As with oils, sugars and other sweeteners were an important target in cleaning up my pantry. I had been using Florida Crystals and Turbinado sugar, thinking they were better than plain white sugar. Unfortunately, it turns out they are not quite the improvement I was looking for. I wanted something that had not had all possible goodness processed out of it. Something that would not be toxic!
In general, sugar is really just not good for us. Even natural “healthy" sweeteners are not good if you eat a lot of them. Consuming sugar causes all kinds of negative cascade reactions in our bodies. It is implicated in so many common health complaints (mood/behavior, headaches, appetite control, metabolism, inflammation), as well as major disease processes. But it is so hard to cut out completely! So I am trying to find a path of mindful moderation: using healthier sweetening options, in conjunction with using less of them in general.
What I personally arrived at for best options are these:
- Grade B Maple Syrup, which has far more minerals than Grade A
- Raw Honey, preferably local
- Unrefined Coconut Sugar, made from the flower of the coconut palm
- Unsulfured Mollasses, which is relatively high in minerals
All of these are ‘natural' sweeteners, and are unrefined (I am not certain that maple syrup qualifies for this label), meaning they have undergone very little “processing"—or none at all, in the case of the honey. Honey has very important medicinal properties, in addition to being relatively low on the glycemic index as a sweetener. I use mostly honey and maple syrup, but I have also been pleased with the coconut sugar. I can get it for a good price at Trader Joe’s, particularly since I don’t go through it that fast, really. It looks a lot like brown sugar, but does not get hard as a rock. It melts quickly into my coffee, and it does not have a strong taste you have to get used to. If you can find it, Sucanat is also a good option—it is very similar to coconut sugar, but made from sugar cane. (I do still have some organic raw agave syrup in my pantry—it is useful for some things in moderation, and also relatively low on the glycemic index, though still not really good for you.)
As we have weeded out processed foods, I have also gradually reduced the amount of sugar in recipes, and no one here has missed it. I also use the natural sweetness of raisins and other dried fruits, bananas, apples, sweet potatoes, etc., in my cooking. Last night, I made a very tasty baked apple-cinnamon-coconut-leftover rice pudding. I did not put that much sugar in it, but the apples and raisins and even the coconut milk made it plenty sweet and satisfying as a dessert. It could have used some slivered almonds, though. Next time.
Good luck! And let me know how you do. :)