Question from Amy in NYC: A few months ago I gave up Splenda, mostly prompted by my friend asking me if I'd ever tasted it on it's own because it "tastes like chemicals." So, my question is the following, what is your favorite natural sweetener? Agave nectar? Do tell.
I love this question because it reflects how totally confusing seemingly simple choices can be. Which reminds me of something...I was recently in line at a coffee shop and the woman in front of me ordered a turbo iced coffee with 6 artificial sweeteners, blueberry flavored syrup, and whipped cream on top. A COFFEE! But maybe she's thinking choosing a particular sweetener is the healthier choice because that's what the commercials tell her? I'd guess there are hundreds of natural and less than natural sweeteners on the market - all promising to be the best for you in their own way.
Amy, the short answer is that your friend is right. Splenda is horrible for you and should be avoided at all costs (as should all artificial sweeteners including sweet'n'low, equal, nutrasweet etc). So, what to use?
For coffee/tea: Try pure cane sugar. It's actually the least processed of granulated sugars and easiest on your body. That said, ideally you wouldn't put sugar in your coffee anymore but a few sprinkles a day really isn't a big deal. Try to test yourself and put a little less and less in each week and see if you can cut it down to just a little cane sugar or none at all. If the coffee shop doesn't have cane sugar then agave is also an okay choice. Stevia looks interesting and it sounds like a good idea although I feel like it's a new product and I don't really trust it yet. Stevia isn't approved by the FDA in the US, Canada, or the European Union because of concerns re: toxicity levels so don't try it until they feed it to the mice for 20 years then tell us the mice died or grew long noses or something gross...oh poor mice!
For cooking/baking: If you're cooking/baking my favorite sweetener is maple syrup or other unprocessed, whole and natural foods. Get creative with cooking and incorporate sweet fruits and vegetables - add mashed bananas, dates, dark chocolate, top something with applesauce, make sweet potato muffins! Honey, agave, molasses, and cane sugar are also good substitutions but never cook with artificial sweeteners - your creations will taste like chemicals and your body will become intoxicated.
Since I don't have much of a sweet tooth I haven't experimented with other fun sounding items like rice syrup, barley malt, and date sugar. Have you?
So, moral of the story. Use items that are the least processed as possible. Find pure cane sugar for coffee but try to cut back on sugar in coffee and if cooking/baking use maple syrup, molasses, honey, sweet fruits and vegetables or pure cane sugar.
Some of my favorite sweet treats using natural sweeteners:
Raw Carrot Cake
Grilled Nectarines with Honey & Mint
Chocolate Dipped Mango Bites
Interesting breakdown of white sugar substitutes - I need to test a few of these out! Have you had luck with any of these substitutions?
Substitution ChartCommonly Used Sweeteners Equivalent to 1 Cup of White Sugar
Sucanat 1 cup
Unrefined Sugar 1 cup
Date Sugar 1 cup
Barley Malt 1 ½ cup - reduce liquids by 1-2 tablespoons
Brown Rice Syrup 1 cup powder
Fructose ½ to 2/3 cup
Molasses ½ to ¾ cup
Concentrated Fruit Juices - varies
Honey ½ cup - reduce liquid by ½ cup & Temperatures by 25 ¼ F
*from Wholesome Foods
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