Summer is upon us and we all like to enjoy ourselves while not adding to our waistlines. Unfortunately, sugar is hidden in many of our favourite summer foods, even the ones we would least expect, such as condiments like BBQ sauce, and savoury food items like weiners and sausages. It is in our own best interests to read labels and see how our food is sweetened in order to make choices that minimize our health risks. It’s amazing how even minimal amounts in many food choices add up within a day/week/month. With this in mind, we’ll now take a look at the positives and negative impact of some popular natural sweeteners.
Stevia and stevia glycosides are very popular zero calorie natural sweeteners and their use in our food is rapidly increasing. The big concern regarding this seemingly friendly sugar substitute is that formative studies are showing that stevia has a deleterious effect on our gut microbes, lactic acid and acetic acid production (Gut Microbes, 2015). The growth of Lactobacillus reuteri strains was shown to be inhibited in the presence of the stevia sweeteners stevioside and rebaudioside A. Probiotics. For example, Lact. reuteri strains, are often used as functional additives in health foods and are also an important natural inhabitant of the human gastrointestinal tract. We feel that more research on stevia should have been perfromed before unleashing it on the marketplace in a significant way. Keeping this preliminary research based information in mind, Stevia loses our vote as a natural sweetener of choice.
Honey in its raw form is a fantastic and tasty natural sweetener. It has been well known for thousands of years for its many health benefits. Honey is a wonderful natural sweetener and a great tonic for a number of ailments.
Sufficient evidence exists recommending the use of honey in the management of disease conditions. The most investigated properties of honey for its potential usage as an alternative medicine include (1) its antioxidant activity, (2) its ability to induce anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory responses, (3) delaying cancer development and cardiovascular diseases, (4) inhibiting bacterial pathogens by interfering with their pathogenesis potential, (5) its ability to control viral infection, and, finally, (6) improving the health of the gut by acting as a prebiotic agent (Pharmacognosy Research, 2017);(Integrative Medicine Insights, 2017).
The problem of heating or cooking with honey
Honey is mainly constituted by sugars (predominantly fructose) and in much lower quantities by amino acids, proteins, enzymes, organic acids, vitamins, minerals, volatile substances, and polyphenols
The downside of honey comes when we cook or pasteurize it. Research reveals that the heating of honey increases the formation of a compound called (HMF) hydroxymethyl furfuraldehyde which may produce deleterious effects and act as a poison in due course (An International Quarterly Journal of Research in Ayurveda, 2010). Needless to say, we won’t be cooking with honey or using pasteurized honey any time soon!
This brings us to dates as a natural sweetener and sugar substitute. Dates are a great alternative to sugar and packed full of soluble fibre, antioxidants, minerals and various other nutrients. There appears to be no deleterious effects to heating dates because when used as date paste they are a whole food sweetener.
Make your own date paste sweetener for cooking by blending them with water. 1 pound of tightly packed Medjool dates + 1/2 cup of water can be combined in a regular blender or Cuisinart and blended into a smooth date paste. We prefer the Cuisinart over the blender to achieve a really smooth consistency for cooking. Try keeping the water to a minimum and only going over 1/2 cup if required. Use a 1:1 ratio when substituting date paste for regular sugar using this recipe and add more if required.