Today we put into perspective “all things sweet”. I am often asked about the use of sweeteners when cooking to impart a taste of sweetness to meals, so I thought I would provide my top tips in this area.
- First and foremost, while we’re not against sweeteners, we encourage infrequent use of any sweeteners – even natural ones – as we really want to encourage an altered palate and get people off that desire to constantly have their foods / meals taste sweet. Studies show us that it is not only the sugar that might have an addictive nature, but also the “sweet” taste itself.
- When we do use sweeteners, we go for stevia first, as it is a natural plant extract with a negligible effect on blood sugar. Other natural sweeteners might not have a calorie or carb contribution, but these compounds have varying glycaemic indices, meaning that they may still elicit an insulin response (e.g. xlylitol, maltitol, sorbitol) i.e., have a similar, but less pronounced effect on the blood sugar as sugar itself. Artificial sweeteners are simply that – artificial. Some may argue that peer-reviewed studies show they’re okay; the mere fact that they’re artificial, simply means that I have serious doubts! I just don’t recommend them.
- As for other natural sugars i.e., honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, agave syrup e.t.c, these are the refined sugars we talk about – which are most damaging to health. They contribute a heavy carbohydrate and calorie load so these need to be kept to a minimum.
- Sweet foods like dates or raisins can also be used to sweetened foods. While these foods might provide other beneficial nutrients, they contribute a lot of carbohydrate in a small “space”, so we err on the side of caution with these, and also keep them to a minimum.
Bottom line: We aim to keep our overall carbohydrate load down – predominantly to make sure the insulin response stays down. We are also in favour of keeping treat foods for treat occasions, which means that whatever sweetener you decide to use (apart from artificial, as they’re off the list), you will only be having it in small amounts and only at special times!