Maybe you want to eat healthier but get intimidated or turned off by the idea of foods like chia seeds or nutritional yeast or funky powders straight out of Yuppy Cooking 101. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy playing around with all sorts of ingredients but if you’re just looking for simple sugar-free breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack ideas using ingredients or meals you grew up with, you actually don’t have to stock a strange sounding pantry.
There’s a reason why I’m focus on everyday foods. While looking up sugar-free recipes for the 7 Day Sugar-Free Challenge, I was disheartened and annoyed by the overwhelming number of sites that posted exotic or unnecessarily complex recipes using anything from chia seeds to goat’s milk at the expense of more approachable and delicious meals beginners or everyday people might want to cook. While experimenting is fun for those of us who enjoy being foodies and trying new ingredients, it is off-putting for the average person who just wants to eat healthy without learning an entirely new food culture.
Another issue I had while searching for sugar-free meals were all the recipes that popped up on my search that use equally blood-sugar spiking ingredients from honey to maple syrup to agave or required new and relatively unstudied sugar replacers like stevia for everything. If you’re going sugar-free for health reasons, consuming foods that will have the same metabolic impact on your body as sugar is hardly the way to go. Adding a sugar replacer to everything seems hardly healthy. Free lunches are hard to find and anything that claims to be a cure all is usually not one. Besides, we want to curb our sugar cravings, not indulge them. Keep giving it sweets – whether artificial or real – and we’ll just want more and more, which can easily lead to slipping back to the hard stuff.
To help the everyday person trying to kick or lessen their added sugar intake, I compiled this short but helpful list of sugar-free dishes. Here are easy, simple and familiar meals anyone can make and better yet – enjoy.
Breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day, right? It not only gives our body energy but when done right, provides the essential nutrients it needs to function well, repair itself, and maintain our health in optimal condition.
Ditch the waffles, pastries, sugar-loaded cereals and blood-spiking bagels and donuts. Here are nutritious and delicious breakfasts anyone can make and which are highly familiar:
#1 Eggs, Any Way You Want Them
This simple, protein and nutrient rich food is surprisingly satisfying – whether served scrambled, poached, over-easy, sunny-side up, as an omelet or quiche, or in your breakfast burrito or wrap. Done this way, you’re not adding any sugar. There’s no need and who really wants to?
Eggs are versatile, especially omelets. You can make them with an almost endless amount of ingredients. But scrambled eggs are equally versatile. People typically scramble them alone or with sausage or hash browns but I often scramble them with leftovers like rice, stir fries, burrito bowls, and tabbouleh. That’s for starters.
When it comes to eggs, I splurge for the $3.99 Nelly’s free range and organic simply because I like to limit my Franken-foods when possible. But at the end of the day, even the $0.99 eggs are probably a thousand times better for you than that bowl of Lucky Charms you’d otherwise pour.
#2 – Yogurt, Plain+
You can do a lot with yogurt and it’s sugar-free if you’re careful about buying it plain and reading ingredient labels. If you go for the flavored or “with fruit” or “with granola”, watch out because usually this just means the manufacturers have added tons of sugar. Grab the plain tub. You may think it’s ho-hum but it’s anything but when coupled with fruit and nuts or even with oats. Pick your favorite combo for a truly nutritious and surprisingly filling breakfast that will power you through the morning.
With yogurt topped with fruit and nuts, you’ll be getting tons of vitamins and minerals your body needs to start its day off right, plus a good helping of beneficial bacteria to help with digestion and even an immune system boost, among other benefits.
Just stay away from adding granola since most come laced with sugar – anything from molasses to honey to other types of sugar. It doesn’t matter if it’s organic brown cane sugar – it’s still added sugar.
#3 – Oats+
Like yogurt, oats may seem bland at first but they’re like potatoes – a vessel for everything that’s tasty. Plus, oats are gluten-free for those of us with sensitivities and who want more whole grains in our diets. To make these tasty, add fruit, yogurt, nuts or seeds. The fruit will sweeten the taste naturally.
You can eat oats cold or hot, make them instant or overnight, with milk or yogurt or even water. They’re simple, easy and pretty cheap. You really can’t go wrong.
#4 – Breakfast Tacos
These are great breakfasts, especially when made with corn tortillas which are naturally sugar-free (just read the labels as some companies may try to sneak some in). You can make them as vegan, veggie or as carnilicious as you want and unless you’re creating some sort of dessert taco, you’re not adding sugary confections. Watch out on your salsa though as some come with added sugar.
#5 – Skillet Scrambles
This is a hearty breakfast. All you need is a pan and typical ingredients. Nothing fancy needed. Pick a protein – whether that’s tofu, tempeh, eggs, pork or beef, and scramble it with veggies from spinach to peppers, some diced potatoes or sweet potatoes, and a dash of salt and pepper and you have a wonderful breakfast feast that doesn’t include sugar. Just be careful to read ingredient labels if you opt for sausage and some veggie “meats” – they often come with added sugar – so try to stick as close to the original ingredient as possible. You’ll still be plenty satisfied.
If you’re going out and buying your lunches, you may be surprised by how much sugar is actually going into that meal. Even sushi these days comes laden with high fructose corn syrup (which is really upsetting). Sauces and condiments also usually contain corn syrup or some form of sugar, let alone the extra sugar in any breads or pastas you buy. If you want to make sure you’re eating healthy, it’s best to control the ingredients by making it yourself.
There’s an art to bringing your own lunch. Here are easy and delicious favorites that won’t leave you scratching your head over how to pronounce any ingredient, not even quinoa.
#1 – Burrito Bowls
These are the best. You just combine rice, beans, toppings of your choice, and finish with salsa and guacamole if you so desire. The variety is pretty endless – from veggie to straight up carnivore. Since it’s a bowl, you’re not getting any added sugar that might be in the flour tortilla of your burrito. Just check the ingredients on your salsa and quac if you buy it pre-made as once again some manufactures will use any excuse to slip in sugar.
#2 – Cold Bean Salads
We don’t eat enough beans. These high nutrition packed pulses and legumes are the one food tied to longevity across all classes, races, and cultures. They come packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals and we should be eating at least a pound a week (aka two cans worth).
Bean salads are quick and versatile. Pick your favorite bean or beans and mix with veggies like peppers, tomato and cucumber. Throw in seeds like sunflower or grains like rice, buckwheat or kasha, and a dash of vinegar and you are good to go. It doesn’t have to be complex but you can get as creative as you want. No need to heat and serve it either. What’s more convenient than that?
#3 – Chicken or Tuna Fish Salad
This is a simple dish to make for a light lunch. You can buy tuna fish or chunked chicken in cans, drain them and mix with mayo or make your own with cooked fish fillets or chicken for less salt. After that, you can add chopped cucumber and onion or serve on a bed of lettuce or greens. Throw in a side of fruit, salad, cheese or whole grain crackers and you have a nice little lunch.
#4 – Soups
Soup and salad is a classic lunch. You can make your own or buy it canned. Just read labels. A good soup doesn’t need any sugar. You can get as simple as lentil soup or go with gaspacho. The sky is the limit.
#5 – Salads
Places like Chopt and others have made salads a big business. You can grab greens and dress them up with endless choices from chicken to tempeh, load on the cheese and bacon bits and be pretty sugar-free so long as you watch your dressing options. Toss in nuts or seeds, sliced apples and you’ve got a pretty tasty and healthy lunch. Just remember to ditch the thousand island dressing for an olive and vinegar-type blend.
Dinner and lunch often overlap in their dishes. Leftovers from dinner can make wonderful lunches. You’ll notice I haven’t included bread or pasta-based meals. The reason is because bread and pasta tend to hit the bloodstream like pure sugar and cause the same metabolic problems a sugar-free diet tries to prevent or reverse. That and pasta sauces invariably come heavy with sugar, so much it’s usually surprising. It’s better to just steer clear of these two categories. We probably eat heavier dinners than we need but if you like a good meal, you won’t be disappointed with the following ideas.
#1 – Soups & Stews
What’s more wonderful than a soup or stew on a cool evening or during winter? Or really anytime of the year? You’ve got classics like vegetable soups to beef stews and house favorites like chili. You can make them with beans or fish, mostly broth to heavy and thick. They are perfect for making a week’s worth of meals and freezing too for those with time crunches.
#2 – Stir Fries
These are another versatile class of dishes. You’ve got your rice based versions, your noodle versions, and your carb-free. You can make them veggie or meaty. You can go Chinese or Thai style. Once you start exploring stir fries, you realize there is more than just your typical chicken teriyaki. Be careful on sauces though as these are easy vehicles for added sugar. Pick the ones that come without. I’ve found that even some soy sauce these days can have added sugar depending on the brand.
#3 – Curries
Like stir fries, these are amazing dishes. You can go the coconut cream rout of the Thai variety or the lentil and spice route of India. There’s even the Japanese curry rice. Curry can be thick or just a seasoning, spicy or mild. You can do veggie and vegan or go for the pork and lamb. Curry is a beautiful thing.
#4 – Steak and Potatoes
Not keen on Asian food? Well, good news, steak and potatoes is pretty sugar-free. Throw in an extra veggie to up the nutrition and gets some added vitamins, minerals and fiber. Your typical Mid-western meal of meat + veg + salad or soup works well in this category. So long as you’re not going crazy with the sauces and buying everything in a box or frozen bag, aka processed food, you’ll actually be eating a sugar-free meal. The key is to actually cook. These days manufacturers use sugar as a preservative (and to addict us but I digress) so it’s in a lot of foods on the shelf.
#5 – Tacos & Fajitas
In general, traditional Mexican or Tex-Mex food is pretty sugar free, especially if your main carb is rice or corn tortillas. You can get a great helping of beans if you put them in your taco or as a side, plus up your veggie quota with salsa, quacamole and veggie fajita servings. Whether you’re eating veggie, carne asada or fish tacos, you’ll find something that you love to chow down on.
We all get a little peckish between meals from time to time or want to indulge in dessert. Here’s how to sate that gnawing need.
#1 – Fruit & Cheese
This combo is a classic favorite. Personally I’m a fan of sliced apple with a random cheese to curb my evening craving for dessert and assuage my sweet tooth. But any fruit works well and you can rotate through your favorites for endless varieties.
#2 – Hummus & Veggie Dippers
If you make your own hummus (fairly easy to do actually), you won’t have any added sugar. If you buy it, read the ingredients to make sure you’re not getting surprised by sugar. Hummus comes in a variety of flavors these days – from the still tasty regular version, to the lovely olive tapenade or red pepper hummus. Slice up veggie dippers like cucumbers or even your yellow squash or zucchini. They’ll make a great and healthy snack.
#3 – Tortilla Chips & Salsa or Quacamole
Tortilla chips are naturally made without sugar but always read the labels since some manufacturers try to sneak it in. Same with salsa and quacamole. They should be naturally sugar-free but read the labels just in case. You can always make your own pretty easily.
#4 – Dessert Shakes With Fruit
This is my go to dessert when I’m craving ice cream. I’ll mix up a frozen fruit of my choice with either yogurt and coconut milk. Sometimes, especially with banana shakes, I’ll throw in some cocoa powder and a nut butter. I’m partial to tahini but that’s a bit frou frou for this article so feel free to go with good old fashioned peanut butter (but again read the labels on your brand since you could be getting a lot more than peanuts).
There’s an almost limitless variety of fruit to choose from. When blended into a smoothie this way, it makes a pretty satisfying shake.
Eating Sugar-Free Is Actually Pretty Traditional
When you get down too it, people needlessly freak out about sugar-free labels and what counts as a sugar-free meal. To be fair, if you’re buying all your food as kits, frozen meals, heat and serve, take out, or from a package, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything that DOESN’T contain added sugar. However, if you go back to basics like your grandma probably used to cook, you’ll find endless dishes that are naturally sugar-free. Soups and stews, stir fries and curries, tacos and salads (without the sugary condiments of course), are wholesome, filling meals that are still commonly enjoyed at any dinner.
Carnivores can rejoice because if you’re cooking meat or seafood rather than buying it processed and pre-made, your meal is sugar-free as well. Be wary on sausages though. I had to stop eating them in the US since virtually every brand included high fructose corn syrup or some other sugar in them – unless I bought the overly expensive organic brands (and sometimes not even then).
If you want to eat sugar-free and improve your health, stay away from the processed foods sitting on the shelves or in the frozen food section. Go fresh as much as possible because anything else is probably loaded with sugar, let alone other health-sabotaging ingredients – or just lacking in nutrition, period. No need to buy new ingredients from foreign lands or pick up a dictionary to pronounce what’s in your food. If you want to try new foods, go for it! I love my nooch. But don’t feel like you have to or that good health comes in pills, powders, supplements or unpronounceable food fads of the year. Good health and nutrition that’s all sugar-free can actually be found pretty easily just by browsing the fresh produce, dairy, eggs, beans, nuts and seeds, meat and whole grains aisles.
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