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Fitter Guide To Baking Part 2: Sweeteners

In the first part of our Fitter Guide To Baking series we covered different flours available and here in part 2 we cover healthier options to sweeten your bake. There is so much confusion surrounding natural sweeteners and which is best to use. The answer really depends on your own personal health goals and of course the requirements of the recipe as liquid or powdered sweeteners will create different textures. Here we outline the properties of different natural sweeteners so you can decide which works for your personal nutrition and more importantly creates a better biscuit, cake or tart!

Firstly, we need to make it clear that even most healthy sweeteners are still contributing sugar to your nutrition and before adding desserts and baked goods it’s good to check you have optimal insulin health by testing your blood glucose levels. If you suffer from sugar cravings and have a history of over indulging on the sweet stuff we recommend you try and go cold turkey for a while and increase your healthy fat intake to change your palate and suppress your sweet tooth a little. Even healthy sugar substitutes can keep enhancing the desire and perceived need for sweet tastes. Once you regain control and feel the cravings subside you can add back in sweet foods on a more occasional basis and establish a healthier balance.

It’s important to revisit our blog on fructose and glucose to help you make your decision here.

Natural Sweeteners

raw honeyRaw Honey

  • Standard supermarket honey is centrifuged, heated and filtered which kills what an essentially living food leaving a sugar syrup.
  • Raw honey is unprocessed so it retains the added benefit of pollen, bee propolis, enzymes, antioxidants and micronutrients.
  • Honey is sweeter than white sugar so reduce the amount by ¼ when swapping into a recipe.
  • As a liquid it’s ideal for moist cakes, sticky puddings, chewy biscuits and mousses.
  • Honey offers a around a 50/50 combination of glucose and fructose, it will elevate insulin so it’s best to use a glucose monitor and ensure you have the insulin health to consume it.
  • Raw honey can be helpful as a sweetener for those with digestive problems as it elicits an antibiotic effect.

Maple Syrup and Maple Sugar

  • The result of processing the sap of the maple tree, the sap is heated to reduce its water content and increase the sugar content.
  • Maple syrup and sugar contains zinc, manganese and trace amounts of calcium, iron and magnesium.
  • Maple syrup offers a 50/50 combination of glucose and fructose, it will elevate insulin so it’s best to use a glucose monitor and ensure you have the insulin health to consume it.
  • Maple sugar can be used in an equal ratio to sugar in recipes but again as a liquid sweetener it may change the texture.
  • As a liquid it’s ideal for moist cakes, sticky puddings, chewy biscuits and mousses.

 Coconut Palm Sugar

coconut palm sugar

  • Similar to maple syrup the juice of the palm is extracted and then boiled down until it forms a syrup, paste or sugar crystals.
  • As a crystal sugar it can be used in used in an equal ratio to white or brown sugar.
  • It contains iron, zinc, calcium and potassium, polyphenols and antioxidants that provide some health benefits.
  • It contains a fibre known as inulin that is suggested to slow glucose absorption into the bloodstream, thus coconut sugar is a better choice in terms of blood sugar management (but still test as this various across individuals).
  • Inulin also acts as a prebiotic and feeds healthy gut flora.
  • It contains around 39% fructose.

Dates/Date Sugar

  • Date sugar is made from dried and pulverised dates.
  • The drying process increases the sugar content as the water evaporates
  • Dried dates and date sugar are sweeter than white sugar so using half the amount is wise.
  • Dates are very high in fructose and not recommend for those with metabolic abnormalities and blood sugar issues.

Molasses

  • Molasses is a dark, thick liquid extracted during the process of refining sugar cane.
  • Blackstrap molasses is a result of a boiling cane syrup three times.
  • It contains a variety of vitamins and minerals as the sugar is crystallised including vitamin B6, calcium, manganese, magnesium and potassium.
  • Its flavour is bittersweet and rich (like treacle) so it doesn’t suit all recipes.
  • Only a small quantity is needed.
  • Similar to honey, molasses offers more or less a 50/50 combination of glucose and fructose, it will elevate insulin so it’s best to use a glucose monitor and ensure you have the insulin health to consume it.

Unrefined Cane Sugar (Rapadura, Sucanat)

  • Cane sugar is one of the oldest domesticated plants.
  • Sugar cane is pressed and then the juice is heated to reduce it to a thick syrup, cooling allows the sugars to crystallise.
  • Minimally processed, unrefined cane sugars like rapadura and sucanat are similar to using coconut palm sugar. The molasses is still present in these (unlike white sugar) so they offer a similar mineral profile.
  • Unrefined cane sugar offers more or less a 50/50 combination of glucose and fructose, it will elevate insulin so it’s best to use a glucose monitor and ensure you have the insulin health to consume it.
  • Unrefined cane sugars can be used in an equal ratio to white or brown sugar.

Rice Syrup

  • Brown rice syrup is derived from cooking brown rice with enzymes that break down the starch into smaller sugar molecules.
  • It contains 100% glucose.
  • Some believe the absence of fructose make this a better form of sweetener, although the higher amount of glucose may have a negative effect on insulin levels.

Stevia

IMG_8390

  • The stevia plant is part of the Asteraceae family, related to the daisy and ragweed referred to as “candyleaf” and native to New Mexico, Arizona and Texas.
  • People have used leaves to sweeten food for hundreds of years.
  • Steviosides and rebaudiosides are the natural compounds in stevia that offer the sweet taste
  • Stevia is estimated to be 200 times sweeter than white sugar so only a small amount is needed.
  • It’s difficult to make stevia work in baking as the amount needed is small (so there’s a lack of bulk in the ingredients) and the taste is potent so not many people like it.
  • Take care to purchase only the natural forms of stevia.
  • Green stevia is just the stevia herb, dried and powdered.
  • As a non-caloric sweetener it’s useful for those with weight loss goals although it’s suggested the extreme sweetness may enhance cravings for sweet foods.
  • In ancient traditions it’s been used as a natural contraceptive so worth bearing in mind if you have fertility goals.
  • Do not confuse stevia with processed brands like Truvia, these are blends of stevia and other chemical sweeteners.

Sugar Substitutes: Xylitol and Erythritol

xylitolSugar alcohols are often preferred as sweeteners as they do not cause a glycemic response. A hybrids of carbohydrate and alcohol (minus the ethanol), these molecules stimulate our sweet taste receptors. These would be preferable for those with metabolic disorders and Type 2 diabtetes (although it’s probably better to adjust to a life without sweeteness full stop as you heal and repair your metabolism).

The two common sugar alcohols used in food processing and baking are:

Xylitol

  • Sourced from the cell walls of birch and beech trees, rice, oat, wheat, cotton husks and corn cobs.
  • As a white, crystalline powder it looks like sugar and adds bulk to a recipe.
  • It has the same sweetness as sugar.
  • It has little effect on blood sugar levels and insulin.
  • It is partly digested by the liver and then further in the intestinal tract.
  • Xylitol is suggested to have dental benefits by inhibiting the growth of bacteria that cause tooth decay.
  • As the sugar alcohol is not absorbed and remains in the digestive tract it can cause bloating and have a mild laxative effect for some people.

Erythritol

  • It’s heat stable so can be used for baking.
  • It’s a white, powdered sweetener and so can be useful from a baking perspective as if offers bulk to a recipe.
  • It has 60-80% of the sweetness of sugar.
  • It’s naturally found in melons and pears.
  • The body absorbs erythritol (unlike xylitol) but can’t break it down, so it provides almost no calories and does not produce a glycemic response.
  • Erythritol is less likely to cause gastric distress than xylitol.

Best To Avoid

The following should be avoided:

  1. Standard honey.
  2. Chemical, artificial sweeteners like aspartame these can still elevate insulin and impact upon hormones and appetite.
  3. Agave nectar is 70-80% fructose.
  4. Granulated sugar, white sugar or table sugar; is highly refined.

Keep an eye out for next weeks follow up: A Guide to Pimpin’ Your Baking