I absolutely love dessert. Cookies, brownies, chocolate anything. Dessert is my love language. But I also can get a serious sugar hangover. Especially from granulated, processed sugar. Which brings me to the moral of this article: not all sources of sugar are created equally. Processed forms of sugar, like refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup, may pose a higher risk of disease and inflammation in comparison to less processed forms of sugar. Further, our bodies are better equipped to digest foods in their natural form, rather than processed. For this reason, I try to avoid these forms of added sugar and incorporate less processed alternatives into my recipes. Allow me to introduce you to my top three natural sugar substitutes.
Pure Maple Syrup
It was only a few years ago that I reserved the use of maple syrup to drizzle over pancakes. But, in recent years, pure maple syrup has garnered attention as a healthy substitute for refined sugar. And for good reason! Pure maple syrup (emphasis on pure! We’re not talking about Mrs. Butterworths here) contains antioxidants. Antioxidants are essential as they neutralize free radicals, preventing against disease. Maple syrup also contains manganese and zinc which support a healthy heart and immune system.
To substitute maple syrup in place of sugar in your favorite recipes, use ¾ to 1 cup of maple syrup per one cup of sugar. You should also reduce other liquids in the recipe by two to four tablespoons to account for the liquid consistency of the syrup.
Raw honey has numerous potential health benefits making it a common ingredient in alternative medicine treatments. Similar to pure maple syrup, honey includes disease fighting antioxidants. Honey may also be effective in fighting against inflammation, improving blood sugar regulation and improving fasting blood sugar levels in people with Type II diabetes.
When buying honey, look for one that is labelled “raw”. Regular honey goes through a pasteurization process which removes many of the naturally occurring antioxidants and nutrients. In contrast, raw honey is simply strained and bottled, retaining the nutrients. Because honey is sweeter than sugar, you should substitute ¾ cup of honey for every one cup of sugar. Again, you should also decrease the liquids in your recipe by two to four tablespoons.
Coconut sugar is derived from the sap of a coconut palm tree and is a low-glycemic natural sweetener. The nectar is boiled into a syrup and allowed to dry and crystallize in a process that requires minimal processing. Coconut sugar retains many of the nutrients found in the coconut palm such as iron, zinc and potassium. However, note that a single serving of coconut sugar does not contain enough of these nutrients to pass as a meaningful source of vitamins.
What I love about using coconut sugar in recipes is that it can be subbed one-for-one with granulated sugar. The texture is very similar to that of granulated sugar making it easy to substitute in recipes. As coconut sugar grows in popularity, more and more brands are using it in their products. Plus, it’s become increasingly easier to find in the baking section at your local grocery store. If you love to bake as much as I do, I highly suggest you throw out the granulated sugar and keep a bag of coconut sugar in its place. You won’t even miss the old stuff!
While the healthiest diet is one that limits sugar altogether, there is a time and place for sweets. So, if we’re going to indulge (which we all are!) why not be smart about it.
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