The Best Natural Sweeteners

  • 2014

Refined sugar, nutritionally poor, and artificial sweeteners, which are not risk free, have natural alternatives.

From honey to stevia, healthy options offer a variety of nuances and many more nutrients.

Carbohydrates constitute the primary biological form of energy storage . In them is the sweet taste, which for the vast majority is the most pleasant. Sweet foods are both an opportunity and a risk. The danger comes from the hand of products manufactured by humans through refining. The opportunity is in natural sweet alternatives, which provide energy, valuable micronutrients and nuanced aromas.

Over the refined sugar the fault of obesity, diabetes, tooth decay and countless other health problems has fallen. The food industry has proposed a supposed solution: a wide variety of apparent alternatives. Saccharin, for example, has become an ubiquitous substance of the light culture, but this and other artificial sweeteners have not reduced the incidence of disease.

Fortunately, nature offers enough sweet foods, with personality and properties that enrich the diet. Consumed in moderation, within the framework of a healthy diet and lifestyle, they do not harm, but quite the opposite.

What we call white or table sugar is sucrose, carbohydrate composed of fructose and glucose that is mainly obtained from sugar cane and sugar beet. It provides four calories per gram and nothing else . In fact, nutrients are subtracted, because their assimilation requires the body to invest chromium, magnesium, zinc and vitamin B1. Once in the digestive system, it quickly assimilates and raises blood glucose levels, which favors sudden changes in mood and energy availability, as well as endocrine disorders that lead to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and diabetes

It is also sucrose brown sugar, which acquires a cosmetic tone thanks to minimal remains of molasses or caramel coloring. The difference in the proportion of sucrose does not exceed three percent. It cannot be said that brown contributes minerals significantly, since a leaf of lettuce contains many more than a few kilograms of brown sugar. There are better alternatives to white sugar.

The integral sugar of cane is the way of presentation of the sucrose with more advantages. It is manufactured with a specific method: the rods are chopped, squeezed and large crystals are obtained. That dough is allowed to dry, is ground and screened.

Unlike white sugar , in the integral sugar molasses is not completely separated . It has not undergone any refining process through high temperatures, addition of lime, sulfur dioxide, phosphoric acid and other agents used by the sugar industry. Integral sugar, which has a characteristic humidity, because each crystal is surrounded by a molasses film, can be used in the kitchen as a general substitute for white sugar . However, it is sucrose at 96 percent and contains few minerals and vitamins.

Sugarcane molasses is subject to controversy. For years it has been presented as a food that is not only healthy, but healing, but others describe it as a simple sweet concentrate, which is not found naturally in nature and without significant properties . Molasses is a byproduct of white or brown sugar. The light is the liquid that remains after the first crystallization of the sugarcane juice, and the black is the one that remains from the last crystallization.

In some countries of South America, the latter is usually processed by hand until it is transformed into highly appreciated solid blocks that are known as chancaca, panela, rapadura, papelón or piloncillo. In turn, these blocks can be granulated, a presentation that can be found in Spanish dietary and ecological stores (the blocks are in Latin stores).

Black molasses has an intense and bitter taste and is rich in minerals. In 100 grams there are 22 milligrams of iron and 192 mg. It is also the natural sweetener most rich in antioxidants .

Both light and black molasses are 70 percent sucrose and can be used in breads, muffins and cookies.

A molasses of cooked sugar beet can also be obtained. It has a sugar content of 40 to 60 percent. Of strong flavor, it is not the taste of all palates. It is usually used in pastries, desserts and to spread on bread .

Coconut sugar is one of the latest discoveries (although in countries like Thailand or Indonesia it is a traditional sweetener). It is preferred by many nutritionists due to its low glycemic index (35) and its balanced composition of sugars (sucrose, glucose and fructose) together with enzymes that reduce its assimilation rate n. It is made by evaporation from the nectar of the flowers of the coconut palms and does not undergo any refining process. It is also rich in vitamins of group B and potassium, magnesium, zinc or iron . An advantage over other alternatives to sugar is that its flavor is very similar, perhaps with a caramelized note that adds appeal. It is ideal for pastry recipes and is used in the same proportions as sugar .

On the other hand, according to the Organization for Agriculture and Food (FAO), it is the most sustainable sweetener because coconut palm offers a great diversity of products (coconuts, coconut oil, sugar, flour, milk, coconut water; as well as wood and fibers), needing little water and minimal care.

Dried fruits are the stars of concentrated and healthy sweetness. The elimination of liquid as a method of food preservation and enhancement of its flavor was known in the Middle East and America thousands of years ago. Drying in the open air and in the sun remains a method that offers the best results, although it can also be done in ovens at very low temperatures. The water content is reduced by 85 percent and increases the concentration of minerals and vitamins by weight . Only part of vitamin C is lost in the process. In small doses they can be used daily.

To the traditional raisins, dried apricots or dried figs, in recent years new dried specialties have been added, such as bananas, pineapples, mangoes, cherries or goji berries. The latter and many others even have therapeutic applications. For example, blueberries help in case of diarrhea, urinary infections and circulatory problems, thanks to their flavonoids. Apricot dried apricots are provitamin A pumps and are useful in cases of tiredness or skin disorders. Raisins and plums have extremely high values ​​of antioxidants, which protect against free radical damage, that is, against all types of diseases, including cancer. Figs, with their abundance in iron and calcium, are recommended during the growth stage and in case of anemia.

Conventional dried fruits are impregnated with a preservative, sulfur dioxide (E-220), which could cause allergic reactions. Neither this additive nor any other are found in organic production figs, which are also free of agricultural pesticide residues.

Honey is the mixture of secretions of the glands of bees with the nectar of flowers. It is an emblematic product of natural life, but that found in supermarkets comes almost certainly from China and has little to do with that amber and pure liquid that we associate with the field and health.

Industrially produced honey is contaminated with drug residues and has been collected before ripening, so it contains too much water. To stop its deterioration, it is centrifuged at high temperatures, which destroys vitamins and especially enzymes. That is why this bad honey does not crystallize. The one that is collected mature (“closed cell” honey) and is elaborated with respect contains dozens of beneficial substances: amino acids, minerals (potassium, iron, phosphorus), vitamins (especially from group B), enzymes that facilitate digestion, antibiotic compounds (organic and inhibited acids that help, for example, in case of a cold) and aromatic substances. But the delicious sweet taste is due to the combination of these elements with 85 percent fructose and glucose in equal parts.

Three quarters of a teaspoon is equivalent in sweetening power to a whole teaspoon of table sugar. You can substitute it in infusions and pastries, and it is an ideal ingredient for breakfast and snacks. Added in the recipes of breads and cakes it takes longer to harden . However, when heated it loses an important part of its properties. It is better to use it to accompany yogurts, fresh cheeses and fruit salad.

Maple syrup is the best known natural sweetener after honey, and surely one of the most recommended. To obtain it, the maple bark ( Acer saccharum and Acer nigrum ) bleeds, a tree that reaches 40 meters high and produces 40 liters of syrup a year. But the syrup does not reach the consumer as it leaves the tree. The juice obtained is condensed at temperatures above 100 ° C. The organic syrup differs from the conventional one in that it has not been obtained through solvent substances, foam inhibitors or bleaching agents, among other substances. As for the composition, it contains 66 percent of carbohydrates, composed almost exclusively of sucrose, with 33 percent of water and traces of minerals and vitamins.

Syrups, which come from Canada - the flag is made of maple - and the United States, can be obtained in different grades of quality (A or B if it is from the United States, or 1, 2 and 3, if it comes from Canada ) and are distinguished by coloring. The clearest, softest and most expensive - with an A or 1 rating - are those obtained at the beginning of the season. Those that qualify with the letter B or 3 have a stronger flavor and dark color.

The sweetening capacity of the concentrated product is clearly greater than that of conventional sugar. Therefore, in recipes it is enough to take half of the indicated amount of sugar. It is excellent in pumpkin and apple pies, carrot and spicy cakes, muffins, pancakes and waffles.

Agave honey comes from the cacti of the family agaváceas . In Mexico there are approximately 300 varieties of agaváceas. In the Mediterranean we know them as pitas. A thick, golden color juice is extracted from the blue agaves, sisal and others. It is mead or agave honey. The blue agave variety was the most used, but as it is also used to make tequila, world reserves are scarce. The wild agave is currently being used, which has become a source of income for some indigenous communities.

A single plant can produce up to 900 liters in four months. Expert hands can extract all the juice from the bud - the pineapple - from the plant with just a few cuts. This juice can be considered a pure natural food.

However, the product that is marketed and that arrives in Europe is agave syrup. This is made by heating the juice until complex carbohydrates - the agave inulin - are transformed into fructose and thickened. The transformation can also be carried out by enzymes, which causes less nutrient losses. The result is a less viscous liquid than honey, which can acquire different shades and contains some iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium.

The high fructose content - 92 percent of sugars, more than any other natural sweetener - has advantages and disadvantages. As it transforms into glucose slowly, it would be recommended in general and especially for people who must control the glycemic load of foods, such as diabetics. But some experts believe that high doses of fructose overload the liver, raise triglycerides and accelerate the formation of uric acid, among other metabolic disorders. Therefore, they recommend that another sweetener be chosen or that agave be used in very small doses.

Wheat, rice, corn or barley malts are interesting alternatives for relatively healthy sweetening. Its main feature is that cereals are transformed naturally as they are malted, that is, they are soaked and germinated. After germination, the shoots are harvested, crushed and left in water until they ferment and thicken. In this way, part of their carbohydrates are transformed into maltose (composed of glucose).

They develop a lower ability to sweeten than sucrose and have a characteristic aroma . They have a broad spectrum of nutrients, including proteins and minerals . However, conventional malts may contain pesticide residues. That is why ecological options are always preferable. Malted barley syrup is made with integral malt. It provides 65 percent maltose and 30 percent complex carbohydrates. It is a good substitute for table sugar and is used in cookies, breads, muffins and carob recipes.

Brown rice syrup is made with fermented brown rice and malted brown barley. It is maltose in 50 percent and complex carbohydrates in 37 percent. It has a mild flavor that allows it to be used as a general substitute for table sugar . The syrup can be dried to make a granulated sweetener that replaces sugar in pastry recipes (except in white meringues and cakes, due to its brown-brown color).

Other sweeteners in the form of syrups are those of apple, pear or sea buckthorn. They are made by cooking whole fruits at very low temperatures until a thick syrup is obtained. They can also be made from juice, but the former are preferable. Its composition is a combination of fructose, glucose and sucrose.

In the kitchen they work well in pastries, except in recipes with chocolate. They are excellent for making homemade lemonade and for adding to yogurt.

Carob powder is obtained from the fruits of carob ( Ceratonia siliqua ), a native tree of the Mediterranean regions. Its fruit is shaped like a flat pod that can reach 20 centimeters in length and two centimeters in width. Inside there are seeds surrounded by sweet pulp, which can be dried to grind it later. The taste of this powder resembles chocolate, but without bitter aftertaste or exciting components. It also contains abundant vitamins and minerals (calcium, iron and phosphorus).

Stevia has reached the category of cult plant . It is the super-sweet and heat-free natural solution. The Stevia rebaudiana leaf has been traditionally used in Paraguay, where it is called sweet grass. In herbodietics, the dry extract is found, even sweeter: 80 times more than sugar!

The prestige of the plant increased when the United States banned in 1991 the commercialization of its active substance glycoside of stevia, a white powder 200 times sweeter than az az Car for doubts about your health security. Many interpreted that the government acted under the pressure of the sugar industry.

Stevia seems to have medicinal properties. Its advocates say that it helps in the treatment of diabetes and that it is more antioxidant than green tea. Another attraction is that it could be grown in the garden. Stevioside-based sweeteners are already found in herbodiettics and even in supermarkets.

Knowing the sweet options offered by natural nutrition helps to follow a diet rich in nuances of flavor and diversity of nutrients . They are the real and healthy alternatives to the ubiquitous refined sugar and the risks of natural sweeteners.


The best natural sweeteners

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