Naturally Sweet Foods to Lower Your Sugar Intake

Looking for natural sweet foods to help you take in less added sugar? You’re in luck, with this list of naturally sweet foods.

assorted fruits on a table including pineapple, bananas, grapes, kiwis

When it comes to your sugar intake, here’s a fact: We should all be eating less added sugar. But how to do it?

For starters, no-added-sugar foods, such as natural sweet foods, can satisfy your sweet tooth. I’m giving you lots of sugar information, including the best natural sugar foods and more. 

If you have a sweet tooth like me, then curbing your intake of added sugar isn’t the easiest thing for you!

And Americans love sugar: On average, we eat about 17 teaspoons of added sugar daily in the form of table sugar, honey, agave nectar syrups, and more.

But there are very doable ways to cut back on this amount. For starters, it begins with the sweet foods list that follows.

And hey, cutting back on added sugar can help your health in many ways. It can even help you lose weight for the long term! Plus, controlling your intake of sugar and carbs is extremely beneficial for people with diabetes.

In this article, we’ll take a look at why you want to curb your added sugar intake, as well as natural sweet foods that you can enjoy to take your sweet tooth.

three doughnuts covered in sprinkles

What is added sugar?

Have you ever stopped to think about how much added sugar you eat in a day? 

I’m not talking about the naturally occurring sugars that come from fruit, vegetables (yes, veggies contain some sugar!), or unsweetened milk products.

I’m talking about the sugars that are added to foods like baked goods, yogurt and even ketchup.

One of the most common questions I get about nutrition is related to sugar. Added sugar is sugar that isn’t naturally occurring in food. Sources of added sugar include granulated sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, and honey. 

Added sugar limits

Not too long ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) set forth sugar guidelines. The guidelines suggest that sugars make up less than 10 percent of total daily calorie intake.

That’s 150 calories of sugar, or about 9 teaspoons or 38 grams of added sugar, per a 1,500-calorie daily diet. For extra benefit, the guidelines suggest further lowering intake to less than 5 percent of daily calories from sugar. 

To put that in perspective, 1.5 ounces of Quaker Instant Oatmeal Maple and Brown Sugar contains 12 grams of added sugar, whereas the same amount of Quaker Original Oatmeal has no added sugar.

And a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola has 39 grams of added sugar.

Make sure you’re reading food labels! The nutrition facts label on the back of a food package is really helpful. Many processed foods (looking at you, doughnuts and ice cream!) tend to be higher in added sugar.

This 10 percent recommendation is close to what other health organizations recommend. The American Heart Association, for instance, suggests that women take in about 100 calories from added sugar (or about 6 teaspoons).

For men, this amount should be 150 calories. WHO attempted to release the 10 percent recommendation in 2002—but it fell through, likely due to lobbying from the sugar industry.

This is why it’s important to consider eating more natural sweet foods.

Three bowls of nuts and dates

Health effects

No matter the guidelines, the average person consumes much more than any of the recommendations: 24 to 27 teaspoons per day, or 100 to 200 grams of sugar.

This is problematic for many reasons.

Heart health

A review study in Open Heart found that added sugars may be an even bigger determinant for heart health than sodium.

The study authors think that added sugars may increase your heart rate, inflammation, variability in blood pressure—and can even cause disturbances in metabolism.

In the study, researchers looked at several studies, finding that eating high amounts of added sugar significantly increases blood pressure. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease.

Even more shocking: One of the studies reviewed found that people who eat 25 percent or more of their daily calories from added sugar (so about 98 grams, or 24 teaspoons, for a 1,500-calorie daily diet) have almost three times the risk of dying from heart disease.

This is yet another reason to embrace natural sweet foods!

Weight management

Limiting your added sugar intake can help limit how often you raise your blood sugar levels and can help you keep weight gain at bay.

In fact, the WHO guidelines reference two review studies. One study, published in BMJ, shows that lowering sugar intake may lead to a drop in weight of about 2 pounds.

The other study, published in Journal of Dental Research, found that intake of free sugars of more than 10 percent is linked to higher rates of tooth decay.

If you’re following a low glycemic index diet to help keep you insulin levels stable, this sugar advice is particularly helpful! 

a clear jar filled with sugar cubes and metal tongs

How to cut back on added sugar

Want more ways to eat less added sugar? Here’s advice from myself and my registered dietitian colleagues!

Read the ingredients list

Added sugar may be present under many code names—including fructose, maltose, sucrose, cane sugar, raw sugar, molasses, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, corn sweetener, honey, and more.

Try plain yogurt

A fruit-flavored 6-ounce yogurt can have 27 grams of sugar. Choose a no-added-sugar yogurt, and you’ll take in less than a fourth of that amount—and all the sugar you do get is naturally occurring sugar.

If the plain yogurt tastes too tart, you can add a sprinkle of cinnamon (one of the healthiest natural sweetener ideas out there), sliced fruit, or berries.

Plus, yogurt tends to be a high-protein food, which helps to keep you satisfied for longer.

top down view of cooked pasta with tomato sauce on top

Buy no-sugar-added marinara

Tomato sauces can have 8 grams of sugar per a half-cup serving. Look for one that has no added sugar (and thus an impressive sugar label!), such as Lucini Italia Tuscan Marinara Sauce with Roasted Garlic, with only 3 grams of sugar per serving.

You can also make a DYI tomato sauce. “You will feel like an Italian chef with a savory sauce simmering away in your house,” says Sarah Pflugradt, MS, RDN, author of Favorite Family Meals.

two glasses filled with iced coffee next to lilac flowers

Ask for just one pump

Most flavored coffees come with at least a few pumps of sweetener—and each pump contains about 20 grams of sugar, almost an entire day’s worth!

Don’t drink your sugar

Say bye-bye to sodas and sugary fruit cocktails.

“Instead, infuse your water with fruit by combining fresh sliced fruit and water in a pitcher and letting it sit overnight,” advises Natalie Rizzo, a sports dietitian in New York City. “Or for a frozen treat, make fruit ice cubes.”

side view of a hot steaming cup of tea

Swap soda for tea

Add tea to your list of foods that have no added sugar.

“I love to drink fruity herbal teas like peach, apple, lemon, or raspberry—hot or iced—when I want something sweet and I need to make water more exciting,” says Christy Brissette, MS, RD, author of Everyday Low Carb and owner of 80 Twenty Nutrition.

Sweeten oatmeal with fruit

Frozen fruits are healthy natural sweeteners. “Add frozen berries to your plain, warm, cooked oatmeal bowl instead of purchasing instant oatmeal that’s packaged with added sugar,” says Tori Holthaus, MS, RDN, founder of YES! Nutrition.

“The frozen berries melt and nearly liquefy into the oatmeal—and a sweet, delicious flavor results,” she says.

Add some citrus

Citrus can be a natural sweetener for baking. “It livens up most anything you add it to, and this is especially true for lower-sugar baked goods,” says Regan Jones, RD, cofounder of the dietitian-moderated recipe site Healthy Aperture.

“Add lemon zest to your blueberry muffins, and try cutting back the sugar in the recipe by about a quarter,” she says.

close up of fresh cherries

What is natural sugar?

Let’s settle this once and for all: You do not need to avoid all sugar to eat a healthy and well-balanced diet.

If you’re wondering about natural sugars—such as those in an apple or handful of berries—these pose no risk, according to the research. Dietary guidelines suggest we drastically reduce this added sugar intake.

Fortunately, there are plenty of naturally sweet foods to flavor recipes. Read on for the best natural sugar foods that curb sugar cravings, plus dietitian tips for reducing your total sugar intake.

Now, read on for some delicious and naturally sweet foods you can add to your day!

A bowl of chopped plums

3 naturally sweet foods

Let’s take a look at the top natural sweet foods and how you can prepare them to help tame your sweet tooth.

1. Cooked fruit

Here’s some food science for you: Heat boosts the natural sweeteners in food, especially the sweetness of fruits.

Berries, which get their rich color from disease-fighting anthocyanins, are great candidates for a quick sauté and might just be the best natural sweetener out there.

Peaches and apples are also great candidates for naturally sweet fruit that get even sweeter with heat. These fruits are some of my favorite added sugar substitutes.

Good for: a syrup stand-in on French toast, such as a protein French toast and as a mixer for oatmeal or a Greek yogurt parfait

Recipe: Make fruit oatmeal! Coat a medium skillet with 2 teaspoons grapeseed oil and place over medium-high heat. Add 1 cup berries.

Cook, stirring often, until soft, 3-4 minutes. Mix berries into cooked oatmeal, along with slivered almonds, flaxseeds, and chia seeds. Top with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt and a dash of nutmeg.

a bowl of dates spilling onto a black surface

3. Dried dates

Because fruit is comprised largely of water and sugar, drying concentrates its sugar content, amping up sweetness. Dried sweet dates in particular have a high sweet factor, plus nutrition in the form of fiber.

Just one Medjool date delivers up to 6 percent of your recommended daily fiber intake. Curious about which fruits have the least sugar?

Good for: a honey substitute in smoothies, blended with almond milk and ice for a healthy shake, a binder in fruit-and-nut bar recipes

Recipe: Make a smoothie! Blend a pitted Medjool date with a frozen banana, almond milk, and cinnamon for a simply sweet smoothie.

a knife chopped red onion

4. Caramelized onions

Veggies have natural sugars, too, and are one of the best all-natural sweeteners out there.

When onions are cooked over low, slow heat, their complex sugars break down into simpler ones, yielding a slightly sweet flavor. Onions also contain the antioxidant quercetin, which may help lower your risk for certain cancers.

Good for: topping for a sandwich, baked potato, or pizza; as an omelet filling

Recipe: Make an omelet! Heat ½ Tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add half a sliced onion, cover, and cook until golden, about 10 minutes.

Increase heat to medium-high, and cook while stirring until onion browns, 5-10 minutes. Fold a few spoonfuls into an omelet with goat cheese.

Save the rest as the best sandwich fillings!

Final thoughts

When it comes to choosing natural sweet foods, limit how many foods you eat that contain added sugars and instead opt for naturally sweet foods like fruit and caramelized vegetables.

A version of this content originally appeared in Yoga Journal.


Looking for natural sweet foods to help you take in less added sugar? You're in luck, with this list of naturally sweet foods.

I’d love to hear from you! Let me know if you try any of these natural sweet foods. Do you have any naturally sweet foods to add to this list?

Plant-Based Eating |

Find this post helpful? At no additional cost to you, you can support the maintenance of running this site by using my Amazon affiliate links to shop. Thank you so much.

And don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter to get updates delivered straight to your inbox! Also, download my free 3-day vegan meal plan.

Want to go shopping with a dietitian? Here’s your chance! I just opened up my very own storefront,  full of plant-based meal plans, grocery lists, recipe books, and more!

Join The Conversation

You Might Also Like

Comments Background Texture

Share Your Thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *