Who among us doesn’t love sweets? The sweet flavour releases serotonin in our brains, the chemical responsible for our sense of well-being and contentment. But when it comes to sweeteners, not all are created equal. There are side effects and health risks from refined sweeteners like white table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, and from artificial sweeteners like NutraSweet, saccharin and Splenda. Since refined sweeteners have been stripped of vitamins, minerals and fibre, they can spike blood sugar, which often leads to cravings as well as mood and energy fluctuations. Instead, using naturally and minimally processed sweeteners can reduce cravings for sugary things.
Here are a few natural sweeteners to substitute in drinks, food and baking. Since they are approximately 1.5 times sweeter than refined sugar, you can use a lot less. You can find them in most supermarkets (health food aisle) or natural food stores. When replacing sugar with liquid sweeteners in a recipe, reduce the amounts of other liquids.
Everyone seems to love honey, one of the oldest natural sweeteners on the market. Honey will have a different flavour depending on the plant source. Some are very dark and intensely flavoured. Wherever possible, choose raw honey, as it is unrefined and contains small amounts of enzymes, minerals and vitamins. Do you know from which type of tree you prefer your honey?
Maple syrup is the concentrated extract of the sap of maple trees. It adds a rich, deep flavour to foods and drinks. Make sure to look for 100% pure maple syrup, not maple-flavoured corn syrup. As with all sweeteners, organic varieties are best. This is probably the most commonly used sweetener in my house.
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. In recipes, replace each cup of white sugar with 1/4 cup brown rice syrup and reduce the amount of other liquids. Brown rice syrup is made of 50% complex carbohydrates, 45% maltose, and 3% glucose. The small amount of glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream immediately, but the complex carbohydrates and maltose are much more slowly absorbed, providing a steady supply of energy. There is some glucose in rice syrup so diabetics should avoid using this sweetener.
Agave nectar, or agave syrup, is a natural liquid sweetener made from the juice of the agave cactus. It is 1.4 times sweeter than refined sugar. Due to its high fructose content and the fact that the glycemic index only measures glucose levels, agave syrup is noted for its lower glycemic index and glycemic load than many other natural sweeteners. However, agave is high in fructose, higher than that of high-fructose corn syrup. Some research suggests that fructose does not shut off appetite hormones and may decrease glucose tolerance, so you may end up overeating. Agave syrup naturally contains quantities of iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium.
Each of these liquid sweeteners has its benefits. For example, honey and maple syrup contain nutrients that white sugar does not; at the same time they are still simple sugars that enter the bloodstream fairly quickly, causing a burst of energy then a drop off. We recommend using these occasionally. Brown rice syrup on the other hand is slower to enter the bloodstream, so is more suitable for those with blood sugar issues.
Have you seen these sweeteners on the shelves and wondered how to use them?
I hope this story has piqued your intrigue about sweetness and more importantly, has created a desire to upgrade the sweetness in your life. For a much deeper and very practical look at sugar as well as your alternatives for achieving sweetness, join the ladies of HealthFest for our next seminar, The Sweeter Side of Sugar. Save the date (15 May 2013) and keep your eyes peeled for more details on this event later in the month.