For those of you with a sweet tooth, remember: Not all sweeteners are alike. Refined white sugar and corn syrup are stripped of nutrients, have a high glycemic index and contribute to obesity and diabetes. The artificial sweetener aspartame lacks nutrients and has been shown to cause problems such as dizziness and headaches. Many agave syrups contain 70-80 percent fructose -- more than what's found in high-fructose corn syrup. But don't give up on sweets yet. There are two star sweeteners that impart flavor and nutritional benefits: blackstrap molasses and grade B pure maple syrup. In small amounts, these sweeteners actually offer some goodness.
High in iron and calcium, this sweetener offers health benefits while bestowing a sweet and tangy flavor. Blackstrap molasses has less sugar and a higher nutrient content than basic molasses. It can be substituted for molasses in most recipes, especially with beans and pork and other meats. But it is slightly more bitter, so taste-test as you use it.
The carbohydrates and iron in blackstrap molasses provide an energy boost. Just two teaspoons provide 13 percent of your daily requirement of iron and almost 12 percent of calcium. Iron carries oxygen through our bodies, and calcium supports heart and nerve health, bone strength and blood clotting. Blackstrap molasses also offers magnesium, potassium, copper and manganese.
Although blackstrap molasses has a similar calorie count and sugar content to white sugar, its glycemic load is lower. This means diabetics can consume it more safely.
Using blackstrap molasses:
1. 'Tis the season for gingerbread. Try adding it to other baked goods, too.
2. Stir into a bowl of oatmeal. This can be an easy way to ensure children get calcium and iron without fighting over how much broccoli to eat. (Still serve the broccoli, of course!)
3. Add to baked beans for a tangy flavor.
4. Baste a turkey with molasses to give it a warm color and a richer taste.
5. Rub on chicken before baking for a crispy crust.
6. Iced molasses: In a glass, cover a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses with hot water to dissolve. Add ice and fill your glass with milk.
Grade B pure Maple Syrup
Maple syrup has a higher sugar content and a lower mineral content than blackstrap molasses, but its sweet taste is more universal.
Two teaspoons of maple syrup provide 22 percent of your daily requirement of manganese, a mineral essential to survival. Manganese is shown to build strong bones, keep our blood healthy and support antioxidant work. The zinc in maple syrup supports our immunity and heart.
A majority of shoppers purchase grade A maple syrup because it most resembles the highly processed versions made with corn syrup. Grade B is usually produced later in the season, tends to have a richer flavor, pours a bit thicker and is more nutrient-dense. In other words, B is a better choice.
Using maple syrup:
1. Replace a cup of white sugar in recipes with a third-cup to a half-cup of maple syrup and reduce the recipe's liquid measurement by a quarter-cup.
2. Mix into a bowl of oatmeal, millet or quinoa for breakfast.
3. Add to yogurt and fruit.
4. Toast your own granola with olive oil and maple syrup.
5. Drizzle on roasted sweet potatoes and squash.
6. Combine with soy sauce and orange juice for a delicious chicken marinade.