Natural sweeteners

Substitute refined sugar to stay healthy!

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Sugar, sugar, sugar, sugar! Cookies, cakes, crisps, custard, candy, pies, puddings, fudge and frozen delights surround us and beg for our attention this time of year. If we substitute the sugar in the desserts we make, that choice can help us stay healthy.

Between Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, there’s always an excuse for “just one more” cookie or piece of pie. Desserts are abundant during this 5 week time frame. And oh so hard to turn down. Refined sugar is a major culprit in knocking down your body’s natural immune response. In this year of C-virus, everyone should be trying to ramp up their immune response, not sabotage it. So how can you enjoy some baked goodness during the holidays and keep your immune system working for your benefit?

Choose to use alternative sweeteners in your desserts. Substituting the refined sugar called for in recipes with sweeteners that are whole foods (dates, dried fruits) or offer some beneficial nutrients (yacon, molasses, coconut sugar, maple syrup, honey) is helpful for retaining immune response. Choosing sweeteners that are sugar alcohols (xylitol or  erythritol) or plant extracts (stevia and monk fruit*) can also help to decrease sugar consumption. Making the choice to use these sweeteners over granulated sugar can improve your chances of staying healthy this holiday season.

Using whole food sweeteners

Dates and dried fruit can be softened by warming or soaking and then blended to make a paste or syrup that can be used in recipes. Mashed bananas can also be used, but will definitely affect the flavor of the recipe. When using a paste or liquid sweetener in place of granulated sugar, some adjustment is necessary with the dry ingredients. Usually adding a little more flour.

Using natural alternative sweeteners

Honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar and molasses offer sweetness but also have some benefits because of the mineral and amino acid content. These sweeteners are a better choice than refined sugar but they will slow down the immune response if consumed in large quantity because they are composed of simple carbohydrates. Yacon, on the other hand, is low in simple carbs so it will not affect the immune system adversely, but it is also less sweet and more expensive. It is a great option for diabetics. Using liquid sweeteners requires adjustments to dry ingredients when baking. Coconut sugar can be substituted one to one for sugar in recipes and gives a bit of a toffee flavor.

Using sugar alcohols and plant extracts

Xylitol and erythritol have very low calorie count and do not affect blood sugar or immune response adversely. They come in granulated form and can typically substitute 1 for 1 with sugar in recipes.  I think it’s best to use in moderation and be aware that they can cause bowel irritation with high consumption. [Xylitol is poisonous for dogs, so keep pooch away from any sweets you make using xylitol.]

The stevia plant leaves can be dried and ground or placed in alcohol to make an extract. The whole leaf stevia and liquid extracts*are the best forms of stevia. Monk fruit is another sweet plant extract usually found in combination with erythritol or dextrose, but also a pure extract* and then only a small amount is necessary for recipes.

The average American eats 150 pounds of sugar a year, consuming it mostly through processed foods and sodas. Being intentional about the choices we make and choosing whole foods, water, and minimally processed foods will take the health of our nation to another level and healthcare into the reasonable range. Multiple studies show that eating more whole fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes reverse and prevent diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer risk. But life can be sweet by choosing healthier sweeteners in your dessert making.

For a couple desserts that use the sweeteners mentioned here, take a look at caramel apple stack, pecan fingers, mocha love bites and pumpkin mousse.    

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