We all know that sugary foods are bad for us, but we are genetically hardwired to crave sweet, and for some of us, the thought of a life without sweets is a bleak one. At Bauman College, our approach to nutrition is a holistic one and, as such, considers that happiness is a prime component of good nutrition, health, and overall wellness. Not only should we focus on the consumption of good foods, but we also need to consider our overall happiness, our enjoyment of sharing food with friends and family, and the importance of honoring traditions. In order find true health we need to consider all of these components. A birthday cake at a child’s party, a cookie during the holidays, the taste of fresh honey pulled from a friend’s hive – sometimes life hands us sweet situations so how are we to respond?
Fortunately, there are an array of “alternative sweeteners” on the market that allow us to steer clear of damaging, refined, white sugar, corn syrup, and the chemical ‘sugar-substitutes’ that cause great harm to our bodies. Products like honey, molasses, date sugar, maple syrup, and rice and barley malt syrups are all sweeteners with no or low processing and which may still contain trace minerals. It is important to note, that ‘a sugar is a sugar is a sugar’, they generally act the same in the system, and no sweetener gives us a get out of jail free card. However, it is also very important to note that small amounts of whole or minimally refined sweeteners are certainly better options.
In recipes calling for white sugar, try substituting some applesauce, mashed ripe banana, or puréed dates, raisins, or prunes — adjusting the amount of liquid. They’ll add fiber and create a delicious, moist texture.
Here’s some information about specific sweeteners you can find in the store:
Date Sugar: Made of dried, pulverized dates. It contains iron, potassium, and other vitamins. The high fiber content slows absorption in the system making it minimally longer lasting. Some brands add oat flour to make it free-flowing, others add oil for softness. Be sure to check the label. Date sugar does not dissolve in water, but it is delicious in baking and crumb toppings. It has a tendency to burn easily, so bake with care.
Fruit Juice Concentrates: Fruit juices cooked down to a syrup and frozen. Their fruit flavors are a plus or minus depending on your preference. Non-organic fruits can have high levels of pesticide residues, so choose organic concentrates.
Honey: Made by honeybees from plant nectar. Unheated and unfiltered raw honey is cloudy and contains healthful propolis and pollen. It is sweeter than white sugar so you may use less to achieve the same level of sweetness.
Maple Syrup: With a delightfully rich taste, maple syrup is made from the boiled sap of sugar maple trees. Be sure to buy organic to avoid residues of formaldehyde and other chemicals used in by some commercial producers. Crystallized maple syrup is available as a sprinkle. Refrigerate to inhibit mold.
Molasses: A a by-product of refining sugar cane. Blackstrap is slightly sweet, comes from the final press of sugar cane, and is a source of iron and calcium. “Unsulphured molasses” indicates no sulphur dioxide was used in extraction or as a preservative. Refrigerate to inhibit mold.
Some other facts about sweeteners:
- Powdered sugar probably contains genetically engineered cornstarch unless it’s certified organic.
- White sugar often is made from sugar beets, which are genetically engineered. If made from sugar cane, the label will say so.
- When vegan sugar is desired, choose unrefined cane sugar or another sweetener. Refined cane sugar is filtered through animal bone char to remove impurities.
- Sorbitol and maltitol — like xylitol — are not artificial sweeteners, but low-calorie derivatives from wood, corncobs, or seaweed. These sweeteners may upset digestion.
- Stevia is derived from a perennial shrub with leaves 30-times sweeter than sugar. It has no calories and may be useful for people with diabetes, hypoglycemia or candida, although it is generally highly processed when you buy it in the store. It is available in powdered, liquid, concentrate, tea, or tablet form.
- Xylitol today typically comes from corncobs and if not organic, may be genetically modified. It tastes similar to cane sugar, is low in calories, and reportedly does not cause cavities. It may be suitable for diabetics.