lethargic. After some research, I realized my body might be responding poorly to consistent spikes in my blood sugar. In other words: I was having too many desserts. This heartbreaking realization led me down the path to finding naturally sweetened desserts.
Because I wasn’t willing to completely cut desserts out of my diet, I did a deep dive into the world of sugar and decided to remove refined sugars from my diet. Life is too short to not treat yourself once in a while! We are lucky enough to live in a time when we all have access to unlimited numbers or recipes that can suit any and all dietary requirements.
First, we have to break down the different types of sugars. Refined sugars are sweeteners produced from sugar cane or sugar beets (this includes white and brown sugars, molasses, cane sugar, etc.) Natural sugars are fruits, honey, maple syrup, and coconut sugar. Natural sugars are less processed than refined sugars, which must go through a refining process to become white sugar, brown sugar, and more. I make it a point to avoid processed foods, so it only makes sense that I would also try to avoid processed sugars.
Natural sugars vs. refined sugars
Natural sugars sit at a low-medium glycemic index while refined sugars sit at a high glycemic index. The blood system absorbs carbohydrates with a higher glycemic index faster than lower indexes, causing your blood sugar to increase quickly. Your pancreas then has to work overtime to reduce your blood sugar, causing you to feel sluggish and fatigued. The more prolonged this is, the more damaging the long-term effects: think weight gain, obesity, and diabetes.
Although I wasn’t necessarily looking for health benefits from sugar, it helps to know that sugar cane has very little nutrients, while natural sugars generally have more nutrients.
Why wouldn’t you choose the most nutritious option? *A quick note: We’re not saying to go for broke with natural sugars or that they are necessarily good for you. You still need to closely monitor your sugar intake!
For me, replacing refined sugars with natural sugars meant that if I wanted something sweet, I would most likely need to bake it myself. There are a lot of complexities in baking when it comes to this, so I left it to the pros to figure out. To my surprise, there are many amazing recipes floating around that use only natural sugars. Trust me, they will not disappoint!
Scroll on for some of the best naturally sweetened desserts…
These cupcakes can be made grain-free and dairy-free as well, making them one of my favorite naturally sweetened desserts thanks to their delicious combo of banana, pineapple, and coconut.
Pecan Pie from Cookie & Kate
Get indulgent with this absolutely gorgeous and tasty pecan pie recipe. Unlike most pecan pies, which are sweetened with corn syrup and refined sugar, this pecan pie is naturally sweetened with real maple syrup.
This stunning slab pie is also grain-free and vegan, making it the perfect summertime dessert. But here’s why it’s on my must-make list. The crust is made with coconut oil and the filling is sweetened naturally with orange juice and honey/maple syrup.
Keep it cool with a little pudding, it’s one of the yummiest naturally sweetened desserts around! Maple syrup keeps this recipe naturally sweetened, too.
It’s ice cream season year-round in my opinion, and this five-ingredient vegan, paleo, gluten-free & refined sugar-free dessert recipe is as good as it gets. Oh, and it’s only five minutes of active prep. This recipe calls for honey but you can substitute for maple syrup, too.
This grain-free cheesecake couldn’t be easier to whip together for your next gathering with a lemon honey filling that is seriously delicious.
These vegan and grain-gree brownies are as delicious as they are good for you. It’s one of my most beloved naturally-sweetened desserts thanks to the dates that also help to create the fudgy texture.
Sometimes you just need some good old-fashioned cinnamon rolls, and this one is a real treat. This recipe uses coconut sugar and maple syrup as the sweeteners and you can also make them dairy-free/vegan friendly by using dairy-free butter and almond milk, or regular butter/milk is good, too.
Don’t you just love classic shortbread? These are made with almond flour and maple syrup and they taste just like the classic if not better.
Indulge your sweet tooth with these delicious chocolate chip cookies. Thanks to the coconut sugar, they have a nice chewy bite to them, too.
You’d never guess this chocolate sheet cake is a naturally sweetened dessert—it’s a total crowd-pleaser—but that it’s also baked in a single pan. Yep, just bake it up, dump some frosting on top, toss on some chocolate shavings for good measure, and you’re done!
Need another ice cream option? This strawberry rhubarb recipe such a happy, delicious dessert. The strawberries and bananas make it sweet and flavorful and the rhubarb swirl gives it a sweet and tangy kick.
You can’t beat banana bread, and this recipe is just as good as your mom’s. This recipe, however, is naturally sweetened with honey or maple syrup, offering some trace nutrients that white sugar does not.
Elevate your next meal with this strawberry mascarpone tart with a gluten-free almond flour pie crust, a maple-sweetened fluffy mascarpone filling, and fresh strawberries on top.
Feeling English? Whip up its sticky toffee pudding the next time you’re looking to make a naturally sweetened dessert with less than 7g total carbs per serving. To keep the carbs low, the dates were replaced with Yacon syrup, which only has about 12g per tablespoon. For the sauce, it takes Swerve Brown and Bocha Sweet or allulose sweetener to create the gooey rich sauces to mimic caramel.
This post was originally published on June 19, 2019, and has since been updated.