Saturday, January 2, 2010

Sweet 'N' Lowdown

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had fun welcoming in the New Year and I imagine you have made some resolutions—possibly to eat more healthily and cut back on your sugar intake? Chef Brett posted a yummy sounding sugar cookie recipe which I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to make—I made lemon thumbprint cookies with raspberry filling and chocolate cinnamon sugar cookies this year.

I definitely consumed more than my fair share of sugar over the past few weeks! For several days in a row after Christmas I had apple cranberry pie for breakfast! Getting ready to do my post this week, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to talk about; there are so many things to know about how sugar affects your health. I decided for this post to talk about various kinds of sweetners and sugars and basically create a list of sweet stuff from worst to best! I found a great reference online where I got a lot of this information and am including the link here:

The worst offenders are definitely artificial sweeteners including: Splenda (sucralose), Sweet ‘N’ Low (saccharin), NutraSweet (aspartame), and Equal (aspartame, dextrose, maltodextrin). Sucralose is made by chlorinating sugar—so yes, it’s made from sugar but it definitely isn’t better for you! Saccharin is found in nature only as a component of coal tar and is carcinogenic. Aspartame converts into formaldehyde (a preservative) and methanol (which can cause blindness) when exposed to heat inside or outside of the body. These substances are all considered no calorie because our bodies don’t know how to use them because they are unnatural.

Glucose syrup, refined white sugar (sucrose), brown sugar, corn syrup, and high-fructose corn syrup are next. These sugars have a glycemic index (GI) of 96, 64, 64, and 62 respectively which means the rapidly enter the bloodstream and cause spikes in blood sugar and insulin. Refined white sugar and brown sugar are basically the same as far as the GI is concerned—brown sugar is made by adding back a little molasses to refined white sugar. The refining process to create table sugar creates harmful chemical byproducts. Refined sugar greatly suppresses our immune system, wreaks havoc on our pancreas and blood sugar/insulin balance, destroys digestive enzymes, and is highly addictive. The effects on behavior and mood are wide spread (perhaps we’ll do another post about Sugar & Mood in the future). High-frucose corn syrup is made by converting some of the glucose in corn syrup into fructose, which extends shelf life and is cheaper than sugar.

Next on the list is fructose (refined), evaporated cane juice/sucanat, black strap molasses, and maple syrup. Although fructose has a low GI (22), it is highly refined which strips it of trace minerals and contaminates it with chemicals. The other three sweeteners have a GI of about 54 and are less refined so they have some nutritional value.

Lactose, barley malt syrup, and sugar cane juice have a GI of 46, 42, and 43, respectively.

Coconut sugar, honey, brown rice syrup, and agave nectar are in the next group, having GI’s of 35, 30, 22, and 15, respectively. We will be doing a blog post on honey sometime in the spring. Agave nectar is a personal favorite of mine—it is my go-to sweeter. (Baking tip: substitute ¾ c. or less of Agave nectar for each cup of sugar, reduce other liquids by 1/3, reduce oven temperature by 25 degrees F, and increase bake time by 10 minutes.)

And the healthiest sweetener is… stevia! It has a GI of less than 1 and has no calories. Stevia is an herb and is 200-300 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia sweeteners, such as PureVia and Truvia, are isolates of the herb made through a refining process--I'll have to do a bit more research on these... Now, I’m the first to admit that stevia hasn’t been my favorite—I think it has kind of a funky aftertaste and I’ll also admit that I haven’t tried baking with it—but I’m making it a goal to try to use it more and experiment in the kitchen. I’ll let you know how that turns out!

I hope you find this helpful—I’d love to hear some comments about baking with some of these other sweeteners so you bakers out there please share your recipes!
Happy healthy New Year everyone!


  1. Thanks for this article, Crystal. After reading it, my husband declared that he is no longer going to use Splenda to sweeten his oatmeal and will "probably" stop drinking diet soft drinks.