Choosing a Healthy Sweetener

      When the weather gets colder, our ovens get warmer! Baking and cooking throughout the fall and winter season brings comfort, tradition and even health, if done right! Healthy Grocery Girl Megan Roosevelt, RD, LD, joined us with some important information about sugar options.

      Sugars to Enjoy

      • Brown Rice SyrupBrown rice syrup is made from cooking sprouted brown rice in water and then evaporating it to create brown rice syrup. Brown rice syrup provides antioxidants, which can support a healthy immune system. When grocery shopping make sure to choose organic brown rice syrup.

      • Pure Maple Syrup Maple syrup is made from the sap of the maple tree. There are many options in the grocery store for maple syrup from "lite" and "low-sugar" to "sugar-free"; however you want to avoid all of these. Choose 100 percent pure organic maple syrup. Real maple syrup provides sweetness as well as a natural dose of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc, manganese, calcium, and potassium as well as B vitamins. There are varying grades of maple syrup, you will commonly see Grade A or Grade B. The grade depends on when the sap was harvested in the season. Grade A has a lighter amber color and has a thinner consistency, and is harvest early in the season. Grade B has a darker amber color, is harvested later in the season and is thick with a more robust flavor. Nutritionally, the lighter in color your maple syrup, the less minerals it has, so if you're looking for more flavor and more nutrition, choose Grade B.

      • Local Raw Honey There are many different options for honey, from light to dark in color as well as varying flavor profiles. Whichever type of honey your taste buds prefer best, always choose raw, unfiltered and unprocessed honey. You also want local honey, to support your local bee keeping industry, and to help your body build a tolerance to your local bee pollen if you have allergies.

      • Coconut Sugar My favorite sugar for baking is coconut sugar, which comes from the sap of a coconut tree. It is low-glycemic compared to traditional sugar alternatives and provides many health benefits such as calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc! A great sugar options for diabetics and those watching their blood sugar levels and weight. Coconut sugar is similar in appearance and taste to brown sugar, yet has more health benefits! Coconut sugar can be swapped 1:1, 1 cup to 1 cup, of white granulated sugar in any baking recipe.

      Sugars to Avoid

      • Artificial Sweeteners Aspartame, Sucralose and Saccharin are the three main artificial sweeteners to steer clear of. These artificial sugars are synthetic, which means they are fake and provide no health benefits to your body. Instead they each have been associated with causing negative health outcomes from headaches to digestive troubles.

      • High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) Sweeter than sugar and cheaper to produce, it's the most popular ingredient used commercially to enhance taste and enhance profits, however at your health expense. HFCS is created through chemical processing and has been linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dental cavities and behavioral problems such as ADHD.

      • Brown Sugar Brown sugar seems healthier for you than white sugar, but it's not. Brown sugar is simply white sugar with molasses added to it. You can think of brown sugar as "painted" sugar.

      • White Granulated Sugar White sugar comes from sugar beets or sugar cane. Sugar beets are one of the most common genetically modified foods (GMOs) in the United States. White granulated sugar, while sweet, provides no health benefits. Sugar provides calories, but that is it. Sugar is also addicting and is linked to reduced immunity, reduced eyesight, and increased risk of weight gain, obesity and diabetes. If you choose to consume white sugar, make sure that it is organic, and use sparingly.

      For more health and nutrition tips and recipes for baking and cooking with natural sugars, visit Megan's website.