With all the attention focused on high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners, I thought I would provide a few safer options to satisfy your sweet tooth.
The stevia plant is a perennial shrub native to Paraguay and Brazil and the sweetener is extracted from its leaves. The extract is very sweet and about 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar, so only a small amount is needed. Stevia has undergone many toxicity tests, and I have not seen any compelling evidence that shows it has a harmful impact on human health. Infact, most of the research confirms this. What I consider to be a better testament to the safety of stevia is that it has been used for centuries by natives of South America and since the 70’s in Japan with no negative side effects reported. It actually makes up about 40% of the sweeteners used in Japan. Also, because stevia has little impact on blood sugar, it may be a good alternative for diabetics. Though it is not as widely used in the US, some products are choosing to sweeten with stevia such as Zevia, a natural version of soda. Hopefully, with increased attention on natural sweeteners, more products will start to use stevia.
Erythritol is a sugar alcohol made from fermenting corn, and is also found naturally in soy sauce, wine, sake, watermelons, pears and grapes. The process that creates Erythritol is similar to the fermentation of milk to become yogurt. It has been approved for use in much of the world and in the US after extensive research. Erythritol is absorbed into the blood stream before it reaches the large intestine, so it does not normally cause a laxative effect as other sugar alcohols. However, if consumed in excessive quantities side effects such as gas and bloating may occur. Erythritol has a very low calorie content and will not cause spikes in blood sugar or tooth decay. Erythritol has a similar appearance to sugar and is only slightly less sweet, making it easy to add to recipes.
Organic Whole Cane Sugar (Rapadura or Sucanat)
Organic Whole Cane Sugar is made by extracting the juice from organic sugar cane then heating and cooling it to create the dry granules. It is far less processed than common table sugar which is highly refined. Some confuse whole cane sugar with Turbinado sugar, however there is a difference. Tubinado has most of its original molasses content removed, making it similar to refined sugar except with a golden color and a hint of molasses flavor. Sucanat and Rapadura, on the other hand, retain their full molasses content and flavor. Organic whole cane sugar may not be the best option for those looking for a non-caloric sweetener such as diabetics as it contains about 15 calories per teaspoon. However, I do believe it’s a more natural option than table sugar.
While it’s true that honey has a similar fructose content to table sugar, it also contains small amounts of beneficial nutrients such as antioxidants. There are many types of honey and they are named after the floral source from which the bees obtain the nectar. Two of my favorite varieties are buckwheat and manuka honey which research suggests has antibacterial and would healing properties. Raw or minimally heated honey best retain these natural properties.
Honey can be used to replace sugar in a recipe and 3/4 cup of honey can replace one cup of sugar in a recipe. In addition, you will have to reduce the liquid by one-half cup for each cup of honey you add to the recipe. It is important to remember that honey does contain calories and will have an impact on blood sugar. Children under the age of 1 should not be given honey as it may be a source of botulism spores.
–Nicole Gould, RD LD