Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Sweet News

Check out the following list of good alternative sweeteners from

Maple syrup is an excellent substitute for sugar. It is high in trace minerals like zinc and manganese, which can assist in heart health and in balancing cholesterol levels. The only real downside to maple syrup is that it is pricey and can be hard to find if you live outside North America. You also want to watch which grade of syrup you're getting: The light "Grade A" or "Number 1," supposedly the most desirable, can contain formaldehyde runoff from the first extraction of the syrup under certain processing conditions. All the other grades are safe, but Grade C (the darkest amber syrup) is the best.

Honey is another item that's often presented as a healthy alternative to refined sugar, but it is sometimes controversial. People who react to sugar as a "brain allergy" (especially common in children, for whom it can trigger ADD/ADHD symptoms) may react to honey the same way. It is high glycemic, and hits the body as a hard sweet. However, most people digest honey much more easily than sugar. Raw, unpasteurized honey is rich in elements which can help with wound healing, kill bacteria, soothe sore throats and digestive upset, and decrease local allergy symptoms. Honey is also sweeter than sugar by volume, so you need less in baking and cooking.

Agave is a sweetener extracted from a South American cactus, and traditionally used to make tequila. Often called "honey water," the agave nectar or agave syrup is light, both in taste and colour. It is runnier than honey and tastes much milder, but is in fact sweeter so even less is required in cooking. Agave is extraordinarily low glycemic - it has almost no impact on blood sugar, making it an ideal sweetener for diabetics and those who are sensitive to sugars.

Stevia, an extract from the leaves of about several species of plant from the genus Stevia, may be the most perfect sweetener for the human body. Stevia has been shown to support the function of the pancreas - increasing enzyme availability and improving your body's ability to process other sugars. Stevia is sold in the U.S. as a dietary supplement, and can be found in either liquid or powdered form in most health food stores. It is sometimes criticized for its slightly bitter aftertaste. For those who enjoy baking however, you substitute only a tiny amount for normal sugar - 1/4 to 1/32 the amount of sugar called for, depending on the kind of stevia. Stevia has also been shown to reduce cavities and has few to no calories (again, depending on the type you use).