“Fabulously Free”: Getting your sugar(-free!) fix

Ondine Barry has been living gluten, sugar and dairy free since January 2014. In today’s “Fabulously Free”, she looks at the best sugar alternatives for those with a sweet tooth.

It seems that most of us first rebel against our parents and then as we get older come to realise the wisdom and sense in their parenting (some of it anyway).

As a child of bohemian parents growing up in 1970s America, with a mother who had macrobiotic leanings and a tight control of the sugar in the pantry, I craved cinnamon-sugar toast and Pop Tarts, and to get them, I had to go to friends’ houses to have what they and nearly everyone else in America was having as their after- school snack. In our house however, it was barley malt drops or a rice cake with peanut butter. And while I appreciate that now, it didn’t cut the mustard when I was 12.

My mother, actually, was a fabulous cook and inventive in the kitchen, and I have wonderful memories of helping her make fresh bagels and lasagne (albeit with tofu and spinach). Not so of the barley malts, but for someone who loves dessert and is now sugar free, finding a good substitute for cinnamon-sugar toast or (God-forbid) a Pop Tart was essential.

Of course everyone now knows how bad refined sugar is for you. What I didn’t know was how good for you some natural sweeteners are – or how bad some of them can be. For instance, organic brown rice syrup. Must be extremely good for you, right? Wrong. It’s hardly any better than high-fructose or glucose syrup: highly refined and inclined to spike your blood sugar levels. Fair enough, but what about fruit sugar? Surely that has to be okay to use as a sugar substitute. Nope. There are some studies that even suggest it could be worse.

So what are the ‘good’ sugars then?

1. First and foremost on my list are medjool dates. They’re soft, squishy, super sweet and full of fibre and vitamins B6 and B5. They are calorific so don’t eat loads at a time, but they’re brilliant in baked goods and make a great substitute for that chocolate bar that’s grinning at you on the check-out line…

2. Next is pure, organic maple syrup. It’s not raw but it’s a very simple process: tapped from maple trees and boiled, then filtered to remove any impurities. That’s it. It is a sugar and therefore shouldn’t be used in excess, but it’s much lower than refined sugar on the Glycaemic Index (GI) scale and contains essential minerals such as zinc, calcium and manganese. It’s delicious and versatile and if you’ve got a sugar craving that needs to be sated, maple syrup is a great choice. Make sure when you buy maple syrup that’s pure and not flavoured.

3. Raw honey: Everyone talks about the benefits of manuka honey, but British raw honey is about half the cost, tastes much better and contains loads of enzymes and antioxidants, plus antibacterial properties, making it also very good for you. Like with your oils, buy the cold-extracted kind.

4. Blackstrap molasses is a truly excellent sugar substitute – it’s high in iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, B6 and selenium. Strangely, it’s what’s extracted during the process of refining sugar cane into white table sugar, so none of it is left in the stuff everyone consumes daily… That said, blackstrap has a rather strong flavour and isn’t therefore as versatile as maple syrup. Do make sure you’re buying blackstrap and not regular molasses.

I know Stevia is supposed to be a very good sugar substitute, but I have had underwhelming results with it and so it’s collecting dust in the larder. If anyone has had better results and has any tips for me, please Tweet me @ondinebarry.

Some of you might be wondering why I haven’t included agave nectar, Sweet Freedom and xylitol in my good sugars list, but people seem to be on the fence about whether they’re good or bad, so I only use them occasionally. Coconut sugar is another that I’m unsure about, but one of my favourite vegan blog sites Vegan Pact recommends it as a good substitute so it’s on my list of things to try.

What we all should be doing is roasting sweet potato wedges and keeping them as go-to snacks instead of making sweet treats with maple syrup, but I’m not as perfect as I’d like to be (hello, Sarah Wilson) and do still indulge my sweet tooth.

And so: Homemade chocolate bites

You will need:

o 1 cup organic raw cacao butter
o 4-5 tablespoons raw cacoa powder
o 3-4 tablespoons maple syrup

Gently heat the cacao butter. When it’s melted, take it off the heat and stir in the cacao powder and then the maple syrup until it’s thoroughly combined. Pour into ice cube trays (I like the specialty fruit kind!) and freeze for an hour. They are absolutely delicious: pure and creamy.

Ondine Barry
The author:

Ondine is a passionate fan of gluten-free, dairy-free and sugar-free eating and writes our Fabulously Free blog