Archived Story

Baking with sugar alternatives for the holidays

Published 4:42pm Monday, December 24, 2012

By Laurel MacKenzie, RD, LDN, CDE is a Registered Dietitian with Vidant Beaufort Hospital

‘Tis the season for feasting according to our American traditions. It is also the season for putting on extra pounds that lead to those familiar New Year’s resolutions. A calendar gives a clean slate with chances to make and reach new goals and aspirations for ourselves. Our love affair with food, though, sometimes proves to be a challenge.
I often have people with diabetes ask for “diabetic” recipes. My response is usually that managing blood sugar doesn’t require special food and special recipes. However, I do admire the spirit of their request: to change what they eat and how they prepare their foods.
The goal to decrease calories, carbohydrates and sugar is common, whether it be to control weight or to control blood sugar. Along this vein, lies the dilemma: “How can I have my cake and eat it too?”
We can turn to artificial sweeteners to convert our favorite baked recipes into guilt-free confections. Commonly, though, we end up disappointed when the cake is tougher, the cookies aren’t as crispy, and that horrible aftertaste turns visions of sugarplums into facial contortions of disgust!
Besides providing sweetness, sugar (sucrose) creates volume, tenderness, moistness and browning effects to baked goods. It adds crispiness to cookies and helps them spread by it’s melting properties. When using an artificial sweetener, one has to take special care to help preserve some of these desirable outcomes.
Equal (aspartame) is not recommended for baking but Spenda (sucralose) and stevia products are zero calorie sweeteners that can be used for baking with some adjustments.
When using Splenda, the baking time will be shorter by 5-10 minutes. Don’t wait for browning though. Spraying the batter with cooking spray ahead of time may help. Splenda should not be used when structure is important for the recipe, like angel food cake, meringues, candy and pound cake. To get a better rise in cakes, try adding ½ cup dry milk powder and ½ teaspoon of baking soda for every cup of Splenda you use. Use Splenda only in place of the white sugar, not for brown sugar, honey, or molasses. The best practice may be to substitute only half of the sugar with Splenda so you are not wasting your effort and money on an unacceptable dessert.
Stevia is the new zero calorie sweetener on the market. It is made from steeping the leaves of the stevia plant to remove the sweetest component, Rebiana. Products that contain this sweet component (which are mixed with a bulking agent-erythritol) are Truvia and Purevia. The Truvia website advises to leave ¼ cup sugar in recipes and replace the rest of the sugar with Truvia. Twelve packets equal ½ cup sugar. Add cornstarch to pies to thicken the filling. They also suggest to lower the oven temperature by 25-50 degrees and to increase the bake time by 5-10 minutes.
Pure stevia can also be purchased in liquid or granular forms. When using pure liquid stevia you can replace 1-cup sugar with 1 tsp (yes, that’s one teaspoon) liquid stevia. However, for each cup of sugar replaced, 1/3 cup of a liquid or other bulking ingredient should be added to make up for the volume and melting properties of the sugar that is being replaced. Examples of liquid additions are: yogurt, applesauce, apple butter, fruit or pumpkin puree.
Other examples of sweetening alternatives that do contain calories and carbohydrate are honey, maple syrup, and brown rice syrup. Another popular one is agave nectar, which boasts a lower glycemic index and can be used cup for cup when substituting for sugar. Of note, it is higher in fructose than other caloric sweeteners including sucrose and high fructose corn syrup. Add another ¼ cup of flour to the recipe and reduce oven temperature by 25 degrees. The baked item may brown more quickly and may be less tender.
If you have managed to get to the end of this article, I suppose you have surmised that baking is a lot less complicated when we just follow the recipe as written, and instead, resolve to resist eating half the cake ourselves. But if you are willing to experiment and are intent on reducing calories from sugar, there are plenty of alternatives to choose from and the internet shares much information. These alternatives are more “user-friendly” when used in ways that exclude baking.
Keep in mind that most baked goods prepared with artificial sweeteners will still contain calories and carbohydrates, and in some cases, very little nutrition. So have your cake, but keep your piece small!

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