There is no denying Americans consume too much sugar. Sugar offers little to no nutrients and are essentially empty calories.
Sweet treats are meant to be consumed sparingly. A little coconut sugar sprinkled on oatmeal, dates blended in almond milk, and a drizzle of maple syrup atop pancakes.
Here are the few that you’ll find in my cupboard. Just remember to go easy on the sweets.
When purchasing applesauce make sure it’s void of high fructose corn syrup or other additional sweeteners. Read the ingredient list – the fewer ingredients, the better. Commercial applesauce can still be made of apples, water, and ascorbic acid (Vit c as a preservative). Although applesauce is technically not a sweetener it’s one of my favorite baking swaps for sugar.
White Sugar: swap out granulated sugar for applesauce in cookies, muffins, and cakes. Due to the moisture content in the applesauce, you will need to reduce a ¼ cup of liquid somewhere in the recipe to make sure you have the correct consistency.
I dub fresh Medjool dates nature’s caramel. The sweet marshmallowy-caramel-like taste comes from a blend of glucose, fructose, sucrose, and maltose. Basically, they are a big ball of sugar and should be treated as such. Dates like all dried fruits should be eaten sparkingly. I like to use dates to sweeten oat milk, bind together crusts for raw tarts, and to dip into almond butter.
For a sweetener, dates serve up a moderate source of dietary fiber. Five dates amount to 30% of the recommended daily intake of fiber. Like most sweet treats, dates aren’t a nutritional powerhouse but they do have potassium, manganese, and copper.
When buying dates look for ones that are shiny, uniform in color, and not split or broken. Dates can last in the fridge for several months or up to a year in the freezer.
Unsulfured figs, raisins, and mulberries are my particular favorites. Beware of eating these by the handful as they are a concentrated source of sugar. I love slicing a dried fig on my oatmeal in the winter. These are also fantastic for making homemade trail mixes.
I don’t really think this needs an introduction. I love it. This quote is all that applies, “Chocolate comes from cocoa, which is a tree. That makes it a plant. Chocolate is salad.” All things in moderation right?
Making maple syrup isn’t a simple process. Thousands of trees are tapped to collect maple sap. This is done by drilling a small hole in the tree’s trunk, then a spout is inserted and tapped with a hammer to keep it in place. Small pipelines or tubing run from the tap in the trees to large tanks in a sugarhouse to be processed.
Once all the sap is collected it is boiled down into syrup. The sap is boiled until most of the water is evaporated leaving the concentrated syrup. Roughly 40 gallons of sap is needed to produce one gallon of syrup. All pure maple syrup has the same sugar content but the color of syrup varies due to the time of year the sap was collected. Later in the season, the color of sap turns to a darker color, and when boiled down, produces a darker syrup.
There are four grades of maple syrup that are purely determined by their color. They are all made by the exact same process but the end result produces distinctly different flavors. Lighter colored syrups are also lighter in flavor whereas dark maple syrups have the most concentrated maple flavor. Here are all the grade A syrups you will find on your grocery store shelves.
GRADE A: GOLDEN COLOR AND DELICATE TASTE
This is usually the first syrup of the season. It’s the lightest in color and the tiniest hint of maple flavor. This syrup would be good for drizzling over waffles, pancakes, yogurt, and oatmeal.
GRADE A: AMBER COLOR AND RICH FLAVOR
This sap was tapped midseason and has a slightly more rich maple flavor. Could easily replace simple syrup in cocktails make your matcha taste a little bit better.
GRADE A: DARK COLOR AND ROBUST FLAVOR
Tapped slightly later in the reason thus darker in color. The flavor is closely related to a brown sugar. Great for doing a glaze on roasted vegetables or salmon.
GRADE A: VERY DARK AND STRONG FLAVOR
Last tap of the season, the darkest in color, and possess the richest maple flavor. Probably the most hardcore, pure maple syrup taste.
Blackstrap molasses is a dark, viscous sweetener that is a byproduct of the process of making sugar.
Sugar is made from sugar cane or sugar beets first being crushed and the juice is extracted. The sweet juice is then boiled down and as the liquid evaporates there is crystallized sugar and a dark brown syrup that remains. The sweet dark brown syrup is molasses. The grades are determined by how many times the molasses has been boiled which turns them from light to dark blackstrap molasses. There are three different types of molasses: light molasses, dark molasses, and blackstrap molasses.
Although blackstrap molasses is the most strong and bitter in flavor it also has the highest nutrient content of the three. One tablespoon of blackstrap molasses has the daily value of 18% manganese, 14% copper, 13% iron, and 12% calcium. It also offers more antioxidants than maple syrup and honey. I use it as a binder for homemade granola bars, it’s essential in Christmas cookies, and a spoonful can find it’s way into a cacao banana smoothie. Although it is a good source of iron and may have some antioxidants remember it is still a liquid sweetener.
The nutritional content of honey can vary depending on which plants the bees collect pollen from. For that reason, it’s difficult to give a stat list of vitamins and minerals found in this golden goo. By weight, honey is basically a liquid carbohydrate that contains very little fat or protein. Honey is composed of close to equal amount of glucose and fructose. There are also traces of phenolics and other antioxidants found in honey.
Manuka honey is the creme de la creme. A close second is raw, unpasteurized, local honey. Avoid honey that has been excessively heated because most of the nutrients in these products are lost. Local honey is a great thing to pick up at the farmers market.
Watch out blood sugar: honey’s glycemic index is higher than agave’s (though it’s still lower than refined sugar). Calories ring in the same as agave (60 calories per tablespoon).
Coconut sugar is made from the sap of flower buds on palm trees. The sap is collected and boiled until most of the liquid evaporates. What’s left is a caramel tasting crystallized coconut sugar.
The main component of coconut sugar is sucrose and has a slightly lower glycemic index rating than table sugar. Coconut sugar has some nutrients like iron, zinc, and calcium. But not a notable amount, and you would have to eat a ton of coconut sugar to reap any nutritional rewards.
Honestly, it’s a more expensive, slightly more nutritious sugar with a lower rating on the glycemic index scale. This is still a processed and refined sweetener and if you are trying to go for a more “whole” product I would look elsewhere.
TAKEAWAY / HEALTHY SWEETS
Healthy sweets are still sugar.
They break down to the same molecular structures as refined candies and other sweet treats.
It’s paramount that these sweeteners are consumed very sparingly.
In my post about carbohydrates I explain in depth how sugar can affect our mood, energy levels, and weight gain. Head over to my fully comprehensive carb post to see the science behind sugar.