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Natural Sweeteners

There are many natural sweeteners, all of which add their own unique flavors and textures.

Cane or turbinado sugar is made from the sugarcane plant, this whole, unrefined sugar has a slight brownish tint because the health-promoting molasses has not been extracted from it.

Beet sugar is similar to cane sugar but is derived from beets. Molasses: is rich in many beneficial nutrients including calcium and iron. Molasses can be used to replace up to half the sugar in many recipes. Choose dark or blackstrap molasses, which are more nutritious.

Honey is environmentally friendly because it requires minimal processing and energy use. Honey is slightly higher in calories than sugar but also sweeter so less is required. Raw honey contains more nutrients than processed honey.

Agave syrup is similar to honey (though less viscous) and possibly healthier than sugar (there is debate on this issue), agave is slightly higher in calories than sugar but also sweeter so less is required.

Stevia is a calorie-free sugar alternative, which is up to 300 times sweeter than sucrose. It is derived from the leaves of a plant in the sunflower family.
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Fruit, of course provides antioxidants, fiber, and other healthy ingredients as well as the sweetness we sometimes crave. Mashed fruit can be used to replace fats in recipes as well.

Barley malt syrup with its rich, malty flavor, is healthier than sugar because it contains complex carbohydrates and protein. Brown rice syrup is only half as sweet as sugar but contains far more calories. Brown rice syrup tends to make baked goods overly crisp. It also made the news recently due to arsenic contamination.

Date sugar is rich in iron, potassium, calcium, fiber, and antioxidants and slightly lower in calories than regular sugar. Maple syrup is a tree sap product that is a great source of health-promoting zinc and manganese. Grade B is darker and more nutritious. Coconut sugar has a light nutty flavor (it does not taste like coconut) and is low on the glycemic index.

The low-calorie sweetener Xylitol is derived from various plants including birch, berries, oats, mushrooms, or corn (often genetically modified), but is poisonous to pets.

When replacing sugar in recipes, you may need to make adjustments. Substitution recommendations can be found online.

Sources
D’Agrosa, L., RD, “Buyer’s Guide to Natural Sweeteners,” Eating Well, n.d. http://www.eatingwell.com/healthy_cooking/healthy_cooking_101_basics_techniques/buyers_guide_to_natural_sweeteners

 

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