Do you have a sweet tooth? It is natural to desire something sweet. God created humans to desire and enjoy sweets, and He gave us foods to satisfy those desires—all of which, in their natural form, are healthy and loaded with life-sustaining nutrients. The problem is that most people satisfy those natural desires far too often, which is detrimental to our health in multiple ways.
Most of today’s sugars are highly processed and so refined that they no longer contain any of their God-given vitamins, minerals, fiber and enzymes. All of those nutrients were created in our food for a reason. They are needed for proper digestion and assimilation—necessary for our body’s nourishment. Without those nutrients, our bodies must pull these necessary nutrients from our bones and organs to enable our bodies to use refined sugars. The end result? Refined sugar robs our bodies of crucial minerals, makes our bodies more acidic and wears us down in a multitude of ways.
Today, sugar is a primary cause and contributor of an endless list of weaknesses, illnesses and diseases, ranging from problems such as obesity, aches and pains, acne and headaches to diabetes, chronic fatigue, depression, high blood pressure, cancer and more.
So how can we satisfy that sweet tooth with the plethora of healthy choices God created? Understanding a few details about some of these choices and how they are processed today can help us choose wisely.
Consumed as a whole food, sugar cane contains enzymes, fiber, trace amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc and B vitamins: thiamine and riboflavin. The sugar cane sold in grocery stores today, however, has gone through varying degrees of processing. Each manufacturer uses different methods, so it’s difficult to be specific, but we can look at general methods.
- Rapadura (also known as Panela, Raspadura, Chancaca and Piloncillo, depending on where it is made; Germany simply calls it organic whole cane sugar) is about the closest we can find to the real deal. Generally, it is made by simply pressing sugar cane to extract its juice. This juice is filtered, then evaporated over low heat (retaining its nutrients) and ground to produce a grainy sugar. It is produced organically, and does not contain chemicals or anti-caking agents. It still has the natural balance of sucrose, glucose and fructose, and it contains all of its natural components essential for digestion.
- Sucanat (an abbreviation for “sugar-cane-natural”) is probably the second-best product of sugar cane. The biggest difference from Rapadura is that Sucanat’s evaporation process often uses higher temperatures (as high as 200 degrees C) causing loss of some of the vitamins and minerals and enzymes; however, it is still far better than most other sugar varieties, as it has 100 percent of the sugar cane’s molasses.
- Muscavado (dark) definitely has more molasses content than most other sugar cane products and, therefore, a higher nutrient content. Most muscavodo sugar has never been separated from the molasses. For the accessibility and lower price, this is a really good choice.
Since rapadura, sucanat and dark muscavado sugars are darker in color and higher in molasses, they have a much stronger molasses flavor than white sugar, which makes them a little tricky to work with. They are easiest to use in recipes or marinades that contain strong flavors or extracts, such as cocoa/chocolate, ginger (or other spices) or barbecue. They usually can be substituted 1:1 for white sugar to produce the same consistency; although in baking, it can be helpful to grind the sweetener in a food processor before mixing it with other ingredients. Mixing the sweetener in wet ingredients before combining it with the dry ingredients is also a good way to ensure the sweetener dissolves completely.
- Turbinado, Demarara, “natural,” “raw,” Florida crystals, and light and dark brown sugar are all highly refined. Don’t let the names fool you. They have been subjected to high temperatures, clarification (usually using chemicals, although sometimes various methods of filtration are used), evaporation or dehydration of the cane juice until crystals form, and then centrifuges so the nutrient-dense molasses separates from the “empty” sugar crystals. Pure white table sugar has had an extra step added—being bleached. Yummy! These darker sugars are either slightly further up on the processing chain, and therefore, have not had as much molasses removed, or most likely they’ve been processed to pure sugar crystals, and have had various amounts of molasses added once again to give their light brown color. Either way, they are only a small step away from white sugar. But still, a step. The darker the sugar, the more molasses it contains, and the higher its nutritional content.
- Organic raw sugar does not mean it is unrefined. It means the sugar cane was grown using organic agricultural methods, and then refined with all of the usual heating and chemical processes.
- Molasses is the nutrient-dense part of the sugar cane. Though it is processed with heat, it still does contain valuable nutrients and is a good choice if one doesn’t mind the strong flavor. It works very well for making barbecue sauce, for example. Look for pure and unsulfured, containing no additives.
Honey is a delightful sweetener that has many health benefits. It contains a variety of minerals, B vitamins, antioxidants and certain amino acids. It is antibacterial and also contains a small amount of amylase, an enzyme that breaks down and digests carbohydrates. So enjoy it on toast or biscuits! Even a minuscule amount of bee pollen and propolis can aid in preventing allergies, especially if you’re able to obtain local honey! (Manuka honey has up to four times the nutritional content and is considerably higher in enzymes.) Look for pure raw honey that has not been heated, pasteurized or processed.
Tips for replacing white sugar with honey when baking:
1. Replace 1:1 sugar with honey up to one cup. If a recipe calls for more than one cup, replace each cup of sugar with 2/3 to 3/4 cup honey, depending on the desired sweetness. Because of its higher fructose content, honey is sweeter than table sugar.
2. Lower the baking temperature 25 degrees—honey causes food to brown faster.
3. In baked goods, add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda per cup of honey if baking soda is not already included in the recipe. This reduces acidity of the honey while increasing the volume of your product.
4. Moistening a measuring spoon or cup with oil before measuring the honey prevents it from sticking.
This alternative contains fewer calories than most sweeteners. Pure maple syrup contains antioxidants, zinc, iron, calcium and manganese. Grade B maple syrup is much darker and actually contains more beneficial antioxidants and nutrients than grade A. Maple syrup is a good option for sweetening coffee, sauces and other food that will be eaten immediately as it mixes and dissolves easily. Its milder flavor tends to blend well and not overpower other flavors.
Whole-leaf stevia can be considered a “something for nothing” sweetener. It’s calorie-free, it does not raise blood sugar (so it is especially helpful for diabetics), and unlike most sugars and refined sweeteners, it does not produce bacteria in the mouth that cause tooth decay. Since it comes from the stevia plant, look for a product that is still green and says “whole leaf.” Powder or liquid is fine. If it is white or clear, it has been highly processed, is no longer whole, and is lacking nutrients. Stevia is only used in extremely small quantities due to its intense sweetness. If the flavor is a little off-putting, it can be helpful to mix it with other sweeteners, masking its flavor, yet enabling you to use less of the other sweeteners.
Brown Rice/Barley Malt Syrup
Since corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup wreak havoc on our bodies, they can be replaced by brown rice syrup or barley malt syrup. Pecan pie made with a combination of brown rice syrup and honey or maple syrup may just become your new favorite at Thanksgiving.
Does This Mean I Can Eat as Much as I Want?
Although these are healthier options, we should still heed the Bible’s advice to limit the amount consumed. Proverbs 25:16 says, “Hast thou found honey? Eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it.” Whole sugars won’t deplete the body of nutrients—they actually nourish the body. They metabolize slower than refined sweeteners because they are more complex, so their affect on blood sugar is not as severe. And they are not addictive like refined sugars. But, aside from stevia, they still all do raise blood sugar levels. For good health, we don’t want to abuse the body with extreme sugar highs and lows.
Plus, as great as whole, God-given sweeteners are, usually the better they are, the more expensive they are. It’s Satan’s world, and he’s made it tough on us. One way to deal with this extra expense is to simply cut out some of the sugar from our diets. Keep in mind, most recipes call for far too much sugar. Try cutting the sweetener required by ¼ or even half. You might be surprised to realize it will still be sweet, but the sweetness won’t overpower what you’re eating and you quickly get used to it. Bananas, apple juice/applesauce and dates can also be used as sweeteners in recipes. There are more and more recipes online that use these and other options to sweeten foods. Sometimes opting for nuts and raisins or a piece of fresh or dried fruit can satisfy that sweet desire.
Some spices can help in the battle to cut down on sugar consumption. Cinnamon, in addition to naturally lowering blood-sugar levels, has a sweet flavor and effect when added to food. Try mixing some cinnamon with a little (about 1 teaspoon) maple syrup in the bottom of your mug before adding coffee or the beverage of choice. You might be surprised how sweet it is! Add cinnamon to baked goods, if it would work with the recipe, and cut back on the sweetener by 1/8 to 1/4 cup. Sprinkle some on top of oatmeal to help cut down the need for more sweetener. Another spice with a similar “sweet” flavor is cardamom. Try mixing some cardamom with melted butter to pour over your popcorn—no sweetener necessary, and it just might satisfy a sweet desire.
If you are looking for a new nutrition goal or a practical way to improve your health, try replacing depleting refined sweeteners with whole, God-given, nourishing sweeteners—or at least better options as much as possible. Whether big steps or little steps, all forward motion counts.