‘Tis the season of the sweet tooth; from gingerbread houses, to candy canes, to holiday cookies, sugary treats tempt us constantly this time of year. While indulgence is perfectly acceptable, for a little piece of mind with that piece of cake, substitute refined white sugar for these nutritionally beneficial natural sugars.
Why not white sugar?
White sugar – otherwise known as table or granulated sugar – is one of the most popular sweeteners used in American kitchens. Extracted from either beets or sugar cane, it goes through an extensive refining process that presses and purifies the juice, removes the molasses, and crystallizes and centrifuges the syrup. The result? 100% sucrose – pure sweet with no nutritional benefits and a high glycemic index. Also important to note, the sugar made from cane is often bleached using bone char that is derived from cows.
Both ancient and modern civilizations have touted honey for its’ medicinal qualities. In fact, not only have humans been eating this energy-dense sweetener for over 9000 years, it may have been in-part responsible for the brain expansion of the early homo sapiens. This sweetener is made by bees from the nectar of flowering plants, which is saved inside the beehive. While the bees process of producing honey may be a little much for us to stomach, it boasts a number of health benefits, such as delivering antioxidants, enhancing digestion, soothing sore throats and speeding up wound healing due to its antibacterial content.
What to look for: Natural honey, preferably local, with no added corn syrup.
How to substitute: For every 1 cup of white sugar, replace with 1/2 to 2/3 cup honey. Also, reduce the liquid, add baking soda, and lower the oven temperature for your baked goods. Full directions are found here.
This coveted sweetener boasts a rich earthy flavor with vanilla and molasses notes. Over the long winter months, the accumulated starch of maple trees converts to sugar, which is then collected in the form of sap. This sap is evaporated and heated, resulting in the maple syrup we know and love. Each individual tree produces between 5 and 15 gallons of maple syrup per season. Due to the minimal processing, this sweetener retains much of its nutritional content. It contains zinc for heart health, calcium for bone health, manganese for strengthening immune functions, as well as numerous antioxidants.
What to look for: Real, Pure or 100% maple syrup, with no added corn syrup.
How to substitute: For every 1 cup of white sugar, replace with 1 cup of maple syrup. However, decrease the liquid in the recipe by 3 to 4 tablespoons for every 1 cup substitution.
You don’t have to be a fan of coconut to enjoy coconut sugar. This sweetener has a rich and malty flavor that is much more complex than table sugar, and doesn’t taste like coconut. The blossoms from the coconut tree produce nectar, which is boiled and ground to produce the granular sugar. Since it is minimally processed, it contains a variety of micronutrients such as zinc, iron, calcium and potassium. Additionally, it has a lower glycemic index than most sugars, which means smaller fluxuations in blood glucose and insulin levels.
What to look for: Fair trade and organic, caramel hued and granulated, 100% coconut sugar.
How to substitute: Grind for a few seconds using a blender. Then for every 1 cup of white sugar, replace with 1 cup of coconut sugar plus a tablespoon additional liquid.
The Bottom Line
Now, it’s important to remember that sugar is sugar is sugar. Regardless of the source it comes from, our bodies will eventually process it in the exact same way. However, if you’re going to enjoy the bounty of treats this holiday season, you may as well indulge with these sugars that contain some nutrients along with the sweet.