Monday, March 10, 2014

Sugar Is Sweet (And So Are You)

Not all sweeteners are created equal or so I've found.  After learning that I'm doing my body no good by choosing the 'low fat' or 'sugar-free' alternatives of most foods  which is basically just chemically altering any naturally occurring ingredients to remove any fat or sugar so you may not be getting that fat or sugar, but you're getting a pretty large dose of chemical additives, I've been trying out different natural sweeteners to see where I can switch up my white sugar for something a little bit more healthy.  Not that I see our house ever being completely white sugar free any time soon.  I think my once a year Christmas baking would suffer drastically, and there's just no truly delicious alternative to home made caramels made with real cream and brown sugar!  But in working with the creamer recipe, I've learned a lot about sweeteners and how you can substitute them into your recipes and cut out another processed food and not really notice a difference.  Each teaspoon of white sugar contains 16 calories and 5 carbs.

Brown Sugar

Brown sugar is basically refined white sugar with a little bit of molasses added in for color.  Again, I use this primarily for baking, and sometimes as a treat on my oatmeal in the morning.  But it isn't really a healthier substitute for white sugar. One teaspoon of brown sugar contains 11 calories and 3 grams of carbs.

Stevia

Stevia is a herb related to the daisy which is native to South America and the American Southwest, whose leaves are naturally sweet.  It has zero calories and is naturally 200 times sweeter than sugar.  It's also been shown to have zero effect on your metabolism making it perfect for diabetics.  You can buy stevia in dry powdered form and also in concentrated liquid.  Think of stevia as a naturally occurring Sweet n Low without the hazardous material.  It has the same sort of aftertaste that manufactured sweeteners have without the chemical additives.  I use it primarily in liquids like my recipe for Hot Chocolate or when just a touch of sweetness is called for like in Oatmeal Muffins To Go. As far as nutritional information, 1/2 teaspoon is about as sweet as 1 teaspoon of sugar.  It has 0 calories and 0 carbs.  This is a fantastic replacement for your Sweet n Low or Equal for your summer iced tea as aspartame is now known to cause a variety of health problems.  I keep a few packets of it in my purse for eating out.

Honey  

We're all familiar with honey.  It has high levels of monosaccharides (the simplest form of sugar), fructose (naturally-occurring sugar found in fruits), and glucose (a naturally-occurring simple sugar found in plants).  These 3 types of sugar, though better for you than refined white sugar, still aren't recommended as a sugar substitute for diabetics due to the fact that the sugars found in honey are absorbed directly into the bloodstream during digestion and can impact blood sugar levels in a way that sweeteners like Stevia do not.  It can also be cost prohibitive and can change the taste of your baked goods as it has its own unique, delicious flavor.  I use honey mostly in tea, on hot cereal, and in combination with almond butter either on toast or combined to dip apples in for an afternoon snack when I'm craving something sweet.  One tablespoon has 64 calories, 17 grams of carbs, but also contains 11 mg of potassium.  It can be used to replace sugar in recipes in the following amount: 1 c. of sugar = 3/4 c. of honey.  However, because it's a liquid, you have to make adjustments to to your recipes.  This site is a good guide.  


Corn Syrup

Yup, it's one of those things you've probably heard isn't good for you.  It's been demonized not so much because of what is in it, but that it's found in fairly large quantities in almost every prepackaged food out there in some form or another, which means that we're consuming very large quantities of it. It's made from the naturally-occurring starch found in corn and in large quantities (like many other things) can lead to excessive weight gain, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and a rise in your 'bad' cholesterol (triglycerides).    It's fairly high in calories at 57 calories per Tbsp., has 16 grams of carbs, and contains NO vitamins or minerals.  I use it primarily for Christmas baking and can't remember a time I've ever used it as a sweetener for anything else.  

Agave Nectar

Agave nectar is an all-natural liquid sweetener made from the core of a blue agave plant which is native to Mexico.  It's about 25% sweeter than refined white sugar which means, like stevia, you can use it sparingly,  It's also very low-glycemic index food which means it doesn't cause a rapid spike in blood sugar which makes it an excellent substitute for diabetics. Agave nectar also meets the requirements of a vegan diet. It's taste is very mild and, unlike honey, won't change the taste of what you're using it in.  I discovered it on my last attempt at Homemade Coffee Creamer as I'd tried date syrup and stevia and didn't like the resulting final product.  It can be substituted in recipes in place of sugar as follows:  1 c. white sugar = 2/3 c. agave nectar, and reduce your oven temperature by 25 degrees and adjustments have to made to your other ingredients as this is a liquid.    

Coconut Sugar

I recently started experimenting with coconut sugar and it's interesting.  It's brown in color, subtly sweet, and has a bit of a caramel taste to it.  It's not as sweet as refined white sugar or traditional brown sugar.  Like agave nectar, it's a low-glycemic index sweetener which makes it a healthy alternative for diabetics or people who have issues with their blood sugar in general like hypoglycemia. It can replace sugar in your baking recipes as follows:  1 c. of sugar = 1 c. of coconut sugar.   However, it has the added benefits of  a high mineral content and is a rich source of potassium, magnesium, zinc, and iron as well as B vitamins!  It has 19 times the potassium of brown sugar/molasses, 30 times the phosphorus, and over 10 times the zinc, and contains 16 amino acids!  Each teaspoon contains 11 calories, 3 carbs. 
Again, it's about little changes.  If you think about it, just buying a box of stevia packets and taking Sweet'n'Low and Equal out of your diet is a HUGE change!  But it's a small change.  You'll no longer be putting straight chemicals into your body and who knows what kind of positive impact that may have on the rest of your life!  Little changes on a long enough time line equal a lifestyle change.  And all of us can make little changes.  

Because you're worth it!