Who doesn’t enjoy a sweet treat every once in awhile? I know my family does. While I don’t have baked goods around continuously, a really good chocolate chip cookie is one of my all-time favorite indulgences. And now that I know about various choices for healthy sweeteners, I feel better about indulging just a little more frequently.
“But wait a minute,” you may be asking, “isn’t the term ‘healthy sweetener’ an oxymoron?”
To that I say: “It doesn’t have to be—when used in moderation.”
What makes a sweetener healthy? Well, just like any other food product, the more it’s processed (or refined), the less healthy it becomes. As Stephanie Selene Anderson says in Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is! Guide to Healthy Food Shopping, when you refine maple syrup and pasteurize honey, you change their nutritional blueprint forever:
- Unrefined maple syrup is full of vitamins and minerals, and the darker the grade the more nutrients it contains. Look for Grade C if possible, but settle for no less than Grade B.
- Raw (unpasteurized) honey has medicinal properties and beneficial enzyme systems. When you buy honey locally, it’s even more advantageous to your overall health. Of course, honey should never be fed to an infant younger than 16 months old.
But it doesn’t stop there. A spoonful of organic, unsulfured molasses derived from sugar cane grown in rich, fertile soil is not only thick and delicious—it’s also packed with iron, calcium, zinc, copper, and chromium. There was a time when our clinical nutritionist recommended I take a tablespoon of this luscious liquid every day as a means to build up these nutrients in my system—real food is the way to go. Interestingly, molasses is a byproduct of refined sugar. By the end of the process, refined sugar is deemed an anti-nutrient.
Other sweeteners worth getting familiar with include:
- Dark muscavado sugar. Though this sweetener can be used in place of any type of refined sugar, the molasses flavor really shines as a substitute for a lesser-quality maple syrup or brown sugar.
- Rapadura. When this dehydrated cane juice is processed with care, the molasses and nutrients remain intact.
- Stevia herb. While not a favorite of mine, many people flock to Stevia as an alternative healthy sweetener. But it’s much, much sweeter than other options, so be sure to familiarize yourself with it before you use it—especially in any baked goods.
A really simple and fantastic tool to use for all of your sweet treat recipes is available at SRP. Their Healthy Sugar Substitute Recipe Card is exactly that—a sturdy, double-sided conversion card that offers up wholesome substitutions for refined white sugar, powdered sugar, and other anti-nutrient sweeteners. I grab mine every time I get the urge to make those chocolate chip cookies, and I bet you will too. It comes with a strong elastic ribbon to stretch over cookbooks, but it’s also small enough to fit in your bag for a trip to the market.
So you see, you can use the words “healthy” and “sweeteners” side-by-side and not be grammatically (or nutritionally) incorrect. These days, when I whip up a batch of whole-grain cookies, I thoroughly enjoy the hint of molasses that the Rapadura brings—and so does my family. What’s your favorite healthy sweetener and how do you use it?
Photo from iStock/sasimoto