At this point, it’s common knowledge that too much sugar is bad for us.
We can all admit that sweets taste really good and we seem to be bombarded by sugary treats wherever we go. This can be hard on health-conscious parents! Most of our kids’ packaged snacks have sugar added to them and many well-meaning receptionists pass out lollipops instead of stickers to our children. Sugar is not doing anything good for our kids.
One way I combat the issue of ubiquitous sugar is to bake healthy treats which avoid traditional cane sugar and white flour as ingredients. When healthier treats are present at home, the draw to sugary items outside the home diminishes.
Replacing less healthy ingredients with healthier choices is an effort I believe in.
Healthy food habits still need to be taught; the ability to distinguish between a healthy muffin and a sugar-loaded one is important for independence and confidence. I witness the positive benefits of my commitment to this healthy habit in my now seven-year-old daughter who often finds birthday cakes at parties too sweet and turns down muffins or cookies at a bake shop, instead opting for a popover or another more savory offering. My younger son, who turns four next month, is not quite there yet, but we are working on it. He still wants that giant cookie, and he would eat one at every meal if offered. Encouraging a savory palate is important because we crave fewer sweets when we eat more bitter and savory foods. Encouraging more vegetables and whole fruits over processed snacks fosters an interest in a wider variety of foods.
Why are table sugar and high fructose corn syrup so bad for us?
Most starchy carbs, such as rice, are broken down into glucose, the basic building block of carbohydrates. However, table sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) are 50% glucose and 50% fructose. Glucose is easily transported and utilized by every cell in your body. It’s also the predominant fuel source for high-intensity exercise and various processes. In contrast, the fructose from HFCS or table sugar needs to be converted to fat or glycogen (stored carbs) by the liver before it can be used as fuel.
All sugars cause tooth decay. Fructose, in particular, turns to fat in the liver which can result in liver disease, raised blood glucose and insulin levels which promote weight gain, obesity, and diabetes and may lead to heart disease. Sugar’s metabolic effects can cause cancer, and to top it off, it’s addictive, making you want more and more. Sugar has been shown to turn off leptin hormones in the body. These hormones are responsible for signaling a feeling of fullness after eating. This then leads to overeating.
While I don’t think I am too hyper-aware of sweets, I do have an issue with sugar trickling into all our foods and sweet becoming the norm for what our taste buds desire.
We can celebrate with treats and sweet delicacies, but these should not be daily decadences. My kids enjoy maple creemees, cider donuts, and other favorites, but they are not expected often and they bring such joy because they are reserved for special treats.
We can also learn how to make better choices in how we sweeten our food. Today, there are many options for alternative sweeteners which work well in different applications. I encourage people to Google recipes using the below mentioned alternative sweeteners and experiment with replacing table sugar with one or two of these for optimal flavor. When you bake, replacing table sugar with a liquid sweetener requires that you decrease the quantity of other liquids in your recipe by 2-4 tablespoons for each cup. Lastly, these are still sweeteners so you shouldn’t go out of your way to eat them daily. Consider halving the sugar content in your recipes too, as your taste buds will adjust and eventually common sweets will taste over the top to you, becoming less desirable.
In addition to the sweeteners below, also consider using whole mashed foods such as sweet potato, applesauce or banana to sweeten your baked goods. You might be surprised at how effective they are!
My 8 Favorite Alternative Sweeteners:
Maple Syrup: Our state’s pride and joy! We have an abundance and it tastes amazing in baked goods and ice cream. The nutrients found in maple syrup are calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus sodium, potassium, and zinc. Vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and B6 are also found in maple syrup. In common summer beverages such as lemonade, iced tea, or even cocktails such as margaritas, maple syrup provides an easily dissolvable sweetener!
Raw Honey: It’s delicious and it is packed with nutrients. Ultimately, your body breaks down honey just like table sugar, into glucose and fructose, so if you’ve got blood sugar issues, proceed with caution. There are many baked recipes that use honey as the sweetening agent and it makes for a delicious rich flavor. We have many raw honey enthusiasts in Vermont providing us with a high-quality product!
Yacon Syrup: Yacon is a perennial plant grown in the Andes for its crisp, sweet taste. Yacon tubers are mostly composed of fructooligosaccharides and water. This means that the majority of the carbohydrate sugars cannot be digested by the body, resulting in a very low-calorie intake from sugar and a prevention of excess sugar coming into the bloodstream. Some people compare the taste to raisins or figs, others to apples or molasses. It makes sense that this does well in replacing molasses in traditional recipes.
Stevia – Stevia comes from an herb in the chrysanthemum family called Stevia rebaudiana. It is low-glycemic and low-carbohydrate and is widely available as a tincture or powder. Avoid packaged Stevias with dextrose added to them. The liquid form is excellent for sweetening drinks and the powder for is effective in baked goods and other desserts. It is extremely sweet, 300 times sweeter than table sugar, so proceed with caution if you are new to this one!
Monk fruit: Monk fruit, also known as luo han guo, is native to the forests of southern China. It has an extract 300 times sweeter than sugar. Monk fruit sweeteners are the closest natural sweetener to sugar, in terms of their taste and versatility; but not in terms of the risks they pose to your health! The products on the market today combine monk fruit, erythritol and stevia to create the most effective and desirable taste. They have no influence on your blood sugar and insulin release. For every cup of sugar use ½ cup of monk fruit sweetener.
Date Sugar: For natural and raw food enthusiasts, you can’t get much better than date sugar. Date sugar is actually very finely ground dry dates so we have to remember it will not melt or dissolve into butter for cookies, for example. Date sugar can replace white sugar cup for cup. If you desire your baked goods to be less sweet, I recommend 2/3 cup date sugar to replace 1 cup white sugar. It has a delicious flavor.
Coconut Sugar: Made from the dried nectar or sap of the coconut palm, it is naturally rich in a number of key vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, including potassium, zinc, iron and vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B6. Coconut sugar has a glycemic index of about 35, officially ranking it a low-glycemic sweetener. It is also a 1:1 replacement for table sugar.
Lucuma Powder: Beloved by the Incas, lucuma is a super nutritious Peruvian fruit that contains beta carotene, iron, zinc, vitamin B3, calcium, and protein. Its maple-like taste makes it a sweet addition to smoothies, baked goods, and even ice cream. It can be substituted for regular sugar in a 2:1 ratio (2 tablespoons lucuma for every 1 tablespoon sugar). It is a pricier option if you are looking to replace a large amount of sugar in a recipe, so be aware that this may not be your most economical choice.