I came of age during what I call the “low-fat Snackwell’s years.” In years past, USDA dietary recommendations focused primarily on cutting fat and very little on the sugar content in our food. Our most recent recommendations were the first to ask Americans to drastically reduce the amount of sugar in our diet.

Four years ago, after cancer treatment, I landed in the office of a nutritionist who was way ahead of her time. I proudly waltzed in with my sugar-laden low-fat yogurt and low-fat granola bar to show her an example of a favorite snack. She kindly told me that my lunchbox held the amount of sugar I should consume in a week! My sugar-loving eating habits would need a major change if my goal was to rebuild my health.

I knew candy and treats had a lot of sugar, but it had never occurred to me that sugar was in so many other foods that I ate. It was time to get to work. I would have to find other ways to satisfy my sweet tooth without relying on refined sugar.

I started experimenting with alternative ways to sweeten my favorite foods and snacks. Turns out I didn’t have to look further than my very own garden. One of the first herbs I planted was stevia. This natural sweetener made the perfect addition to my traditionally sugar-sweetened afternoon cup of tea. My kids jumped on board and decided that wrapping a stevia leaf inside of a mint leaf from the garden was yummy and also fun for a quick treat.

Next I wondered if I could substitute fruit as a sweetener in some of my recipes. Whenever possible, I chose applesauce or mashed bananas to sweeten a dish with great success. Chopped or blended dates were also a big hit for desserts such as pudding and ice cream.

My next order of business was to see which types of sweeteners were local to where I live in Maryland. Sometimes, using fruit or stevia wouldn’t be appropriate for a recipe. Luckily, the CSA (community-supported agriculture) that delivers my vegetables each week started to carry raw honey, maple syrup and maple sugar. Slowly but surely, I started substituting these sweeteners in recipes in which I would have used refined sugar.

Now came the hard part. How would I maintain my current way of eating in a world of holidays, Shabbat meals with friends, Purim’s mishloach manot and so many community gatherings? The answer is simple. I focus on moderation and don’t stress if a little sugar sneaks into my diet. I look at the big picture of how I am eating. If I know that there is sugar in the coleslaw at a Shabbat meal or added to a dessert, I will just eat it in small amounts. I never feel like I am missing out, focusing only on how much there is to enjoy.