Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sweetness and Light

A sweet problem: Princeton researchers find that high-fructose corn syrup prompts considerably more weight gain

Most of you already know this I am sure.   I think just about all health-conscious person (which includes my esteemed readers) are aware of the fact that high fructose corn syrup (which is in just about all processed foods) is bad.     

However, this leads us to the question, which sweeteners are good...or at least not as bad?    I think most everyone can agree that refined sugar isn't that great for you.  After all, refined sugar, is well...refined.  That means processed. 

It can be very confusing, sorting out all the different types of sweetners on the market....granulated sugar, brown sugar, molasses and blackstrap molasses, honey and raw honey, maple syrup, stevia, splenda, aspartame, turbinado, rapadura, sucanat, agave nectar. It's enough to give anyone a headache. 

Personally, I am a fan (to use facebook terminology) of keeping things as natural as possible....this means sweeteners which are mainly unprocessed and whole.

Of course, the most "whole" sweetener out there is honey...if you can get raw honey, it's basically going straight from the beehive to your mouth.   There are a whole host of health benefits of honey....everything from treating burns to anti-bacterial properties.  Raw honey is "best" but of course also more expensive, so in our current situation, we need to make-do with just regular honey.  Many of my baking recipies use honey.

Rapadura is also a very "whole" sweetener.  Historically sugar was made by pressing the juice from the cane and boiling away the water. The product retained its critical vitamins, minerals and trace nutrients.  Yes, you read that right, sugar actually has some vitamins, minerals and nutrients in it.

Turbinado sugar is slightly more processed than rapadura, but it still retains some nutrients, the difference being that turbinado has been centrifuged slightly to remove the molasses.

Speaking of molasses, it is one of the most healthy, nutrient-dense sweetners, especially blackstrap molasses which is high in iron. Blackstrap molasses is actually good for you.

Brown sugar contains molasses, which therefore makes it a bit healthier than white sugar, depending on how refined the sugar actually was. Needless to say, most commonly available brown sugar is pretty highly-refined. Nonetheless, brown sugar is still a slightly better than option than white sugar, since it is *less refined*.

Maple syrup is also a "whole food", going basically from the tree to your mouth with only the minimal processing of boiling off the water.  Real maple syrup also has important health benefits.

I also wanted to touch on agave nectar.  While many people market agave nectar as a "healthy sweetener" similar to honey, it is actually very highly processed and  some claim it is worse than HFCS.

The last category of sweeteners to discuss is "non-nutritive" sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, sugar alcohols, etc).  I think the title pretty much sums it up, anything which is non-nutritive must be pretty bad.   Here is an excellent article from the Weston-Price foundation detailing some of the dangers of artificial sweeteners.   The one exception being, stevia, which isn't so bad after all, although some people think there are risks.  Unfortunately it is generally more expensive than other artificial sweeteners, but a much better option, for people (like diabetics) who might need that option.

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