What’s that? Two posts in one week!?
A couple of you have asked me about processed sugars (sugar: the good, the bad, and the ugly) and I am very excited that there are others out there that are trying to find more natural sugar sources. I want you to all make the switch to processed-free cooking as easily as my family did!
I can honestly say a major reason I was sold on these dietary changes (no more processed foods!) was how quickly my body responded. I get a high from eating white flour now. Seriously! Who spikes their blood sugar like that unless they aren’t used to eating it anymore. Pretty sure its just little kids.
None of the below “best” or “good” sugars give me spikes because they don’t immediately go straight into my blood stream like white sugars or flours. Think of it like the difference between a complex carbohydrate and a simple carbohydrate. The longer it takes for your body to break it down, the better (no spiking!). It ends up being more of a time released sugar, which is what you want.
You should understand that ALL carbohydrates turn to sugar, but you do need sugar. Sugar is what gives you energy, it’s “the preferred fuel of the brain” and helps you recover your body when you exercise. However, the best sources of sugar are directly from the whole foods: vegetables, fruits, grains, etc. Don’t forget that even sugar cane is a food!
Side note: You must get Dee McCaffrey’s book The Science of Skinny. I learned so much about body chemistry and sugar. Also, much of the information I have listed, I learned from her book.
Sugar: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Sugar: The Best Options
When able, always choose a whole food because your body can instantly go to work and know what to do with it. These are useful to your body! That means use carrots, sweet potatoes, apples, dates, oranges, pineapple, bananas and strawberries. Even onions are sweet when you caramelize them in the oven! These sugars are guilt-free, complex carbohydrates, and full of nutrients. My Orange Beauty Smoothie and Sweet Potato Sushi Rolls are great examples on how to use whole foods to sweeten and increase flavor.
How I make decisions on what I’m using is usually based on the temperature its being cooked. If it’s raw, any of these will work, but vitamin C for example, can’t withstand heat; therefore what else does that item have to offer when cooked? Carrots and tomatoes have been labeled as more nutritious when cooked. I really liked this article on cooking vs. eating raw fruits and veggies. It talks about how to keep your nutrients in tact.
Yes these have a LOT of sugar in them, I won’t deny it. However this is my favorite sweetener besides pineapple for my smoothies. Why? You only need 2-4 dates, and it sweetens the whole thing with a totally natural and nutritious sweetener.
My favorite variety for snacking is the soft, melt-in-your-mouth kind. If you like that too, get the khadrawy kind or tootsie roll kind (that’s what they call it at my farmer’s market). If that isn’t available, try these ones since they say they are soft.
How I use dates: Sweeten smoothies, nut milks, raw pie crusts since they are sticky and hold things together. Also, anywhere I’d use a banana, I’d use a date.
Nutrition: High in fiber, protein, potassium, and magnesium. Magnesium is great for headaches and relaxation. So, if you are stressed and need a little pick me up at the same time, these are great!
I will say its a really great sweetener, based on current and up-to-date research, however I don’t like it much myself and I think it is fairly controversial. I will probably wait another couple years and see what they say about it then.
I really enjoyed empowered sustenance ‘s article about Stevia because that sums up how I feel about it, but it could be because I don’t particularly like the taste.
Some arguments for Stevia that should not go unnoticed are:
1. It doesn’t raise your (GI) blood sugar levels at all (Dee McCaffrey states its safe for diabetes, Hypoglycemia and Candida)
2. Its not actually sugar, its more like a green leafy vegetable without any nutrients
3. Stevia is 10x sweeter than sugar, so a drop goes a LONG way
4. You can buy it in liquid form, therefore, no dissolving or melting necessary
Note: Truvia is an entirely different story. It is chemically enhanced and not suitable for consumption.
Sugar: The Good
My favorite sweetener! Its nutritious, delicious and already in liquid form. One thing you may not know: Grade B Maple Syrup may be trendy right now for its robust flavor, but its also better for you. Grade A Maple syrup is from tapped trees at the beginning of the season and has lower antioxidant activity than its end of the season cousin Grade B Maple syrup. So choose Grade B Maple Syrup for the most nutrition.
How I use it: Everything! Pancakes, french toast, nut myllk, yogurt, chia pudding, banana cream pie, etc. Try my Raw Vegan Crepes with Raspberry Coulis. These keep all the nutrients in tact because they are dehydrated at a low temperature.
My favorite maple syrup is a little pricey, but I love that it actually labels the nutrients! Kind of rare for a US Maple Syrup to be labeled this in-depth. I think it has a slightly lighter flavor than most Grade B maple syrups, but that just makes it more versatile.
When’s the last time you had nutrition in your sweetener? If your answer is sweeteners don’t have nutrition, I bet this article is blowing your mind. No calorie should be empty!
Honey is not considered vegan since it is still considered an animal/insect product. Taking honey from bees is not something most vegans think is natural or right. Even so many vegans would agree that honey is a great sweetener. So much so that I’ve heard the term “beegans!”
Animal rights aside, the practices in place right now in the food industry are pretty awful. So, if you consume honey, know your source.
I choose to buy local through a farmers market, and I always ask these questions when buying honey, otherwise I generally go without:
1. What do you feed your bees?
The answer should be nothing since they are wild. Otherwise, you run the risk of having your bees fed sugar water or high fructose corn syrup. Yuck! I learned that from my friend who is a beekeeper…and a vegan.
2. Do you put pesticides or any chemicals on the fields the bees use to pollinate?
3. Be aware of who you are supporting. Do they migrate their bees? This usually kills and diseases a lot of bees when they are removed from their habitat and trapped in a truck for long periods of time. Are they mass producing? Its likely they are feeding some form of corn to the bees like high fructose corn syrup. This raises your blood sugar levels much differently than raw, unadulterated honey.
Buying local is the best way to go, therefore, I won’t be recommending a product for you. Always remember that bees are collecting pollen when they make their honey. Therefore, it can greatly help your immune system and allergies. Again, not a doctor, but I have used my husband as a guinea pig in this experiment a couple years ago. He is from Illinois and the first year he was in California he had pretty bad allergies. As soon as I started buying local honey and putting it in our smoothies regularly we noticed a big difference in his allergies. Now, you’d think he was from here!
There isn’t high basic nutrition in honey, however, it is highest in minerals. It is also considered highly medicinal since it is antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory. Just be careful when feeding to an infant since honey may have dirt in it.
How I use it: I like to keep this one pretty raw since its medicinal, so…tea/coffee/lattes after its cooled down, smoothies, energy shots, face masks, baklava, puddings, etc. Check out my Cranberry Orange Smoothie for a great honey & bee pollen charged smoothie!
Lacuma has a very butterscotch type flavor. I look at it as the butterscotch version of Stevia. Check out this website for the nutritional line up, or here are the highlights:
“…14 essential trace minerals. Lucuma is a good source of antioxidants, dietary fiber, healthy carbohydrates, vitamins including beta-carotene, niacin and minerals including zinc, potassium, calcium, magnesium and iron.” It’s also low in the GI (Glycemic Index) department, however, I can’t find it charted with an exact number.
How I use it: I rarely use Lacuma alone since I look at it as more of a flavor profile than a sweetener, as it is on the sweet side. I often use other sweeteners with it. For example, I used lacuma with dates for a caramel sauce in my Coffee Cake Crumble Apple Bites, and with pumpkin for ice cream in my Ginger Pumpkin Ice Cream Sandwiches. The butterscotch flavor is especially amazing with pumpkin ice cream….actually, now I’m craving ice cream. To the Vitamix!
Coconut Crystals (you can get this one at Trader Joe’s, WF or Amazon) tastes exactly like brown sugar, caramelizes beautifully, and is fairly nutritious. It is also fairly low (about a 35) on the GI (Glycemic Index Chart) since it doesn’t turn straight to sugar. When I have a choice between this and a whole food, I will always choose the whole food, however, there are times when you just want…sugar!
It is high in calcium, potassium, trace minerals (phosphorus, magnesium, boron, zinc, manganese, iron and copper) and amino acids.
How I use it: Coconut Crystals is my sweetener of choice for baking when I need a dry ingredient (otherwise I like maple syrup and honey). Check out my Breakfast Cookies, Roasted Brussel Sprouts or Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes for some great coconut crystals recipes.
If you want coconut sugar but in liquid form, check out coconut nectar! It has a much lighter flavor than the crystal version, but it also takes more to sweeten. The thing I like about it is the amino acid profile and the live enzymes. Yeah! This is what I buy.
How I use it: Like honey, it has a very distinctive flavor, but very mild. I generally like to use this when I make ice cream, sometimes in my ketchup, or when I want to mix it up! For me, I like to use this one in combination with something else since it is so low on the glycemic index that you need a lot to accomplish the same thing that another sweetener would use. Check out my lemon bars recipe, which I mixed coconut nectar and maple syrup for a neutral flavor.
Real Raw Cane Sugar
When shopping for raw sugar, always make sure the process is at low cooking temperatures. You will be able to tell raw sugar once you’ve seen it. The first time I saw raw sugar I think I laughed and said “THAT’S what raw sugar looks like!?” It is very dark, it takes awhile to dissolve since its a larger granule and way chalkier looking, but tastes identical to bleached white sugar to me!
Name to look for:
How I use it (cane sugar): Cookies or whenever I don’t want a complex flavor. This tastes like your every day all-purpose sugar, but takes longer to break down in your body.
Nutrition: There is nutrition in cane sugar despite what we have all been lead to believe. We just bleach and heat it out before it even gets to the consumer. For Rapunzel sugar, a teaspoon contains 2% Vitamin C, 11% Iron, Vitamin E, calcium and trace minerals. A good way to tell that it was made at a low temperature is when it still retains its Vitamin C.
Brown Rice Syrup
Personally, I consider brown rice syrup to be neutral and not an every day sweetener since it is 100% a sweetener. However, because it retains the protein and fiber after being fermented, it will still be a slowly released sugar in your body, unlike refined sugars.
How I use it: Protein balls, bars, and other energy-releasing type foods. Great for days when you have a lot of activity going on. Examples: hiking, biking, marathon running.
I consider molasses to be a neutral sugar since it is stripped from the cane sugar, therefore, not a complete food anymore. On the bright side, molasses is the best part! Molasses is full of minerals and still very nutritious.
How I use it: Cookies and sauces.
Sugar: The bad and the ugly
Mascobado/Mascovado/raw cane/surcrose/turbinado: Because this cane sugar is evaporated, which is generally a higher heat than Rupunzel sugar would be, and separates the molasses from the crystal, I consider this to be on the bad list. Also, the flavor is closer to brown sugar, so generally I use coconut crystals instead.
Dee McCaffrey wrote a very persuasive article changing her stance on agave. Bottom line is it acts like high fructose corn syrup in your body because of the way its processed. Read her article and leave a comment on whether you were persuaded as well.
Other sugars to think twice about: fructose or fruit sugar (because you are removing it from the complete food it is not the same anymore), high fructose corn syrup, artificial sugars (chemical), brown sugar, etc. If you want more details on sugars that I stay away from, let me know! But generally, if you can’t pronounce it, stay away!
Hope this article was helpful! If I missed your favorite sweetener or if you have any questions, please leave your thoughts below.
Disclaimer: I’m not a nutritionist, just a humble foodie trying to feed my body in the best way I can.
*I am an amazon affiliate and receive a small percentage if you buy any amazon links from my site. This money goes towards my food budget to make the recipes you see here. Every little bit helps! If you want to check out amazon, here’s a link to get there!