You want to make a delicious vegan smoothie or dessert that’s good for you, and you want to it to be sweet, but you’re not sure which sweetener is best. If this is what you’re wondering, maybe this article will help.
Sweeteners are added to foods and drinks to give them a sweet taste. However, some sweeteners are not good for you. Refined and processed white sugar (extracted from sugarcane and beets) contains no nutritional value and should be avoided. And it may not be vegan, because it is sometimes processed with bone char from animals, in order to make it white and have a fine texture. Also avoid high fructose corn syrup, which is a sweetener that’s highly refined and high-glycemic, according to the glycemic index (a scale that ranks food between 1 and 100 based on their effect on blood-sugar levels). Then there’s Sucralose, Aspartame, Saccharin, Splenda, and NutraSweet. Avoid these and any other chemical sweeteners since most are neurotoxins (a poison that acts on the nervous system) and carcinogens (substance capable of causing cancer).
Popular vegan “health food” sweeteners provide nutrients and can be found organically produced, some are low in calories, and a few are low glycemic. It worth mentioning that most of these sweeteners are only better than the “bad” sweeteners, so use them sparingly, and consult your doctor before using any sweeteners if you have diabetes, candida, or any other medical condition that is effected by sweeteners. And if you’re concerned about gluten, check with the manufacturers of the sweeteners that you choose, to be sure they are manufactured in a gluten-free facility.
Even though agave nectar has been promoted as a health food, some now believe that it’s no better than high fructose corn syrup. The reason for this could be due to how this sweetener is processed. Made from various kinds of agave plants, it can either be heated and chemically refined, or made healthier with minimal processing. Since it’s hard to be sure how a brand is processed, some avoid agave nectar altogether.
Regular molasses is the first or second boiling of cane sugar syrup while blackstrap molasses is the third boiling of the syrup. Just be sure the blackstrap molasses is certified-organic, since producers cannot use bone char to make the certified-organic sugar. Blackstrap molasses is wonderful source of iron, especially when taken with vitamin C to increase it’s absorption. And it does not contain any cholesterol, protein, or fat.
Brown Rice Syrup
Brown Rice Syrup, also called Rice Malt Syrup or simply Rice Syrup, is made commercially from cooking brown rice or brown rice starch with enzymes until thickened into a syrup. Brown rice syrup contains some nutrients, but unfortunately it may also contain traces of arsenic. For this reason some avoid this sweetener or limit the use of it.
Pure coconut sugar comes straight from the coconut tree. This to say, it’s minimally processed without the use of any animal products, which makes it vegan. Use it sparingly. Even though it has a lower glycemic index than refined and processed white sugar, it still might spike your blood glucose and insulin.
A date is an edible fruit harvested from a type of palm tree known as the Date Palm. They contain protein and are high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. But don’t over do it. Even though they are classified as low glycemic, they are high in natural sugar. This means that they can still lead to high triglycerides (elevated levels of triglycerides indicate risk of stroke) and insulin resistance (the lack of insulin causes a form of diabetes).
Honey is an animal product, so technically it’s not vegan, but some vegans make this food the exception. It’s important to read labels, however, to be sure that it’s 100% pure. If you choose to include honey in your diet, make it raw honey, which preserves vitamins, minerals and enzymes, and buy it locally from a beekeeper who follows organic and humane practices.
This powder has a slight caramel flavor to it, which makes it a popular natural sweetener. It is derived from lucuma fruit, which is grown on trees in Peru, Ecuador and Chile. It is a popular natural substitute for refined sugar and artificial sweeteners. It’s also naturally gluten-free and vegan. Though lucuma is said to have a glycemic index that is much lower than refined white sugar, it is unclear as to whether or not this sweetener may benefit blood sugar control.
Maple syrup is made from the sap of certain maples, especially the sugar maple. Look for brands that are 100% pure, which are likely to provide magnesium, calcium, potassium, and antioxidants.
This sweetener is extracted from a small green melon that is native to China, known as lau han guodried fruit, or monk fruit. It is much sweeter than table sugar, has zero calories, zero carbs, and is non-glycemic. The texture of this sweetener is slightly coarse, and its color is light beige. It does have a slight aftertaste, but less than some other sweeteners. Know that some brands may add to it other natural or artificial sweeteners, so be sure to read the ingredients before making a purchase.
This non-glycemic and calorie-free sweetener comes from the stevia plant (pictured above). You can purchase this sweetener in the form of granules, crystals, liquid, and powder. A small amount of stevia is all that’s needed to sweeten foods and beverages (it’s about 300 times sweeter than white sugar). It’s somewhat bitter, but given time your taste buds adapt — you’ll grow to like it. It’s commercially processed, but you can opt to grow your own stevia plant. The sweetness is in the leaves, so you can use a fresh leaf in a cup of tea, or harvest the leaves, dry them, and grind your own powder or make your own liquid — here’s how:
1. Harvest leaves from a stevia plant.
2. Dry leaves in full sun for 1 hour or until dry, or dry them in a food dehydrator according to your dehydrator instructions for drying herbs.
3. Crush the dried leaves using a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder. Store away from light at room temperature and in a glass spice jar or other airtight jar for up to 1 year or until it looses its potency. Makes a varied amount, depending on how many leaves were used.
1. Place 2 tablespoon fresh stevia powder (above recipe) in a bowl.
2. Add 1/2 cup warm filtered water and let sit for 24 hours.
3. Strain through a cheesecloth or coffee filter. Refrigerate liquid in a tightly sealed glass jar or bottle for up to 1 month. Makes 1/2 cup.
Sucanat and Turbinado
Except for the color, sucanat and turbinado are similar to white sugar. If you’re vegan, it may interest you to know that white sugar is refined with bone char, so it’s not actually vegan. Turbinado is made by evaporating and crystallizing sugar cane juice, which is then spun in a turbine to remove any water. Sucanat is pure dried cane juice (not refined) that contains its full molasses content and flavor.
This low-glycemic sweetener that comes from the yacón plant, and its sweet-tasting root is said to have anti aging properties, and is high in protein and fiber, vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, and phosphorus. You’ll find it in health food stores and whole food markets, but it’s often more expensive than the other more popular sweeteners.
The best way to sweeten smoothies and desserts is with a variety of fruits. Fruit contains natural sugars, as well as fiber, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The fiber in fruits and vegetables are said to slow down sugar absorption, but some are concerned that blending breaks down the fiber too finely, resulting in a surge of glucose. For this reason, you may want to make your smoothies chunky enough to chew a little before swallowing. Some fruits are sweeter than others. To reduce your sugar intake limit or avoid fruits that are very sweet, such as dried fruits, bananas, cantaloup, cherries, grapes, honeydew mellon, mangos peaches, pineapple, plums, oranges. Instead, choose fruits that are less sweet, such as apples, blackberries, blueberries, grapefruits, kiwi, lemons, limes, raspberries, strawberries, and watermelon.
Note: If you have diabetes, candida, or any other medical condition that is effected by sugar, ask your doctor or nutritionist which sweeteners to avoid. Stevia or a limited amount of certain fruits may be your only options.
Sources: Ani’s Raw Food Essentials by Ani Phyo, Superfood Smoothies by Julie Morris, The 30-Minute Vegan by Mark Reinfeld and Jennifer Murray, The Bible Cure for Candida and Yeast Infections by Don Colbert, M.D., The Beauty Detox Solution by Kimberly Snyder, C.N., and Vanishing of the Bees (DVD) documentary.