'Half the Sugar, All the Love:' Sweet substitutions for a healthier new year

Kristen Sze Image
Tuesday, January 7, 2020
Sweet substitutions for a healthier new year
Reducing added sugar is the number one thing you can do to improve your health in 2020. But it's not just candies, cakes, and soda that you have to watch out for.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Reducing added sugar is the number one thing you can do to improve your health in 2020. But it's not just candies, cakes, and soda that you have to watch out for.

Surprising fact: 20% of added sugar consumption in the American diet comes from hidden sugars found in recipes you don't even know are sweet like condiments, dressings, and sauces.

Identifying sneaky sugars and making sweet substitutes is the focus of a new cookbook by Modern Mom contributor and Bay Area mom Jennifer Tyler Lee.

Lee's HALF THE SUGAR, ALL THE LOVE features simple ingenious ideas for sweetening our favorite foods naturally.

Lee puts ABC7 news anchors Kristen Sze and Reggie Lee to the test and shares three recipes from her book, each with a secret ingredient to reduce sugar without sacrificing taste.

1. Mason Jar Salad with Creamy Poppy Seed Dressing (1/4 tsp sugar compared to 1 3/4 tsp, secret ingredient: pear)


cup farro

teaspoon plus a pinch of salt

1 cup diced, peeled butternut squash (cut in -inch pieces)

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

cup Creamy Poppy Seed Dressing (page 194)

cup pomegranate seeds

3 ounces lacinato kale, ribs removed, leaves very thinly sliced (about 3 loosely packed cups)

4 ounces Brussels sprouts (6 to 8 sprouts), root ends trimmed, very thinly sliced (about 1 cups)

cup roasted salted pumpkin seeds

2 tablespoons shaved Parmesan cheese

Crispy, chewy, crunchy, and tender-this colorful autumnal salad has a variety of textures to keep things interesting. The combination of farro, pumpkin seeds, and Parmesan cheese provides plenty of savory flavor as well as protein-without meat. Creamy Poppy Seed Dressing brings it all together with less than half the sugar of a store-bought dressing. This salad can be easily doubled.

-Preheat the oven to 400F.

-Place the farro in a strainer and rinse with cold water. Transfer the farro to a small saucepan with 1A cups water and R teaspoon of the salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until tender, about 30 minutes. Return the farro to the strainer to drain any excess water. Spread the farro on a plate and let it cool completely.

-Meanwhile, line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and place the butternut squash on top. Drizzle the squash with the oil and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Toss gently until the pieces are evenly coated. Roast the squash until lightly browned and tender, about 20 minutes, stirring the squash halfway through cooking. Let the squash cool completely.

-Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side salad.

2. Jen's Creamy Tomato Soup (0 tsp sugar compared to 1 3/4 tsp, secret ingredient: carrots)


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups chopped sweet onion (about 1 large onion)

8 ounces carrots (about 3 medium carrots), peeled and thinly sliced

3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

2 cans (14.5 ounces each) no-salt-added diced tomatoes, with their juice

3/4 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves

Unless made with perfectly ripe tomatoes, tomato soup can often taste acidic. That's why it's often tamed with the addition of sugar. Here, the boost of sweetness comes from carrots instead, which also thicken the soup and add a nice, velvety texture. Pair with grilled Cheddar cheese sandwiches cut into sticks for dipping.

-Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and carrots. Cover and cook until very soft, about 10 minutes, uncovering the pot to stir occasionally.

-Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes and 3D cups water, along with the salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. 3 Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat. Stir in the basil. 4 Working in two batches, carefully transfer the soup to a blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Return the soup to the pot, reheat if necessary. Ladle into individual bowls and serve. If packing in a lunch box, use a thermos.

Make Ahead

-The soup will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months.

-Serves 7

3. Chinese Chicken Lettuce Cups with Hoisin Sauce (1/4 tsp sugar compared to 4 tsp, secret ingredient: unsweetened peanut butter)


1 cup medium-grain white or brown rice

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut into small dice

1 large red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into small dice

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

1 pound lean ground chicken or turkey

1/4 cup Chinese Hoisin Sauce (page 187)

2 green onions, trimmed and minced

8 large butter lettuce leaves Sriracha, for serving (optional)

This easy dinner is based on a classic recipe for Chinese lettuce wraps. It's super fun for kids to eat because no forks are required! Our low-sugar Chinese Hoisin Sauce adds plenty of sweetness with very little added sugar.

-Cook the rice according to package directions. When done, remove the rice from the heat and let it steam, covered, in the pot.

-Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat and add the zucchini and bell pepper and half of the garlic. Season with 1/8 teaspoon of the salt and stir-fry until the vegetables are crisp-tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl. 3 Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and the remaining garlic to the pan with the red pepper flakes, if using, and swirl to coat the pan. Add the chicken and stir-fry over high heat, breaking up the meat as you go, until cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes. Add half of the hoisin sauce and stir-fry for 30 seconds.

-Reduce the heat to medium and add the cooked vegetables, green onions, and remaining hoisin sauce to the pan. Gently toss over medium heat to incorporate the ingredients. Season with the remaining R teaspoon of salt and remove from the heat. 5 Place the rice, lettuce leaves, and stir-fry on the table. Have everyone scoop a spoonful of rice and stir-fry into each lettuce cup as they eat, topping with a touch of sriracha if they like.

Quick Tip

To make a quick sub for the hoisin sauce, in a small bowl combine 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce, 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar, 2 teaspoons toasted (dark) sesame oil, 2 teaspoons peeled and minced fresh ginger, 1/4 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder, 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, and 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper.

What Kids Can Do

Kids can separate and wash the lettuce leaves.

Make Ahead

To save time, chop the zucchini and bell pepper 1 day ahead and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

-Serves 4

Lee is signing copies of HALF THE SUGAR, ALL THE LOVE at Books Inc in Palo Alto on Jan. 9 at 7 p.m. RSVP requested. Viewers who mention ABC7 get bonus recipes!