Monday, March 24, 2014

wholefood step-by-step: #12 sweet alternatives to refined cane sugar

As long time readers here will know I don't believe in banning or demonising foods, even sugar! Because I think doing so can set up a vicious cycle of going cold turkey, feeling deprived, binging, feeling ashamed, going cold turkey, feeling virtuous, then eating some, feeling like a failure and on it goes. And as for laying great wholefood foundations for our children it is about educating them and role modelling not shaming them into eating well.

So, what to do? I am going to share my experience with transitioning from refined sugar to alternative sweeteners in this post and would love for you to share yours in the comments.

I stopped buying cane sugar late in 2011 after I did a 3 month detox off wheat, sugar, dairy, alcohol and caffeine.

In place of the organic raw sugar that I once used for baking I began experimenting with sweet alternatives.

Still today I don't buy refined cane sugar. However, if I am out and am offered a cake or biscuit or ice cream that is made with cane sugar and I feel like eating some of it I do and I don't beat myself up about it. I do though pay attention to how the food makes me feel, and sometimes I don't even do that, I just enjoy the moment and the food for what it is knowing that it is not my typical daily diet.

And when it comes to my children they are aware of how eating lollies and super sweet foods make them feel, they know they can eat that sort of food at birthday parties, when they visit family or friends and they know their limits. They're kids so sometimes they overdo it but mostly they are pretty good and knowing when enough is enough.

In my pantry these are the sweeteners you will find:

Pure maple syrup - The main thing we use maple syrup for is on buckwheat pancakes on a weekend, sometimes I use it in baking. It's important when you buy maple syrup to make sure it is real, real maple syrup is made from the sap of maple trees whereas some syrups sold are actually maple flavoured syrup made from high fructose corn syrup.

Coconut sugar aka coconut palm sugar - this little sweetie has become increasingly popular and is my go to cane sugar replacement when baking biscuits, cakes or muffins. You can switch it 1:1. Coconut sugar is made from the sap of the flowers of the coconut palm, the sap is heated so that the water evaporates and you are left with the granules of coconut sugar. 100% coconut sugar has a low GI index which means that it raises blood sugar more slowly than refined cane sugar that causes blood sugar to spike.

Raw honey - switching to raw honey was step number 5 in this series, but if you haven't switched already the main reason to do so is because raw honey is real food, it has not been heat treated and it retains its original health giving qualities: natural enzymes, antioxidants, minerals, and its anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties. I like to keep this in the cupboard for sore throats, to have in chai, River and Sol like it on a corn thin or millet sourdough toast as a snack.

And in my fridge, fresh medjool dates - very popular with raw foodies for me fresh dates are suuuuper sweeeet! So, they certainly satisfy any sweet craving. I like to eat one as it is with a handful of nuts on those afternoons when I want a sweet pep me up, my favorite thing to make with them is Mona's raw chocolate balls. When I was pregnant with River I used to dream about date trees laden with dates, they were a serious craving! The homeopath I saw at the time told me dates were full of trace minerals and I now discover they also contain folic acid which is essential for healthy development of babies. I'm sharing this to show that real food cravings can have a powerful purpose!

I tried to like stevia for a while but the sheer whiteness of the powder just screamed at me that is was still an overly refined 'product' and I just didn't like the taste or the crumb that it created in baking.

Same goes for agave, I tried that for a while and wasn't mad about the taste or the refining process.

From time to time I buy brown rice syrup, mainly if a recipe calls for it. There does seem to be some controversy around detectable amounts of arsenic in rice syrup you can read more about that here and here.

Remember, just because these are alternatives to cane sugar they are still forms of sugar and are best eaten in small doses as part of an overall wholefoods diet that sees you munching on lots of fresh veggies, some fruit, nuts, seeds and if you like organic meat, fish, dairy and wholegrains.

If you're hungry for more on this topic read Jess Ainscough's 9 awesome sugar alternatives.

Tell us your sweet story in the comments. Which sweeteners do you have in your pantry?


  1. I'm loving these posts Nikki:) I love dates too and find them a great snack to have when I'm craving something sweet. In my cupboard I still have refined sugar, like organic raw sugar and also organic icing sugar. I do prefer to use rapadura sugar mostly, maple syrup (yum) and my new favourite is coconut syrup/nectar (delicious). I have noticed when I replace honey in baking (apparently not good for your body when baked I was told) that things are very crumbly and had thought of the brown rice syrup but might think twice and go for the coconut syrup/nectar. I like the sound of those raw chocolate balls, thank you for the link:) xx

    1. Oh great, thanks for the feedback Catherine. Rapadura sugar! You have just reminded me, I don't use it but I know many wholefoodie bakers do so I think I will go back tomorrow and add a bit about it to the post. You have also reminded me, I do keep some icing sugar tucked in the cupboard for those times that I want to make old fashioned icing to ice a cake or cupcake. do make the raw choc balls they are delicious, my tip is to keep them in the freezer they're perfect for school lunches too if your girls don't attend a nut-free school xx

  2. Great post. I use rapadura too. But not much.

    1. The main reason I don't use rapadura is because none of the shops near me sell it. I could buy it online I suppose but there are so many other options I don't bother.

  3. Poor old cane sugar. We use unrefined cane sugar and I like it. Demerara, honey and maple syrup all get a run. It's all just sugar at the end of the day and it makes the whole world seem sweeter. x

  4. i too use and love rapadura, other than that I use maple and dates or bananas too. Catherine, I recently saw coconut nectar in our local health food store but didn't know much about it, thanks for the tip. xx p.s. i too am loving these posts. xxx


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