Why Use Natural Sweeteners for Your Tea?
The average American consumes 130 pounds of the white sugar per year – and other countries are not far behind. Excessive sugar consumption results in lowered immunity and can lead to increased rates of obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease, atherosclerosis, osteoporosis, candida, and a host of other degenerative conditions.
Artificial sweeteners can be just as unhealthy as sugar, yet there are many healthier alternatives in the form of natural sweeteners that you can use and enjoy.
This is bees’ unique contribution to human happiness. Three times sweeter than sugar, pure, raw (unpasteurized) honey maintains its natural bacteria-fighting enzymes, is anti-fungal and anti-microbial, and offers many nutrients absent in processed honey.
As one of the most popular among natural sweeteners, it’s a source of B-vitamins, iron, and manganese, and has recently been shown to contain a variety of antioxidants, substances that help the body fight cancer and degenerative diseases.
Honey is also easily digested by most people and has also been known to aid liver functioning, ease dryness and sore throat, and help heal stomach ulcers.
Molasses is the residual product after sugar cane has been processed into cane (granulated) sugar. As a result, molasses actually retains all the nutrients which are removed when sugar is made; and the darker (or less sweet), the more minerals it contains.
Blackstrap molasses is the most nutritious form, with excellent levels of iron and calcium (a single tablespoon contains more calcium than a glass of milk!) and good amounts of magnesium, potassium, and B-vitamins.
If you find the taste of molasses a bit bitter, blend other natural sweeteners with it. Choose molasses that is unsulphured for the most pleasing taste.
The processed sap of the maple tree has a sweetness comparable to sugar, fewer calories and more minerals than honey, and a distinctive flavor .
It's an excellent source of manganese (a co-factor in many enzymatic actions in the body) as well as zinc (a key antioxidant vital to immune functioning and prostate health). The darker the syrup, the more its sugar has been concentrated.
Brown Rice Syrup
This mildly-flavored, somewhat sweet liquid is made from sprouted brown rice. It is minimally processed and retains a high percentage of complex carbohydrates (unlike granulated sugar, a simple sugar).
This means brown rice syrup is digested and absorbed more slowly by the body, preventing spikes in blood glucose levels and allowing a steady, longer-term energy source. It also provides potassium and some B-vitamins.
Dates contain the highest natural sweetness of all fruits. Date sugar is dried, ground dates.
Though less sweet than sugar, it provides all the nutrients (such as iron, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin) and fiber you’d find in the whole fruit (10 per cent of the daily requirement from just 5 dates).
Since date sugar doesn’t melt or caramelize like white sugar (helping a batter or dough to “bind” when baked), add other binders, such as additional eggs, when baking with date sugar. Or try experimenting with homemade date or other fruit purées, such as apple, prune, or banana.
Dehydrated Cane Sugar Crystals
Sucanat, a form of unrefined cane sugar, is made by crushing sugar cane, then allowing the juice to evaporate naturally.
The result is a dry, granular sweetener that can be used in the same proportions as sugar but which retains all of the original vitamins and minerals usually lost in processing, such as iron, calcium, vitamin B6, potassium and chromium (which can help to balance blood sugar).
Be sure to check for the word “unrefined” on the label; if the sweetener simply states, “evaporated cane juice,” it may still be highly processed or refined.
Derived from the juice of the agave cactus, agave syrup has been used for centuries South America and Mexico and is the basis for tequila. It’s 50% sweeter than sugar, yet has a very low GI (glycemic index), so it doesn’t cause the same spikes in blood glucose levels that sugar does.
In addition, the mild taste blends well with other flavors and natural sweeteners -- and won’t overpower your recipes. Raw agave syrup contains inulin, a “pre-biotic,” or substance that helps to nourish the probiotics (good bacteria) in the intestines.
The leaves of the stevia rebaudiana plant have been used as natural sweeteners for centuries in Latin America.
Sold as an herbal supplement, stevia is 30 times sweeter than sugar, yet boasts a GI of zero (so it doesn’t affect blood sugar levels).
You can buy stevia as a liquid or powder. While it adds great deal of sweetness to your foods, it cannot be substituted for sugar without greatly altering a recipe’s texture.
Sugar Alcohols: Sorbitol, Mannitol, Xylitol
These sweeteners, technically polyols or sugar alcohols, are actually neither sugars nor alcohols. Derived from sugar molecules, they do exist naturally in small amounts in some foods.
However, the kinds we consume in sugar-free candies or desserts are produced in laboratories by adding hydrogen to sugar and are not truly “natural” sweeteners.
About half as sweet as sugar, polyols also contain fewer calories (about 2.6 per gram versus the 4 per gram of sugar) because they’re difficult for the digestive system to process and aren’t fully absorbed by the small intestine. And since they’re not a source of fuel for the body, they won’t contribute to dental caries (cavities).
On the other hand, their benefits come with a price. As far back as 1999, the Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) cautioned that amounts of sorbitol in excess of 10-50 grams could cause diarrhea.
This may also be true of xylitol, and in excess of 20 grams for mannitol. Because they aren’t digested, sugar alcohols remain in the intestines and may cause gas and bloating as well.
This article on natural sweeteners was written by Ricki Heller, PhD RHN who owns Ricki's Kitchen Cooking Classes and Bake It Healthy - rickiskitchen.com.