Sugar is all around us in foods. It’s hidden in multiple types in processed food to help it taste better and to prolong shelf life. But too much is hard on the system and can lead to health problems. Some experts say the real culprit is how much is hidden in processed foods and sugary soft drinks, not necessarily what you use in your recipes at home. The bottom line? Eat and serve whole, unprocessed food as much as possible, and of course, be aware of and limit your sugar consumption.
What kind of sugar should you use in your recipes? The selection on grocery store shelves is dizzying, and it’s growing all the time. Here is information about a few sweeteners, followed by a recipe for glazed carrots that can be made with honey, brown rice syrup, or agave nectar.
Granulated white sugar: Made from sugar cane or sugar beets with nutrient component (molasses) removed.
Brown sugar: Granulated cane or beet sugar with the molasses added back in.
Turbinado (raw) sugar: Partially processed cane or beet sugar; contains small amounts of minerals. Use it like granulated sugar in recipes, but it doesn’t dissolve as easily.
Powdered (confectioner’s) sugar: Granulated cane or beet sugar that’s been crushed into powder.
Palm or coconut sugar: Made from the sap of date, coconut, or other palm. Has a light brown sugar-like taste. Has a low impact on blood sugar, causing less stress on metabolism. Use it like granulated sugar in recipes.
Honey: Contains trace amounts of vitamins and possibly antioxidants.
Maple syrup: Made from sap of maple tree. Tap a maple tree and cook it down—it’s delicious! Higher in minerals than honey.
Molasses: Byproduct of cane or beet sugar processing. Available in light, full-flavor, and blackstrap (darkest). Contains some nutrition including iron and calcium.
Corn syrup: The Karo type is low in nutrition but surprisingly does not contain high fructose corn syrup, which is heavily used in processed foods and is linked to obesity. Dark corn syrup contains molasses and caramel flavoring.
Brown rice syrup: Earthy, honey-like flavor. May not be gluten-free; check label. One-to-one substitution for honey or maple syrup.
Sorghum syrup: Made from sorghum cane. Contains antioxidant vitamins and trace minerals. Flavor is slightly pungent. Use like honey, molasses, or maple syrup.
Agave nectar/syrup: Made from the sap of a spiky cactus-like plant. Slightly floral molasses flavor. Thinner consistency than honey. One-to-one substitution for honey or maple syrup.
Xylitol: Made from plants. Not absorbed by the body, so it’s low in calories. May be safe for people with diabetes. One-to-one substitution for granulated sugar, but results may vary from the original recipe.
Stevia: A South American herb used as a no-calorie sweetener. Much more concentrated than sugar, so consider using recipes specifically for this ingredient.
- 4 cups carrots (about 1 pound) peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch diagonal pieces
- 2 tablespoons butter, butter substitute, or coconut oil
- 2 tablespoons honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, or brown rice syrup
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce (gluten-free if necessary)
- Place sliced carrots in a medium saucepan and add water to about 1 inch. Cover and steam over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes or just until tender.
- Turn off heat. Drain off water and add butter or coconut oil, sweetener, and soy sauce. Toss to combine and serve.
(Recipe adapted from “Vegan Glazed Carrots” at VeganCoach.com. Sources for information about sugar: Whole Foods Guide to Sweeteners, which includes a Swapping Sweeteners table; “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sugar,” at smallfootprintfamily.com; and “Healthy Sugar Alternatives: Understanding Healthy & Not So Healthy Sugars With Their Glycemic Index,” at OrganicLifestyleMagazine.com.)