Attune Nutrition at the Buttonwood Business Center

Nutrition News to Help You Be Well and Live Well

April/May 2024

Party time!  April and May tend to be full of festivities such as graduation parties, weddings and baby showers.  It’s always nice to have a recipe up your sleeve for a refreshing beverage or a sweet treat to pass around at these types of events.  But does sugar have you conflicted?  In this issue, we will explore some popular sugars and syrups, some that are trendy and some that have been around forever!  As with most things, sugars should be consumed in moderation, but it’s fun to enjoy something sweet occasionally.  And did you know (drumroll please!) that some types of sugars actually offer a few health benefits?  What a sweet surprise!  Read on below to learn more and to help you make smarter choices regarding sugars.

In good health,

Sally Stegemann MS, RD, LD

registereddietitian@buttonwoodbusinesscenter.com

Sweet Spring

By Sally Stegemann, MS, RD, LD

        The food industry has been busy recently looking for new ways to market sweet foods, sweet drinks, and soda-like beverages, especially since most people now tend to recognize high-fructose corn syrup as a nutritional “baddy.”  Some food manufacturers returned to using good old cane sugar in place of high-fructose corn syrup, and marketed the product as an “all-natural” option.  Other’s have turned to using alternative sources of sugar or sugar syrups in their products such as agave, tapioca syrup, or cassava root syrup.  Let’s take a closer look at some of these alternative sugars and sugar syrups:

Agave:  Agave syrup is derived by processing the sugars found in the agave plant native to the Southwest and Latin America.  It is highly refined and contains little to no plant antioxidant compounds.  It has a very high fructose content which is broken down in the body differently than other sugars; fructose is digested more like a fat in the body and therefore has a lower glycemic index because it raises blood sugar more slowly.  However, while it may raise blood sugar at a slower rate, it can cause blood sugar to stay higher longer, and can increase blood triglyceride levels and even lead to fatty liver when consumed in excess.  It is also higher in calories per serving than cane sugar.  Agave inulin is not the same as the syrup.  Inulin is a type of resistant starch found in the plant, and is often added to foods as a source of prebiotic fiber which can improve gut health by providing a food source to friendly microbes in the intestinal tract.  You’ll find agave inulin (and other sources of inulin) in two of the popular prebiotic soda brands, Poppy and Olipop.  

Cassava root syrup:  Cassava root syrup is a novel sugar syrup that is used as a sweetener in the popular prebiotic soda beverage, Olipop.  Cassava (also known as yuca) is a starchy root vegetable native to the tropics and is widely consumed as a major carbohydrate source by the population in those areas.  The syrup is made by mixing the root with water, heating it and using enzymes to break the starches down into sugar.  Cassava root syrup is marketed as being “fructose-free,” as its sugar profile is 35% glucose, 35% maltose and 30% complex carbohydrates.  Like agave, cassava root contains resistant starch which can also be extracted and used as a prebiotic fiber source in various products, such as Olipop soda.  Cassava root syrup is relatively new in the world of cane sugar alternatives and has only been available in the United States the past several years, so the jury is still out for me in terms of health benefits/drawbacks.  Tapioca syrup and tapioca products are also made from cassava root.  

Honey:  Straight from mother nature, honey has been consumed by humans for thousands of years.  Raw honey is rich in plant antioxidants including flavonoids and polyphenols; the darker the honey, the more antioxidants it contains.  It also contains small amounts of vitamins and minerals, including copper and riboflavin.  Honey’s sugar profile is made up primarily of glucose and fructose; the exact percentages will vary depending on the type of honey.  Honey is known to have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.  Studies have found numerous benefits of moderate honey consumption including blood pressure management, cholesterol management, wound and burn healing, and as a cough suppressant and treatment in the common cold/flu.  While technically illegal, honey adulteration is common (instead of getting pure honey, you might be getting mostly colored corn syrup), so buy from a brand/seller you trust.

Maple syrup:  Produced from the sap of sugar maple trees, maple syrup is another favorite of mother nature’s sweeteners.  It is rich in certain minerals, providing 28% of the reference daily intake (RDI) for zinc, 16% RDI for manganese, 7% RDI for iron and 7% RDI for calcium.  Like honey, it contains numerous plant antioxidants, with antioxidant content being higher in the darker syrups, such as Grade B syrups.  

Molasses:  Molasses is made from crushed sugar cane or sugar beets, has a unique flavor, and is rich in minerals and some vitamins.  In fact, blackstrap molasses (which is darker and has a slightly bitter flavor) is sometimes recommended as a good source of minerals in vegan diets, as it provides 20% RDI for iron and is also a good source of calcium, magnesium, manganese, potassium and vitamin B6.  Molasses is added to refined cane sugar to create brown sugar.  

Turbinado sugar:  “Sugar in the Raw” is a well-known brand of turbinado sugar, but is not actually raw.  All cane sugars must be processed to remove impurities.  Turbinado sugar is a coarse, light-brown sugar that is slightly less processed than traditional brown sugar, and has a slightly greater amount of antioxidant content as compared to traditional white cane sugar, which has very little.  

Seasonal Recipe

Tuscan Lemon Muffins

Ingredients: 

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup granulated sugar

2 ½ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup part-skim ricotta cheese

½ cup water

¼ cup olive oil 

1 tablespoon grated lemon rind

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 large egg, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife  Combine flour and next 3 ingredients (through salt); make a well in center.  Combine ricotta and next 5 ingredients (through egg).  Add ricotta mixture, stirring just until moist.
  3. Place 12 muffin-cup liners in muffin pans (or spray muffin pans with cooking spray instead).  Divide batter among muffin cups.  Sprinkle turbinado sugar over batter.  Bake at 375 for 18 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool 5 minutes in pan on a wire rack before removing muffins from pan.  

Additional recipe ideas:

Maple Glazed Walnuts: https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ellie-krieger/maple-glazed-walnuts-recipe-1957483

Honey Lemon Iced Tea: https://nicolestastingspoon.com/honey-lemon-iced-tea/#google_vignette

Easy No-Bake Granola Bars:  https://cookieandkate.com/best-granola-bars-recipe/

Blueberry Maple Syrup:  https://www.onceuponachef.com/recipes/blueberry-maple-syrup.html#tabrecipe

(this syrup also makes a delicious topping for vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt)