The word is out about the dangers of High Fructose Corn Syrup. This sticky sweet substance shows up in nearly all processed foods and headlines in soft drinks. Studies have linked HFCS to obesity. Caution should be practiced though as sugar in general has gotten a bad rep in the past years. Diets like Atkins and South Beach shun all sugar, natural or not, and have led everyone to question what sugars they eat and where they come from. In a world of myriad choices on how to sweeten your foods, what are the benefits or options of good sweet things out there?
Whole food that happens to be sweet is the best bet, namely fruits and vegetables. These contain fructose. By itself, fructose is not a good option, though studies once thought that it was helpful for diabetics, it actually leads to an increased risk of weight gain. Whole fruits have fiber, vitamins and minerals which balance out the naturally occurring sugars with their beneficial qualities. This is why it is essential to eat the whole fruit to keep blood sugars even.
Fruit has been said to be nature’s candy, though that does not always satisfy our sweet tooth. Reaching for artificial sweeteners might be your calorie free answer, but aspartame and saccharin are dangerous chemicals that the FDA link to 75% of adverse food additive reactions.
Real sugar can have its place in a balanced diet; though, take the time to find whole natural sources of sugar. Cleaner options include honey, sourced locally and organic if possible. Raw honey in particular has made its way onto the health market, since none of the nutrients which make honey a healing food have been destroyed.
Maple syrup can be experimented with to sweeten desserts. Agave, a honey like sweet syrup, is currently a hot trend since it doesn’t cause high spikes in blood sugar. Sucanat, Raw Sugar and Turbinado are less refined versions of real sugar that can be used in coffee, tea, baking and cooking; but what are these? Found in health food stores, Sucanat is a form of the sugar plant where the sugar and the existing molasses are kept together and never separated (brown sugar is when the molasses is taken out and added back in, creating a highly processed sugar.) Turbinado is made from the first pressing of the sugar cane plant, resulting in larger crystals and a truer molasses type flavor. Date sugar is made from dates and not refined like cane sugar.
Though calories for these sugars are similar to refined white sugar, they are less processed, offer some minor benefits and act more with your body more than against it. To stay sweet the right way, just make sure the amount of sugar in your diet does not account for more than 10% of your daily calories.
Here is a quick guideline for working with these natural sugars in your own recipes (all equivalent to 1 cup white sugar):
Sucanat 1 cup
Turbinado 1 cup
Date Sugar 1 cup
Honey 1/2 cup – reduce other liquids in recipe by 1/2 cup
Agave 3 dessert Spoons