When I began this Healthy Sweetener project, my purpose was two-fold:
1) to find and learn how to use “natural alternatives to refined white sugar”
2) to use those natural alternatives to make desserts we all know and love.
As I’ve been publishing this website, I’ve learned that each of you are looking for natural sweeteners for different reasons.
Here is a summary of all the sweeteners I use in my recipes, along with a few comments, to help you decide which of the sweeteners best meet your needs.
IF YOU WANT ONE SWEETENER THAT YOU CAN PRETTY MUCH USE CUP-FOR CUP TO REPLACE WHITE SUGAR…
choose “organic powdered sugar”.
This is powdered evaporated cane juice. It has worked beautifully in every recipe I have tried.
IF YOU WANT A SWEETENER YOU CAN CARRY AROUND TO PUT IN COFFEE OR TEA…
I use Stevia Plus, which comes in little packets. It is pre-measured to be the right amount for a cup of coffee or a glass of ice tea. If you don’t like the taste, try it again and use less. I’ve found the right amount tastes very much like refined white sugar. Too much is bitter. I find it to be especially good in green tea.
I don’t drink a lot of coffee. In the past, I would need two teaspoons of sugar in a cup to drink it. Now, since I don’t eat refined white sugar, I’ve noticed that my taste buds have changed. Now I actually prefer coffee with just cream and no sweetener at all. Of course, that’s good coffee I’m talking about, not “fast-food” coffee.
Even my husband likes Stevia Plus. He likes to put it in a glass of water with ice and lemon to make lemonade. It’s his favorite drink.
IF YOUR PRIMARY INTEREST IS THAT THE SWEETENER BE NATURAL…
choose agave nectar, barley malt syrup, brown rice syrup, date sugar, evaporated cane juice, fruit spreads, honey, or maple syrup.
All of these sweeteners are made from natural foods with minimal processing.
Raw honey is the sweetener in its most natural state. It is just as the bees produce it–full of life and nutrients.
Next most natural are evaporated cane juice and date sugar, as they are simply the fresh whole food dehydrated and ground. When buying evaporated cane juice, be sure to use the whole cane juice, such as Sucanat and Rapadura sugars, or “organic powdered sugar” which is the whole cane juice powdered.
Agave nectar and maple syrup are simply boiled to concentrate the sap of plants into a syrup. Fruit spreads are similarly just cooked down to make a spread.
Barley malt and brown rice syrups undergo microbiological processing to bring out the sweetness of the grain. These are traditional, natural methods used for centuries in Asia.
Though these sweeteners are ideal in their naturalness, to our bodies, they are “sugar” nonetheless. While they are more healthful than refined white sugar, most of them can and do cause dramatic blood sugar spikes, which are not good for our health in the long run.
Of this group, I’ve found that the sweeteners that affect my blood sugar the least are agave nectar and evaporated cane juice. Honey, date sugar, maple syrup, and fruit spreads are the worst. Barley malt and brown rice syrups fall in the middle. But this is just my body. If you are watching your blood sugar, you should test each sweetener for yourself.
Even though these sweeteners are natural foods, they should be used for treats, not at every meal.
IF YOUR PRIMARY INTEREST IS THAT THE SWEETENER BE LOW-GLYCEMIC OR LOW CARB
(ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE DIABETIC)…
choose stevia or vegetable glycerin.
My experience is that I can eat these two sweeteners all day long and they have no effect whatsoever on my blood sugar.
My concern about these sweeteners is that they are not whole foods. The Stevia Plus I use and vegetable glycerin are fractionated and refined products. In general, I prefer to eat whole foods. I use stevia because at the moment, it’s better for my blood sugar and therefore my body to eat something that doesn’t elevate my blood sugar, even if it is refined.
The sweetness of stevia can be obtained by brewing the leaves as a tea. While I enjoy them as a beverage, I haven’t yet learned how to incorporate this form in recipes.
A NOTE ABOUT XYLITOL…
I know that a number of you use xylitol as your preferred sweetener. I just want to comment that though it is natural, it isn’t a whole food. It’s refined. And though it is advertised as being a carbohydrate that you don’t need to count, I’ve found that it can raise blood sugar. I need to do more research on this and will have more soon. This is what I know at the moment. I don’t recommend it for diabetics.
WHAT I’VE ACCOMPLISHED AND WHERE I’M GOING
I’ve now developed recipes using one natural sweetener or another for most common desserts. I’ll continue to explore how the different sweeteners can be used to make those common desserts to give more options. I have found, however, that each of the sweeteners have different characteristics, and so there actually are “best” sweeteners for each type of dessert. I still have more to do on that and I will continue. It has been very important to me to have these traditional desserts in a non-white-sugar form to ease my transition away from refined white sugar, and I know they have been valuable to many of you as well.
But in addition to this, my whole concept of eating sweets has changed in a very profound way. Instead of taking a recipe for a dessert I know and love and saying “How can I make this with a natural sweetener?” I am now asking, “How can I take this sweet food and make something special?” The goal for me is no longer to make a cake or a cookie or a candy, but to find sweet satisfaction in sweet foods and glorify them by exploring their inherent possibilities.