It’s probably one of the hardest parts of avoiding processed foods – especially with two little boys at home who love a sweet treat – but ditching white sugar and chemicalsubstitutes like aspartame has been one of the best things we’ve ever done.
We’ve gone from a family who ate processed desserts after nearly every meal to a family who indulges in a homemade sweet treat a couple of times a week (using natural sugar alternatives) and it’s made a huge difference. We’ve reduced inflammation in our bodies, kicked our sugar cravings, and stabilized our blood sugar and our weight. Once I knew what to fill my pantry with and I had all the options on hand I needed to sweeten a piping hot cup of morning coffee, a homemade chocolate pie or fresh batch of oatmeal raisin cookies.
If you’re looking to trade in processed, unhealthy, empty calories for sweet, satisfying, nutrient and antioxidant rich sugar alternatives here is a list to get you started. If you have a selection of these on hand they will cover all your cooking, baking and sweetening needs. I’ve listed my favorites in orange.
Agave Nectar:Agave Nectar is a syrupy sweetener, like honey or maple syrup, that comes from the Agave plant. It’s naturally sweet, but more important; it’s not refined like white sugar so it doesn’t contain processing chemicals. (Agave Nectar has come under fire lately, but like most things, there are good versions and not so good versions. It’s all in how it’s processed, but it’s still a sweetener. While it’s better for us than white sugar or chemical sugar substitutes it should still be consumed in moderation.)
Evaporated Cane Sugar: Evaporated Cane Sugar is sugar cane that has had the water removed. It’s less processed than white sugar, which means it retains more nutrients.
Honey: Honey is rich in antioxidants and is said to help manage allergy symptoms when purchased locally. Dark varieties are best.
Molasses: Molasses is the byproduct of processing sugar cane into sugar. It’s the dark syrup that remains after some of the sugar has crystallized from the cane’s juices. It has relatively low sugar content and contains calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and antioxidants.
Stevia:Stevia has gained a lot of attention recently. It’s an herb that is significantly sweeter than sugar but contains no calories. It requires only a small amount of Stevia to achieve the sweetness of white sugar. Unfortunately, some say it leaves a bitter aftertaste – especially in baking. I like it for sweetening coffee, lemonade, iced tea and other drinks. I carry a bottle of liquid stevia in my purse so I never have to use the packets on restaurant tables and my neighbor has a stevia plant so she simply throws a leaf or two into her morning coffee.
Turbinado:Turbinado is made from 100% sugar cane. Essentially, it’s what’s left over after raw sugar has been washed. Again, the natural molasses remains, which means more of the vitamins and minerals remain. I use this for all of my baked goods and just about any recipe that calls for white sugar.
Xylitol:Xylitol is a white powder that is found in many fruits and vegetables. It is also produced naturally in the human body during metabolism. It is just as sweet as white sugar but contains about one-third of the calories. The Xylitol we find on store shelves is often made from hardwood trees and vegetation.
If you’re working to rid your kitchen of white and chemical sugar substitutes be sure to look for any ingredient that ends in –ose. That’s a sugar, and not a natural one. Don’t forget, sugars aren’t the only way to sweeten your healthy snacks and dishes. I use pure maple syrup in our homemade bread, applesauce in our pancakes, fruit preserves in our yogurt and dried fruit and cinnamon in our oatmeal.
Have you ditched white sugar? What’s your favorite natural sweetener?