More Sweet Solutions

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(Editor’s note: In Part One of this article, Pat Crocker reviewed a list of healthy choices that can add a touch of sweetness to any dish without the usual refined sugar. Those recommendations included carob powder, coconut sugar, unpasteurized honey, and date sugar.)

This month we continue with a review of healthy sweeteners by adding maple syrup, molasses, and stevia to the mix. They are rich in naturally occurring sugars plus vitamins and minerals as well as fibre and trace elements which play an important role in the metabolism of nutrients. The fact that their intrinsic sugars are bound up in complex carbohydrates makes them able to deliver a slow, steady stream of food fuel (glucose) for energy that the body can easily balance with insulin.

Sweet Substitutions

Stevia – The leaves of Stevia rebaudiana, a plant native to Central and South America, are about 40 times sweeter than sugar without adding carbohydrates or calories. According to a report by Mike Adams posted on, a big benefit of stevia is that it does not feed candida or cause any of the other problems related to sugar consumption, because its glycemic index is very low, at less than 1. This makes it ideal for diabetics, those with gastrointestinal problems, and anyone interested in reducing their caloric intake. It goes well in tea, smoothies, and tart juices like lemon, lime and cranberry.(1) While stevia is great when added to hot or cold drinks, it cannot be substituted for sugar in baked goods.

Maple Syrup – Made from the sap of sugar maple trees, maple syrup contains numerous anti-cancer, antibacterial, and anti-diabetic antioxidants along with high levels of zinc and manganese. In 2011, a University of Rhode Island researcher discovered 34 new beneficial compounds in pure maple syrup and confirmed that 20 compounds discovered in 2010 in preliminary research play a key role in human health, including two enzymes important to diabetes management.(2) Grade B is darker and more nutrient-dense than Grade A. For baking, the Pure Canada Maple website recommends substituting 2/3 cup of pure maple syrup for every cup of granulated sugar, which requires reducing the quantity of liquid in the recipe by about ¼ cup and lowering the baking temperature by 25° F.

Molasses (light, blackstrap, sulfured, or black treacle) – This is a dense, dark brown, sweet syrup that is a byproduct of the sugar refining process. Molasses contains calcium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, vitamins, and trace minerals and has a long list of health benefits. This tar-like substance has a distinctly acrid taste that may prevent its widespread popularity, but is traditionally used in gingerbread and often added to fruitcakes, baked beans, and other dishes that mask the flavour.

Sorghum Syrup (sorghum molasses) – Sorghum is a sweet grass grown in the southwest U.S. that produces a clear, dark, mild-tasting syrup when the juice from the crushed stalks is evaporated. Sorghum is a good source of iron, calcium, and potassium.

Sugar by Any Other Name

New research suggests that calories from refined, added sugars are more detrimental to our health (contributing to obesity and heart disease) than calories from other sources such as fat and protein. This means it is essential that we eliminate or cut back any kind of refined sugar that is added to foods and beverages. It means not only avoiding hot and cold sugary beverages such as commercial juice and smoothies, sweetened coffee and tea drinks, yogurt drinks and pop, but also detecting added sugar in the ingredient lists of your groceries.

Here are some of the terms that manufacturers use for sugar – and if any one or more appear at the top or if a few are scattered throughout the list of ingredients, you might want to find an unsweetened alternative.

AGAVE NECTAR OR SYRUP – Like cane sugar, the agave plant is cut and pressed and the high-sugar fluid is boiled into syrup. The refining process breaks down the natural sugars into fructose and destroys all of the health-promoting properties of the agave plant, making it an unhealthy sweetener that is actually higher in calories (20 calories per teaspoon) than sucrose, which has 15 calories.

ALLULOSE – is a sugar (carbohydrate) that has the texture, taste, and performance of sugar but it is not metabolized and does not add to the caloric value of a food. Because the liver cannot metabolize it, allulose can cause digestive problems when it passes into the large intestine because it feeds bacteria that can cause pain, gas, and bloating.

BROWN (OR GOLDEN OR YELLOW) SUGAR – are all interpreted by the body as refined sugar with varying traces of molasses that tint them.

CARAMEL – When sugar crystals are heated with cream and butter, they melt and form caramel, a refined, sugary, fat-laden additive.

CAROB SYRUP – When carob pods are coarsely ground and boiled in water, a thick, sweet, molasses-like syrup is the result and this is treated as a sugar, especially if high fructose corn syrup, honey, or other refined sugars have been added.

CORN SYRUP (or high-fructose corn syrup or glucose-fructose) – Corn syrup is made from corn starch and 1 cup contains over 250 grams of sugar. High fructose corn syrup is commonly used in processed foods because it inexpensively sweetens, softens, adds volume, and improves the taste. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is made by chemically changing glucose from corn into fructose, which is sweeter. HFCS is added to soft drinks, sweetened fruit drinks and other fruit products, canned fruits, boxed desserts, flavoured yogurts, baked goods, breakfast cereals and condiments such as ketchup, jams and jellies.

DEMERERA – Although it is slightly less refined than white sugar, demerara sugar contains the same number of grams of sugar and the same calories.

DEXTROSE – This is a simple form of sugar made from starch, usually corn. Its sweetening power is 74%.

EVAPORATED CANE JUICE (crystals) – Don’t be fooled. It’s sugar just before the centrifuge spins out traces of molasses left after the cane liquid is evaporated.

FRUCTOSE – This is a sugar found in fruit that, when added to foods in high amounts and concentrations, contributes to obesity, diabetes, and other diseases. While glucose can be metabolized by every cell in the body, fructose can only be metabolized in significant amounts by the liver, which means it gets stored as fat or it raises blood triglycerides. Soft drinks, dessert wines, and sweetened juices all contain high levels of added fructose.

GLUCOSE – This is a simple sugar that provides the body with its primary source of energy. Carbohydrates from pasta, rice, potatoes, and processed sugars are quickly converted into glucose by the body. Foods are rated according to their glycemic index, which indicates the amount of glucose they provide. (Glucose has a glycemic value of 100.)

JAGGERY – This is sugar from date, cane juice, or palm sap that is boiled until semi-solid, then compressed into a cake or cone. It contains up to 50% sucrose as well as 20% invert sugars. A variety of benefits from aiding digestion to cleansing the respiratory tracts, lungs, food pipe, stomach and intestines are attributed to jaggery.

MALT, MALTOSE (Malto-dextrin, Malt Syrup) – Malting is a process used in brewing beer. A grain (usually barley, but wheat or other grains may be used) is soaked with water and allowed to sprout. The sprouted grain is dried in kilns to about 120° F, the temperature at which natural enzymes in the grain convert the starch into sugars. At this point, the grain is refined into syrup or an off-white crystalline powder. It is used in processed foods because it dissolves easily in water.

MUSCOVADO – Partly refined cane sugar with a high content of molasses, it is a slightly healthier choice than yellow or brown sugar.

RAW SUGAR (or KLEEN-RAW SUGAR) – Raw it is not! Sugar canes are crushed into a thick, gooey molasses-loaded liquid. Boiling off the water using steam evaporates the cane liquid. The sugar syrup is then boiled until sugar crystals are formed. Around this point in the process, ‘raw sugar’ with traces of molasses is set aside. The only difference between raw and white sugar granules is that white granules are separated from the remaining molasses by centrifuge and then ground from coarse to powder.

RICE SYRUP (brown rice syrup, rice malt syrup) – While brown rice is more nutritious than white, when a rice syrup is formed by adding enzymes to cooked white or brown rice, the starches break down into maltotriose, maltose, and glucose. Its only benefit is that rice syrup has no fructose, so it shouldn’t have the same negative effects on liver function as sugar.

SORBITOL – This is a sugar-free, sweet chemical made from fruit that is added to chewing gum, toothpaste, candy, and other ‘sugar-free’ foods. It may cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, and extreme weight loss, if over-consumed.

SUCANAT – made from dehydrated sugar cane juice, it contains more molasses (and iron, calcium, vitamin B6 and potassium) than brown sugar, so it adds an intense, almost burnt taste to gingerbread and fruit or spice cakes.

SUCROSE – is table sugar made from sugar cane or sugar beets. It contains equal ratios of fructose to glucose and one teaspoon has 15 calories.

TURBINADO (syrup or sugar) – is made from the first pressing of sugar cane; it has a light caramel flavour but is stripped of molasses, vitamins, minerals and other trace elements.


Homemade Ketchup

Because we use them often and usually without thought as to the sugar they contain, condiments, sauces, and dips contribute significantly to our daily-added sugar consumption. Making your own means that you can eliminate the refined sugars as well as the chemical preservatives and nitrates in commercial products.

Natural sugars in the sweet potato, onion, and the whole head of garlic are caramelized to give a sweet flavour. The resulting condiment is orange and I call it ketchup, but I use it whenever mayonnaise or ketchup is called for. If you want a thicker, more spreadable condiment, use only ½ can of warm water in step 5. For extra flavour, add 1 jalapeño pepper and roast with the sweet potato in step 4, or try adding these sweet spices: 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon cardamom, and ½ teaspoon cumin in step 6.
(Makes a generous 2 cups.)

  • 1 head garlic
  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • ¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp avocado or olive oil
  • 1 can (5.5 oz) tomato paste
  • 3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp tamari or soy sauce

1) Preheat oven to 350° F and line a rimmed baking pan with parchment paper.
2) Cut ¼-inch from the top (opposite the root end) of the garlic head and rub away the loose, papery skin. Place the garlic bulb, cut side up on the prepared baking pan.
3) Add sweet potato and onion quarters to the pan. Drizzle onion and garlic with about two tablespoons oil. Roast in preheated oven for 40 minutes.
4) Using tongs, remove onion and garlic head to a plate and set aside to cool. Cut sweet potato in half and coat cut ends with oil remaining in the pan. Place cut ends down and return to oven. Roast for 20 minutes or until sweet potato is soft.
5) In the bowl of a high-performance blender or food processor, combine ¼ cup oil, tomato paste, vinegar, and tamari. Fill the empty tomato paste can with warm water and add to the bowl.
6) Squeeze soft garlic cloves into the bowl and add the onion quarters. Cut the sweet potatoes into cubes and add them to the bowl. Cover and process on low, increasing the speed to high for 60 seconds, or until ketchup is smoothly puréed.  Scrape into a one litre (four cup) jar, cap and label. Store in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.


Maple Nut Squash (by Pat Young)

Use hubbard or butternut squash in this recipe, along with a 13-by-9 inch (3 litre) baking pan, lightly oiled.
(Makes 4 servings.)

  • 4 cups cooked squash cubes (drained if canned, thawed if frozen)
  • 1 cup fresh, frozen, or canned peach slices
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 3 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • Freshly ground sea salt and pepper
  • 2 Tbsp coconut butter or olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans or walnuts

1) Preheat oven to 350°F (180° C)
2) In prepared baking pan, combine squash, peaches, applesauce, maple syrup, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Grind some salt and pepper over top. Cut butter into small pieces and spread over top, or drizzle olive oil over. Cover with a lid and heat in preheated oven for 30 to 45 minutes. Garnish with toasted pecans, and serve.


(1) Natural news “Practical Guide to Sugar and Sweeteners”:
(2) University of Rhode Island research on maple syrup:
• Abbott, Elizabeth. Sugar: A Bittersweet History. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2008.
• Health Benefits of Maple Syrup: Why you should replace processed sugar with maple syrup:
• Pure Canada Maple website gives information on the benefits of pure maple syrup as well as recipes:
• Relationship of Sugar to Population-Level Diabetes Prevalence – as reported in the journal Plos one, 2016.
• Rohé, Fred. The Complete Book of Natural Foods. Bolder, CO: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1983.
• What you need to know about high fructose corn syrup – an article posted on the website, EatRightOntario:


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