Most of us love a little sweetness now and then, and that’s OK! I would like to encourage you to try some of the natural sweeteners available.
In contrast, white sugar is simply that: 100% refined sugar. Natural sweeteners, however, contain minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and enzymes. Natural sweeteners do not cause surges and dips in blood sugar. They do not cause destabilizing swings in energy and mood.
Natural sweeteners are gentler on the body than highly processed sugars. They do not overtax the pancreas, and they allow continuous glucagon production, which in turn allows fat to be burned for energy. Natural sweeteners, unlike white sugar and corn syrup, are not empty foods. They do not rob our bodies of minerals. While their sugar content is high, natural sweeteners do provide in concentrated form all of the minerals contained in the plants they were derived from, and in the case of honey, all of the enzymes that the bees produce.
Substituting natural sweeteners for white sugar in baking will take some experimentation and some trial and error. Because most natural sweeteners are syrups, they add a liquid quality, so you need to adjust the quantities of other liquids in a recipe. Instead of adjusting any existing recipes that call for white sugar, you might want to start by trying new recipes that already include natural sweeteners as ingredients – such as those in my cookbooks!
Here is a list of natural sweeteners:
- Honey is mostly fructose and glucose. It is not just a sweetener – it has medicinal properties as well, being antiseptic and antibacterial. It contains small amounts of minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and enzymes. To preserve honey’s enzymes and healing properties, avoid heating it above 117°F (47°C). Look for honey labeled “raw,” and try to use honey in desserts that do not require heating or baking.
- Maple syrup is mostly sucrose, a disaccharide composed of fructose and glucose. It is the concentrated sap of maple trees, so it is rich in trace minerals brought up from deep below the earth by the trees’ far-reaching root systems. It imparts a wonderful flavor and can be used in baking and in porridge. Make sure to buy 100 percent pure maple syrup, not maple-flavored corn syrup.
- Agave nectar is made from the juice of the agave plant, a succulent that grows in the American Southwest, Mexico, and Central America. Its naturally high fructose content does not lead to a sugar surge. Because of its low glycemic load, it can be enjoyed in moderation even by diabetics. It is sweeter than refined sugar and has a neutral sweet taste. Use it in baking and for sweetening yogurt and drinks.
- Brown rice syrup is the result of mixing ground and cooked brown rice with enzymes. Some of the starch is broken down into maltose, a disaccharide composed of two glucose molecules. The end product still contains 50 percent complex carbohydrates and 43 percent maltose. Brown rice syrup has a lovely, moderately sweet taste.
- Barley malt is the dark-brown, mildly sweet thick syrup that results when sprouted barley is fermented. Bacteria transform the starches into sugars, mostly maltose. It contains about 30 percent complex carbohydrates and 65 percent maltose.
- Sugar cane products include dehydrated cane juice, blackstrap molasses, brown sugar, and turbinado sugar. Of these, I recommend only dehydrated cane juice and blackstrap molasses. The others are basically 99 percent white sugar with a little molasses coating on the surface of the sugar crystals. Dehydrated cane juice, used in India for thousands of years, is rich in minerals, especially silica. The sugar cane is squeezed, then the juice is filtered, boiled, and dried. This is the least processed sugar cane product. Blackstrap molasses is the most nutritious sweetener derived from sugar cane. It is the residual syrup that remains at the very end of sugar extraction. It is very dark in color and has a distinct taste. It has the lowest sugar content of the sugar cane derivatives and the highest vitamin and mineral content, providing potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B6. Look for unsulphured blackstrap molasses.
- Stevia, in a class of its own, is a sweet powder made from the South American honey leaf plant. Stevioside and rebaudioside, both glycosides, are the chemical compounds that give stevia its sweet taste. Just a pinch of stevia provides the sweetness of a spoonful of sugar. Because it does not add bulk, it is difficult to use as a sugar substitute in baking. But it does work well in dressings, smoothies, and drinks. Stevia is a remarkable product: it has zero calories, contains a host of minerals, does not affect blood sugar levels at all, lowers elevated blood pressure, and improves digestion. Stevia is an excellent choice for diabetics and for people with candida. The only drawback is a slightly bitter aftertaste.
Another way of adding sweetness to your desserts, baked things, and porridges is to add raisins or other dried fruits. In the same way, I like to add sweetness to grain salads, soups, and leafy greens – especially the ones with a bitter taste, and even chicken.
A word on corn syrup (also called glucose syrup) and high fructose corn syrup: while its name sounds innocent and natural, corn syrup is a heavily processed artificial product containing highly reactive forms of glucose and fructose. It can cause tissue damage and high triglyceride levels in the blood – a condition that is a heart disease risk factor. It has been said that corn syrup also programs the brain for an intense desire for sweets. That desire can lead to a lifelong overconsumption of sweets, increasing the risk of obesity, diabetes, and related health problems. Please read labels carefully and try to avoid products containing corn syrup in any form.
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Root Vegetable Vinaigrette
- 1 beet, peeled and cubed
- 2 carrots, sliced into rounds
- 1 turnip, peeled and cubed
- 1 parsnip, peeled and sliced into rounds
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 tablespoons red balsamic vinegar
- salt and pepper
- 1 handful chopped scallions
- 1 handful chopped basil
Food Recipe Instructions
1. Fill a pot with 1 inch (2½ cm) of water, insert a steamer basket and bring the water to a boil.
2. Add the vegetables – start with the beet, then add the carrots, then the turnip, then the parsnip – waiting three minutes after each addition. Steam until the vegetables start to get soft. Transfer the vegetables to a colander, rinse with cold water and drain. Transfer to a bowl.
3. Combine the dressing ingredients in a glass jar. Close the lid and shake to mix. Pour the dressing over the vegetables, mix well, and let the salad marinate for at least 1 hour.
4. Before serving, toss, taste and add vinegar or seasoning if needed. Garnish with basil leaves.
Note: You can use just about any vegetable in this recipe – it is also a great way to make vegetable leftovers taste delicious the next day.