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It’s a fact that Ireland is getting fatter and, as people strive to buck the trend while still occasionally satisfying a sweet tooth, we’re frequently asked which of the many natural sweeteners we recommend people to use. Firstly I’d say it’s a matter of frequency. If your sweet treat is a once a week indulgence your choice will have less impact, if it’s more often think carefully. Before thinking about sweeteners at all give some thought to other refined carbohydrates like white flour and pasta and maybe cut them out or way down first. Then look at some of the unrefined natural sweeteners you can use in your own cooking and which are finding their way more and more into bought products.


Natural Sweeteners options:

stevia imageStevia is extracted from the leaves of a plant called Stevia rebaudiana and has been used for sweetening for centuries in South America. It’s compounds make it many times sweeter than sugar without any of the calories. It has been linked with health benefits like lowering elevated blood pressure and lowering blood sugar levels in diabetics. However… many people dislike the taste of Stevia. It does depend on the brand though, you may need to experiment to find one that you like.

How to use Stevia: Unlike raw honey, stevia is heat stable, so feel free to use it in any way you desire. Remember, it’s 200 times sweeter than sugar, so don’t use it in the same ratio. For baking, this can present a problem, as refined sugar gives bulk to recipes. However, this can be easily rectified. To make up for the lost bulk when using stevia, use 1/3 to ½ cup of one of the following bulking agents: fresh fruit puree, yogurt, roasted winter squash, two whipped egg whites, or you can use 1–2 tablespoons of coconut flour.

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol with a sweetness similar to sugar. It contains 2.4 calories per gram, or about 75% of the caloric value of sugar. It appears to have some benefits for dental health, reducing the risk of cavities and dental decay. It may also improve bone density, helping to prevent osteoporosis and it doesn’t raise blood sugar or insulin levels.

How to use Xylitol: Because xylitol has approximately the same sweetness as sugar it makes it quite easy to substitute in existing recipes. However it can be gritty and if you don’t want that try grinding in a food processor or pestle and mortar.
coconut sugar imageCoconut Sugar is a natural sugar made from the sap of the flowering bud of the coconut palm. One way it differs from regular table sugar is that it contains several nutrients such as potassium, calcium, iron, zinc and antioxidants. Coconut Palm Sugar is often touted as a low-glycemic sweetener, and while it is a bit better than regular white sugar, it has the negative effects of sugar and should be used sparingly.

How to use Coconut Sugar: Use coconut sugar in your favorite recipes, for it measures just like sugar! It’s a bit more coarse than refined sugar, but that is ok. Add the amount of sugar that is called for in a recipe to your food processor and give it a whirl until you get the desired texture.Or you can dissolve the coconut sugar in the liquids called for in the recipe. However, dissolving the sugar is not recommended when making a recipe that calls for “creaming” ingredients together – like for cakes or cookies.

Honey: If you’re going to use a sweetener, raw honey is a good option in moderation. Some benefits of honey are that it’s effective in the treatment of colds, flu, respiratory infections, and a generally depressed immune system. Consuming local raw honey can also prevent seasonal allergies. Honey has more nutrients than white sugar, but don’t be mistaken—it will still spike your blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes, pre-diabetes, or insulin sensitivity, you will have to use it very sparingly.

How to use Raw Honey: First, don’t cook with raw honey. Drizzle it on breakfast cereals, over your toast, on yogurt and for salad dressings.You want to maintain as many of the nutrients in honey as possible, so keep it away from the heat. If you enjoy honey in your tea or coffee, wait until the drink is just tepid enough to sip comfortably, and then add honey to taste.

Molasses can be a good choice because it’s mineral-rich—it’s full of Blackstrap molasses imagemanganese, copper, iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Look for blackstrap molasses, it’s the form with most nutrients.

How to use Blackstrap Molasses: Molasses has a unique, rich flavor. It may not be appealing for some to use for topping toast, porridges or other concentrated applications. However, it’s a perfect sweetener for marinades and to use in baking. You can even make a brown sugar alternative by adding two tablespoons of molasses to ½ cup coconut sugar to replace the sugar a recipe calls for. Put the coconut sugar and the molasses in a food processor, and pulse until the consistency of commercial brown sugar is reached.

Maple Syrup has been used for centuries as an all-natural sweetener. While it is high in sugar it does contain some vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iron, and zinc—unlike refined sugar. While it is a better choice than refined sugar, it’s still important to have in moderation. It’s also very important to make sure that you purchase real maple syrup, not a product masquerading as maple syrup that’s actually made of corn syrup. As always, be sure to read the ingredient list to make sure you are getting 100% real maple syrup.

How to use Maple SyrupMaple syrup is heat stable, so you can use it in virtually any application. Add it to marinades, glazes and sauces and use for baking. Use it to sweeten homemade granola and your morning coffee or tea. For a glaze for cookies or cakes, heat until just barely simmering and add the coconut-powdered sugar from above. Stir until smooth, allow to cool to room temperature and then drizzle away!


Susan Jane White’s last book The Virtuous Tart (and indeed her blog) are great sources of recipes using more wholesome sweetening ingredients!  One thing to remember even when using natural sweeteners is everything in moderation!  The above sweeteners may provide more nutrition than refined table sugar however no one should really be depending on sweeteners to get their nutrition from.  And apart from Stevia all the above alternatives will still raise your blood sugar levels, the key to try and minimise the rise in blood sugar levels is to make sure your sweet treat contains some protein and/or fat and is this something that the chefs (like Oliver McCabe, Susan Jane White, The Happy Pear etc.) of today seem to be mastering.  Including nuts, seeds, avocados and coconut oil in your recipes slows down the absorption of sugar in the blood and gives a more sustained energy hit!

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]If you’re trying to decrease your sugar intake (including the alternatives) don’t forget that supplementation can help you on the way to better blood sugar balance and less energy troughs and mood swings. Try supplementing with chromium. It is an essential part of the metabolic processes that regulate blood sugar, and helps insulin transport glucose into cells, where it can be used for energy. Cinnamon has also been shown to improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin. There are several supplements containing both.

Don’t worry you can still have your cake and eat it, just not everyday!![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]