Natural Sweeteners 101

May 02, 2011

Natural Sweeteners 101

Looking for a natural way to sweeten your foods, within your discretionary calorie allowance? Luckily have a lot of great options!

If you’re looking for a more natural way to sweeten your foods and beverages, within your discretionary calorie allowance (roughly between 6 and 9 tsp, or 25 – 38 grams per day), you luckily have a lot of great options.

As a reminder, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) defines “sugars” as all caloric sweeteners containing the individual or a combination of: sucrose, fructose and glucose. This includes, sugar from sugar beets and sugar cane, corn sweeteners (high fructose corn syrup, glucose syrup and dextrose), honey, maple syrup, agave syrup and other edible syrups. Artificial and non-caloric sweeteners do not fall into the “sugars” category listed on the Nutrition Facts Panel on food products.

Here are a few of SupermarketGuru’s favorite natural alternatives to refined sugar. Some have fewer or even zero calories as compared to refined sugar or less impact on blood sugar, but do keep in mind that all should be consumed in moderation.

Agave nectar, a golden-brown liquid derived from the sap of the blue agave plant; it’s less viscous than honey, but thicker than maple syrup. It has a fairly low glycemic index (GI) of 15, but since glycemic index only measures glucose, it is important to note that agave is nearly 92 percent fructose! Can be used similarly to sugar. Substitute 2/3 cup agave for 1 cup sugar, and in baking reduce other liquids by one third. Also works well in beverages, salad dressings and other moist desserts.

Brown rice syrup, is a viscous liquid made by fermenting brown rice with enzymes to convert its starches to sugars. Its flavor is mildly sweet but rich. Brown rice syrup also has a relatively low GI of 25. Best in pies, hot cereals, sauces and other soft textured foods and tends to work better for crunchy items. Substitute 1 1/2 cups for 1 cup sugar and reduce other liquids by 2 tablespoons.

Date sugar is simply dehydrated and ground dates- which means it retains a grainy texture and dark color. This sweetener is actually rich in minerals, and has1 gram of fiber per tablespoon. It does not dissolve in liquid so its best in baked goods and substitution ratio is 2/3 date sugar to 1 cup sugar. Shorten recipe times by several minutes because it can burn.

Palm sugar (unrefined) is made by boiling the sap of coconut palm tree flowers. It looks similar to brown sugar and has a stronger flavor than white sugar or honey, with hints of caramel and maple syrup. Palm sugar has a moderate/low GI of 35 and is best used in baking and where a caramel flavor is welcomed. Substitute a little over 1 cup to 1 cup sugar.

Xylitol, a crystalline alcohol powder commonly refined from corn, berries, and plums is another interesting natural sweetener. It has no effect on blood sugar but does contain 9 calories per teaspoon, about half that of sugar. It is thought to be effective in preventing tooth decay (versus consuming sugar) and may have positive effects on bone health. 
Can causing bloating if consumed in larger quantities, so start out slow. Best used in beverages. Xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs!

And of course not forgetting maple syrup and honey.