So here I am again!
I often get asked which sweetener is the best one to bake with. I’ve played with this one for years. I am definitely a sweet-treat-loving person! A day without dessert is sad day indeed. I love my sweet treats, and I love to bake. But I also like to be healthy. Can I have it all?
This is such a tricky question, and the answer is…. sort of. Maybe? Let’s delve in.
First of all, we’ll start with this tidbit.
All sugars are going to do one of two things:
Energy, or fat. That’s it.
No matter which type of sugar you eat, this is the end result!
All sugars are made up of glucose and fructose.
Too much of either isn’t great.
While there may be some benefits to using sweeteners other than white sugar, after sugars go through the stomach and enter the small intestine, your body doesn’t differentiate which type of sugar you ate. For real. It does not care.
This is KEY.
Let’s recap. You eat something sweet. Your body at this point will just evaluate how much sugar is already in your system.
Too much of ANY sweetener can lead to weight gain. Sugar, honey, agave, whatever, it all leads down the same road.
That said, the healthiest sweeteners to use in baking would be fruits or vegetables (like sweet potato, or pumpkin, not broccoli!), because they give you the sweetness you want and also some antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and a little fibre.
(Speaking of fibre, let me just take a quick detour here and say that FIBRE is so very important for weight loss).
Fibre helps to slow metabolism, so you’ll feel a little fuller after eating fruit than after eating a chocolate bar. Maybe you’ll feel too full to eat said chocolate bar.
The fibre in fruit slows its digestion down, so that the sugar spike in your body is not as high after eating an apple as it would be if you ate candy.
You get even more fibre from vegetables, which is why sweet potatoes make a nice option for baking. You’ll definitely get more nutrients from fruits and veggies than other ”natural” sweeteners.
I do realize, though, that baking with sweet potatoes has its limits.
I bake a lot with dates and date paste (basically just dates pureed into a paste with water in the food processor), because of their high fibre, potassium content, and the fact that they taste like a healthy version of caramel! But, as with sweet potatoes and pumpkin, dates don’t lend themselves well to EVERY recipe.
Let’s do a run-down of some common sweeteners and we’ll see. We’ll start with the devil of all sugars, white sugar.
Given all this negative energy around white sugar, you may see holistic nutritionists pushing Unrefined Sugars over white sugar.
There is a bit of debate about this.
Some say that unrefined sweeteners are the next best choice for sweeteners after fruit or vegetables, because they provide some minerals and vitamins. Others say the amount of minerals and vitamins these unrefined sugars provide are too small to make a difference.
Let’s pause for a sec.
What’s an unrefined sugar?
Basically refined sugar has been stripped of its nutrients, whereas unrefined sugar keeps some of the nutrients, such as magnesium, iron, and calcium. While both forms of sugar still have calories, refined sugars are considered empty calories, because you get only the calories and no other benefits.
But like I said, some experts believe you’d have to eat a ton of these unrefined sweeteners to get the benefits, which would negate the whole being healthier thing.
So here are some common Unrefined Sugars:
I use honey over white sugar because I like the taste, and I can buy locally-made honey, which is better for the environment than buying sugar from far away countries.
*If you are vegan, Brown Rice Syrup is a good honey replacement in baking. It’s less sweet than honey and works as a great binding substance. On its own, it doesn’t taste that fantastic, however, so I wouldn’t suggest pouring it into your coffee.
So knowing all this, I still don’t eat white sugar. Even while I recognize that these other sugars are not miracle foods, I still prefer to use unrefined sugars. It may be for nothing, but it makes me feel better! At the very least in terms of my carbon footprint.
So if white sugar isn’t that much worse than other sugars, what to do?
The most impactful thing I do to cut sugar is to just reduce the overall amount of any sweeteners consume.
So that means that,
a) I bake my own treats, rather than buying store bought treats with extra sugars, and
b) if I’m baking, I’ll just reduce the amount of sweetener called for in the recipe.
The best, best sweeteners to use are fruits, such as bananas, apples, dates, and sweet potatoes. There may be small benefits to using unrefined sweeteners over white sugar.
Ultimately, the best thing to do is just cut the overall amount of sugar in your diet, and use ANY sweeteners sparingly.
The best type of sugar is the one you eat relatively little of!
I still like to bake, and bake often for my kids. So here’s the granola bar recipe I give them, which is much lower in sugar than store bought bars, even ‘organic’ ones!