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Monday, September 19, 2011

Ask Sarah: Sweeteners

This is the first Monday of Ask Sarah and I'm already having a good time. Thank you everyone for sending along your creative and thoughtful questions! I can't wait to share them with you.

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 Chart

Commonly 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

Every Monday I'll be posting an "Ask Sarah" question submitted by a reader with my take on it. Sounds fun right?!

Step up and ask away ( I can't wait to hear from you!


  1. Oh Sarah this is so wonderful! Thanks so much for the information on sugars. I am always confused! I have recently switched from brown rice syrup to maple syrup but would love to omit sugar forever!

  2. Sarah-

    I would love to know your thoughts on Stevia (which oddly enough I think tastes different than Truvia- although I believe it is supposed to be the same plant?) I gave up my Splenda addiction about a year ago and always bring my own Stevia packets to Starbucks every morning. The team is happy to add them to my green team lemonade (in place of the usual simple syrup they would typically add). Am I still putting a bad product into my body? Or is this all natural claim something I can trust? I would like to avoid adding extra calories to my morning addiction.

    PS- I love this blog and remembering all the fun family visits we had over the years! I still remember watching Adventures in Babysitting over and over again!

  3. Hi Hannah!

    I think Stevia is a better option than splenda so in general it is a good switch. Here is what I know:

    This leafy herb has been used for centuries by native South Americans. The extract from stevia is 100 to 300 times sweeter than white sugar. It can be used in cooking, baking and beverages, does not affect blood sugar levels, and has zero calories. Stevia is available in a powder or liquid form, but be sure to get the green or brown liquids or powders, because the white and clear versions are highly refined.

    So seek out the green or brown unrefined stevia (may have to call a few specialty stores) but the real goal is to wean yourself off of it (eek I know!). A little here and there won't hurt but in general try to add less and less over the next month and see how you feel.

    Good luck!


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