Ask the RD: What’s a Healthier Alternative to Sugar for Oatmeal, Coffee or Yogurt?

Ask the RD: What’s a Healthier Alternative to Sugar for Oatmeal, Coffee or Yogurt?

Sidney Fry, MS, RD
by Sidney Fry, MS, RD
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Ask the RD: What’s a Healthier Alternative to Sugar for Oatmeal, Coffee or Yogurt?

Many people instinctively reach for something sweet to start their mornings, whether it’s streusel-topped muffins, maple-brown sugar oatmeal, honey-clustered cereals or even vanilla and pumpkin-spice flavored lattes. These options can provide a quick burst of energy, but often leave you crashing by mid-morning, and over time, excess sugar consumption is linked to chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes.

Rather than finding “sweet” alternatives (even artificial sweeteners can lead to diabetes), try completely rewriting the breakfast script into something more savory. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to no more than 6 teaspoons for women (about 100 calories) and 9 teaspoons for men (about 150 calories) daily.

Some of the world’s healthiest breakfasts have little to no added sugar, and there’s no reason not to use oatmeal and yogurt as a base for savory toppings loaded with protein, fiber, flavor and heart-healthy fat.

Here are a few of our favorite ideas to help you cut back on sugar:

TRY SAVORY OPTIONS

NUT BUTTER

Add a hefty spoonful of nut butter to your yogurt or oatmeal. Not only does it create a complementary texture, but the heart-healthy fats and protein boost satiety. It’ll jazz up those not-quite-sweet-enough fresh berries with a nutty kick, too.

OLIVE OIL AND AVOCADO

Add a drizzle of olive oil and a sliced avocado, which adds a velvety-rich texture to both oatmeal and yogurt. These are sources of heart-healthy fats that can help keep blood sugar levels stable and reduce sugar cravings.

EGGS

Try topping yogurt or oatmeal with a poached egg, a pinch of coarse sea salt and some fresh herbs. The yolk packs a nutrient-dense punch and adds a refreshing, sunny addition to creamy oats and yogurt. You can even combine yogurt and grains in this savory Middle Eastern Breakfast Bowl.

GO FULL-FAT

Not only do heart-healthy fats add satiating staying power to your morning meal, but they also fuel your morning workouts, maintain healthy cells and keep your blood sugar steady. As a bonus they add great body and texture to yogurt, oatmeal and coffee.

YOGURT

The latest research shows full-fat dairy may be a better option than fat-free and low-fat. It has more satiating power, helps better control weight gain by filling us up faster, helps with nutrient absorption and (most important) tastes better. Higher fat yogurt is less tart and less tangy, making it naturally sweeter, creamier and more palatable than the fat-free varieties. If you are used to low-fat or fat-free, try one of our recommended topping combinations above to make it heartier.

OATMEAL

Adding a splash of whole milk, a dollop of grass-fed butter or a spoonful of nut butter gives oatmeal more staying power and a velvety smooth mouthfeel. Add a dash of salt, too, to bring out the natural nuttiness of the oats and you won’t miss sugar. Try making these savory overnight oats part of your healthy morning routine.

COFFEE

Your morning coffee loaded with sugar and creamer can definitely be a calorie and sugar bomb that adds up over time. Instead, try a more full-bodied alternative like 2% milk, soy or oat milk. You may be surprised at how much that splash of extra fat adds richness, cuts the bitterness and leaves little to no need for added sugar in coffee. Note: Skip coffee creamers, which are loaded with preservatives, additives, hydrogenated oils and processed sugars like corn syrup solids. Half and half or even heavy cream are far cleaner, and a little goes a long way.

You can also try swapping your regular coffee for cold brew. It uses room temperature water instead of boiling to soak in coffee grounds for 12–24 hours, and is reportedly less acidic and less bitter than hot coffee, thus eliminating the need for sugar to balance the edge.

SPICE IT UP

Spices have a unique way of boosting flavor and adding an unexpected element to your morning bowls and daily brew.

CINNAMON

This popular spice is no stranger to oatmeal and some research shows it can help boost your metabolism and act as an anti-inflammatory. It also adds a warm, cozy note to both coffee and yogurt.

UNSWEETENED COCOA POWDER

Not only does this antioxidant-rich ingredient have numerous health benefits, but it also adds a rich, deep chocolate flavor to coffee, yogurt and oatmeal with zero sugar. Combine with bananas, raspberries and/or peanut butter for the ultimate breakfast treat.

VANILLA EXTRACT

Nearly all of the store bought flavored varieties of vanilla oatmeal, lattes and yogurt have a lot of added sugar. A 5.3-ounce single serving of vanilla Greek yogurt has about 10 grams of added sugars. Pure vanilla extract has zero calories and zero sugar — just a few drops is all it takes to add a little extra zing. It’s especially good when added to oatmeal or coffee with a splash of coconut milk.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Eliminating added sugar from your morning routine is a lot easier and tastier than you may think. Try some of the suggestions above and you’ll likely find you stay full longer, get less drowsy mid-morning and function better.

About the Author

Sidney Fry, MS, RD
Sidney Fry, MS, RD

Sidney is a two-time James Beard Award-winning food and nutrition writer, editor and mom based out of Birmingham, Alabama. A registered dietitian with a passion for research and being proactive about health, she loves to eat, write, run and create simple, tasty meals with whole-food-based approach. Find out more from her website, Instagram or Twitter.

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