To Sugar or Not to Sugar?
–Revolution Health Medical Center–
The holidays are upon us all and that can mean traveling, family and feasting including baking all of the goodies that come to mind when you think about the holiday season. The purpose of this article is to offer alternatives to the usual suspects in holiday baking. Sugar is the bandit of nutrition nowadays, taking over the bad-guy reputation of dietary fat. Whether you are diabetic, watching your weight, raising children or just want to be healthier, sugar has probably been on your radar as something to avoid. Increased consumption of sugar has been linked to increased mood swings, fatigue, insomnia, headaches and also decreases your immune system at a time of year that it needs to be in top working order.
Artificial sweeteners have been proposed as an alternative to sugar in many products from diet soda, chewing gum and diabetic foods. These “diet foods” claim to have no impact on blood sugar and satiety levels. In a study released in August 2010, the authors compared the effects of aspartame and stevia to sucrose and found that stevia had lower blood sugar and insulin levels measured after eating than aspartame or sucrose. One of the concerns with artificial sweeteners is that it may not have the actual sugar molecule but somehow has the same effect on insulin levels, which we now know are more implicated in gaining weight.
The current darling of sugar alternatives is Stevia. Stevia is an extract from the leaves of a botanical Stevia rebaudiana. The leaves themselves are sweet tasting and have no calories. What you can find in the stores is a processed form of the stevia leaf, usually as a white powder or in a liquid base as either plain or flavored. These alternatives are highly processed but may be a better alternative to the others on the market. Stevia is 100-400 times sweeter than regular sugar but there are conversion tables depending on which brand you are using. I prefer to grow Stevia rebaudiana at home and add the crushed dried leaves to whatever needs sweetening.
Agave has been a controversial sugar alternative in recently; its proponents say that a person uses less of it because it is about 40% sweeter than sugar and that it is metabolized slower than refined sugar. Its critics point out that ultimately agave nectar is really just a refined type of fructose, similar to what is found in high fructose corn syrup. The refined types of fructose are being linked to obesity, fatty liver disease and diabetes.
What about sugar alcohols? A popular one on the market to day is Xylitol, found in chewing gum, frozen desserts and fruit spreads. Sugar alcohols are not calorie free, as you might think but contain about half the calories of regular sugar. Sugar alcohols are not absorbed as well as regular sugar so in large quantities can lead to some gastrointestinal upset. Sugar alcohols also have an impact on blood sugar levels although less than would be expected from regular sugar.
Unfortunately, sugar and sugar alternatives have their drawbacks so its best to limit the amount you include in your diet. During the Holiday season, here are some non-sugar whole food sugar alternatives to include in your holiday baking. Using fruit in its whole form helps to slow the metabolism of sugar and decrease spikes in both insulin and glucose.
Date sugar is not really sugar at all; it is made from ground dehydrated whole dates. This process keeps all of the vitamins, minerals and fiber from the whole fruit and can be used cup for cup for sugar in baking recipes. Unfortunately, it does not dissolve in liquid so it can’t be used for sweetening drinks.
Dried whole fruits:
These can be included in breads, cakes and pies. If you need a syrup consistency, soak them in water until soft, then blend them with the soak water and heat slowly over a low setting. My favorite is to use whole dried cranberries. These taste sweet and pack an antioxidant punch!
Substitute cup for cup fresh applesauce for sugar in baking recipes. You will have to decrease the amount of liquid slightly to account for the extra liquid in the applesauce. The benefit to using fresh applesauce is that it retains the fiber from the apples, which helps to slow the conversion into fruit sugar when metabolized in your body
Chicory Root Inulin:
This is a product on the market that uses indigestible forms of carbohydrates from plants that are sweet in a granulated form that can be used just like sugar. You can find it under the brand name “Just Like Sugar” either online or in specialty markets.
Enjoy your holiday baking!
- Anton, Stephen et al. Effects of stevia, aspartame, and sucrose on food intake, satiety, and postprandial glucose and insulin levels, 2010 August; 55(1): 37–43.
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