Last week, The Health Junction did a post on synthetic sweeteners and if you haven’t had a chance to read it yet the gist is that they’re not “dangerous” per se, but in fact, these products mess up our metabolism and are proven to lead to long-term weight gain and the associated co-diseases such as diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.
So, is straight up white table sugar really a better option? White sugar has absolutely no nutritional value, is highly processed, and comes from genetically modified crops of sugar cane. It’s still definitely better than synthetic sweeteners, but I would like to table some more nutritious options to keep you sweet and slim.
Evaporated Cane Sugar is not completely stripped of nutrition because it hasn’t been as processed as white sugar – in fact it still has calcium and potassium. You can bake with cane sugar and when looking for it at the grocery store it’s sometimes called crystallized cane juice, milled cane sugar or direct consumption sugar. It has a Glycemic Index of 43 compared to white sugar which is 80.
Brown Sugar is white sugar with molasses added back into it (after having been removed in the first place) and anti clumping agents.
Sucanat – the name comes from SUgar CAne NATural. It’s basically dried cane sugar which means it’s much less processed and contains more vitamins and minerals than table sugar. You can substitute Sucanat for table sugar and brown sugar 1 for 1 when baking. It’s Glycemic Index is lower than table sugar at 43.
Brown Rice Syruphas a mild, nutty taste, and can be used in recipes where sweetness isn’t the dominant flavour. It’s made by steeping brown rice with enzymes where the rice is eventually converted into a liquid form. Brown Rice Syrup has a high Glycemic Index of 85.
Agave comes from Blue Agave, the same Mexican plant used to make tequila. A sap is extracted from the core of Blue Agave and then converted into a syrup which is popular in recent days because it dissolves so well in cold liquids. It is much sweeter than conventional sugar so you only need a tiny bit. It has a low gycemic index ranging between 15-30 making it a nice choice for blood sugar stabilization.
Stevia comes from a variety of sunflower plants and is 300 times sweeter than table sugar. Now, if you read the last post on synthetic sweeteners you may assume that Stevia causes the same issues with metabolism but it doesn’t. Interestingly, a recent study has shown that with mice, Stevia helps regenerate b-cells in the pancreas which in turn can improve insulin sensitivity – something of interest to diabetics who have issues with insulin uptake. Stevia has a glycemic index of 0 meaning it doesn’t cause a fluctuation in blood sugar. Cooking with Stevia can be tricky because of the conversions but there are a lot of online resources to assist.
Raw Honeyis really cool. When bees collect nectar from flowers, it mixes with enzymes in their saliva turning it into honey. They carry the liquid back to a hive and on the journey, the fluttering from their wings dries it out into the consistency we know as honey. When honey isn’t processed it contains a ton of phytonutrients and is considered anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal. Wow! The glycemic index of honey is 30. This is one of those foods where you’ll want to invest in a high quality organic product to get the health benefits.
Maple Syrup – most of it comes from Quebec. The sap that comes from maple trees is boiled and contains 22% of our daily requirements of magnesium in two tablespoons. It’s also high in zinc. It has a glycemic index of 54.
Coconut Sugaris worth trying because it contains no additives or artificial flavours. If you’re getting raw organic coconut sugar, it’s also a source of potassium, calcium, zinc, and 16 amino acids including glutamine which is involved in metabolism. It has a low glycemic index of 35.
The long of the short is that unprocessed sweeteners that are derived from natural sources tend to offer more bang for your buck – you’ll get more nutrients and in most cases a more gradual and steady rise and fall in your blood sugar levels.
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