Nov 09, 2011 5:48 am - Posted by Marcia


Palm Sugar

healthy sweetener palm sugarPalm sugar is one of the newer natural sweeteners. It is sometimes referred to as coconut palm sugar or coconut sugar and is a healthy, wholesome sweetener that is naturally low-glycemic (GI 35) making it an ideal sugar substitute. High in vitamins, minerals and amino acids, organic evaporated palm sugar provides energy and nutrients for your well being.

Produced in Indonesia, where it is harvested from the nectar of coconut palm trees, palm sugar looks like brown sugar and has a similar caramel flavor. It is exceptional for baking and cooking, since it can be substituted for cane sugar in a 1:1 ratio.

Many wholesome natural sweeteners have been around for awhile, virtually unknown, and then all of a sudden people started recognizing their value. That is what’s happening with palm sugar. It is gaining in popularity quickly and can now be found in many markets, as well as in some health food or specialty grocery markets, and online.

The average cost per 16 oz. bag of granular coconut palm sugar ranges from $3.40 to $5.00. Yes, it is a little pricey, but it is well worth the expense. Be sure to purchase palm sugar that is organic, unbleached, unfiltered, and free of preservatives. I use Sweet Tree and Madhava (blonde).

Agave

healthy sweeteners blue agaveThe popularity of agave nectar, also called agave syrup, is on the rise. Rich in vitamins and minerals and a source of inulin, organic raw blue agave nectar is a healthier, low-glycemic alternative to cane sugar.

The agave nectar is extracted from the core of the agave cacti, found primarily in Mexico. The healthiest agave nectar is one that is unprocessed and unfiltered without any added fillers or preservatives.

This popular natural sweetener has a delicate flavor and tastes like a combination of maple syrup and honey. It can be three times as sweet as cane sugar, so less is needed when baking and sweetening foods and beverages. I use small amounts of agave in my recipes and advocate moderation when using sugars, even natural sweeteners. If you have medical issues, check with your health care professional.

There has been some controversy recently regarding the purity of certain agave brands as well as the accuracy of the glycemic index (GI) and percentage of fructose.  It is my understanding that this controversy is in reference to a higher consumption and the purity of the different brands.Volcanic brand provides chemical breakdown testing on their website (www.globalgoods.com) to back up their glycemic index (GI) of 27, fructose levels, and the purity of their product.

Volcanic is the brand of agave I use and recommend. It is produced below 118 degrees F and is reported to have lower fructose levels than the other major brands. The smooth sweet flavor produces exceptional baking results.

Volcanic agave can be ordered online at www.globalgoods.com. (I do not receive compensation from this company).

Stevia

Stevia is a safe and natural zero calorie sweet herb that is 300 times sweeter than cane sugar. Of  all the natural sweeteners, it is the sweetener of choice for many people because it does not adversely affect blood glucose levels and has many health benefits.

Without any side effects, stevia has been reported to lower high blood pressure and has been used as an aid for blood sugar control. Some other health benefits include improved digestion, decreased dental bacteria, and reduced cravings for sweets and fatty foods. Not only is it an exceptional aid in weight loss and weight management, it is also safe for candida (in moderation).

Stevia can be used in cooking and baking, and for sweetening beverages.

Sold in liquid and powder form, stevia and can be found in grocery stores, health food stores, and online. Recently, several manufacturers have been adding natural flavors to the liquid stevia for an extra special delicious taste. I especially like the Sweet Leaf brand of flavored liquid stevia because it is alcohol-free.

Some stevias have a bitter aftertaste. Keep trying different brands until you find one that you enjoy. Some of the brands sold in supermarkets are not pure stevia, so be sure to look for stevia rebaudiana on the ingredient label.

Stevia can be used in cooking, baking, and to sweeten beverages.

Raw Honey

Raw honey is known as “real food,” while the processed honey that is typically found in supermarkets is considered to be as detrimental to health as processed cane sugar.

Research has shown that raw unprocessed honey is nature’s richest source of living enzymes. Raw honey comes in different textures, from firm to creamy, but all have valuable antibacterial properties and an abundance of healthy nutrients.

Manuka honey with UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) appears to be the champion when it comes to antibacterial action. It’s a great idea to keep a jar on hand, especially during the cold and flu season. It can be very expensive, depending on the UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) but is used mostly for medicinal purposes.

Medium-high on the glycemic index (GI,) honey is not the sweetener of choice for diabetics. For those who are not concerned about glycemic index, honey is a delicious alternative to cane sugar for sweetening beverages, baking, and cooking. Creamy textures work best for baking.

Honey of any kind should never be given to a child under the age of twelve months.

Raw organic honey can be found in Whole Foods Markets, health food stores, some supermarkets, local farms, and online. It tends to cost more than regular processed honey, but the difference is well worth it.

Molasses

Molasses is a byproduct of refining cane sugar, but unlike processed sugar, it is a rich source of healthy nutrients.

There are different strengths of molasses: mild, robust, and blackstrap. Mild and robust strengths have a sweeter flavor than blackstrap, and are more suitable for baking and cooking.  Due to their processing and sweetness they are not considered low glycemic. Blackstrap molasses is the most beneficial for health and is the only strength that is considered low-glycemic. It contains significant amounts of vitamins and minerals, especially iron, copper, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

Mild and robust strengths have a sweeter flavor than blackstrap and are more suitable for baking and cooking. Due to their processing and sweetness they are not considered low-glycemic.

Molasses can be found in Whole Foods Markets, health food stores, supermarkets, and online.

Pure Maple Syrup

Pure Maple SweetenerPure maple syrup is a nutritious alternative sweetener that is made from the sap of maple trees. Its sweet, earthy flavor is three times as sweet as cane sugar but has fewer calories. The syrup comes in different grades; therefore, the glycemic index varies, but it is typically reported as a medium-low GI of 54.

High levels of manganese and zinc have given this sugar substitute a reputation as being heart healthy.

Maple syrup can be used over waffles, pancakes, French toast, cooked cereals, and rice pudding, as well as in the making of candy and desserts. Sweet potatoes, vegetables, and meats are also delicious glazed with this mineral-rich syrup.

Pure organic maple syrup tends to be quite expensive. Lower grades, that are not organic, may contain contaminants from the extraction process. The darker the amber, the better the quality. Grade B is best.

Pure maple syrup can be found in Whole Foods Markets, health food stores, supermarkets, and online.

Xylitol

Xylitol is a low-calorie, low-glycemic sugar alcohol that is naturally present in some fruits, vegetables, and various trees. Although not a whole food, it is still considered a healthy sugar source due to its ant-microbial properties. Dentists encourage its use in gums, candy, toothpastes, and mouthwash because of its clinically proven dental benefits.

Xylitol is slowly absorbed in the digestive tract and does not cause rapid rises in blood glucose levels.

Available in powder form, Xylitol looks like sugar and tastes similar to sugar but is more concentrated than cane sugar, so you use less. You can add it to beverages and baked goods or sprinkle it on anything you would like to sweeten naturally. Be sure to use it in moderation though, as it can sometimes create a laxative effect or gastric discomfort especially if consumed on an empty stomach.

Xylitol can be found in Whole Foods Markets, health food stores, specialty grocery stores and online.

Important note: Xylitol is intended only for human consumption.  It can be life-threatening to pets, especially dogs.

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