Sweeteners You Should Know

August 02, 2013

With so many choices to sweeten your day, SupermarketGuru is here to clarify what's what! Find out more about natural sweeteners here

What are Natural Sugars? Sweeteners are deemed “natural” if they come from plants, leaves, bark, stem, or other natural sources, versus synthetic or man made sources. According to The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) “sugars” are: 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.

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. 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 is the 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! Agave 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 has 1 gram of fiber per tablespoon. It does not dissolve in liquid so it’s 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 is a crystalline alcohol powder commonly refined from corn, berries, and plums. 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. Xylitol can causing bloating if consumed in larger quantities, so start out slow. Best used in beverages. Xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs!

Stevia is a natural sugar from a chrysanthemum native to South America, Central America and Mexico. It is 250 times sweeter than sugar but has no calories. Like other no-calorie sweeteners, the essential parts of the stevia compound cannot be digested.

And of course maple syrup, and honey are two more great options.

What are your favorite sweeteners?