If you are someone who loves sugar but would still like to be healthy, maybe you should think about using natural unrefined sweeteners. Unrefined sweeteners will give you the sugar high you crave but with added benefits of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Most of natural sweeteners are low calorie and low carb alternatives to your regular table sugar. You don’t crash as hard because of the low GI level that regulates your sugar levels. Intrigued? Then read on to find out more about unrefined sweeteners.
Muscovado, also known as “Barbados sugar” or “moist sugar”, is a type of unrefined brown sugar that comes from sugar cane juice. It has a dark brown color and a strong molasses flavor. It is a little coarser and stickier in texture than most brown sugars. It has a high nutritional value, comparable to that of pure honey. It is packed with minerals such as potassium, calcium, and iron. It can be used in your coffee, hot chocolate, and tea. In baking, it can be used as a sugar substitute; you may, however, need to reduce the liquid in your recipe.
2. Coconut Sugar
Coconut sugar is extracted from the sap of cut coconut flower buds. It comes in many forms such as crystals or granules, blocks, or in liquid form. The color of coconut sugar varies from dark to light brown. It has a subtle sweetness that is said to have a hint of caramel or burnt coconut. It has a low glycemic index and is good for diabetics or for people who are watching their weight. Coconut sugar contains minerals such as nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, and magnesium. It also has B vitamins and 16 amino acids. Coconut sugar is high in glutamine, an amino acid that is dubbed as “nature’s brain food”. When substituting your table sugar with coconut sugar, you can use a 1:1 ratio.
Stevia is a plant that belongs to the sunflower family. It has 300 times the sweetness of sugar. Its sweet taste has a slower onset but longer duration than regular table sugar. However, be careful about using too much because it has a bitter or licorice-like aftertaste. Many people like stevia because it is low in carbohydrates and low in sugar. Stevia is found to be promising in treating obesity and hypertension. In places such as Paraguay, Bolivia, and Brazil, stevia is not only a sweetener, but also a medical tea that is used to remedy heartburn and other ailments. In many countries, stevia is sold as a sweetener, food additive, or dietary supplement.
4. Agave Nectar
Agave nectar is normally produced in Mexico from the agave cactus. It is sweeter than honey, though it is less viscous. You can determine the taste of agave nectar just by looking at it. Light agave nectar has a mild to neutral flavor; amber colored nectar has a medium-intensity caramel flavor; dark agave nectar is unfiltered and has a strong caramel flavor. You can also get raw agave nectar and it has a mild to neutral flavor. Agave nectar is used in baking as a substitute for sugar or honey. It is also great with cold beverages. While this sweetener has a low GI, it is high in fructose which can be dangerous in large amounts. But thankfully, agave nectar is so sweet that you don’t have to use a lot in one sitting.
5. Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is made from the sap of various species of maple trees. For a product to be considered syrup, it should be made from 66% sugar (in Canada) or entirely from maple sap (in USA). A grading system is used based on the color of the syrup. This grading system also helps determine the quality of syrups. Light colored syrup has a mild flavor while dark colored maple syrup has a sharp maple flavor. According to British culinary expert Delia Smith, maple syrup is “a unique ingredient, smooth and silky textured, with a sweet, distinctive flavour - hints of caramel with overtones of toffee will not do - and a rare colour, amber set alight. Maple flavour is, well, maple flavour, uniquely different from any other." Maple syrup can be used as a sugar substitute in baking or cooking, as a sweetener, a flavoring agent, or as toppings for waffles, pancakes, or oatmeal. Maple syrup contains the same calories as honey and is a great source of manganese and zinc.
6. Pure Honey
Pure honey is made by honey bees using flower nectar. Generally, honey has the same sweetness as granulated sugar but the flavors can vary depending on the source of the nectar. Honey contains electrolytes, amino acids, antioxidants, some vitamins like B6, thiamin, and niacin, and minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and manganese. Honey is high in fructose so you shouldn’t use too much. Honey can be used in baking and as a sweetener for drinks and food. Honey is said to have antiseptic and antibacterial properties that is good in treating sore throats, coughs, swelling, scarring, and in reducing odors. Just a warming: you shouldn’t give honey to children under 1 year of age because of the natural presence of botulinum endospores. These endospores are destroyed by developed digestive systems of older children and adults. But babies, with their underdeveloped digestive system, can contract botulism.
7. Cane Molasses
Cane molasses is a viscous by-product of sugar processing from sugar cane. Its quality depends on the maturity of the sugar cane, the extraction method, and the amount of sugar extracted. Cane molasses has three grades: first, second, and blackstrap. The first grade is the light-colored cane molasses while the second grade is the dark-colored molasses. Blackstrap is by far the healthiest grade as it contains trace amounts of B vitamins and a considerable amount of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron. Blackstrap can be used as an iron supplement because 1 tablespoon can give you iron that is equivalent to 20% of the recommended daily value. Though not as sweet as sugar, cane molasses has a bold deep flavor that works well with strong coffees. It can also be used for baking as well as for cooking to add a robust bittersweet flavor to your dishes.
Sucanat stands for sugar cane natural and it is sugar in its most natural form. Basically, sucanat is sugar cane juice with the water removed. It is made from the whole sugar cane and it still has all the molasses. Its flavor is characterized by a rich sweet taste and a light molasses flavor. Among cane sugars, it has the highest nutritional value, containing potassium, phosphorous, vitamin A, calcium, iron, magnesium, and some B vitamins. Sucanat is a low calorie sugar substitute that can be used in cooking, baking, and in beverages.
As you can see, there are all these natural alternatives to overly processed white sugar. You can still enjoy your drinks and food with some sugar. However, even though these alternatives have vitamins and minerals, are low calorie, and have a low GI, you still have to use them in moderation. They are, after all, still sugars.
Top Photo Credit: PeaSoupEats