ALL ABOUT SWEETENERS | Conscious Cooking

There are so many different types of sweeteners on the market that it can be really confusing about which one to use. Some are healthier than others, and some should really be avoided. But in both cases, sweeteners are still sugar and should always be consumed in moderation.

It’s always best to stick with natural sugar, as they provide nutrients and do not act the same way in the body as processed and artificial sugar does. Those are harmful for the body and should really be avoided. You can find healthy versions in health food stores or online.

Let’s briefly look at some of the most common type of sugar that I have categorized as recommended, to consume in moderation, or to avoid.

RECOMMENDED:

V Blackstrap molasses

Molasses comes from sugar cane or sugar beet. There are three different kinds of molasses on the market:

-Light (first boiling –light ),

-Dark (second boiling –dark )

-Blackstrap molasses (third boiling)

Blackstrap molasses is the most nutritious of them. It has a stronger taste but is very nutritious, especially in potassium, calcium, and iron.

The light and dark molasses are the ones you normally use to bake beans or make molasses cookies.

Choose unsulphured molasses; it’s cleaner and has a better flavor. Sulphur is used as a preservative and as a bleaching agent.

V Coconut sugar

Also known as coconut palm sugar, this sweetener is a whole and natural sugar that comes from the coconut trees. It has calories but has a very low glycemic index (GI). Coconut sugar is unrefined and contains all his natural vitamins and minerals, which make it a very healthy choice. It’s similar to brown sugar but in a much healthier version.

V Date sugar

Date sugar is sugar made from dehydrated dates that have been ground.  It’s a natural and whole sweetener that contains vitamins and minerals. Date sugar doesn’t dissolve in water but can be used as a healthier alternative in many recipes.

V Lo Han sweetener

It’s a sweetener that comes from a very sweet fruit, the Monk fruit. It’s doesn’t have any calories and doesn’t have an impact on the blood sugar. It’s much sweeter than sugar and doesn’t have a bitter after taste like stevia has.

V Maple syrup

Maple syrup is one of the favorite sweeteners in North America. It’s made from boiled maple tree water. This popular sweetener can be added to almost anything. It’s natural, rich in flavor, and contains many minerals. Maple syrup is not fructose but sucrose.

Make sure to buy 100% maple syrup and not maple-flavored corn syrup (the one you find in many cheap breakfast restaurants that looks like maple syrup but doesn’t taste like real maple syrup). This is highly refined and doesn’t have any nutrients.

V Raw honey

Raw honey is one of the best sweeteners you can use. It’s a whole food; it’s pure, it’s natural, and it’s unprocessed. It contains many vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and enzymes to promote good health. Raw honey also has pollen and anti-microbial and healing properties.

V Stevia

Stevia is one of the healthiest sugar alternatives. Stevia is a plant that has been used for centuries in South America. Some people may not appreciate stevia because of its aftertaste, but it’s popular because it’s very sweet and doesn’t have any calories or effects on the blood sugar. You only need a little to make it sweet. If you add too much, it may become bitter. Stevia can be used in cooking, baking or to sweeten any beverages. You can also grow a stevia plant in your garden and use the fresh leaves in your tea, which is even more natural.

As stevia is now becoming very popular, there are many different types of stevia but they are not all equal, so make sure that what you buy is pure. The best one is green stevia or brands such as Truvia and PureVia.

V Sweet fruits and vegetables (and purees)

I know that they are not “sugar” but they are helpful to satisfy the sweet tooth, as they are naturally sweet. They also provide vitamins, minerals, fibers, water, and antioxidants. In recipes, sugar can also be replaced by pureed fruits and/or vegetables such as banana, apple, beets, and squash. It’s a healthy alternative to sweets.

V Yacon syrup

It’s a natural sweetener that come from the yacon root and has a very low glycemic index which make it a good choice for diabetics and those who watch their sugar intake. It tastes like molasses and is known to support digestion and immunity. It’s a sweetener to discover.

IN MODERATION:

Barley malt syrup

This healthy sweetener is made from sprouted barley and is cooked to make syrup. Barley syrup will not cause a sugar high like refined sugar does. It’s not as sweet as regular sugar so you may need a little bit more. However, this product is made with barley so it contains gluten. Do not consume if you are gluten intolerant or if you have Celiac disease.

Brown rice syrup

Brown rice syrup is made with brown rice but some brands will include barley malt and corn syrup, so it’s important to read labels, especially if you have any food intolerances. This sweetener has a delicious sweet butterscotch taste and is slowly digested as it’s composed of complex carbohydrates. It’s a concentrated source of calories so if you use it, use in moderation.

Cane sugar & derivate

Cane sugar is sugar that has been extracted from the sugar cane. It’s one of the most popular sugars, especially in baking and in desserts. This is where white and brown sugars are part of. There are different types of cane sugar and it’s best to choose an organic and healthier version than white sugar.

Evaporated cane juice is sugar that is composed of fine crystals and is less refined than white sugar.

Turbinado, or raw sugar, is actually not really raw and has lost many nutrients but it’s less refined than white sugar and makes it a better choice.

Rapadura, or sucanat, is unrefined dehydrated cane juice. All the natural vitamins and minerals are preserved. Those are the healthiest options.

Fresh raw sugar cane juice is also available. It’s a whole food and has important nutrients as well as having healing properties. It tastes delicious!

Glucose (dextrose)

Glucose is the main source of energy used by the body. You can buy pure glucose as a sweetener. Glucose is metabolized completely different than fructose in the body, which make it a better choice. It’s not as sweet as white sugar so you might need a little more. Make sure you buy 100% pure dextrose.

Honey

Commercial honey is pasteurized, refined, and processed. It has lost its enzymes and most of its nutrients. It’s also known that most commercial honey doesn’t even have any pollen in them but only sugar. And without pollen, it’s not really honey…

There are many types of honey and I would suggest choosing quality and local if possible. Ideally, get some organic raw honey, or go with organic wild honey. If not, buy some local honey from a farm but avoid traditional commercial honey.

Remember that honey should not be given to children less than one year old because of the bacteria that causes botulism.

Sugar alcohols

Sugar alcohols such as Xylitol, Maltitol, and Erythritol are natural sugars that taste like sugar but don’t have the negative effects on our health. They are sweet, low in calories, and are good choices for diabetics since they have a low glycemic index. Sugar alcohols are also known to protect against tooth decay and this is why we will find them in natural sugar-free chewing gum. One of the best sugar alcohols is pure Xylitol, which is found in health food stores. Erythirtol is another good one but it’s derived from corn and may cause intolerances in some people.

If eaten in excess, sugar alcohols may cause bloating, gas, and diarrhea in some people since they are not completely absorbed by the body.

NOT RECOMMENDED:

X Agave

Agave nectar or agave syrup comes from the plant called agave that grows mainly in Mexico and South America. When you ferment agave, this is where you get Tequila. This sweetener is very popular now because it’s sweeter than sugar, it tastes good and has great marketing which makes us think that it’s a healthy sweetener.

Agave is not healthy. It’s a highly concentrated source of sugar and it’s highly refined and processed. Agave is made of fructose and is higher in fructose than high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and may cause many health problems if eaten in excess. It’s not a whole food and it’s devoid of nutrients.

However, if you are going to consume agave, choose organic raw blue-agave, which is the “best” one.

X Artificial sweeteners (sucralose, aspartame, and others)

Even though they may be beneficial for some people because they are low in calories, stay away from them. They are chemicals that are worst than white sugar and are toxic to the body. Artificial sugars are known to promote migraines, stimulate the appetite, increase sugar cravings, stimulate weight gain, damage the nervous system, and may even cause cancer. The most popular ones are aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, and acesulfame-K. They are found in many products that are labeled as low-sugar and low-calorie such as diet soda, sugar-free chewing gum, sugar-free cookies, sugar-free yogurt, children’s medicines, and tons of other products. They can also be bought at the grocery store to be used in coffee and other beverages.

If you are watching your sugar intake, there are much healthier alternatives such as stevia, xylitol and Lo Han sweetener. Try to always focus on what’s natural instead of what’s artificial.

X Brown sugar

Brown sugar is basically the same thing as white sugar but has molasses in it. It comes from the sugar cane.

X Fructose

Fructose found naturally in fruits and vegetables are totally fine when part of a healthy and balanced diet as they are natural and don’t only provide sugar, but also vitamins, minerals, enzymes, antioxidants, and water.

Added fructose, on the other side, is different than fructose from fruits and vegetable. Its molecule is different and has no nutritional benefits. Fructose is used as a sweetener in many foods as it makes food taste good and it’s cheap to use. Fructose is mainly found in processed foods.

Fructose is known to contribute to many health problems such as weight gain, obesity, liver damage, gout, and heart disease. And this is because fructose is broken down by the liver, which transformed fructose in fat very quickly, especially if you don’t exercise. This is also because there is formation of AGE’s (advanced glycation end-products) in the body, which is also critical to health. We think that fructose is healthy but we eat too much of it, and we don’t get it from natural sources such as fruits and vegetables.

To avoid fructose, avoid processed foods and artificial fruit juices, as well as other sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup and agave. It’s always best to exercise to not let the body convert sugar into fats.

X High fructose corn syrup

High fructose corn syrup is a modified sugar that comes from genetically modified corn. It’s refined, isolated and has a very high glycemic index. It’s twice as sweet and addictive as fructose, which is already addictive. It may cause serious health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, osteoporosis, and cancer. You can find it in sodas, candies, cakes, processed food, frozen meals, sauces, and dressings; basically, in almost everything that is processed.

X Table sugar (sucrose)

Table sugar is purified sucrose extracted from beet or cane sugar. It’s chemically processed and treated with high dose of pesticides and herbicides.  There is nothing nutritious in white sugar at all. It’s acidic to the body and may cause many health problems such as tooth decay and weight gain. There are much better alternatives than white sugar.

Excess of sugar may contribute to:

  • Tooth decay
  • Headaches
  • Addiction, sugar cravings
  • Indigestion
  • Hyperactivity
  • Insomnia
  • Inflammation
  • Infection
  • Yeast
  • Candida
  • Eczema
  • Arthritis
  • Join pain
  • Diabetes
  • Heart diseases
  • Cancer
  • And more…

DID YOU KNOW

-To visualize how much sugar is in a product, look at the label, see how many grams of sugar there is in total (or per portion you’re going to eat), and divide the number by 4. This is the amount of teaspoon you or your kids are eating.

-The average American consumes more than 150 pounds of sugar and sweetener per year and 79 pounds of High Fructose Corn Syrup per year.

-Some kids are taking between 120 and 150g of sugar per day, and even more.

On the label, what does it mean?

Sugar-free Contains less than 0.5 gram of sugar per serving. Artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols are normally used.
Reduced sugar, Less sugar Processed food where sugar has been reduced by at least 25%.
No added sugars The product can taste sweet but no added sugars have been added to the product.
Unsweetened No added sugars or sweeteners are used. The product doesn’t taste sweet.

 

TIP: On the label, if you read words such as syrup, sweetener or any words ending by “ose”, it all means sugar. You can find here a list of names that are used for sugar.

Recommandations:

  1. Avoid refined sugar and artificial sweeteners, especially those found in processed foods
  2. Stay away from high fructose corn syrup, agave and added fructose
  3. Avoid soft drinks, sports drinks and artificial fruit juices
  4. Read food labels to avoid excess sugar intake in products
  5. In moderation, use healthier alternatives such as rapadura, raw honey, blackstrap molasses, coconut sugar or stevia.