We all enjoy the sweet flavors of life, and sugar is no exception. But with the average American consuming approximately 150 pounds of this sweetener a year, perhaps life has become a little too sweet.
Often used as a filler ingredient and to make products taste better, "sugar is the number one food additive," according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Because it's added to so many products, we're likely to overindulge, which can be detrimental to our health.
Standard table sugar is made from either cane (a form of grass related to wheat) or from the sugar beet (a tuber). The problem with white sugar is that it's been more refined than many other sweeteners. Here are natural alternatives that offer taste¿and a bit more nutritional content.
Blackstrap molasses is a byproduct of sugar refining. Containing approximately 50 percent sugar, it is rich in iron and minerals. Used even in infant formulas, We all enjoy the sweet flavors of life, and sugar is no exception. But with the average American consuming approximately 150 pounds of this sweetener a year, perhaps life has become a little too sweet. Naturally sweet molasses is considered to be one of the best natural sweeteners.
Maple syrup is an old-fashioned favorite. Made by boiling down maple sap, it contains trace amounts of vitamins B2, B5, and B6.
A syrup produced naturally by bees, honey contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals, as well as potentially beneficial enzymes. Since it's twice as sweet as sugar, use half the amount of honey as you would sugar in a recipe. (Raw honey may contain bacteria spores that can cause botulism in infants, so it should not be given to children under a year old.)
If you wish to substitute a liquid sweetener for white sugar, reduce the total liquids in the recipe by 1/4 cup. After opening liquid sweeteners, store in the refrigerator.
Applesauce and other pureed fruits can replace some of the oils and sugar in baked goods. These natural sweeteners also make the end product more moist and tender, while adding fiber¿something most Americans don't get enough of. Fruit purees of all types add flavor and are considered to be healthier natural sweeteners.
Fruit juice concentrates are frozen products. They're made by cooking down fruit juices such as apple, orange, grape, cranberry, and grapefruit. To use them in place of sugar, just substitute 3/4 cup of thawed juice concentrate for one cup of white sugar, and decrease liquid in the recipe by 3 tablespoons. Keep fruit juice concentrates frozen until ready to use.
Working with natural sweeteners is easy. Better yet, look for recipes that incorporate honey, maple syrup, applesauce, or molasses instead of sugar. Just remember to keep moderation in mind. Sweeteners¿ even natural ones¿are best kept to a minimum in the diet.
Gluten-free, Sugar-free Cooking by Susan O'Brien ($17.95, Thorsons, 2005)
The New Complete Book of Food by Carol Ann Rinzler ($19.95, Checkmark Books, 1999)
Prescription for Dietary Wellness by Phyllis A. Balch, CNC ($19.95, Penguin Group/Avery, 2003)