Healthy Routes – Healthy Sweets

by Gladys Kublik, owner of Neighbors Vitamin Shop

The health hazards of sucrose (table sugar), high fructose corn syrup (the sweetener of choice in pop, fruit juice and prepared foods), aspartame (Diet or Lite foods) are well documented. So how do we eliminate these disease causing elements and still feed that sweet tooth?

On the Glycemic Index for Sweeteners, the scale which measures how quickly and how much something we eat raises our blood sugar, commonly used sugars range from 65 for sucrose, 68 for HFCS, 100 for dextrose and glucose, 105 for maltose to 110 for maltodextrin.

Natural sugar alternatives range at the other end of the scale. Stevia is rated at 0, which means it does not raise your blood sugar at all when eaten. This means it does not affect insulin production with its associated weight gain and predisposition to Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Stevia is an herb with leaf sap which contains steviosides, 200-300 times sweeter than sugar. It is so natural you can grow it yourself, harvest, dry, and grind the leaves. This however results in a green powder complete with the fibre from the leaf. It is easier to purchase a concentrated powder or liquid which is the filtered dehydrated form of the leaf.

Xylitol, a sugar alcohol originally derived from birch trees in Finland, ranks at 12. Unlike other natural or synthetic sweeteners, “xylitol is actively beneficial for dental health by reducing cavities to a third in regular use and helpful to remineralization.” Multiple studies utilizing electron microscopy have indicated that xylitol is effective in inducing remineralization of deeper layers of demineralized enamel. Xylitol also has been shown to reduce the incidence of acute middle ear infection.” Xylitol is naturally found in low concentrations in the fibers of many fruits and vegetables, and can be extracted from various berries, oats, and mushrooms. It is extremely easy to use as it has the same sweetness and consistency of sugar.

Agave syrup ranks at 15 on the Glycemic Index. It is produced by collecting the juice from the core of the agave plant, filtering the juice and heating it to concentrate the syrup in much the same way as maple syrup is produced. Look for raw, organic, amber agave syrup which is less processed and retains quantities of iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium, all of which contribute to the resulting color. The delicate flavor of amber grade agave nectar with a consistency much like honey is delicious in tea, suitable to sweeten a wide variety of foods, dry and hot cereals, pancakes, waffles, baked goods, protein drinks, and sauces. It is easy to use in baking, substitute 1/3 cup of agave syrup for 1 cup of sugar.

Brown rice syrup ranks at 25 on the Glycemic Index. It is produced by culturing brown rice flour or brown rice starch with enzymes from sprouted barley. The resulting syrup is filtered and excess water is evaporated to thicken it. An excellent substitute for corn syrup in recipes, it has a mild flavor and about 1/2 the sweetness of sugar, which is an ideal way to retain the composition of granola bars, for example while weaning yourself off the sweetness factor. Look for snack bars which use rice bran syrup as their sweetener and binding agent.

Coconut palm sugar ranks 35 on the Glycemic Index for sweeteners. Coconut sugar produced from the sap of cut flower buds of the coconut palm, has a high mineral content, and is a rich source of potassium, magnesium, zinc, and iron. In addition to this it contains vitamin B1, B2, B3, and B6. When compared to brown sugar, coconut sugar has 36 times the iron, four times the magnesium, and over 10 times the amount of zinc. The coconut sap, from which coconut sugar is derived, contains 16 amino acids, the highest being glutamine, which is very healing for the digestive system. Coconut sugar has been used as a traditional sweetener for thousands of years in the South and South-East Asian regions. 

Ranking at 50, honey is the most pure natural sweetener available. Produced in much the same way throughout recorded history, it is revered the world over for its health benefits including antiseptic and antibacterial properties, which have been confirmed by recent studies.

Next time you feel like comfort food, look at the ingredients listing. If that bag of chips, box of crackers or cookies contains maltodextrin, maltose, dextrose, glucose, or liquid sugar (meaning High Fructose Corn Syrup), put it back on the shelf and find a snack bar sweetened with a natural alternative. Your body will thank you with a slimmer figure and more energy.

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