Because of my belief in the benefit of “whole foods” and the use of only natural ingredients, I am not including, nor do I recommend the use of, any artificial sweeteners in this section. Where health issues are involved with natural sweeteners, I’ve added a note to indicate what that health issue may be for your consideration. NOTE: Dr. Mark Hyman, in his book, Food: WTF Should I Eat?, when writing about artificial sweeteners states: “They’re all bad for you. In a study of heart disease, people who consumed diet drinks every day had a greater risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Artificial sweeteners have proven to be carcinogenic in animal studies. They wreak havoc on your gut microbes, destroying beneficial bacteria and causing glucose intolerance . . . damage neurons and have been linked to neurologic side effects.” (page 228)
Uses: When using it to replace 1 cup of refined sugar, use ½ cup of agave nectar and reduce liquid in the recipe by ¼ cup.
Basic Ingredient: This is a liquid sweetener extracted from an agave which is a cactus-like plant native to Mexico.
Nutritional Properties: It has a very high fructose content of 56% and a low glycemic index of 30. It contains 78 calories per tablespoon as well as minimal amounts of thiamine, riboflavin niacin B6, B9, and C vitamins. The darker version is unfiltered and therefore contains more of the plant nutrients.
Other: It has a mild flavor that dissolves easily and can replace most other sweeteners both as a condiment and in cooking. NOTE: Dr. Mark Hyman in his book, Food: WTF Should I Eat?, tells us that fructose is toxic to the human body when consumed without the fiber contained in the “whole fruit” from which it is derived. (page 226) So use agave nectar with this in mind.
Uses: Use anywhere you use refined sugar; mainly used commercially.
Basic Ingredient: Beets
Nutritional Properties: Almost none.
Other: Although naturally occurring, beets are almost entirely now genetically modified as well as being grown on farms where pesticides such as glyphosate (found in Round-Up that we’ve all heard so much about of late) which remains in the soil for beets to absorb for a long time. So if you want to use beet sugar, be sure to purchase only organic beet sugar and make sure you purchase only products that contain organic ingredients or you’ll probably have some GM beet sugar in these products (like chocolate!). This is also an ingredient that is heavily processed and carries almost no nutritional value.
Uses: Used mainly in savory dishes like sauces, gravies and dressings as well as beers, wine, and soft drinks.
Basic Ingredient: Made from the sap of birch trees, the flavor varies depending on the type of birch tree used.
Nutritional Properties: Contains slightly more fructose than glucose.
Other: This syrup has a mineral, caramel-like taste akin to molasses or balsamic vinegar.
Uses: Mostly used in cookies such as gingerbread or dark breads.
Basic Ingredient: This dark, thick syrup is a by-product of making refined sugar.
Nutritional Properties: Its rich in iron and other minerals and has a strong flavor.
Other: Unsulphured molasses indicates that sulphur wasn’t used in the refining process. Although very easy to find in almost any grocery store, molasses is highly processed and, if a by-product of beet sugar refining, just as bad for you.
Brown Rice Syrup
Uses: When using it to replace 1 cup of sugar, use 1 ¼ cups and reduce liquid in the recipe by ¼ cup.
Basic Ingredient: Made from brown rice, this maltose sweetener has a light flavor that is not as sweet as other syrups. Some may contain gluten so read the label carefully to be sure it says gluten-free.
Nutritional Properties: A small amount of calcium
Uses: Used worldwide in most commercial foods.
Basic Ingredient: Sugar cane
Nutritional Properties: None
Other: Like beet sugar, this is one you should avoid even when its organically grown because of the heavy processing. Again, if at all possible, you should try not to use any type of refined sugar. NOTE: As Dr. Mark Hyman states: “its effects on our brain chemistry [is] so powerful that breaking free of its grip can be enormously difficult. But here’s some motivation: As soon as you quit sugar, your health will improve rapidly. In fact, it takes just ten days without sugar to see substantial metabolic and neurological benefits.” (page 225)
Uses: It also has a coarser texture so you may want to grind it in a spice or coffee grinder before using. It is more like brown sugar than white adding hints of butterscotch or caramel to your product. It is traditionally used in Caribbean cooking. Mix with the wet ingredients since it doesn’t dissolve as readily as other sugars.
Basic Ingredient: This sugar is made from the coconut palm and is sometimes called palm sugar. It has a fairly low glycemic index, around 35, and granulated so can easily replace recipes calling for sugar.
Nutritional Properties: One of the few sweeteners with any nutritional values, coconut sugar is high in potassium, with nitrogen, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, sodium, and chlorine. Also contains trace amounts of boron, zinc, manganese, iron and copper. Also contains vitamins including B-8, thiamine, riboflavin and folic acid.
Other: Coconut sugar isn’t quite as sweet as cane or beet sugar so you may need to use a slightly higher amount in your recipes. NOTE: Much debate surrounds coconut sugar; Dr. Hyman suggests it is one sugar that you can use in moderation while blog.bulletproof.com tells us that too much coconut sugar will tax your liver, cause toxic accumulation, increase risk of fungal infections, decrease brain function, and metabolize directly into fat.
Uses: Can be used one-for-one to replace maple syrup, agave nectar, honey, corn syrup or brown rice syrup. It can be used one-for-one in recipes replacing 1 cup of refined sugar with 1 cup of coconut nectar and reducing a liquid ingredient by ½ cup.
Basic Ingredient: This thick, sticky syrup is also made from the coconut palm and adds a hint of caramel or butterscotch to baked goods.
Nutritional Properties: It contains 17 amino acids along with various vitamins and minerals including iron and magnesium. It has a glycemic index value of 35 just like coconut sugar but is very low in fructose, being mostly sucrose with only about 10% fructose.
Uses: You can use agave, brown rice, golden or cane syrup or honey in place of corn syrup. It comes in both light and dark varieties and is used mostly in candy recipes since it prevents sugar from crystalizing.
Basic Ingredient: Corn syrup is not the same as high-fructose corn syrup. Corn syrup is made from the corn starch.
Nutritional Properties: Contains maltose and oligosaccharides.
Other: It is also known as glucose syrup since it is almost entirely glucose.
Uses: Use cup for cup in baked goods.
Basic Ingredient: Made from ground dehydrated dates, its similar in appearance to brown sugar. Because of the way it’s made, it contains all the fiber of the fruit and is less processed than some other sugars.
Nutritional Properties: Good source of magnesium, potassium, and copper as well as iron, phosphorus, calcium and antioxidents.
Other: Use caution since oat is sometimes added which can contain gluten. It will come as no surprise to many that Dr. Hyman lists date sugar as the most natural, best sweetener to use. (page 230)
Uses: Substitute for coconut or agave nectar, maple syrup or honey.
Basic Ingredient: Dates; very easy to make at home just soak dates in hot water and then puree in a blender with some of the soaking water; a little lemon juice can be added as a preservative.
Nutritional Properties: Just like dates, date syrup is a good source of iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, antioxidants, and rich in vitamins and minerals as well as fiber.
Other: I don’t find it as sweet as date puree; amount used will depend on the amount of water added to the puree to make the syrup.
Fruit Juice Concentrates
Basic Ingredient: Fruit juice
Other: While less refined than traditional sugars, fruit juice concentrates are mostly fructose and we’ve already discussed the health hazards of fructose.
Uses: Use one-for-one for sugar in your recipe, 1 cup of fruit puree for one cup of sugar but you also need to either eliminate the oil or fat (not at all a bad thing when doing gluten-free baked goods) or increase the dry ingredients.
Basic Ingredient: Fruit; this is an entirely different matter since fruit purees contain not only the fructose from the fruit but also the fiber.
Nutritional Properties: Depends on what fruit you are using.
Other: The greatest part of fruit purees is that they not only sweeten your baked goods but also substitute for the fat and eggs. A triple treat! See individual recipes for exact ingredients when using fruit purees.
Uses: Can be used anywhere a liquid sweetener is called for in the recipe.
Basic Ingredient: Honey is approximately 40% fructose, made from plant nectar and acid from the honey bees.
Nutritional Properties: Rich in phenolic acids and flavonoids (antioxidants), amino acids, B6, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin as well as other minerals and vitamins and a small amount of protein.
Other: The glucose in honey can crystalize if not refrigerated or cooked. Raw honey is the least processed but checking for organic is also important as honey can be contaminated by pesticides collected with the nectar by the bees. Look for ethically produced honey products.
Uses: Can be substituted for any sweetener in both uncooked and baked goods. Recipes will need to be altered due to the decrease in the volume of sweetener used.
Basic Ingredient: Lucuma is a South American fruit.
Nutritional Properties: High in carotene, iron, zinc, vitamin B3, calcium and protein. It is also very low on the glycemic index.
Other: A little lucuma powder goes a long way.
Maple Syrup and Sugar
Uses: Substitute anytime a liquid sweetener is called for in recipes. Maple sugar can be substituted cup for cup for brown sugar.
Basic Ingredient: Made from sap of the maple tree, this syrup is primarily sucrose and water with small amounts of glucose and fructose.
Nutritional Properties: It also contains high levels of manganese and riboflavin and medium levels of zinc and calcium. Grade B is best for cooking since it is the least refined and contains more minerals.
Other: Maple sugar is produced by boiling the syrup down further and can be used to replace brown sugar in some recipes.
Monk Fruit Powder
Uses: Can be up to 300 times sweeter than sugar so only a miniscule amount is needed. Recipes will need to be adjusted because of the decreased amount of sugar used. I’ve found I like monk fruit powder best in baked goods and uncooked items. I didn’t care for the flavor it added to my jams when I tried using it there.
Basic Ingredient: Also called Lo Han Guo, the monk fruit is a melon-like fruit native to China.
Nutritional Properties: High in an antioxidant called mogrosides; contains no fructose or glucose.
Other: Like stevia, and often found in combination with stevia, it is considered a zero calorie, zero glycemic sweetener. Also like stevia, look for the purest form rather than blends with other sweeteners.
See Coconut Sugar
Uses: Used mostly in savory recipes; I use it mostly in dressings and where entrees with strong flavors need a little sweetness. Use in moderation since it has a very strong pomegranate taste and can overwhelm other ingredients.
Basic Ingredient: Pomegranate arils; very easy to make at home if you have some Pom Wonderful, sweetener, and acid like lemon juice.
Nutritional Properties: Pomegranate molasses is a traditional Middle Eastern ingredient containing small amounts of vitamins C, B6 and magnesium.
Uses: Can be used as a substitute for molasses or other syrups in recipes.
Basic Ingredient: Similar in color and thickness to molasses, this syrup is produced from the sweet sorghum plant. Known in parts of the United States as sorghum molasses, it is slightly thinner and is not quite as sweet or high in nutrients as molasses.
Nutritional Properties: It does contain some vitamins and minerals as well as phosphorus, magnesium, thiamin and omega-6 fatty acids.
Uses: Very small amounts are needed in cooking so baking recipes may need to be adjusted. One teaspoon of stevia replaces one cup of white sugar.
Basic Ingredient: Derived from the South American shrub Stevia Rebaudiana, this sweetener is anywhere from 15 to 300 times as sweet as white sugar depending on the type of stevia you purchase.
Nutritional Properties: Contains antioxidants and glycosides; does not contain any fructose or glucose.
Other: Look for it in its purest forms, green leaf or extracts, and be sure to look for organic stevia. Because it is made from a leaf, it is also considered an herb and may have side-effects or drug interactions in some people so use with caution and moderation, especially for people allergic to ragweed.
Uses: Can be used wherever a liquid sweetener is called for in a recipe, with adjustments.
Basic Ingredient: This thick syrup is the result of the sugar refining process where cane or beet sugar is turned into granular form.
Nutritional Properties: It comes in golden or dark varieties and consists almost entirely of sucrose.
Other: Highly processed product so its use is not recommended.
Uses: It is not as sweet as most other sweeteners and has a very strong flavor so combine it with other strong flavors like carob, chocolate, ginger, and other spicy baked goods.
Basic Ingredient: Extracted from the yacon roots of Peru, this thick, dark syrup is a very low glycemic sweetener consisting of fructooligosacharides (FOS). FOS are not digested by the body.
Nutritional Properties: It is also a prebiotic, high in polyphenols.