Low glycemic index and low/no calorie options. Agave nectar,
which is revered as a sacred food in Mexico, has recently become
popular as an alternative sweetener. Its selling points are its mild
honey-like flavor and, most of all, its low glycemic index (GI)—a
result of its composition, which ranges fro m about 60 to 90 percent
A lesser known low GI sweetener is coconut palm sugar. This
option not only has a lower GI than agave, but is also low in calories and high in nutrients such as potassium, iron and zinc.
It is soft, dark and crumbly like brown sugar yet, unlike
other options, palm sugars remain dry and free-flow-ing, rarely caking.
Another sweet and healthy option that is entering the sweetening scene is yacon, a tuber vegetable from Peru. This exotic ingredient is
much lower in calories than sugar and has the
added benefit of high levels of fructooligosaccaride (FOS) and inulin, which work in conjunc- This healthy Peruvian
tion as prebiotics and help manage blood sugars. veggie can substitute
The syrup has a stronger taste, much like molasses, for sugar.
and the powder has a fruity, apple-like flavor.
Organic erythritol, a sugar alcohol, is a zero calorie sweetener that
Sorting Out The Glycemic Index
In 1981, Australian researchers developed a method for evaluating carbohydrates to
benefit diabetics. They looked at blood sugar response to eating 50 grams of carbohydrate and compared it to ingesting the same amount of pure glucose solution. The
resulting comparison curve became known as the glycemic index (GI). A score of 70, for
example, meant that the food in question produced a blood sugar response over a
two-hour period that was 70 percent as rapid as ingesting pure glucose.
Many values were surprising, affected not only by the type of carbohydrate in the
food, but also by the protein, fat and fiber content, among other variables. Today, nutritionists are split in their opinions regarding the usefulness of the glycemic index
because of some of the inconsistencies in the many and varied GI charts. The list of
formerly “good foods” now with bad numbers generated so much confusion that an
offshoot of the glycemic index, glycemic load (GL), was recruited to settle some of the
conflict. To calculate GL, you multiply GI by the grams of carbohydrates in a food, giving more weight to the quantity of carbohydrates ingested.
One of the inconsistencies surfaced with the critique of high fructose corn syrup
(HFCS) (which has not been developed in organic). Fructose, which has a very low
glycemic index, fails to stimulate insulin secretion and enhance leptin production. From
this it was speculated that HFCS failed to satisfy our apetite as well as sucrose, leaving
us to crave sugar. Mashed potatoes, however, a high glycemic food, are a champ at satisfying hunger when evaluated by a satiety index—a measure of how satisfied you are
three hours after eating one food.
Advocates point out that low GI food need only be used about half the time we eat
carbohydrates and, further, that athletes need some high GI foods for energy. While the
jury is still out on how to best measure the impact of carbohydrates, the best advice,
given what we know, is to eat legumes and whole grains, and to consume sugar in moderation from a variety of natural sources. Stay tuned as the area will likely develop
more as science evolves.
occurs naturally in very small quantities. Industrially it’s produced by fermentation of glucose with a yeast
strain. Erythritol is 60 to 70 percent
as sweet as table sugar, yet has only
0.2 calories per gram, compared to 4
calories per gram for all sugars.
Because it is not sugar, it does not
promote tooth decay, stimulate
insulin production or affect blood
sugar. It’s absorbed in the small intestines, like all sugars, and excreted
unchanged in the urine. Large
amounts of this very low calorie
sweetener can produce a laxative
effect though. It also tends to be less
soluble than sugar and is said to yield
a cooling sensation in the mouth
upon immediate dissolution into
water. Inulin, however, can be used
with erythritol to provide bulk and
texture and to offset the cooling sensation.
Brown rice syrup is another
healther option believed to help keep
blood sugars more balanced. It’s
obtained by culturing cooked rice
with dried barley sprouts or other
sources of enzymes, which hydrolize
much of the starch into maltose and
glucose. The final composition is
about 3 percent glucose, 45 percent
maltose, with the remainder more
complex carbohydrates. This gives
brown rice syrup a reputation of providing sustained energy.
Cane sugar derivatives. Although
refined sugar gets a bad rap, there
are many options from the same
plant that offer significant nutrients
and sometimes even fewer calories.
Colorado Mountain jams and jellies
are sweetened with a minimal
amount of organic evaporated cane
juice, making them naturally lower in
calories and higher in nutrients
(especially vitamin B2) than most
jams and jellies.
Molasses is the rich dark syrup
made from the juice of pure sugar
cane, obtained by crushing or mashing the sugar cane plant stripped of