By Kim Robson
We’ve all heard about the dangerous health effects caused by refined white sugar and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). But it’s so hard to convince our kids (who are, of course, invincible) that sugar is bad for them. Especially this time of year, they want those sweets, and they will have them one way or another. Wouldn’t you rather, if they’re going to indulge in sweets, that they enjoy naturally sweetened treats instead of spending their allowances on junk at the corner 7-11?
I grew up with a health nut for a mother. I knew the layout of the local GNC better than the grocery store. I was given carob balls instead of chocolate (not recommended), and had to endure gritty protein-powder shakes every morning. And there was NO sugar in the house. If I wanted something sweet, there was fruit. Which is fine, but it’s just not the same. As soon as I was old enough, off I went to buy candy. Which is not a good solution. Because I was so deprived (in my mind, at least) of candy, I was forced to sneak out to get some.Instead, let’s think of ways we can give our kids the occasional sweet treat without feeding them toxic refined white sugar or HFCS.
For baking and drinks, try using the stevia plant. Truvia and In The Raw both offer stevia extract in easy-to-use (and measure) powders. The stevia plant is 100% natural, has zero calories, and its leaves are about 30-45 times sweeter than sugar cane. It also has almost no effect on blood glucose, so it’s ideal for diabetics and those on carbohydrate-restricted diets.
Raw, unfiltered honey is one of nature’s superfoods. It is packed with antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, amino acids, enzymes, carbohydrates, and phytonutrients. However, filtered honey is stripped of these nutrients and is no better for you than white sugar, so be sure to get raw unfiltered honey.
I’ve recently discovered agave nectar. It’s available at Costco and in grocery stores’ health-food aisles. Agave nectar is a combination of fructose and glucose sugars. Slightly sweeter than honey, this amber-colored syrup is extracted from the sap of the blue agave, a native Mexican plant. The syrup pours easily and blends quickly in both hot and cold drinks. Agave nectar also has a low glycemic index, so it’s excellent for diabetics.
Maple syrup comes from the sap of various maple trees. This natural sweetener is another excellent substitute for refined sugar. High in trace minerals like zinc and manganese, maple syrup can help balance cholesterol levels. However, it has a fairly high glycemic index, which can cause blood glucose to spike, so diabetics should be aware of this and consume in moderation.
Brown rice syrup is derived from cooked rice and enzymes. While far less refined than table sugar, brown rice syrup is approximately 45% maltose, a type of sugar with a high glycemic index value. Foods high on the glycemic index tend to cause spikes in blood sugar. If you have diabetes, use it in moderation or avoid it altogether.
Barley malt syrup is made by malting barley grains, and contains about 65% maltose. About half as sweet as refined sugar, it has a unique molasses-like flavor and a distinctive rich, dark color. It is popular for use in cooking, baking, and brewing beer. However, barley malt syrup is 65% maltose, which is high on the glycemic index; so if you have diabetes, use in moderation.
Evaporated cane juice does not undergo the same degree of processing that refined sugar does, so it retains more of the nutrients found in natural sugar cane. In moderation, evaporated cane juice is a natural source of sweetness that can be a part of a healthy diet. It can be used just like sugar for sweetening foods and drinks, and you may find it in a number of processed foods. On nutrition labels, you may also see it listed by other names including dried cane juice, crystallized cane juice, or milled cane sugar.
While white refined sugar is sugar cane stripped of all nutrition, black strap molasses contains all the nutrition that was taken away. When sugar cane is processed, its juice is extracted and boiled three times. The first boiling produces the crystallized sugar we know as table sugar. Black strap molasses is the concentrated byproduct of the third boiling and contains nutrients such as iron, calcium, copper, magnesium, manganese, and potassium. This nutritious sweetener is a popular alternative to refined brown sugar in baked goods and baked beans.
As you would expect, organic sugar is derived from sugar cane grown without the use of chemicals or pesticides. It is typically darker in color than table sugar because it is not processed to the degree that white sugar is, and it still retains some molasses.
With so many options available to choose from, there’s no reason anymore to use white sugar in anything. It is possible to let our kids indulge in the occasional sweet without feeling the guilt of giving them something we know is toxic.