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The Healthier Sugar Alternatives to Use in Cooking

Sugar Switch: Baking With All-Natural Sugar Alternatives

If you're trying to lose weight, limiting refined white sugar is a step in the right direction: one cup contains 774 calories and 200 grams of sugar. But when you're craving a chocolate chip cookie, you want it to taste like Grandma's — not like a dull, tasteless cracker. There are many all-natural sugar substitutes, but are they really healthier than refined white?



Agave Nectar (also called agave syrup)
Replace 2/3 cup for every one cup of sugar 432 calories, 97 grams sugar

  • How it's made: Produced from the same spiky plant as tequila. Once the blue agave plant reaches seven to 10 years old, the leaves are removed revealing the core of the plant called the pina. Sap is extracted from the pina, filtered, and heated at a low temp to break down the carbohydrates into sugars.
  • Additional info: Lower on the glycemic index, it offers sweetness without the spike in your blood sugar levels. However, like white sugar, most agave syrup is highly processed.
  • Baking tips: Since it is a syrup, you'll need to reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by one-quarter cup. Combine agave with the liquid or fats in your recipe before adding to the dry ingredients in order to prevent oil from layering on top. Since agave browns faster, lower the oven temp by four degrees, and because it can be a little sticky, you might want to line your pan with parchment paper.


Blackstrap Molasses
Replace 1 1/3 cup for every one cup of sugar 1,002 calories, 259 grams sugar

  • How it's made: During the sugar-making process, juice extracted from sugar cane is boiled down until the sugars crystallise. The syrup left over after crystallisation is known as molasses. Sugar cane juice usually undergoes three cycles of boiling and blackstrap molasses is the by-product of the third boiling cycle. This variety of molasses contains the least amount of sugar and has the highest concentration of vitamins and minerals.
  • Additional info: Blackstrap molasses is rich in nutrients; one cup contains more than the RDA of calcium, potassium, and iron. It's also full of copper and B vitamins, which helps eliminate cancer-causing free radicals.
  • Baking tips: With such a distinct, robust flavour, molasses is best saved for spiced breads and cookies. Since it's acidic, add half a teaspoon of baking soda to the recipe if it's not already used, and reduce the liquid in the recipe by one-third cup.

Keep reading to learn about baking with honey, maple syrup, and Sucanat.

Honey Replace 3/4 cup for every one cup of sugar 773 calories, 209 grams sugar

  • How it's made: Bees gather nectar from flowers, and spread it throughout the honeycombs in the hive where it evaporates and turns into a thick syrup, which is used to feed the colony.
  • Additional info: It offers 132 mg of potassium and may help reduce sore throats. Raw honey is rich in B vitamins and also vitamin C.
  • Baking tips: Decrease the liquid in your recipe by one-fifth, and lower the baking temp by 25 degrees to prevent browning.


Maple Syrup
Replace 3/4 cup for every one cup of sugar 600 calories, 159 grams sugar

  • How it's made: Sap is collected from maple trees, boiled to evaporate the water, and the syrup is then filtered and bottled. It takes between 130 and 190 litres of sap to make just four litres of real maple syrup.
  • Additional info: A one-cup serving offers 180 mg of calcium, and also contains manganese, iron, and zinc, important minerals for a strong immune system; it also contains 322 mg of omega-6 fatty acids.
  • Baking tips: Always use real maple syrup — not maple flavoured. Reduce the amount of liquid in recipes by three tablespoons for each cup of maple syrup used. Baked goods will have a brownish tint and also brown much faster so bake for less time or lower the temp of the oven by 25 degrees.


Raw Cane Sugar (evaporated cane sugar)

Replace one cup for every one cup of sugar 720 calories, 192 grams sugar

  • How it's made: Freshly cut sugar cane is crushed to extract the juice. Then the cane juice is heated to evaporate the water, and then spun in a centrifuge to produce crystals that are golden-coloured due to the fact that the molasses is not removed.
  • Additional info: Also know as demerara or turbinado sugar, it's less refined than white sugar though it is not any better from a nutritional standpoint; although it contains some molasses, it's too small an amount to really offer the health benefits that molasses does.
  • Baking tips: Since the crystals can be larger than regular sugar (depending on the brand), you might want to dissolve it in the liquids or beat it in with the eggs to ensure a smooth texture.


Stevia (Pyure Bakeable Blend)

Replace 1/2 cup for every one cup of sugar 0 calories, 12 grams sugar

  • How it's made: Glycosides are the components of stevia leaves responsible for the plant's sweetness. The leaves are placed in hot water, which is passed through a resin material to trap and collect the glycosides. The resin is then washed with alcohol to free the glycosides, and is then crystallised into the form you buy.
  • Additional info: Some research shows it can lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Since it's calorie-free it's helpful for weight management.
  • Baking tips: Reduce pan size and baking temp by 25 percent, add an additional egg white or slightly increase baking powder/soda, and add fruit puree or yoghurt for moistness.


Sucanat

Replace one cup for every one cup of sugar 720 calories, 192 grams sugar

  • How it's made: Whole sugar cane is juiced and that liquid is heated in a large vat until it becomes a rich, dark syrup. It's then crystallised, creating dry, porous, dark-brown granules.
  • Additional info: Unlike refined white sugar, Sucanat contains iron, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin B6, potassium, and chromium.
  • Baking tips: Very similar to baking with sugar, since it has a brownish color and tastes warm like molasses, it's best used to replace brown sugar.
Image Source: Shutterstock
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