Health(ier) Sweeteners

Giving up sugar isn’t easy. For one thing, sugar is in just about EVERYTHING! If it isn’t a whole food (i.e. fruits, vegetables, unprocessed meats, etc.), it’s got sugar in it. Breads. Canned veggies. Lunch meats. Even some chips. They all have sugar in them.

Second, it’s hard to identify. Sugar is rarely listed as “sugar” or even “high fructose corn syrup.” Andrew over at Eating Rules has compiled a pretty comprehensive list of sugars many aliases. And this doesn’t even begin to touch on artificial sweeteners like aspartame! Sugars and chemical sweeteners are everywhere.
Before I go further, it’s important to note that sugar is sugar is sugar. Yes, some are less refined/more nutritious than others, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to start drinking honey by the gallon. All sweeteners, even the “good” ones should be limited.

(For more on the dangers of sugar, read “Is Sugar Toxic” in the New York Times or watch this 60 Minutes segment.)

That being said, you don’t have to eliminate sweets completely. There are healthier, less-processed ways to enjoy the occasional sweet than chowing down on a king-sized Snickers. Here are some of my favorite sweeteners and what I used them for.

1. Honey

I love honey. It is my go-to when I really need a sweet fix. A teaspoon in a cup of tea normally does the trick, but I also love to drizzle it on yogurt and I frequently bake with it. Converting recipes that call for regular sugar is a bit tricky (you have to reduce other liquids, lower the cooking temp and time, etc.) so when I normally stick with recipes that are already converted like these almond butter pumpkin brownies. Hello, Fall!

2. Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is another great all natural option. Drizzle it on pancakes or try these grain-free maple pecan cupcakes from Riddlelove.

3. Molasses

Molasses doesn’t get as much credit as it deserves. It is delicious and not excessively sweet like honey and maple syrup. I intend to experiment more with it this fall by trying these two recipes: whole wheat gingerbread (using coconut oil in place of the vegetable oil) and gingerbread pancakes.

4. Stevia

Stevia is my sweetener of choice for iced coffee. I don’t use it for much beyond that, though I did make these delicious peanut butter pumpkin muffins using it. I also use it when I make cookie dough dip.

5. Coconut Sugar

Coconut sugar is my go-to for baking. It replaces regular sugar 1:1 and since it is a dry sweetener, there’s no need to adjust anything else! I’ve also been using it in my canning adventures. One thing to note is that there is a lot of potential for environmental abuse in this industry to be sure to buy a brand that exercises sustainable harvesting practices. My brand of choice is Big Tree Farms.

6. Dates

Dates don’t really count as a sugar in my book since they are actually a whole food. If I am making stove-top oatmeal, I’ll thrown a date in while it’s cooking and it pretty much disintegrates into the oatmeal. They also make great snacks and appetizers. They are a great pre- or post-run snack along with a spoonful of nut butter. Or try stuffing one with goat cheese and wrapping it with a slice of prosciutto for a nice appetizer. You can also use date paste in place of honey in most recipes.

7. Bananas

Bananas, like dates, don’t really count because they are whole foods. Eat them plain. Eat them with nut butter. Mash them up in oatmeal. Make banana bread. Freeze them and then puree them into “ice cream.” When a recipe calls for oil, try subbing mash banana for half of the oil. This also let’s you reduce the amount of sugar you use since the bananas will add sweetness.

Again I want to emphasize that the ultimate goal is not just to replace bad sugars with better ones; it is to reduce overall consumption of sugars in any form. Do you really need cookies with lunch AND a brownie after dinner? Why not try a bowl of plain yogurt with some berries instead of ice cream? Or a frozen banana instead of a Fudgescile?

Better yet, why not try making one day a week “sweet free” for the duration of October Unprocessed?

 

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26 September 2012. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Healthy Living, Real Food.

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