The In’s and Out’s of Natural Sugars.

The In’s and Out’s of Natural Sugars.

As I have made the personal commitment to give up the use of Refined Sugar 99% of the time (oh yes.. even my baking.. eek) I started a bit of research to gather a better comprehensive understanding of Natural Sugars. I have spent a vast amount of time starring at the grocery store shelves in the past feeling a little aimless wondering how these sugars differed. I thought that I might pass on my new found knowledge by providing a list of the Sugar's I researched and the Pro's and Con's of each! These statements do not reflect my opinions- rather they are just what research provided..

Here we go.. In no particular order:

Stevia : is is a small shrub like perennial plant which belongs to sunflower family. The PROS: is is a small shrub like perennial plant which belongs to sunflower family. A few studies have shown that stevia may lower elevated blood pressure levels. There is also research that shows antibacterial properties of Stevia may help with gingivitis, cavities, tooth decay and mouth sores. Stevia is 300 times sweeter than Cane sugar yet it will not affect your Blood sugar levels. Stevia is a good choice if you are trying to watch your weight as it is Calorie Free! CONS: If consumed in Large amounts, Stevia can cause stomach issues- including gas. There are studies out that that say Stevia may be a form of Carcinogen and may have a contraceptive effect- this has not been yet proven.

Xylitol: is a sugar that is found in fruits and some vegetables and is used as a common sugar substitute. Pros: It is about as sweet as sugar, but only 1/3 of the calories. It is used mainly as a sugar in chewing gums, because it supposedly produces fewer cavities than sugar gum and reduces plaques. Xylitol may help control yeast, such as thrush and has less of an impact on blood sugar. Xylitol is notoriously hard to convert to fat and has a minuscule effect on insulin levels in the body; this makes it very appealing to diabetics, bodybuilders or anyone trying to diet away the pounds. It also has a lower caloric and carbohydrate content. CONS: I really did not come across any cons- other than potential stomach discomfort if Xylitol is eaten in excess.

Raw Agave Nectar: It is important for you to read the label, and buy only raw agave nectar. The raw nectar is heated at temperatures below 118 degrees, which means all the natural enzymes are left intact, and no additives or other enzymes are added. But even the raw agave has its pros and cons. PROS: in general, agave nectar is better than refined sugar, and by using it as a substitution for refined sugar you will reduce your calorie intake. When comparing the calories between the two, you will find that they both contain the same amount per teaspoon. But because agave is 1.5 times sweeter than sugar; you will not need as much, thereby you can reduce your calories. If you are Diabetic you may want to consider agave because it has such a low glycemic index. This is due to the high levels of fructose in it which are not as easily absorbed into the bloodstream. Agave contains small amounts of calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium. CONS: Some studies suggest that if you are Pregnant you should consume agave with caution, as some species of agave contain anordin and dinordin steroids, which can lead to a miscarriage. Even though agave does not spike blood sugar levels, it does make its way into the bloodstream as triglycerides These can cause the arteries to harden, and eventually may cause heart attacks and strokes. Therefore it is suggested to avoid Agave if you have heart problems.

Sucanat: is essentially pure dried sugar cane juice. The juice is extracted by mechanical processes, heated and cooled at which point the small brown grainy crystals are formed. Sucanat is generally accepted as a substitute for Brown Sugar. Unlike regular brown sugar, sucanat is grainy instead of crystalline. PROS: It’s not as highly processed as white sugar. It can be used as a one-for-one replacement for refined sugar. Sucanat retains trace amounts of molasses’ nutrients. CONS: Although less refined, it’s still sugar, with all of its inherent problems -it offers only empty calories, it’s problematic for people with certain health problems such as diabetics. Sucanat, dried cane syrup and evaporated cane juice have the same glycemic index as sugar.

Brown Rice Syrup: is simply cultured rice and enzymes. PROS: Mostly a complex carbohydrate, brown rice syrup breaks down slower in the body than sugar and thus provides a steadier supply of energy. CONS: Brown rice syrup is only slightly lower than sugar on the glycemic index. It is treated with Barley which makes it unsafe for Celiacs and the Gluten Intolerant.

Honey: PROS: Honey contains a variety of vitamins and minerals and it never spoils. The vitamin and mineral content of honey depends on the type of flowers used for apiculture. Honey has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties and hence it can be used as a natural antiseptic. Though honey has more calories than sugar, honey when consumed with warm water helps in digesting the fat stored in your body. CONS: Honey has 64 calories per tablespoon. Honey should not be given to infants. Local honey can affect some with seasonal allergies negatively.

Molasses: PROS: Sweet molasses or light molasses is the liquid left after the first extraction of sugar crystals. Blackstrap molasses is the liquid left after the last extraction of sugar crystals, and has a stronger, bittersweet flavor and is richer in potassium, calcium, iron, and B vitamins than sweet molasses. Both sweet molasses and blackstrap molasses are 70 percent sucrose. Sweet molasses is an excellent substitute for brown sugar. Blackstrap Molasses has a higher antioxidant capacity that Honey or Agave. Opt for unsulphured Blackstrap Molasses. CONS: With its strong distinct somewhat bitter flavor it can be hard to use.

Palm Sugar (Coconut Sugar): was originally made from the sugary sap of the Palmyra palm, the date palm . Now it is also made from Coconut Palms. The taste of pure coconut palm sugar resembles that of brown sugar, yet with more rounded caramel and butterscotch notes, without the metallic ending flavor that brown sugar has. It has a rich flavor. For cooking purposes, it has a very low melt temperature and an extremely high burn temperature. This makes it a suitable sweetener for confectioners. PROS: Coconut Palm Sugar has an extremely low glycemic index and is low fructose. Making it a safer choice for Diabetics and for those looking to watch their weight. an extremely high nutrient content- rich in B vitamins. Check out THIS article for more nutritional facts. (there are many more pro's) CONS: As palm sugar is newer to the American Market it can be more costly. Keep a watchful eye for fillers mixed in (such as refined sugars) to cut cost.

Date Sugar: Date sugar is a natural sweetener produced by powdering or grinding the chopped and dried dates. It is not processed. Date sugar has approximately 40% sucrose, 30% glucose and 30% fructose. It is light brown in color, has a very sweet taste, and a grainy texture. PROS: Can be used in baking where the recipe does not require melting of sugar. One cup of refined sugar can be replaced by about two-thirds of date sugar. Date sugar can be seen as tiny brown specks in the baked goods, but does not impart any peculiar taste. Good source of minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium, which are essential co-factors in many enzymatic reactions in the body and are essential to maintain proper metabolic processes of the body. Good source of potassium; this along with low amounts of sodium helps to maintain blood pressure and reduces water retention.Moderate source of B-group vitamins and a good source of magnesium. CONS: It may cause a sudden spike in blood sugar, so diabetics have to be cautious and use it in moderation. It does not melt and can clump, so cannot be used as a natural table sweetener.

Turbinado: Raw turbinado sugar is made by pressing the sugar cane plant to extract its juice. Once extracted, the juice is heated until it forms crystals which are spun to remove water and form the large, light brown sugar crystals that are characteristic of the finished product. Turbinado sugar crystals can be used as a substitute for brown sugar or white sugar PROS: Most references say that raw turbinado sugar is a healthier choice because it’s less processed. it’s slightly lower in calories than granulated sugar. Raw turbinado sugar has 144 calories per quarter cup, compared to granulated sugar which has 194 calories. It contains trace amount of minerals. CONS: Turbinado sugar does undergo some processing to produce the finished product and loses about two-thirds of its molasses content. When added to foods, it affects blood sugar levels in much the same way as regular, granulated sugar. Even though it’s less refined than granulated sugar, it has undergone some processing and cannot truly be called an unrefined sugar.

I would LOVE to hear your thoughts and opinions on this sugary matter! As well as positive and negative experiences from using these different sugars.

xo,

Brittany

PS. Make Sure to come back for the upcoming SEASONAL SUNDAY

(01-16-11) For your chance to win an exciting giveaway :)

Brittany Angell

32 comments | Leave your own

  1. Maria M.

    Great info! Sharing. :)

    We have a cane sugar allergy. I substitute beet sugar now and then because my son is allergic to cane sugar. . Not much different than cane sugar though. (in nutrition or taste.)

  2. Debi

    Personally, I use raw local honey or pure maple syrup as both are unrefined and that's what I look for. I've also used whole fruits to sweeten things. I rarely sweeten things though.

    I found something called coconut crystals (a highly sustainable and natural sweetener) at Whole Foods about a month ago. I used it to make flourless peanut butter cookies and got some good results without it being overly sweet, which is what I've discovered things taste like if I happen to have something with refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup.

    I tried agave once and was pleased with how it wasn't overly sweet either. Then I discovered it is extracted just like high fructose corn syrup. I got rid of the rest of the bottle after that and haven't touched it since.

  3. Meghan

    The caloric value of different foods should be express by weight, not volume. One gram of turbinado sugar has 4 calories which is the exact same amount as brown or white sugar. Turbinado sugar has fewer calories by volume because the crystals are larger and therefore a cup of them isn't as densely packed. It's the same problem when people claim that kosher salt is "less salty" than table salt. They have the same amount of sodium if they are compared by weight.

  4. Benevolent Kitchen

    short version —

    to me natural means as close to the original source as possible. I opt for fruit purees whenever possible.

    not all rice syrups are contain barley — there are 100% gluten free rice syrups.

    Debi: raw agave is not processed like HFCS, like corn syrup, yes, HFCS, no and raw agave is a different still

    xylitol is also a laxative and more chemical than natural — it's been processed into an alcohol after-all

    I second Meghan's comment about Turbinado sugar

    The American Cancer Socity's Cancer Support groups recommend stevia, not truvia or other mixed stevia + 'chemical' so I'm not sure how carcinogenic it can be

    The American Diabetes Association agrees, sugar is sugar, no matter the label. All are empty calories and for all intents and purposes nutritionally void.

  5. Heather @ Marine Cor

    I have recently started using palm sugar in my baking. It
    does have different flavor, but we like it. I've found that you
    need to add a little more liquid than normal. It doesn't work well
    for light colored baked goods as it turns them brown.

  6. laxsupermom

    Thanks for sharing all your research! I'm curious about the allergy-honey connection. I've always heard that adding small amts of local honey can help innoculate you against your seasonal allergies, sort of like taking allergy shots.

  7. Maggie

    Hey! Thanks for putting this together for us, I loved reading it. The only one you missed, which I use all the time, is maple syrup! Mmmm, maple syrup :) I haven't tried stevia yet, I have tasted it and I don't like the taste. Might have to break down soon and give it a go! Thanks so much for all of this great info.

  8. Heather (@Gluten-Fre

    I'm bookmarking this post! It's a wealth of information all in one place. Thanks for all the hard work you did compiling it. I enjoy baking with agave nectar, but it's always a guess and check process when I'm substituting it for white sugar. I can't find a tried and true substitution ratio. Do you know of one? And I love a few drops of Stevia in my coffee and my smoothies. I really want to try palm sugar now.

  9. Heidi @Adventures of

    Oh I LOVE this Brittany! I've decided to kick refined sugars to the curb too and I think this is going to be a FUN challenge!

    I just ordered some raw agave from Amazon (love ordering in bulk) since honey and maple syrup are off the list for us for a while. I'm with Maggie on the Stevia, don't care for the overall taste but I do okay in very small quantities (like 2 drops, LOL!).

    xo,

    Heidi

  10. Deanna

    I primarily use palm sugar these days. I found a great source for it at our local ethnic store because it's used in Thai cooking fairly regularly. I'll try to remember to look up the brand when I'm home next, but I think I pay less than 2 dollars/pound. Which, while not as cheap as white sugar, is WAY cheaper than raw agave. If I had to buy the expensive stuff I'd use it less, but since I found an affordable source, it's my go-to sweetener.

    I'm trying out more date/fruit sweetened recipes lately, though, too. I like the idea of just mildly sweet foods that are "whole" foods.

    Thanks for putting this together!

  11. Benevolent Kitchen

    Agave can be used in recipes like honey and maple syrup — remember to adjust the liquid and dry goods ratio

    I work with most of these on a regular basis, after 15+ years of baking with alternative ingredients, will do that ;)

    So many of my clients use local raw honey for allergies — you need to start before the season and it must be raw and very local.

  12. Caryn

    Thanks! Great info.

    We do use a gluten free rice syrup. Lundberg. You put me in a panic when I read that in your post. Good info. I had no idea it could contain gluten. Also, from a corn allergy perspective, xylitol is likely corn derived, especially in the U.S. Just FYI for corn avoiders! Never tried Palm sugar. Where would you find it?

    Thanks again for doing all that research!

  13. Sarah Butcher

    Rapadura is a brown colored sugar much along the lines of succanat tho it has less processing and more of the original molassas intact. I love it but its hard to find. I have easily replaced it in my baking it had a richer flavor but otherwise you wouldn't know the switch……….

  14. brooke @B & the

    Oh this is great. Thanks so much for posting it!

  15. Jenn

    This is such a great compilation of info! I also 2nd that
    you need to add in maple syrup :) When I was cooking for my mom for
    a while and had to make everything diabetic friendly, I used a lot
    of stevia and erythritol. I've found stevia really doesn't bake
    well, and I personally did not care for the taste. Erythritol
    however stood up to heat much better, I was even able to use it to
    make a successful meringue!

  16. Amy with Good Day!

    Wow! I LOVE your blog! Thank you for visiting mine too–I
    will be back for Seasonal Sunday :)

  17. Sophie

    These days, I use coconut blossom sugar in all of my baking because it is low GI. I also use real 100% agave nectar, the organic one.

    But you can't use unrefined coconut blossom sugar in everything.

    Thanks for the updates on the sugars. Much appreciated!

  18. honeybeecooksjackfruit

    I hopped on the agave bandwagon at first, but after reading about how its processed, among other things, I do not buy it at all. Also read some very negative things about brown rice syrup (unfortunately).

  19. Anne-Marie Barnett Nichols

    Brittany, I’m on the advisory panel of the Global Stevia Institute. Stevia does NOT cause stomach issues like gas or loose stools. Often it’s the other things that are mixed with stevia like erythritol that could cause tummy issues for more sensitive people, and only when consumed in large amounts. Numerous studies show that stevia is safe for everyone, including pregnant women and kids. It has been used in Japan for decades. You can check out globalsteviainstitute.com for more info including white paper downloads and links to other papers and research. If anyone has any questions, please feel to contact me on my blog or on Twitter @amnichols.

  20. Selina@CreativeJuice

    You are SO informative!!!!! Thank you AGAIN for your wonderful blog!!!!!! I also like your take on Agave – I know lots of people who "freaked out" about the newest information on it but I did some research myself and came to the same conclusion you did. I now buy my agave in the raw form and even called the company I use to verify the process and the degrees their product is processed at. As with ANY type of sugar pay attention to how it affects your own body and use it in moderation. Thanks for all your hard work and great posts. Don't give up trying to figure out how to use all the alternative sugars! My new favorite way of using stevia is mixing it in a chia seed/water mixture. I not only get the sweet "syrup" but I also can cut the fat down by half! Take a peak at my blog for a few recipes I did using the chia seeds that way. (avacado brownies and pumpkin bars are one of them)

  21. Caitlyn

    Agave is worse for you than HFCS. I am linking a few references here for you:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mercola/agave-th

    I had thought it was wonderful for quite some time until finding out more about it. Agave is worse than sugar and equivalent to HFCS. I refuse to give it to someone else. Instead it was tossed in the trash.

    We have found palm sugar or date sugar at a local market here. It is on our list for the next time we shop there, but that will likely not be for a few more weeks. I try to only shop twice a month to keep things more cost effective.

    Currently, we are using organic sugar, turbinado sugar, stevia, honey (multiple flavors), and molasses. BUT, our big push is to start using fruits and vegetables in our cooking/baking to provide the at least 1/2 of our sugary intake AND to cut down the amount of sugary foods we eat altogether. This is going to be quite the challenge for us.

  22. candy

    have you tried Z-Sweet? it’s a mix of stevia & erythritol. my husband is a chiro doc and he’s read some negative things about erythritol … just curious about your thoughts. i’ve had good luck using z-sweet in baked goods and making icecream … it’s equivalent 1-1 in recipes. doesn’t produce the stomach issues i’ve had with xylitol … calorie free!

  23. Kourtnay

    Loved this article.
    I have PCOS and have to watch my glycemic index, so I have gone to a refined sugar free diet. I am using palm sugar, honey, maple syrup, some stevia, and I recently picked up some xylitol. I was just wondering if you discovered anything about pregnancy/breastfeeding and xylitol in your research. I have had friends tell me to stay away from it because we are trying to get pregnant but in my limited research, I have only found that it hasn’t been tested. Any thoughts?

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