On a sugar rush!

We are all fond of sugar and it has become an integral part of our everyday diet. Sugar is everywhere! Your morning cup of tea/coffee, fruits, cereals, bread all contain sugar. If sugar is such an important part of our diet; don’t you think you should know what your options are, before choosing the right type of sugar that your body requires? Some may also tell you that your body doesn’t require any sugar and you may go on a “no sugar diet”. Sometime later, you find yourself losing control over a candy; to kill your sugar craving. There are times when you are stressed or going through your PMS and all  you want is a piece of that scrumptious dessert. Why is sugar bad for you? Is it because all good things have to be the devil incarnate?! 😉 Perhaps a little knowledge on what sugar really is might help.

Sugar is a source of energy for all our body cells. It comes from food, mainly carbohydrates and excess sugar gets stored in our muscles and liver. Which means that, most naturally available food already contains sugar as a natural sweetener. Hence sweeteners are a necessary food of life! One of the easy or the fastest way to detect sweeteners in food is by it’s  GI (glycemic index).  Glycemic index is a measurement of how quickly sugars from food enter your blood as glucose. High GI results in high levels of blood glucose and low GI results in slower absorption of glucose with fewer changes in blood glucose levels.

Sucrose (combo of glucose + fructose) comes from sugar cane or beet and is often referred to as ‘table’ or ‘added’ sugar. It also occurs naturally in some fruits and vegetables. Chemically speaking table sugars refined from cane and beet sugar are quite similar. However, many of the labels do not specify if the sugar is extracted from beet. Cane sugar may caramelize better than beet, but the difference may not be noticeable to most. Though, sugar beet is common in other parts of the world, there has been some interest in growing sugar beet in India too.

There are so many sweeteners available in the market and the promotional doctored articles make it really hard for us to choose what is really good for us. I’m sharing with you a list of natural sweeteners which are not only healthy but also a good alternative to switch from refined and processed sugar crystals. I’ve cooked, baked and have made them a part of my diet. I think you need to be comfortable with each sweetener and that’s when you know what works best for you.

Raw Sugar or Khandsari – This sugar is a part of my everyday diet and I use it in almost anything. Raw sugar is also known as cane sugar or unrefined sugar and it is minimally processed. Raw sugar is  processed in india for hundreds of years. Sugar is made by extracting juice from the sugar cane. The extracted juice is then boiled and cooled, allowing it to crystallize. The sugar may crystallize into a very fine or granular sugar. This pale golden crystals are raw sugar.

Because raw sugar is not heavily refined, it has higher molasses content than table sugar. It has higher moisture content than regular sugar and keeping raw sugar in an airtight container is highly advised. Raw sugar can be used in your daily cup of beverage, in making jams, juices, Indian sweets, desserts or baking.

pic 193

Liquid Jaggery

Liquid Jaggery or kakvi – Liquid jaggery is obtained by boiling raw sugar cane juice in a cast iron. As the liquid begins to boil the molasses is separated out. The removed molasses is usually fed to the cattle feed in India.  Upon further boiling the juice condenses into a thick viscous liquid, which is called liquid jaggery (if further boiled, it leads to form jaggery). The boiling process is stopped and allowed to cool for bottling. Liquid jaggery has low GI. It helps relieve cold, cough, asthma and congestion in chest. Treats Indigestion and constipation. Also acts as a body coolant and antioxidant. Ideal for people with low haemoglobin. The uses are same as block or powdered jaggery. The disadvantage of this sweetener is that it tends to ferment. The best way to use the fermented jaggery is to boil it again with a little bit of water and use it again and you won’t notice any change ;). Here is an awesome liquid jaggery cake  recipe from my blog!

Jaggery or gurJaggery is one of the most popular sweeteners in india. It is an unrefined sugar, made by boiling raw sugar cane or palm juice (known as palm jaggery) in iron pans. It is then formed into trays to dry and either made into balls or powder form. Jaggery is healthier than refined sugars as it retains natural vitamins and minerals.

The mineral content of jaggery includes calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and iron and traces of zinc and copper. The vitamin content includes folic acid and B-complex vitamins. Thus, other than that it is a good source of energy, it also prevents rheumatic afflictions; prevents disorders of bile; helps in relieving fatigue, relaxation of muscles, nerves and blood vessels; maintains blood pressure and reduces water retention; increases hemoglobin level and prevents anaemia.

Jaggery is a versatile sweetener. It goes so well with our Indian cooking that is has become a must have sweetener in every household. Jaggery perfectly enhances and gives a final touch to any Indian dish. Jaggery is used in coffee/tea or in South Indian cooking to make dishes like sambar. Jaggery can be used in baking cookies, cakes or even breads.

pic 470

Palm sugar or jaggery

Palm sugar or palm jaggery – Palm sugar is a natural sweetener made from the sap of palm trees. Coconut palm sugar and palm sugar may sound same but are completely two different sweeteners. The liquid collected from the sap is called toddy or neera. This fresh toddy is boiled to obtain palm sugar or palm syrup. This process is done quickly to avoid toddy from fermenting. To make the sugar solid, the boiled juice is then poured into bamboo sections to form cylindrical shapes or into coconut shells  or into small baskets woven of palm leaves. You also get palm sugar in powder form, which looks very close to coconut sugar. This sugar, even when soft, can be extremely dense and very sticky. Palm Sugar has a low GI and helps prevent diabetes and anemia during pregnancy. It is also known to be effective against cold and lung related ailments. You can use palm sugar in the same way as you would use jaggery.

Coconut sugar or coconut palm sugar – This is a wonder sugar! Most people are amazed and wonder if it tastes all coco-nuty. Coconut sugar is created from the sap of the coconut palm tree, rather than from the actual coconut itself. Coconut sugar is 100% pure, single-ingredient product with no additives, fillers, or added sweeteners. It is the single most sustainable sweetener in the world! Coconut  sugar is a healthy sugar; low in glycemic index and full of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. It is definitely a better substitute compared to all sweeteners including agave syrup.

Coconut sugar has to be stored in an air tight container. It looses its texture to moisture and may also turn hard. Coconut palm sugar is a versatile substitute for conventional cane sugar for most baking purposes. It is slightly less sweet than cane sugar but more flavorful, and in many cases the quantity of sugar can be reduced by up to 25 percent without altering the end result.You will find coconut sugar not as  sweet as refined white sugars (so if using them for cakes or other desserts, you may need to add more to achieve the same level of sweetness). However, I find they have a nice caramel like taste which is similar to molasses, but lighter. You’ll definitely enjoy the taste! I have been using this wonder sugar in baking cookies, muffins, ladoos and I also made some yum vegan salted caramel.

coconut sugar 2

Coconut Sugar

Molasses or blackstrap molasses – This sweetener is used by many as a medicine more than cooking. Cane Molasses is made in a three-step process that begins with the juice from mature or green sugar cane plant. The juice is boiled to concentrate and crystallize the sugar. The result is called the “first” molasses. The crystallized sugar is removed and the residue is boiled again. The mixture darkens as the remaining sugar is burnt or caramelized. What results is called, “second” molasses. After more sugar crystals are removed, the process is repeated once again. The final or “third” boil produces the dark, concentrated syrup known as blackstrap molasses.

Molasses is rich in iron and contains benefits for  menstruating women, who are more at risk for iron deficiency, pregnant or lactating and growing children or adolescents.Molasses is rich in copper, manganese,  potassium, calcium and magnesium.

Molasses should be stored in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator or a cool, dry place. Unopened containers can be kept for about one year, while opened containers should be kept for not more than six months. I usually refrigerate mine and they last me for a year. Christmas is fast approaching and I have a really good ginger cookie recipe on my blog. In this recipe, I’m using a combination of raw sugar and molasses.
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Honey – This naturally rich sweetener produced by the honey bees, making it not suitable for vegans. It is an alternative substitute for white sugar. Research also indicates that honey’s unique composition makes it useful as an antimicrobial agent and antioxidant.

The process of making honey begins when the bees feast on flowers, collecting the flower nectar in their mouths. This nectar then mixes with special enzymes in the bees’ saliva, a process that turns it into honey. The bees carry the honey back to the hive, where they deposit it into the cells of the hive’s walls. The fluttering of their wings provides the necessary ventilation to reduce the honey’s moisture content, making it ready for consumption. Raw honey is the best option than the most filtered honey available in the market. Honey is best stored in glass bottles and they can be used in to enhance your juices and smoothies or for cooking and baking.

Pure Maple Syrup – The process of creating maple syrup begins with tapping (piercing) the tree, which allows the sap to run out freely. The sap is clear and almost tasteless and very low in sugar content when it is first tapped.  It is then boiled to evaporate the water producing syrup with the characteristic flavor and color of maple syrup and sugar content of 60%. Maple syrup is an excellent source of manganese and zinc. Pure maple syrup does not contain any flavouring and will be displayed on the labels. Maple syrup is commonly enjoyed with pancakes. You can also enjoy it on peanut butter toasts or in a bowl of cereal.

Stevia or sweet leaf or sugar leaf – Stevia is a plant and origins from South America.  The compound in the leaves  is responsible for the sweetness. This compound is sometimes sold isolated from the leaves in a highly refined form. In other cases, the sweetener is made by crushing or distilling the leaves of the plant to form a powder or a syrup with an intensely sweet flavor.

It has been shown that stevia is much sweeter than other sugars, meaning that only a small amount needs to be used. The body also processes stevia very slowly, which greatly reduces the risk of a sugar high. In addition, it is essentially calorie free, which is why it is popular with dieters. However, there has no proven facts and some scientists claim that it can cause cancer. Though stevia may seem like a natural sweetener, there has been no proven studies. Stevia leaves can be used in your dialy cup of tea/coffee, juices and smoothies. I’ve never baked with stevia and would like to know if you have used it.

Agave Syrup or agave nectar – Agave syrup is made from the juice of the agave plant, particularly found in the deserts of Mexico. Agave syrup looks like honey, but it is usually lighter and has a cleaner taste.  It is nearly twice as sweet as white table sugar or raw sugar. Though agave syrup has low GI it is high on fructose and is compared to the commercially available sweeteners (because of the way it is being processed). Agave syrup can be used to sweeten your juices, smoothies or can be used in baking.

Going the natural way is the best way of not in taking highly processed sweeteners. All sugars contain glucose and fructose but what you need to check and compare is the GI’s for easy understanding. You can go deeper with the breakdowns and open a chemistry lab.  All the mentioned sweeteners are available on our online store i2cook.com.

 Sweetener

Type

 Glycemic Index (GI) (%)

Raw Sugar

Sugar   extract

40-60

Molasses

Sugar   extract

55

Pure Maple Syrup

Natural sugar

54

Honey

Natural   sugar

50

Jaggery & Palm Sugar

Sugar extract

41-45

Coconut Sugar

Natual sugar

35

Agave Syrup

Modified   sugar

15-30

Stevia*

Natural  sweetener

0

*Studies have shown that insulin is secreted by the pancreas soon after the sweet taste is experienced on the tongue, whether the substance contains calories or not. The body is fooled by the zero calorie sweetener. It expects glucose to hit the bloodstream and it gets none. This may result in increased appetite soon after.

References

http://www.livestrong.com/article/334100-types-of-healthy-sugars/

http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-jaggery.htm

http://www.ecovillage.org.in/ecopedia/organic-farming/how-to-make-organic-jaggery-part-2

http://www.sugar-and-sweetener-guide.com/glycemic-index-for-sweeteners.html

http://www.nordicsugar.com/know-your-sugar/natural-sweetness/

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3 Comments on “On a sugar rush!”

  1. […] On a sugar rush! (i2cook.wordpress.com) […]


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