My 10-year-old baked these banana chocolate chip muffins the other day while I was running errands. It makes me happy to see her experimenting in the kitchen and she is getting pretty good. The muffins turned out great, with a hefty amount of chocolate chips (of course!). I detected honey right away and looked at the recipe. Sure enough, honey was listed in lieu of sugar. Also, the recipe called only for 1 tablespoon of olive oil. I could tell it came from a “healthy cooking” blog but Sonia didn’t remember which one, she just “googled it” (so if you recognize your recipe, please let me know!).
I don’t have anything against making recipes healthier. In fact, I try to healthify my own whenever I can. But there are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to defining what counts as healthy. “Naturally sweetened” is one of them and I see it all over the place, so I wanted to talk about it.
Let’s call a spade a spade, or in this case, call sugar “sugar”. It really does not matter what the source of it is– honey, maple syrup, agave, fruit juice, dates, etc. Chemically it is still glucose+fructose=sucrose. The proportions of this equation may vary slightly but not significantly, and the final effect on our bodies is about the same.
Agave nectar, honey, molasses, and turbinado sugar often are viewed as more natural choices because they’re derived from plant sources, so they may be perceived to be more healthful options than sucrose. The evidence doesn’t support that perception. The metabolism of all sugars follows a similar pathway, with the core molecule glucose being the end result of digestion. Avoiding added sugars requires good label reading and recognizing words that indicate the presence of sugar in a product. (Source)
I have included links to a few sources at the end of the post if you’d like to read more, and I am sure you will be able to find quite a few of your own on the internet.
Simply replacing regular sugar with honey or another “natural” sweetener will not make the food healthier.
I realize I may have ruined someone’s well-intentioned path to healthier eating by writing about the myth of naturally sweetened food. We do want to make right choices when it comes to sweet stuff and there are effective ways to cut down on sugar. But simply replacing one type sugar with another one because it sounds more “natural” is not helpful.
How do you tame your sweet tooth? Please share in the comments!
If you wanted to try the banana chocolate chip muffins, the recipe is below– and it is a good one. I liked the slight honey flavor but I am sure they will turn out equally delicious with regular or brown sugar. No matter what type of sweetener, this recipe only calls for 1/4 cup which is much less than traditional recipes. Feel free to cut down on chocolate chips as well (if you can!).
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3 bananas, mashed
1/4 cup honey
1 tbsp milk
1 tbsp vanilla
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup (or so) chocolate chips
Notes: if using sugar instead of honey, I would increase milk, or better yet, substitute buttermilk, to 1/4 cup. Any neutral oil will work. I like to use Canola.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the muffin tin or paper liners, if using, with oil spray.
- Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
- In another bowl, mash the bananas. Add the rest of the ingredients except for the chocolate chips, and mix thoroughly to combine.
- Add the dry ingredients mixture to the banana mixture and mix everything together. Add chocolate chips.
- Fill the muffin tins and bake for 20-25 minutes.
Here are the promised links — worth the read!
All caloric sweeteners contain about 20 calories per teaspoon, or about 4 calories per gram. Glucose is a monosaccharide, the primary source of energy for body cells. Fructose is also a monosaccharide, the natural sweetener found in fruit, honey, and some vegetables. Sucrose is commonly known as sugar, and is typically derived from sugar cane or sugar beets.
There are so many different ways to say “sugar”, including sucrose (table sugar), corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup, honey, agave, maple syrup, panela, and molasses.
Some natural sugars do contain minerals and vitamins, including honey, maple syrup, and especially molasses. But in the amounts recommended, they can’t be considered adjuncts to health.
“Natural” sweeteners from juice such as evaporated cane juice, fruit juice concentrates, and nectars are perceived as more “natural” than other refined sugars, but all have the identical effect on blood sugar. (Source)