Sweeteners FAQs

The Real Food Living FAQ and reprints are provided as information only. The comments contained in the FAQ are the opinions of our readers. Before making any radical changes in your diet, please talk with your personal health care provider.

1. GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT SWEETENERS

1.1. What kind of sugars are there other than white sugar?

A. Here is a list of the common sugars available in the US:

Fructose is a refined and simple sugar made from fruit juices, corn, or corn syrup. Know your source. Pardon my tangent, but just because it says it is fructose, or you find it in a health food store, does not mean it is healthy. This is true of any processed food or sweetener, read your labels!!

Brown sugar is refined cane or beet sugar with molasses still on the sugar crystals. Most US sugar manufacturers refine the sugar completely and then add the molasses back in specific amounts: the more molasses, the darker the color. Brown sugar is not a healthy alternative to white sugar.

Maple syrup is the distilled sap of the sugar maple tree. There are grades of maple syrup. We prefer Grade B.

Maple sugar is dehydrated (crystallized) maple syrup.

Barley malt syrup is sprouted barley. Also check your labels, some barley malt is mixed with corn syrup. You want to look for 100% barley.

Brown rice syrup is made of brown rice and various enzymes.

Concentrated fruit juice is 100% juice simmered to a thick syrup.

Date sugar is made from ground, dehydrated dates.

Sucanat is made from sugar cane juice which is dehydrated only. There are many different products now using the name Sucanat; SUgar CAne NATural. Again, do some checking and read your labels. Some brands are nothing more than coarse sugar and molasses. We recommend organic, whole sugar cane sucanat.

Honey is made from distilled flower nectar in a bee’s stomach. (Aren’t you GLAD you asked? :^D )

Look for your honey “Raw” and purchase it locally if possible. Imported honey does not have the same requirements for additives that US honey has. Also honey gathered from your local area is reported to help build up the body’s immunities to local allergens. Also, it helps your local beekeeper and helps them build your local economy.

1.2. What are the substitution ratios for the different sugars compared to regular table sugar?

A. Fructose: 1/2 cup fructose – 1 cup white sugar.

Maple Syrup: 3/4 cup maple syrup for 1 cup white sugar. Reduce liquid in recipe by 3 tablespoons. Add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda per cup maple syrup. Be sure to buy pure U.S. organic syrup. Some maple producers still use illegal formaldehyde pellets and other additives during processing to kill mold spores so that the syrup has a longer shelf life.

Maple Sugar: 1 cup maple sugar = 1 cup white sugar. Add 1/8 teaspoon baking soda per cup maple sugar to offset the acidity in baking or cooking.

Barley malt syrup: Substitute 1 1/3 cups barley malt for 1 cup white sugar. Reduce liquid in recipe by 1/4 cup. Add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda per cup barley malt. Purchase only 100% barley malt, not barley/corn malt syrup. It is a strong flavor and is usually used in combination with other sugars such as molasses in foods like gingerbread, baked beans, and bread.

Brown rice syrup: Substitute 1 1/3 cups for 1 cup white sugar. Reduce liquid 1/4 cup per cup of rice syrup. Add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda per 1 cup of rice syrup. In baking, rice syrup is most often combined with maple syrup.

Concentrated fruit juice: Substitute 2/3 cup concentrate for 1 cup white sugar. Reduce liquid 1/3 cup per cup fruit concentrate. Add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda per cup fruit concentrate. Reduce oven 25 degrees and adjust baking time for a slightly longer period. Some concentrates such as orange are more acidic than others.

Date sugar: Substitute 1 cup for 1 cup white sugar. Add hot water to dissolve date sugar before using in batters. Use it in combination with other sweeteners such as maple syrup or honey. Lower baking temp 25 degrees and adjust baking time for a longer period.

Sucanat: Use 1 cup sucanat per 1 cup white sugar. Add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda per cup dried cane juice. Be sure to purchase organic because any pesticides and chemicals used on the cane will be concentrated during processing. (Some people do not like the stronger aftertaste of sucanat.)

Honey: Substituting honey for sugar seems to be a matter of taste. Some people use it cup for cup, others prefer 1/2 cup – 2/3 cup of honey per cup of white sugar. Reduce the amount of other liquids by 1/4 cup for every cup of honey used. Lower the oven temp about 25 degrees F to prevent over-browning and add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda for each cup of honey to your batter. (Honey is naturally acidic and the baking soda tempers it.)

1.3. I’m a diabetic (adult onset). Why is fructose better for me than regular table sugar?

A. Crystalline fructose is a refined and simple sugar. It will not raise blood sugars as high as table sugar (sucrose), but it will still raise blood sugars. Sucrose will break down into glucose and fructose, and actually affects blood sugar levels less than starch, which is broken down quickly into pure glucose (“New Sugar Guidelines” in DIABETES SELF-MANAGEMENT, July/Aug 94). This is why the glycemic index of a potato is so high compared to ice cream. Ice cream has fat and protein combined with the sugar which slows down the absorption, causing a lesser affect on blood sugar levels.

If you want to avoid refined sweeteners, don’t let the healthy-sounding name and its ubiquitous presence in the health food store fool you! It’s true that fructose is the chief sugar found in fruit (along with sucrose and glucose). It is also one of the sugars found in honey (again, along with glucose and sucrose). However, it is a very highly processed sugar and is, believe it or not, more frequently derived from *corn* than from fruit. Unless your fructose is specifically labeled otherwise, assume that it came from corn and is like very highly refined corn starch. Since it takes the body longer to convert fructose to glucose so there is less of an effect on blood sugar. However, it has risks as well: it may put one at risk of heart disease and high blood pressure and has been shown to raise triglyceride levels.
If you are a diabetic, PLEASE follow your health care provider’s advice on total sugar intake and in regulating your blood sugar. Ask for specific and clear directions before making any modifications to your diet.

1.4. What do the different labels on honey jars mean?

A. “unprocessed” – has not been altered by heat, filter, or additives “organic” – this is pretty much a farce since beekeepers cannot control where a bee gets its pollen! There is no way to know if the bees did not visit a field or plant which was sprayed with pesticides. “Pure”, “Grade A”, and “natural” have no bearing on the quality of the honey. “Raw” means that the honey was not pasteurized. Most commercial honey is pasteurized, meaning it is heated above 110 degrees to have the dextrose mix with the other sugars and it will not crystallize as quickly. This process also depletes some of the nutrients of the honey, but does NOT kill the botulism spores. Remember not to give any type of honey to any baby up to one year old.

1.5. How can I make my own fruit juice concentrate?

A. First, try to use 100% fruit juice, with NO corn syrup, fructose or white sugar added. If you read the labels of many canned juices, you will see that these are common additives. Try to use freshly squeezed organic juices so that there are minimal chemical residues. The best juices to use are apple, grape and pear.

Place 1 quart fruit juice in a heavy saucepan and heat mixture over medium-high heat until juice comes to a boil. Reduce heat, and keep on a slow boil, stirring occasionally until the 4 cups are reduced to 1 cup fruit juice concentrate. If reduced to less than a cup, add enough water to bring measurement back to one cup. Cool, place in an airtight container, and freeze. If you would like to have fruit juice concentrate available in smaller amounts, freeze the concentrate in ice cube trays. Once frozen, pop the cubes out into a freezer bag and remove as needed. One cube of concentrate is approximately 2 tablespoons of liquid; 2 cubes = approximately 1/4 cup.

1.6. Which is Healthier? Honey or Sugar?

A. Honey contains at least 15 nutrients whereas sugar has none. Honey is an aid to digestion when taken in the raw state due to its enzyme content while sugar interferes with digestion. Honey enters the bloodstream slowly, 2 calories per minute. Sugar enters quickly at 10 calories per minute, causing blood sugars to fluctuate rapidly and wildly. Sugar causes calcium leakage from bones, contributing to osteoporosis while honey does not. That’s pretty straight-forward, isn’t it?

1.7. I bought this big jug of honey and it is all crystallized on the bottom. Should I throw it away?

A. Granulation is a natural process of pure honey. All honey will granulate in time, but never spoils unless it gets moisture in it, then it sours. Granulation does not affect honey’s taste or purity. It may be used granulated or restored to liquid. Place your container in pan of warm water to restore. If you have a large container, try covering the container with a plastic trash bag, and place the container outside in the sun. The honey should gently warm and return to liquid. You can then pour some out into smaller containers.
1.8. How can I cut down on the sugar in my diet? I really want to have a cookie now and then!
A. The easiest way to cut your sugar intake is to READ the LABEL on every product you buy. The average American consumes almost 100 pounds of sugar per year and three-quarters of this comes from processed foods. According to Kathy Dinaburg and D’Ann Akel, R.D., in Nutrition Survival Kit, the prime offenders are canned fruits and children’s breakfast cereals, which contain the entire recommended daily intake of sugar (1 tablespoon) per serving, cola, which has 1 tablespoon per 4 ounce and gelatin with 2 tablespoons per half cup. But sugar is added to many non-sweet products as well – soups, breads, condiments such as mayonnaise, mustard and catsup, and even table salt.

1.9. But the label doesn’t say “sugar” it says “corn syrup”. That’s a natural sugar, isn’t it? And what about glucose and dextrose? (I’m sure there are others, too.)

A. If you remember back in the dark ages of high school when you took chemistry, you will remember that compounds ending in “-ose” are sugars. Look for them whenever you read your label. Remember that, other than honey, maple syrup and fruit juice, ALL sugars are refined in some way. Even molasses is a by-product of sugar refining! High Fructose Corn Syrup is definitely a sugar and a highly processed one. This is the one to stay away from.

1.10. Can I have all of the “healthy” sugars I want?

A. Not unless you don’t need to worry about your total caloric intake and affecting your body’s immune system! And if you are concerned about cavities, sugar is sugar is sugar…. Whatever the application, moderation is always in order!!

1.11. What about molasses?

A. Regarding molasses, there are two types. One (which includes blackstrap as an extreme example) is not a whole food, but is a heavily cooked, residual by-product of the refined sugar industry. The other type of molasses is a whole food–the heavily cooked sweet syrup of the sugar cane. Its processing is very similar to the processing of maple syrup: long cooking.

CONVERSION CHART FOR HONEY:

  • 1 C. sugar = 3/4 C. honey minus 1/4 C. liquid or plus 4 Tbs. flour plus 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 C. sugar = 6 Tbs. honey minus 2 Tbs. liquid or plus 2 Tbs. flour plus 1/8 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/3 C. sugar = 1/4 C. honey minus 1 1/2 Tbs. liquid or plus 1 1/2 Tbs. flour plus 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 C. sugar = 3 Tbs. honey minus 1 Tbs. liquid or plus 1 Tbs. flour plus 1/16 tsp. baking soda

Hint: cook cakes and other baked goods made with honey on lower temperature.

Hint: honey will soften cookie batters. If you want the crisp variety of cookies, add 4 Tbs. flour for each 3/4 cup honey used.

2. GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT SUGAR SUBSTITUTES

2.1. I really like using artificial sweeteners. They save me a LOT of calories. Is this bad for me?

A. Aspartame, the chemical name for NutraSweet, consists of three components: phenylalanine, aspartic acid and methanol. Aspartame is highly toxic to those who have inherited the disease phenylketonuria. In these individuals, amino acids accumulate in toxic amounts in the body and the phenylalanine in aspartame can be very dangerous for them. The commonly reported complaints of those using aspartame include: malaise, nausea, diarrhea, recurrent headaches, dizziness and visual disturbances. Because of these reports, many people who follow a “whole foods” diet try not to use artificial sweeteners. Instead, we work to re-train our taste buds to appreciate the natural flavors in coffee and tea without adding sweetener. Aspartame can not be called a “natural sweetener” and is not truly part of a whole foods diet.

Saccharine has a warning on its label stating that a link to bladder cancer has been established in laboratory animals who ingested it. Saccharine is still an approved food additive according to the FDA and is commonly found in products such as toothpaste. Please do your own research and draw your own conclusions.

Sucralose (Splenda) is the chemically-altered new guy on the market. Don’t be fooled by slick marketing, it is NOT sugar. Splenda’s marketing states: “The process selectively replaces three hydrogen-oxygen groups on the sugar molecule with three chlorine atoms.” Sucralose is neither natural nor healthy and is not sugar.

2.2. I’ve heard that stevia is a good herbal alternative. Can you tell me more about it?

The following excerpt is from the book: Stevia Rebaudiana (Nature’s Sweet Secret) by David Richard. Published by: Blue Heron Press, PO Box 544 Bloomingdale, IL 60108

A. Stevia Rebaudiana is an herb in the Chrysanthemum family which grows wild as a small shrub in parts of Paraguay and Brazil. The glycosides in its leaves, including up to 10% Stevioside, account for its incredible sweetness, making it unique among the nearly 300 species of Stevia plants.

2.3. Can Stevia replace sugar in the diet?

A. Yes. Refined sugar is virtually devoid of nutritional benefits and, at best, represents empty calories in the diet. At worst, it has been implicated in numerous degenerative diseases. Stevia is much sweeter than sugar and has none of sugar’s unhealthy drawbacks.

2.4. Can Stevia replace artificial sweeteners in the diet?

A. Yes! I do not believe that humans should consume anything artificial in their diets. Stevia offers a safe, all natural alternative to these “toxic time-bombs”. And industrial usage in Japan has proven that Stevia is both practical and economical.

2.5. Can I use Stevia if I am a diabetic?

A. Diabetes is a medical condition which should be monitored and treated by a qualified physician or health care practitioner. However, Stevia can be a part of a healthy diet for anyone with blood sugar problems since it is not believed to raise blood sugar levels. If in doubt, ask your doctor. However, if they say no, ask them politely for current research to support their opinion.

2.6. What can’t I do with Stevia?

A. Stevia does not caramelize the same way that sugar does. It also does not provide bulk.

2.7. How can I use stevia to replace sugar?

A. Since Stevia is 10-15 times sweeter than sugar, this is a fair replacement factor. Since the crude herb may vary in strength, some experimentation may be necessary. The high Stevioside extracts are between 200-300 times sweeter that sugar and should be used sparingly.

Stevia Powder – Green: Replace 1 cup of sugar with 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of Stevia. Results may vary, depending on the brand and grade of the product used.

Stevia Extract Powder - White: Replace 1 cup of sugar with approximately 1/4 teaspoon of Stevia extract. Results may vary, depending on the brand and grade of the product used. We prefer NuNaturals.

Stevia Liquid: We prefer Sweetleaf clear or flavored. Use only a drop or two and work up. Tastes differ and results may vary, depending on the brand and grade of the product used.

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About Vickilynn Haycraft

A student of health and nutrition for 30 years, Vickilynn Haycraft has over 25 years of actual hands-on experience reviewing and personally using different tools of the homemaking vocation, focusing on the areas of health and nutrition. Vickilynn is a magazine columnist, product reviewer, cookbook author and now radio talk show host, as well as being full-time wife and mom to 5 children. Read Vickilynn's Product Reviews and Family Preparedness Articles at Examiner.com. She blogs at the Real Food Living Blog.