Here's an excerpt from Lesson 34 of the Vegan / Vegetarian Mastery Program. It provides the lowdown on 15 different sweeteners. Next to almost every one, you’ll see its glycemic index rating.
As we explain in Lesson 33 of the Mastery Program, the glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly carbohydrates are broken down and absorbed into your blood. All carbohydrates are given a score relative to pure glucose, which has a score of 100. Low GI foods are those with scores of 55 or lower, and high-GI foods have a score of 70 or above.
For comparison sake, table sugar has a GI of 84.
GI: 40 to 62
Unlike refined sweeteners, blended fruits are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Ritamarie’s favorites are blended bananas, peaches, mangos, pears, and apples. Obviously, fruits have distinctive flavors. So use them in recipes where their flavors would be a welcome addition.
See the lesson on “Vegan Baking” for more on using bananas in baked goods. If you’re not raw, you can use apple sauce too. But as we explained in the “Raw vs. Cooked” lesson, fruits contain heat-sensitive vitamins and phytochemicals. So apple sauce is less nutritious than blended raw apples.
Barley malt syrup
Made from boiled down barley, it has a stronger flavor than brown rice syrup, but a milder flavor than molasses. It’s closer to a whole food than most sweeteners, second only to fruit and dried fruit. Less expensive versions contain a hybrid of barley and corn. Meredith recommends Eden Organic brand barley malt, which has 100% organic sprouting barley.
Whereas simple sugars (fructose, glucose, and sucrose) can cause blood sugar spikes, the complex carbs in barley malt syrup break down slowly. They metabolize slowly and evenly in your body, providing an ongoing source of energy.
Ritamarie points out that it may contain traces of gluten, which could be a problem for those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance. So avoid this if you have an autoimmune or neurologic disease, as gluten intolerance can be a contributing factor.
Brown rice syrup or brown rice malt syrup
Made from fermented rice, brown rice syrup contains trace amounts of B vitamins, potassium, protein, and calcium. For desserts that are supposed to rise or thicken, Meredith recommends brown rice malt syrup over the regular kind.
Both are closer to whole foods than most sweeteners, second only to fruit and dried fruit. Their complex carbs break down slowly. They metabolize slowly and evenly in your body, providing an ongoing source of energy.
Coconut palm sugar
This sugar is reported to be the dehydrated sweet juices of tropical coconut palm sugar blossoms. It’s produced by climbing high into the canopy of swaying coconuts and harvesting the sweet nectar by gently slicing the flower. It’s organic, unprocessed, unfiltered, and unbleached. Once collected, the nectars are kettle-boiled into a thick caramel and ground to a fine crystal high. Ritamarie explains that it’s high in potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron and even contains several B vitamins.
GI: 36 to 62
Dates are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Cherie finds that their mild flavor is easily camouflaged by other ingredients. She uses soaked, blended dates to thicken raw puddings, pie fillings, and sauces. When she needs a binding agent for raw pie crusts, cakes, or cookies, she blends unsoaked dates with nuts and/or dried coconut — using a food processor.
GI: 30 to 64
Dried fruits have a stronger, more distinct flavor than their fresh counterparts. So pick a fruit that complements your recipe. Cherie uses dried fruits to thicken and bind desserts. For example:
She uses dried mission figs to complement chocolate. She uses raisins to give depth to raw graham cracker crusts. And she blends soaked dried fruit with its fresh counterpart to create a thick mousse. (She finds that mangoes and pineapples are delicious prepared this way.)
To make syrup-like sweeteners, Ritamarie rehydrates dried figs, raisins, apricots, and goji berries (by soaking them in water). Then she blends them with water.
Like fresh fruit, dried fruits are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. However, they’re higher in fructose, and higher on the GI. Cherie points out that non-organic dried fruit may be coated with sulfur dioxide. So organic is recommended.
Evaporated cane juice
This dried or crystallized, unrefined juice comes from sugar cane. Cane sugars are about 96% sucrose and 4% minerals. Ritamarie explains that this 4% difference slows down blood sugar changes at a statistically significant level.
Cherie describes its color and flavor as “similar to brown sugar, but deeper, with more molasses”. She uses it to replace white or brown sugar in desserts, especially in raw graham cracker crusts and fruit crisp toppings… or anytime she wants a brown sugar flavor. She recommends the Rapadura brand.
GI: 44 to 58
We recommend raw honey because it contains pollen, enzymes, and trace amounts of nutrients. However, even when it’s raw, Ritamarie explains that honey is rapidly absorbed. Cherie concurs, explaining that it increases blood sugar more quickly than white sugar, so it’s not recommended for infants or small children. Even adults should use it sparingly.
Cherie uses maca powder to thicken smoothies and shakes… and to replace flour in raw cakes and cookies. She describes it as having a “slightly sweet, malt-like taste”.
Maca powder comes from a root-like vegetable shaped like a radish, which grows high in the Andes mountains in South America. It’s rich in calcium and potassium. It’s also reported to be a natural hormone balancer that increases energy, libido, and stamina.
Maple syrup is made from the boiled sap of the maple tree. It has fewer calories than honey, but a few more minerals. It’s 65% sucrose and 35% water.
Cherie implores students to use only organic pure maple syrup, because anything less could be genetically modified corn syrup, with as little as 3% maple syrup! She also explains that maple butter and maple sugar are more highly concentrated than the syrup.
Cherie uses it mesquite powder to thicken shakes and smoothies… and even replace flour in cakes, cookies, and pie crusts. She describes its flavor as “mildly sweet and caramel-like”. It helps regulate other carbohydrates and helps curb your appetite.
Molasses and muscovado sugar
This is a slightly sweet, intensely flavored syrup (or sugar) that’s left over after the processing of cane and/or beet sugar. Because of it’s deep flavor, Cherie loves using it in cookies, especially ginger and spice cookies.
She explains that first-press molasses is light in color and flavor. Repeated boiling results in dark blackstrap molasses Blackstrap molasses and muscovado sugar are 65% sucrose. Both contain measurable amounts of iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium, making it more nutritious than most sweeteners.
Derived from the leaf of the stevia plant, this herb has been used as a sweetener in South America for hundreds of years. Cherie and Ritamarie explain that it has no calories, no effect on your body’s production of insulin, and does not elevate blood-sugar levels.
It’s 200-300 times sweeter than sugar, so only tiny amounts are needed for sweetening. It comes in both powder and liquid form.
The downside of Stevia is its strong aftertaste, which Cherie describes as “licorice-like”. Ritamarie neutralizes the aftertaste by combining 1 part Stevia with 12 parts xylitol. She also points out that whole, fresh green leaf Stevia has less of an aftertaste than the white powder.
Ritamarie explains that xylitol is found in fibrous vegetables and fruit, like plums, raspberries and cauliflower as well as in corn cobs and birch tree bark. Your body produces up to 15 grams of it daily during normal metabolism.
Xylitol is a five-carbon sugar, which means that it is anti-microbial, whereas all other forms of sugar are six-carbon sugars, which cause bacteria and fungi overgrowth. It inhibits yeast, plaque and dental cavities, retards demineralization, and promotes re-mineralization of tooth enamel.
This syrup is made from the root of the yacon plant, a Peruvian, sweet potato like tuber. Ritamarie explains that it has a high concentration of inulin and fructo oligo saccarides, which provide fuel for your intestinal microorganisms and very few calories.
It’s been used in South America to lower blood sugar in those with diabetes and to improve digestion. Some sources say it’s heated to 120-140 degrees, other sources claim their process leaves it raw.
Cherie describes its flavor as “mild and sweet, with a moist, crunchy texture slightly reminiscent of fresh-picked apple, pineapple, and watermelon.”
What about agave nectar, aspartame, splenda, saccharin, and sunette? We cover these in Lesson 34 of the Vegan/Vegetarian Mastery Program. There's also a lengthy article on the unique benefits of xylitol.
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Internationally recognized speaker, author and mentor, Dr. Ritamarie Loscalzo is the “Woman’s Fatigue Expert and Vibrant Health Mentor.”