Sweeteners 101

Ever since we started our 100 Days of Real Food pledge it seems like we have been getting a lot of questions about sugar and other sweeteners. Can’t we have sugar? Isn’t it natural? Yes, I suppose it is technically “natural” since it is made from the sugar cane plant, but it is also a highly processed version of this plant similar to how white flour is made from the wheat plant. If we are going to start classifying things in this manner we could also technically say high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is “natural” since it is made from corn. And despite the mixed research on if HFCS is really worse for you than good ol’ white sugar, according to Michal Pollan, it just happens to be “a reliable marker for a food product that has been highly processed”.

A sweetener like honey can also be considered natural and somewhat “processed”, although the work is done by bees out in nature as opposed to in a factory. All of these (as well as other sweeteners) are high in energy and low in nutrients, although an alternative like honey or maple syrup might be slightly better in the nutrition department. According to Michael Pollan the moral of this story is that “sugar is sugar” and “organic sugar is sugar too.” In processed food there are “now some forty types of sugar used” including:

barley malt, beet sugar, brown rice syrup, cane juice, corn sweetener, dextrin, dextrose, fructo-oligosaccharides, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, sucrose, invert sugar, polydextrose, sucrose, turbinado sugar

There are also the sweeteners you can find in the grocery store baking aisle such as:

Splenda, Equal, agave syrup, corn syrup, molasses, maple syrup, Sweet-n-Low, brown sugar

No matter what kind of sugar you decide to use we think there are a couple of key takeaways:

  • Consume any and all types of sugar in moderation mainly trying to reserve them for special occasions.
  • When it comes to store-bought foods avoid those “that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three ingredients” according to Pollan.
  • Given the choice go with a natural option like honey or even white sugar as opposed to the artificial stuff like aspartame (or Splenda).

As far as our 100 Days of Real Food rules go, we chose honey and 100% maple syrup as acceptable choices because they are made in nature and less often found in highly processed foods. This rule has resulted in us having to make from scratch anything we eat that contains a sweetener. Trust me when I tell you, I have searched high and low for a store-bought product containing 5 or less ingredients and honey or maple syrup as the sweetener. One may exist, but I have not found it. So this rule greatly helps us not only reduce, but also regulate our consumption of “sweets” since we have to make everything ourselves.

Posts may contain affiliate links. If you purchase a product through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but 100 Days of Real Food will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated and helps us spread our message!
  • Comments

    1. Debbie |

      Is molasses acceptable in cooking and baking. Is it considered natural?

      • Amy Taylor (comment moderator) |

        Hi Debbie. Molasses is not something we use as a sweetener. For pledge purposes only maple syrup and honey are permitted. Outside of the pledge, molasses might be considered slightly more processed but it is better than refined sugars and has a slightly better nutrient profile. It it has a pretty strong taste, however, and is not as versatile as honey and maple. ~Amy

    2. Brenda |

      I am a diabetic on insulin only. Is steiva in the raw an option?

    3. Sarah |

      What are your thoughts on Monk Fruit in the Raw?

      • Amy Taylor (comment moderator) |

        Hi Sarah. I’ve not tried it and really have not developed an opinion on it. Here is a bit of info and they breifly address that brand: http://www.mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/stories/what-is-monk-fruit. It contains dextrose as well and I am uncertain as to the extraction/processing practices. ~Amy

    4. Netty |

      What is your take on Organic palm sugar? same? processed? or raw cane syrup?

      • Cindy |

        Curious about raw cane syrup. It’s a favorite in my home country (S.Africa).

      • Amy Taylor (comment moderator) |

        Hi Netty. For pledge purposes, only honey and maple syrup are approved. Outside of the pledge, we look at any added sugar as sugar. Some may be slightly higher in some nutrients and minerals but we look at sugar as sugar no matter the form. I personally use coconut palm sugar but I use it very sparingly. ;)

    5. Kristy |

      I need a sweetener in my coffee. I had switched to stevia, the white refined kind, but read that the high heat and high amount of processing made it not such a great choice, so I switched back to sugar. What is a good, whole food, clean sweetener for coffee?

      • Amy Taylor (comment moderator) |

        Hi Kristi. Lisa often uses maple syrup. My coffee sweetener of choice is a small amount of coconut palm sugar.

    6. Jalisa |

      What about organic jaggery? I just heard about it and it (organically produced) sounds like a tropical equivalent of maple syrup (tap the sap, boil it down). I’m quite intrigued since I don’t always like the taste of maple or honey for everything. I love brown sugar so I’m trying to find a good alternative for it in baking. Thanks!

      • Amy Taylor (comment moderator) |

        Hi. Honestly, that was anew sugar term for me. :) For pledge purposes, we stick with honey and maple. Outside of the pledge, you have to decide what option works best for you while keeping the sugar to a minimum. It does look like it is one of the lesser processed forms.

    1 6 7 8

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *