Healthy Sugar Alternatives in Baking
This morning a friend asked me for some baking advice. She is avoiding refined sugar and asked what sweetener I use in my healthy Mighty Crumb cookies and what she can to sweeten pumpkin pie? My reply: Coconut/palm sugar. Almost as sweet as refined sugar, coconut sugar is derived from the sap of the palm tree. It is actually healthful, loaded with essential vitamins and amino acids, and is very low on the glycemic index. With a GI of 35–anything less than 55 is considered low and above 70 is high, it won’t cause unhealthy, diabetes-inducing sugar spikes in our bodies. Coconut sugar is light brown and has a flavor somewhat like brown sugar. You can find it in specialty health food stores and Whole Foods. Use it in place of sugar 1:1 or to your taste through a little trial and error.
Another sweet and healthful alternative is date sugar. FYI, while it is also low on the glycemic index, it is high on the cash register, far pricier than coconut sugar. There are, of course, liquid alternatives including mineral-loaded maple syrup, honey and agave. However, each of these liquid sweeteners comes with some caveats when baking. First, substituting a liquid for a dry sugar potentially alters the consistency and baking time of your product. Second, according to Ayurveda–the ancient medicinal practice of India, heating honey above 108ºF, transforms it into a glue-like substance that is difficult to digest and remove from the body’s tissues causing it to be considered a toxin. (See http://www.ojas.us/index.html for more info on Ayurveda.) Last, agave is still controversial; opposing “experts” believe it to be either a low-glycemic, healthful sweetener or an over-processed one with fructose levels and health concerns that rival high-fructose corn syrup. (For both sides of this issue, see the blog, http://www.confabulicious.com/the-great-agave-controversy-to-use-or-not-to-use-that-is-the-question/) Until we know the truth about agave, I opt out.