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Choices with Sweeteners

Personally, I am not sure white sugar is quite as evil as its critics make it out to be, but clearly our society suffers from rising numbers of adults and children with obesity and other health related issues.

Recently I read that on average Americans consume 72 pounds of sugar a year; that’s 22 teaspoons a day and is more than 2 times what our grandparents ate. At first I thought, no way, not my family! But then I examined and gave some thought to the diet of most kids, including mine, special candy on every holiday, Shabbos food, Shabbos cereal (as we call it), treats in school, yogurts and granola bars all loaded with extra sweets, coffee with sweeteners, and more.

I am not suggesting a world without sweets but thought it might be appropriate to make a few suggestions about refined sugar. Try alternatives like honey, molasses, maple syrup, and agave instead of white sugar or brown sugar (which is essentially white sugar with a little molasses added for flavor and color). While these minimally processed sweeteners do count as added sugar and should still be used sparingly, they provide antioxidants and essential minerals and don’t cause as big a spike in blood sugar as refined sweeteners do.

Each has its own distinct flavor, which adds an extra dimension to food and beverages.

Honey is a go-to sweetener for yogurt, teas, challah, as well as compotes, fruit crisps, and cobblers. It’s filled with antioxidants. The darker the color the more it contains.

Maple syrup is especially good in granola, oatmeal, and some cakes. It’s rich in zinc and manganese so they help boost the immune system.

Molasses have an intense flavor that works perfectly in barbecue sauces and marinades. It has the highest nutritional value of all the sweeteners but the strongest and distinctive flavor.

Agave has the mildest flavor of the bunch; it dissolves easily, so it’s great in cold drinks and coffee. It has a low glycemic index and therefore a more moderate effect on blood sugar.

You can bake with all of these alternative sweeteners too; they tend to make baked goods very soft and moist. Depending on the recipe, you might need to experiment with the amount you use. Start by substituting 3/4 cup honey, maple syrup, or molasses for each cup of sugar, and reduce the liquid by 3 tablespoons. To substitute agave, use 2/3 cup agave nectar for each cup of sugar ( I often use it in my challah recipe) and reduce the liquid by 1/4 cup. Also, since these sweeteners will speed the browning process (the form of sugar they contain reacts more readily to heat), reduce the baking temperature by 25°F. Check for doneness at the usual time, but you may have to increase the baking time slightly.

Try some of these recipes that contain white sugar alternatives:

Maple Sweet Potatoes with Caramelized Onions [1]
Grilled Salmon with Honey Fruit Salsa [2]
Baked Apples [3]
Cocoa Brownies Sweetened with Agave Syrup [4]