Staying away from processed white sugar and using alternative natural sweeteners is one way to create foods that support good health. However, “natural” doesn’t mean that these sweeteners can’t be as detrimental to our good health as that white stuff. Being aware of the glycemic index and how these natural sweeteners affect our sugar levels is key to optimal health.
When choosing a sweetener for a recipe, be mindful of who you’ll be serving it to (diabetics or those sensitive to fructose or children) and look at the sweeteners characteristics (color, texture and flavor); is it a good fit with the other ingredients in your recipe. Being aware of how sugars affect both your health and a specific recipe, will keep you on the healthiest and sweetest road possible!
Agave nectar: Agave nectar is a natural vegan sweetener made from the liquid in the bulb of the agave cactus. There is presently much debate as to whether or not it’s raw and if it is nutritious. The consensus is that the darker version is unfiltered and contains higher concentrations of naturally occurring minerals. I still use a bit of agave here and there, but I only use the Ojio agave from Ultimate Superfoods because it’s raw and absolutely delicious. Agave is high in fructose so use sparingly or in combination with other sweeteners.
Coconut nectar: Coconut nectar is a 100% natural raw vegan sweetener made from pure fresh coconut sap. It has a light, yet rich sweet flavor reminiscent of the coconut fruit. Low in fructose and low on the glycemic index, coconut nectar makes a perfect substitute for agave nectar. Some companies boil the nectar before bottling and although vegan, it is obviously not raw thus losing some of its nutritional value. Read the label and make sure your product is minimally evaporated at low temperatures never exceeding 115 degrees F to insure it’s raw.
Coconut Sugar: Coconut Sugar is made from coconut palm sugar blossoms. It’s low on the glycemic index, loaded with minerals and B vitamins and although vegan, is not a raw product.
Date Paste: Date Paste is made from dates that have been soaked in water, then blended to form a paste that is a whole food. I like to add a squeeze of lemon to my paste too. Dates are high in natural sugars so they’re a high glycemic food. Be aware of your guests sugar tolerances when serving up goodies made from this sweet treat!
Honey: Honey has antibacterial, antiviral and antibiotic properties. When using honey source out local, unprocessed, unheated raw honey. This is not a vegan product, is high on the glycemic index, high in calories and raises blood-sugars levels more quickly than white sugar. I don’t recommend its use for infants and children because of its pollen.
Lakanto: Lakanto is a zero calorie sweetener that has absolutely no influence on blood sugar and the release of insulin. It’s a fermented sweetener made from a sugar alcohol naturally found in grapes, pears, mushrooms, soy sauce, cheese, wine and beer called erythritol and an extract from a super sweet Asian fruit called luohanguo.
Maple Syrup: Maple syrup is made from the boiled sap from maple trees. It’s higher on the glycemic index, but has fewer calories and more minerals then honey. Using only the darker grade B maple syrups will ensure you maximum mineralization and richer flavor then the other versions.
Maple Sugar: is a higher concentrated version of the syrup.
Molasses: This slightly sweet, intensely rich flavored syrup is a byproduct of processing cane and beet sugars. First press molasses is light in color and flavor. Repeated boiling results in the dark, blackstrap molasses. Although high on the glycemic level, molasses contains measurable amounts of iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium, making it more nutritious than many other sweeteners.
Rapadura: Rapadura is simply unrefined evaporated cane juice. Because it is minimally processed it retains all the nutritional value lost in the processing of the white stuff. Rapadura is a good source of potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorous, and vitamin A.
Stevia: Stevia is a super sweet sweetener made from the leaves of the stevia plant, a perennial shrub native to Brazil and Paraguay. Stevia is sold in powder or liquid form and is zero on the glycemic index. The liquid comes in a plethora of flavors which can enhance many recipes. A little goes a long way with this product; Stevia is 200-300 times sweeter than sugar.
Yacon Syrup: Yacon syrup is made from the tubular roots of the yacon plant. There are so many reasons to love this stuff; it’s raw vegan, low on the glycemic index, low in calories and it’s a pre-biotic (non-digestible carbohydrate that help the good bacteria in our guts thrive). The deeply rich flavor is reminiscent of molasses, maple syrup, or honey and it makes a great substitute for the aforementioned in your recipes. Yacon syrup is about twice as sweet as sugar so you need less of it which is a good thing considering it is a bit pricey!
So as you can see there’s no need for that white processed stuff. Get busy and get creative using your new found knowledge on natural sweeteners.
Make Life Delicious,
Chef Tina Jo