Posted June 13, 2011
If you’ve ever considered cutting refined sugar out of your diet, you know it isn’t easy. Sugar and corn syrup are in more than just candy and soda — they’re near the top of the ingredient lists in many savory snacks and prepared meals as well.
There are artificial alternatives like Splenda and NutraSweet, but for those who want to go the natural route, the options are a little harder to figure out. Syrups don’t bake the same way granulated sugar does, while stevia, date sugar and sucanat have different levels of sweetness from sugar, so recipes have to be adjusted to compensate.
“You try to take a family off sugar and it’s a hard transition if they’re used to the sugary stuff,” said Anita Adamson of Twin Falls. “It’s years of trying to make it work. … I don’t think I’ve ever had to throw anything completely out, but my kids would say, ‘Mom, do we have to eat this?’”
One of Adamson’s daughters was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes a few years ago, and she said dietary changes her family has made — especially substituting stevia for sugar — have improved her daughter’s health to the point where she doesn’t have to take insulin. Adamson has also found that reducing sugars in her family’s diet has helped them prevent other illness, she said.
“Sugar will shoot your immune system in the foot; if you can keep it strong your body will fight off what’s coming around,” Adamson said.
Sweeteners made from whole grains are especially good for diabetics, said Twin Falls macrobiotic health counselor Jill Skeem. “Brown rice syrup and barley malt are made from complex grains, then are refined and become sweet,” she said. “It doesn’t have the effect of real sugar on your pancreas.”
Skeem noted that not all sugar alternatives are diabetic-friendly. Maple syrup and honey have a higher glycemic index than stevia or grain sugars, so they would be better alternatives for people who aren’t making substitutions for pancreatic reasons.
“If you can convert a recipe to honey, you can convert it to agave easily,” said Tracy Slack of Twin Falls. “We use honey, also, but my dad is sensitive to some sugars, so my mom makes our traditional apple pie with agave.”
People’s palates vary, with some thinking agave is sweeter than refined sugar and others thinking it’s less sweet, so she suggests trying recipes with different amounts to figure out what your family likes best. She also has used maple sweeteners, in both syrup and granulated form, and said maple sugar is a great substitute for brown sugar.
Eleanor Niska of Twin Falls used to make granola with honey but has switched to maple syrup because she finds that it sticks to the pan less during baking. Maple syrup does have a unique flavor that many people like — try substituting maple syrup for flavored syrups in a latte — but which could affect the taste of your baked goods. Do pay attention in the grocery aisle, as many “maple” pancake syrups aren’t maple syrup at all: They’re flavored corn syrup.
If you are avoiding maple syrup but miss the taste, try brown rice syrup heated with cinnamon. It’s almost the same flavor, Skeem said, but has a lower glycemic index.
Niska said cost has been a factor for her as she chooses sugar alternatives. For example, she chews gum made with xylitol instead of sucralose, but hasn’t purchased granulated xylitol to use in cooking because it is expensive; she usually turns to honey instead of agave syrup for the same reason.
No matter which natural sugar alternative you choose, you can easily find recipes online that will help you get a sense of how to use it in cooking and baking. Once you are comfortable with some of the basics — like reducing liquid when you use a syrup in place of granulated sugars — use your experience to adjust other recipes.
With a little experimentation, you’ll find that Grandma’s family-favorite cookies and Martha Stewart’s fanciest cakes can be just as delicious as you remember, without the traditional white sugar.
Ariel Hansen may be reached at 788-3475 or email@example.com.
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