In my cookbook, Delightfully Free, "sugar free," means that the recipes are free of all refined sugars and also free from any form of chemicals (the chief villain being aspartame) and the alcohol sugars such as maltitol and xylitol (sweeteners which always end in the letters "tol"). These sweeteners are not foods, but full-on chemicals that do harm to us in other significant ways than spiking our glycemic levels the way refined sugars do. By using these chemical sweeteners, a cookbook or a product can claim that it is "sugar free," yet the bottom line is that they are also unfortunately health free!
In many cookbooks, "sugar free" also doesn't necessarily mean that the healthiest refined sugar-free alternatives are being used. I feel very strongly that there is a definite ranking or hierarchy when it comes to healthiness, even among "natural" sweeteners. In Delightfully Free, I chose to use what I have come to believe are the very healthiest natural, low glycemic, nutritious, less refined and raw sweeteners.
The only sweeteners I use in my cookbook are stevia and coconut palm sugar/nectar. In addition, in 7 recipes that are not heated, I use raw organic honey.
|A few of the many brands of Coconut Palm Sugar, Stevia and Coconut Nectar|
Stevia is a natural, plant-derived sweetener which comes in liquid or powder form. It is intensely sweet, 200-300 times more sweet than table sugar, although it is not a sugar at all, but a flavor. Something to celebrate about...stevia has no calories and a glycemic index of zero. All of this makes it probably the healthiest sweetener we can use. So, I start with stevia, but because it can have a bitter aftertaste if too much is used, I found just the right amount for each recipe without tasting bitter. This way, we cut down on even the amount of natural sugar in my recipes. Then I used coconut palm sugar, with its delicious flavor, as my secondary sweetener.
|Only 4 of the many brands of Coconut Palm Sugar|
Coconut palm sugar, which I've been excited about for some time now, is a granular, natural, unrefined sweetener made from the flower of the coconut palm tree. It has fewer calories than honey or agave nectar. Not only does coconut palm sugar have a low glycemic index of about 35 compared to table sugar with a glycemic index of 80, it is actually a nutrient-dense food containing vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and amino acids. It has a rich flavor, which is considered to be preferable to white or brown sugar. In cooking and baking, it behaves much like traditional sugar, and so allows for easy substitution and the same desired results. You can learn more about coconut palm sugar in my post a few years back (See, Coconut Sugar ~ It's Sweet, 2/17/11).
|Coconut Secret was the first brand I found being sold in markets, but other brands are coming along|
Coconut Nectar is a sweet syrup which, like coconut palm sugar, is the unprocessed "sap" of the coconut tree blossom. Although coconut nectar and coconut palm sugar come from the coconut tree, they do not have a coconut flavor. Also, like coconut palm sugar, coconut nectar is nutrient-dense, containing 17 amino acids, vitamin C, broad-spectrum B vitamins and a neutral pH. Its glycemic index is an admirable 35 and it has a delicious flavor which makes it and coconut palm sugar superior to other "natural" sweeteners in terms of flavor and health.
Raw honey, because it is unprocessed, scores between 30-40 on the glycemic index compared to processed honeys which score between 55-80.
Regarding agave nectar, I, along with most of the health community, believed at one time that agave nectar was a solid choice for a natural sweetener. So, in the first edition of Delightfully Free, I used it as one of my sweeteners. However, In the last couple of years, I have come to believe that there are better choices of natural sweeteners than agave nectar, so in the 2nd Edition of Delightfully Free, I reworked 52 recipes, eliminating agave nectar, and enhancing all the delicious recipes people have come to know and enjoy in the book.
When it comes to sweeteners--it's all about knowing what to use and how to use it. So, what kinds of sugar do you use? If you cook and bake using recipes from Delightfully Free, you now know the answer. For an even broader source of healthy info about ingredients used in Delightfully Free, you can check out the section at the beginning of the book entitled "Stocking your GF DF SF Pantry".
Wishing you health and Joy,
About Delightfully Free: Delightfully Free is a gluten-free, dairy-free and refined sugar-free cookbook of 141 recipes. It includes delicious resources for autism, Celiac disease, diabetes, lactose intolerance, obesity and just plain healthy living. It contains 114 color photographs, 114 vegetarian or vegetarian compatible recipes, and 103 vegan or vegan compatible recipes.