Trick or Sweet


Sweetners have definitely gotten a bad rap lately and rightfully so. Excess sugar has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, cancer and even dementia. According to the American Heart Association, the average women should not consume more than 25 g of added sugar (6 teaspoons). For men, it is 37g (9 teaspoons). Reaching for artificial sweetners like NutraSweet (aspartame) and Splenda (sucralose) to sooth your sweet tooth may be even worse. These sweeteners can increase insulin, which can drop your blood sugar and increase your hunger making you eat more. Besides this, they are associated with migraines, insomnia and anxiety, memory and bladder problems. As we approach the season of overindulgence, here are some sweets that are sweet to you too.

This sweetner is actually an herb that is 30-times sweeter than sugar. Traditionally, the leaf was used as a tea but now is found in easy to use powdered and liquid forms. Since it is both carb and calorie free, it may be useful for people with diabetes, hypoglycemia or candida. It has also been shown to help lower blood pressure. Since it is antibacterial, it can potentially be used to help fight cavities and gingivitis. Stevia is not a great replacement in baking as it lacks the binding properties of sugar, but you can use it to add sweetness to beverages and food. When using stevia as a sweetener, I find it generally tastes better if you add a tiny amount of another sweetener such as maple syrup or honey.

Besides satisfying your sweet tooth, thick gooey black strap molasses is an amazing source of minerals. One tablespoon provides up to 20% of the daily value of calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, potassium and manganese. I often prescribe it for patients with iron deficiency anemia at my New York City naturopathic office. It also has the highest antioxidant content of all the sweetners. Because molasses's burnt flavor offsets some of its sweetness, you may need more of it to achieve the same sweetness of ordinary sugar (typically 1 1/3 cup for every cup of sugar). It can add both sweetness and richness to coffee, oatmeal, yogurt or even savory dishes.

Coconut Sugar
You might have been hearing about this sweetner or even seen it on the shelf at Fairway Market. Coconut sugar comes from the sap of coconut palm flower buds. Although it is from coconut, it doesn't actually taste like coconut, but is more like brown sugar with a hint of caramel. Unlike most sweetners, coconut sugar has a low impact on blood sugars and is considered to be a low glycemic food. This is because it contains a fiber called inulin, which may slow the absorption of glucose. Using coconut sugar instead of table sugar is easy as it melts perfectly fine and can be used one-for-one in your recipe. If you want to try your first experiment, click here for my aduki gingerbread recipe using coconut sugar.

I tend to roll my eyes when I hear fruit referred to as "nature's candy" but essentially it is. Fresh and frozen fruit are probably the best as they are packed with fiber, vitamins and antioxidants and most have a lower impact on blood sugars than dried fruit or juice. Dried fruit and fruit juices can be used as alternatives to other sweetners when preparing desserts and other dishes. For a fruit sweetened switch, try my Mock Butter Scotch pudding.