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May/June 2006

Healthy Sweeteners

Dear Jessica,

My family loves desserts! Could you suggest some healthier sweeteners to use?


Dear Dessert-Lover,

I can relate to your family’s love of desserts. I have a huge sweet tooth myself and have searched to find healthy alternatives. Unfortunately, there is a lot of conflicting information about which sweeteners are the best to use. Here’s a summary of what I’ve found to be true.

It’s best to avoid refined sweeteners (e.g. white sugar, brown sugar and corn syrup) because they actually deplete nutrients from the body. Brown sugar is just white sugar with a coating of molasses over it. Many products try to disguise themselves as healthy alternatives, but are usually not much better than white sugar. These products include evaporated cane juice, cane juice, Turbinado, “raw” sugar, “natural” sugar, and Florida Crystals.

I have found that one of the best and easiest alternatives to processed sugar is “unrefined evaporated cane juice.” This product has been carefully dried so the nutrients are kept intact. I use a product called Rapadura, which can be found at most health food stores. Unrefined cane juice can easily be substituted for white and brown sugar in most recipes. Since it has a slightly stronger molasses taste, I find it works best in recipes like banana breads or chocolate recipes where the flavor is either appreciated or hidden by other strong flavors.

A wonderful liquid sweetener is Agave. It is derived from the Agave cactus plant. It has a lower glycemic index than most sweeteners and will not spike blood sugar levels unless consumed with other foods that have a high glycemic value. It is similar looking to honey. It is easy to pour and tastes great in drinks, cereal and can be used in baking. Since it is sweeter than white sugar, you will want to decrease the amount used. A recipe that calls for 1 cup of sugar can be replaced by _ cup of Agave. However, since you are substituting a liquid for a dry ingredient, you will also want to cut down the amount of liquid in the recipe _ cup. You will also want to decrease the oven temperature 25 degrees.

Other healthy sweeteners include:

Brown rice syrup – Made from sprouted brown rice, is not that sweet and has a slight butterscotch flavor.

Barley malt – Made from sprouted barley. Has a strong malt flavor.

Raw honey - Sweeter than sugar and some believe promotes healing. Not recommended for infants.

Organic maple syrup/maple sugar- Make sure to buy organic because organic standards ensure that no chemicals or formaldehyde was used. Maple sugar is dried maple syrup and can be used in an easy one-to-one ratio to sugar.

Date sugar - Consists of ground dates. Doesn’t dissolve as well as other sweeteners.

Molasses – A thick liquid that remains after the sugar-making process. Has a strong flavor.

Stevia – An herb derived from a plant native to South America. Extremely sweet but often has a strong bitter aftertaste. Has negligible calories and is safe for diabetics.

Although these sweeteners are healthier than sugar, they should be used in moderation.

I highly recommend avoiding artificial sweeteners like Aspartame (also called NutraSweet), Saccharine, and Sucralose (also called Splenda), which have been linked to numerous health problems.

Good luck in your cooking experimentations.


If you have a food-related question that you would like answered in the journal, please email me at JessicaT@healinggardenjournal.com.

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