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Published on October 26th, 2008 | by Stephanie Evans

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A Spoonful of Natural Sugar

Whether you are looking to cut calories, eat less processed food, or simply experiment with different flavors, there are so many alternatives to plain white sugar…giving you so many reasons to ditch the artificial sweeteners like saccharin and aspartame.

Natural sweeteners (like those covered below) are much more abundant in nutrients, and metabolize far more slowly than refined sugars do, making them ideal substitutes when you’re searching for something sweet.

A Better Sweetener: Natural Cane Sugar

  • Agave NectarExtracted from the Agave plant, which is also used to make tequila, this honey-like substance is much sweeter than regular sugar but is metabolized slowly, reducing the sugar-spike that occurs with most refined sugars.  The nectar is a bit thinner in consistency than honey, so when you substitute this for sugar in recipes, the liquid quantity must be reduced and the dry ingredient quantity adjusted.
  • Brown Rice SyrupRice syrup is made through a fermentation process using cooked rice (usually brown rice), with the remaining liquid cooked down into thick, brown syrup.  While not quite as sweet as some of the other sugar substitutes, brown rice syrup has a slightly earthy, nutty flavor that can add depth in the right application.  Unfortunately for those watching their sugar intake, brown rice syrup is not the best option, as it is a refined carbohydrate.  If you have a gluten intolerance, be sure to check the label, as some rice syrups are processed with enzymes that were cultured on a gluten-based grain.
  • Date SugarDate sugar is not really a sugar at all.  It is produced after fresh dates are dehydrated and then ground into a sugar-like substance.  Because it is derived from this fiber and nutrient-rich fruit, date sugar is very healthy and can be used as an equivalent substitute for sugar or brown sugar in baking recipes.  As it is essentially the fibers of the fruit, date sugar does not work well as a beverage sweetener because it will not dissolve.
  • Fruit Juice or PuréesWhat better way to sweeten than to use nature’s own bounty!  A variety of fruit juices, fruit purées, or fruit juice concentrates can substitute for the sugar in recipes, and they really boost the nutritional value of baked goods.  You’ve probably seen baking recipes that substitute apple sauce for sugar, but why not try pear, pineapple, apricot, date, or any number of other fruits to see which ones best suit your palate and the consistency needs of your recipes?
  • HoneyThanks to our friends, the honeybees, humans have been able to harvest and use honey as a sweetener for millennia.  Honey can come in a range of colors, grades, and flavors too, depending upon the plant that the honeybee has been pollinating, and can be found at your local store in both raw and filtered varieties.  It is lower in calories and is more nutritious than sugar, as it is rich in vitamins, minerals, and enzymes.  Honey also has a wide variety of applications, such as medicinal.  As a substitute, use about half as much honey as you would sugar.  Honey may not suitable for some vegans.
  • Maple SyrupMaple syrup is derived from the sap of the maple tree and contains many vitamins and minerals, and is particularly high in B vitamins and calcium.  Although it imparts a very distinct maple flavor, it can replace the sugar in a number of recipes– just use a little less!
  • MolassesTake what’s left after sugar is refined and you have molasses–a dark syrup rich in vitamins and minerals.  Nutrient-dense molasses is particularly high in iron.  While the flavor is very strong, which presents a challenge for substituting entirely for sugar, it is a great, sweet way to get some extra nutrients into your body.
  • SteviaA plant-derived sweetener, this product can be found in powder or liquid form (fresh/herb is available but it is not as strong). In studies, Stevia is shown to be up to 300 times sweeter that regular sugar, so a little bit goes a long way.  In fact, one teaspoon of stevia has the sweetness equivalent of one cup of sugar!  And with zero calories, it is optimal for the calorie-conscious.  However, used in excess, stevia can have a bitter taste.  It is generally not recommended baking, but in beverages it can provide that boost of sweetness that you crave.
  • SucanatSucanat stands for “Sugar Cane Natural” and is the result from when water is evaporated from natural sugar cane juice.  This process leaves all aspects of the original cane intact, including the molasses and all of the minerals that come with it, rendering an amber color and a richer flavor.  It can be used as a replacement for sugar with a one-to-one ratio.

With a little taste experimentation, you can find the natural sweetener that suits your dietary needs with a flavor that you like.  And with so many different options, it’s hard to consider going back to refined white sugar!





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