Bringing Wellness Full Circle

“Natural” Sugars

Sugar? No sugar? I guess you have to decide for yourself. It seems that a diet  with as little sugar as possible is best, but sometimes, we all just want something sweet and gooey and baked, right? So here is a run down of natural sugars that are “safer” to use–and I’ll let you decide!

sugar

Sugarcane Sweeteners : Sugarcane is a tropical grass that has been cultivated by humans for thousands of years. The final result depends very much on the processing steps: light and dark brown, powdered, and granulated white sugars are all highly refined, while the ones listed below are made with fewer processing steps, which benefit the environment and also means that more of the vitamins and minerals that naturally occur in sugarcane remain in the end product.

Blackstrap molasses, unlike other sugarcane sweeteners, contains lots of vitamins and minerals. “First” molasses is left over when sugarcane juice is boiled, cooled, and removed of its crystals. If this product is boiled again, the result is called second molasses. Blackstrap molasses is made from the third boiling of the sugar syrup and is the most nutritious molasses, containing substantial amounts of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron. When buying, consider choosing organic blackstrap molasses, as pesticides are more likely to be concentrated due to the production of molasses. Blackstrap molasses has a very strong flavor, so it is best to just replace a small portion of sugar with molasses.

Rapadura is probably the least refined of all sugarcane products and made simply by cooking juice that has been pressed from sugarcane until it is very concentrated, and then drying and granulating it or pouring it into a mold to dry in brick form, which is then shaved. Because the only thing that has been removed from the original sugarcane juice is the water, rapadura contains all of the vitamins and minerals that are normally found in sugarcane juice, namely iron. Rapadura replaces sugar 1:1 and adds a molasses flavor and dark color.

Sucanat is very similar to rapadura. Made by mechanically extracting sugarcane juice, which is then heated and cooled until tiny brown crystals form, itt contains less sucrose than table sugar (88 percent and 99 percent, respectively). but for cooking purposes, it replaces sugar 1:1 and is also an accepted substitute for traditional brown sugar.

Turbinado sugar is often confused with sucanat, but the two are different. After the sugarcane is pressed to extract the juice, the juice is then boiled, cooled, and allowed to crystallize into granules (like sucanat, above). Next, these granules are refined to a light tan color by washing them in a centrifuge to remove impurities and surface molasses. Turbinado is lighter in color and contains less molasses than both rapadura and sucanat. A popular brand-name of turbinado sugar is Sugar in the Raw, which can be found in most natural food stores, and even in single-serve packets at coffee shops. it also replaces sugar 1:1 and is a great substitute for brown sugar, too.

Evaporated cane juice is  a finer, lighter-colored version of turbinado sugar. Still less refined than table sugar, it also contains some trace nutrients (that regular sugar does not), including vitamin B2. It replaces sugar 1:1.

Non-Sugarcane Sweeteners Natural sweeteners are flooding the market these days. Here’s a rundown of some of the most common ones that are not made from sugarcane.

sugarcane

  • Agave nectar is produced from the juice of the core of the agave, a succulent plant native to Mexico. Far from a whole food, agave juice is extracted, filtered, heated and hydrolyzed into agave syrup. Vegans often use agave as a honey substitute, although it’s even sweeter and a little thinner than honey. It contains trace amounts of iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium. Just be aware that the fructose content of agave syrup is much higher than that of the evil high fructose corn syrup. But it does have a low glycemic index becauf its low glucose content.
  • Brown rice syrup is made when cooked rice is cultured with enzymes, which break down the starch in the rice. The resulting liquid is cooked down to a thick syrup, which is about half as sweet as white sugar and has a mild butterscotch flavor. It is composed of about 50% complex carbohydrates, which break down more slowly in the bloodstream than simple carbohydrates, resulting in a less dramatic spike in blood glucose levels. The name “brown rice syrup” describes the color of the syrup, not the rice it’s made from, which is white. To replace one cup of sugar, use 1-1/3 cups brown rice syrup, and for each cup of rice syrup added, reduce liquid by 1/4 cup and add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda. Brown rice syrup has the tendency to make food harder and crispier, so it’s great in crisps, granolas, and cookies. You may want to combine it with another sweetener for cakes and sweet breads.
  • Honey, made by bees from the nectar of flowers, is a ready-made sweetener that contains traces of nutrients. Cooking notes: To replace 1 cup sugar in baked goods, use about 3/4 cup of honey and lower the oven temperature 25 degrees Fahrenheit and reduce liquids by about 2 Tablespoons for each cup of honey.
  • Maple syrup comes from the sap of maple trees, which is collected, filtered, and boiled down to an extremely sweet syrup with a distinctive flavor. It contains fewer calories and a higher concentration of minerals (like manganese and zinc) than honey. To replace 1 cup sugar in baking, use about 3/4 cup of maple syrup and lower the oven temperature 25 degrees Fahrenheit. For each cup of maple syrup, reduce liquids by about 2 tablespoons.

The bottom line is that sugar is sugar. And added sugar—whether it’s marketed as “natural” or not—harms your health, and adds pounds to you.  Even natural sweeteners don’r really add a significant source of vitamins or minerals to your diet. So again, use moderation when it comes to sugar.

And, just because it’s good to be reminded, let me talk about high fructose corn syrup for a minute, because it carries crazy risks:

  • While the consumption of table sugar triggers the secretion of insulin and leptin, which signal your body that you are full, HFCS does not.
  • Consumption of HFCS can elevate triglyceride levels, which can increase the risk of heart disease.
  • HFCS can upset the magnesium, copper, chromium, and zinc levels in the body, which could lead to deficiency diseases like bone loss.

There you have it!

Here’s a chart of how these sweeteners compare with one another and with regular table sugar:

Sweetener

Serving size

Calories

Carbs

Other nutrients of note

White (table) sugar

2 tsp

33

8 g

None—AVOID!!!

Blackstrap molasses

2 tsp

32

8 g

Manganese (18% DV), copper (14% DV), iron (13% DV), calcium (12% DV), potassium (10% DV), magnesium (7%DV), vitamin B6 (5% DV), selenium (4% DV)

Rapadura

2 tsp

30

8 g

None

Sucanat

2 tsp

30

8 g

None

Turbinado sugar

2 tsp

30

8 g

None

Evaporated cane juice

2 tsp

30

8 g

Riboflavin (3% DV), potassium (1% DV), manganese (1% DV), copper (1% DV), iron (1% DV)

Agave nectar syrup

2 tsp

40

8 g

None

Brown rice syrup

2 tsp

40

10 g

None

Honey

2 tsp

43

11 g

None

Maple syrup

2 tsp

45

9 g

Manganese (22% DV), zinc (4%

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