Keep Your Sweets & Your Health!
By: Chavvah Laudon
Cinnamon rolls for breakfast, dessert at supper, sweet treats snuck here and there…we all love them!
Sweets make life—well, just more delicious!
But we all know that sweets can be bad for our health. Some sweets more than others, and some of us handle them better than others. But even for the healthiest, the kind of sweetener you eat is important. They aren’t all the same. Some sweeteners are just completely bad—ones everyone should avoid as much as possible. Refined sugar (both white and brown) and corn syrup are some of the worse. Not only are they empty of nutrition, but they also raise blood sugar levels, contribute to weight gain, and suppress the immune system. It’s a high price to pay for a few moments of pleasure!
Alternate and natural sweeteners have become popular in recent years. Our epidemic of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are waking people up. Still, people like their sweets! But what if there was a way to enjoy treats with fewer side effects—and in some cases, add nutritional benefits? After all, the best way to defeat a bad habit is to replace it with something better. The good news is you have options!
The Glycemic Index (GI) is one of the more critical aspects of sweeteners. The number range is 1-100. The higher the Glycemic Index, the higher your blood sugar rises during the next couple hours. Since high blood sugar can create a variety of health problems, low glycemic food is considered healthier. It is important to note that the GI of food can vary between researchers. The numbers given here are averages. The important thing to note is the relative GI in relation to other sweeteners. As a starting reference point, white sugar is about 99.
Sweet Options That will Make You Smile
Evaporated Cane Sugar
Evaporated cane sugar is just what it sounds like—filtered, evaporated sugar cane syrup. White sugar is bleached, leaching out the nutrients. Brown sugar is a bit better because they add molasses back in, but ultimately, it is still nutrient-deprived and processed.
In contrast, evaporated cane sugar retains much of the natural nutrients and minerals from the sugar cane, giving it a rich, light brown color. You can substitute it 1:1 in recipes without much change in the outcome of the recipe. However, it isn’t quite as sweet as refined sugar. On the GI scale, evaporated sugar rates as one of the highest natural sweeteners, coming in around 65. That is still considerably lower than white sugar! (Personal note: I use this in my cinnamon rolls, and people rave about them! I think the evaporated cane sugar gives them a richer flavor and keeps them from being sickeningly sweet.)
Order link: Evaporated Cane Juice Sugar
Raw sugar is similar to evaporated cane sugar. However, it is more refined than the more natural version of evaporated can sugar, meaning it has fewer nutrients.
Sucanat is a brand of sugar similar to evaporated cane sugar brand. Sucanat usually has more molasses making it more nutrient-rich.
Order link: Sucanat Cane Sugar
Coconut (Palm) Sugar
Coconut sugar is made from the sap of the coconut bud. Like evaporated cane sugar, coconut sugar has a rich flavor but is a bit heavier. It is an excellent choice for baked goods like muffins, cakes, hot drinks, and rich desserts. It can be substituted for sugar 1:1 in recipes, but your baked goods may not taste quite as sweet as they would with cane sugar.
One of the biggest perks of coconut sugar is that it rates quite low on the GI (around 35). It is a favorite among dieters. (Personal note: coconut sugar is particularly delicious in recipes where a slight caramel flavor enhances the recipe.)
Order link: Coconut Palm Sugar
Honey is probably the oldest sweetener known to man. Since God created it so long ago, and since there is very little intervention by man, I think it is one of the best sweeteners.
Honey is loaded with nutrients, is easy to digest, and is renowned for its healing properties. The way honey is processed is important. Raw honey is extracted with low heat, preserving its nutrients. Many beekeepers heat their honey too hot to get more from the hive and lose some of the nutrients. If you are using honey in baking, it doesn’t make that much difference. But any time you use it raw—like on toast or cereal, eating raw honey gives you the bonus of some great nutrients! Some people even find that local raw honey reduces their allergies.
Honey can be a bit harder to use in baking if you are trying to substitute it for sugar because it is a liquid. You may need to test it a couple of time to find the perfect match but a few general rules may help:
- Use about ½ or ¾ the amount of sugar,
- Reduce other liquids in the recipe,
- Bake at about 25° lower temperature,
- Add ¼ - ½ tsp extra baking soda.
The GI index of honey is around 55 (lower for raw). Don’t give honey to babies under two years old. (Personal note: I’m on a healing leaky gut program and the only sweetener allowed is a small amount of honey! I suspect it is because honey is considered easy to digest since, technically, it is digested already!!)
Order link: Clover Honey - Unfiltered
Maple syrup is a favorite on pancakes and waffles, but it is also delicious in baking. The only processing that maple syrup goes through is boiling it down. As a natural sweetener with minimal processing, maple syrup contains beneficial nutrients. The GI index of maple syrup is around 54. Because of its lower GI plus its valuable nutrients, it is a favorite among dieters. (Personal note: real maple syrup is the only way to eat pancakes and waffles!)
Order link: NY Maple Syrup
Order link: OH Pure Maple Syrup
Agave syrup has gained popularity lately. As its name suggests, it is syrup produced from the agave plant.
Agave is actually sweeter than sugar but has a lower GI. It can be used as substitute for any sweetener, although when going from a dry sweetener to wet always requires recipe adjustments. Agave has a unique flavor, which some people really take to while others don’t. The reported GI varies from 17-30.
Order link: Blue Agave
Xylitol is one of the easiest sweeteners to substitute for sugar. You can use it as a 1:1 substitute without losing the sweetness, but the GI is only 8! This makes it a favorite for some diabetics and people that want to keep their blood sugar from rising too quickly. Xylitol is used a lot in natural candies and gums due to its ease of use and cavity-fighting properties.
Some people do have a reaction to xylitol resulting in loose stools, especially when consumed in large quantities. Some breastfed babies react by getting fussy when their mothers eat xylitol. For most people, however, it is a great option when trying to reduce sugar and keep the GI down. (Personal note: I know of a case where the lemon meringue pie was just too delicious and a great quantity was snuck before dinner… the results spurred a complete confession.)
Order link: THM Xylitol
Erythritol is a favorite amongst people that are looking for a low GI index sweetener that is easy to use in recipes. Since it is not quite as sweet as sugar, you may need to use a 1:1.25 ratio or even a bit more—depending on your preference.
Erythritol is made through a fermentation process of corn and birch. It has no calories and does not cause intestinal distress. It is approved for keto and low carb diets. It also actually has some anti-oxidant properties! The GI of erythritol is 0.
Order link: THM Erythritol
Technically, stevia is not a sweetener, but it deserves to be mentioned here because it can be used in place of sweetener, especially in recipes with fruit. The flavor of stevia blends well with fruit and is an excellent choice in smoothies, fruit puddings and bases, and fruit salad. Add a small amount of another sweetener to enhance the stevia’s sweetness.
The quality of stevia varies a lot by brand. Some stevia has a strong objectionable flavor, but brands like Better Stevia® have found a way to reduce it leaving the sweetness intact.
Flavored stevia extracts take it to a whole new level! My personal favorite is the dark chocolate and vanilla. They are so versatile! I keep them on hand for chia pudding, cashew cream, coffee drinks—hot and cold, and to sweeten up protein shakes. Seasonal flavors like pumpkin spice and candy cane are fun to keep on hand as well.
The best thing about stevia? It has a GI of 0! (Personal note: when I was on a very strict no fruit or sweetener diet I treated myself by using stevia to sweeten lemon or cranberry deserts!)
Learning to lead a healthier lifestyle is a journey. People often get stuck when it comes to sweets. Hopefully, this summary of the options available will get you started. The secret is to keep trying until you find what works for you.
Order link: THM Stevia
Order link: French Vanilla Stevia
Order link: Dark Chocolate Liquid Stevia
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