Beth Baldino, MSW, CHHC
Certified Holistic Health Counselor
(973) 979-6951

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Consider Natural Sweeteners – An Overview of Options

Natural Sweeteners 

The average American consumes well over 20 teaspoons of added sugar on a daily basis, which adds up to an average of 142 lbs. of sugar per person, per year! That’s more than two times what the USDA recommends, and is proof of sugar’s addictive nature. Here you’ll find information on natural sweeteners, all of which are gentler than the refined white stuff, easier on blood sugar levels, and available in most health food stores and some general markets. All of these products would be preferable to artificial sweeteners, in my opinion. 

Honey

One of the oldest natural sweeteners, honey is sweeter than sugar. Depending on the plant source, honey can have a range of flavors, from dark and strongly flavored to light and mildly flavored. Raw honey contains small amounts of enzymes, minerals, and vitamins. Some vegans choose not to eat honey, as it is a byproduct of bees. In recipes, replace 1 cup sugar with 2/3 to 3/4 cup of honey and reduce liquids by 1/4 cup. Add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda per cup of honey. Reduce oven 25 degrees and adjust baking time. 

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is made from boiled down maple tree sap and contains many minerals. Forty gallons of sap are needed to make one gallon of maple syrup. It adds a pleasant flavor to foods and is high in potassium and calcium. Be sure to buy 100% pure maple syrup, and not maple-flavored corn syrup. In recipes, replace 1 cup of sugar with 2/3 to 1/4 cup of maple syrup and reduce liquids by 3 tablespoons. Add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda per cup of maple syrup. 

Maple Sugar

Maple sugar is created when the sap of the sugar maple is boiled for longer than is needed to create maple syrup. Once most of the water has evaporated, all that is left is the solid sugar. It is much less refined than white sugar. Substitute 1 cup white sugar with 1 cup maple sugar and no reduction of liquid is necessary. Add 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda per cup. Store in a tightly closed container and sift before using. Mix with liquid to create glazes.   

Molasses

Organic molasses is probably the most nutritious sweetener derived from sugar cane or sugar beet, and is made by a process of clarifying and blending the extracted juices. The longer the juice is boiled, the less sweet, more nutritious, and darker the product is. Molasses imparts a very distinct flavor to food. Blackstrap molasses, the most nutritious variety, is a good source of iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. In recipes, replace 1 cup of sugar with 1/2 cup of molasses and reduce liquids by 1/4. 

Barley Malt 

Barley malt is made from the soaking, sprouting, mashing, cooking, and roasting of barley. This method capitalizes on the naturally present enzymes. In this process, the carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars, yet the final product is more of a “whole food” than many other sweeteners. Barley malt can come in the form of powder or syrup. In recipes, 1 cup of sugar can be replaced with 1 1/3 cups of the syrup, and liquids should be reduced by 1/4 cup. Add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda per cup of barley malt. Look for 100% pure barley malt, not barley/corn malt syrup. Store refrigerated. 

Brown Rice Syrup

This product consists of brown rice that has been ground and cooked, converting the starches to maltose. Brown rice syrup tastes like moderately sweet butterscotch and is quite delicious. Baked goods made with this ingredient tend to be hard or very crisp. In recipes, 1 cup of sugar can be replaced by 1 and 1/3 cups of syrup and reduce liquic 1/4 cup per cup rice syrup. Add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda per 1 cup of rice syrup. Store refrigerated.  

Mixed Fruit Juice

Peach, pear, grape and pineapple frozen concentrates are used most commonly in place of sugar. 1 cup of white sugar can be replaced by 2/3 cup of concentrate. Reduce liquid by 1/3 a cup for each cup of fruit juice used and add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda per cup of fruit sweetener. Reduce oven 25 degrees and adjust baking time. Use concentrates at room temperature.    

Date Sugar

Date sugar consists of finely ground, dehydrated dates, utilizing this fruit’s vitamin, mineral, and fiber content. If you like the taste of dates, this will definitely appeal to you. Date sugar can be used as a direct replacement for sugar and the liquids do not have to be adjusted. Disolve date sugar before using in batters. Be aware that it can burn easily. Look for date sugar made from unsulphured, organically grown dates and store in a tightly closed jar.

Stevia

This leafy herb has been used for centuries by native South Americans. The extract from stevia is 100 to 300 times sweeter than white sugar. It can be used in cooking, baking and beverages, does not affect blood sugar levels and has zero calories. Stevia is available in a powder or liquid form, but be sure to get the green or brown liquids or powders, because the white and clear versions are highly refined.

Agave Nectar

Agave nectar is a natural liquid sweetener made from the juice of the agave cactus. It is 1.4 times sweeter than refined sugar, but does not create a “sugar rush,” and is much less disturbing to the body’s blood sugar levels than white sugar. For use in recipes, replace 1 cup of sugar with 3/4 cup of agave nectar and reduce liquids by 1/3 (see below ***)

Birch Sugar (Xylitol)

This is a sugar alcohol made from tree fiber or corncobs, and occurs naturally in many fruits and mushrooms. Birch sugar is sweet, yet low on the glycemic index and can be used by those with diabetes and hypoglycemia. It has 40% fewer calories than sugar, and is said to prevent tooth decay and repair tooth enamel. 

 Erythritol

This is the sugar alcohol that has the least impact on blood sugar. Erythritol has almost zero calories, carbs, and glycemic index. Most sugar alcohols are only partially absorbed in the small intestine but most (60-90%) of erythritol is absorbed into the blood and then excreted in the urine. Because of this, erythritol is much less likely to produce the kind of intestinal distress that other sugar alcohols might.

Birch Syrup

Birch syrup is also very low on the glycemic index and is rich in vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, potassium, manganese, thiamine, and calcium. This syrup is made from the concentrated sap of birch trees, and takes 100 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. Unlike maple syrup, which is composed of sucrose, this syrup is gentler and is composed of fructose (see note on fructose below ***). 

Rapadura

This brand-name product is made from a process of extracting juice from the sugarcane plant, evaporating the water from the juice, and then grinding the results into a fine powdery texture. Rapadura is organic, rich in vitamins and minerals, and is unrefined. It can be used the same way refined sugar is used.  

Sucanat

Short for Sugar Cane Natural, this brand-name product consists of evaporated organic cane juice made through a mechanical rather than a chemical process, and thus less refined, retaining many of sugarcane’s original vitamins and minerals. It has a grainy texture and can be used in the same way refined sugar is used.  

Vegetable Glycerin

Vegetable Glycerin is a colorless, odorless liquid with a very sweet taste and the consistency of thick syrup. It is derived from coconut and palm oils. As a sweetener, it is ideal for candida patients because it does not contain sucrose.

*** Note that health concerns have been raised about this product because of its high fructose content. Some studies identify fructose as a causative factor in heart disease, high cholesterol, and high tryglycerides (another type of fat). Other sources describe fructose as gentler and easier for the body to digest, so the jury is still out. I’d recommend you use with caution at this point. Overall, look to include a variety of products in your diet, so you aren’t over-consuming any one thing.

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