Get the Sugar Out

Fall 2013

By Cheryl Wixson

For a variety of health, social and environmental reasons, I’ve been tweaking a number of my recipes to get the sugar out.

Table sugar, or sucrose, is obtained by refining the juice from sugar beets or sugar cane. Today, about 80 percent of the white table sugar consumed in the United States is manufactured from genetically engineered (GE) sugar beets – and GE crops tend to increase the use of pesticides, concentrate the seed business in the hands of few and threaten to contaminate non-GE crops.

From a health standpoint, 1 teaspoon of sugar has 4 grams of carbohydrates and 20 calories – and little to nothing in terms of vitamins, minerals and other healthful ingredients.

As a nutritionist, I know that the preference for sweets is inborn. Unfortunately, food manufacturers recognize this also, and American’s consumption of sugar has risen dramatically. In 1890, the average person consumed 6 teaspoons of sugar daily; by 1996, 32 teaspoons! This equals 130 pounds of sugar per year! For a fascinating infographic about sugar consumption, see

In the last decade, scientists and food manufacturers have been debating what constitutes sugar and how to measure it in the diet. Added sugars are defined as sugars added to a food for any purpose, such as to add sweetness or bulk or to aid in browning of baked goods. Naturally occurring sugars are sugars that are not added to a food but are present as its original constituents, such as the sugars of fruit or milk. Carbohydrate sweeteners are ingredients composed of carbohydrates that contain sugars used for sweetening food products, including glucose, fructose, corn syrup, concentrated grape juice or apple juice, and other sweet carbohydrates.

A simple strategy to magnify the sweetness of food without boosting calories is to serve food warm, as heat enhances the sweet taste. Also, in cooking and baking, add such sweet spices as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice or cloves to magnify sweetness. A pinch of salt enhances all the flavors, including sweetness. Enjoy real, fresh fruit and fruit juices, or those prepared without any added sugar, and be sure to read manufactured food labels carefully.

For those of us who strive to enjoy a more seasonal, local and organic diet, honey and maple syrup are the sweeteners of choice, and refined white table sugar is not a typical pantry item.  When contemporary recipes for baked goods call for white sugar, I often try reducing the sugar in the recipe by one-third or one-half. Sometimes I can substitute part of the sugar and decrease the liquid, and in some recipes, I can eliminate the white sugar entirely, using honey or maple syrup.

For me cooking without sugar is a creative opportunity to use wonderful Maine-grown ingredients to enhance the flavors of nutritious foods. Enjoy!
Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars

I developed this recipe one night as I waited for the polls to close and for the election results. The honey gives Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars a nice golden color, and you’ll never miss the sugar!

2 Tbsp. butter at room temperature

4 Tbsp. creamy or chunky, organic peanut butter

1 c. honey

1 tsp. vanilla

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

1/2 c. whole-wheat flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 c. chocolate chips

1/4 c. chopped peanuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9- x 13-inch pan.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, cream together the butter, peanut butter and honey. Beat in the vanilla. Add the flour, baking powder and chocolate chips.

Spoon the batter into the pan, spreading to the edges. Sprinkle the top of the bars with 1/4 cup chopped peanuts.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Shorter baking times will produce a chewy bar; longer baking makes more of a cake. Cut into 24 pieces.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 131 calories, 2.4 g protein, 22 g carbohydrates, 4 g fat (0 g trans fat), 41 mg sodium, 1 g fiber

Lemon-Maple Pumpkin Snack Cake

This cake is delicious plain or dusted with powdered sugar. For a high-end restaurant presentation, top with Greek yogurt or whipped cream and dots of lemon curd. A scoop of lemon sherbet would also be tasty.

1/2 c. butter at room temperature

1 c. Maine maple syrup

1 c. cooked pumpkin puree

2 eggs

2 c. whole-wheat pastry flour (or 1 c. cake flour and 1 c. whole-wheat flour)

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/2 c. sunflower seeds (or nuts, walnuts, etc.)

1/2 c. dried cranberries (raisins, currants, cherries)

2 Tbsp. candied lemon peel

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9- by 13-inch pan.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, cream the butter and maple syrup. Beat in the pumpkin puree. Beat in the eggs. Add the dry ingredients and beat just to combine. Stir in the sunflower seeds, dried fruit and candied lemon peel.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Let cool on a rack. Cut into pieces and serve.

Makes 16 servings.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 184 calories, 3 g protein, 26 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat (0 g trans fat), 97 mg sodium, 2 g fiber. Nutritional bonuses: vitamin A and manganese

Cheryl Wixson, P.E., is MOFGA’s agricultural engineer and food safety specialist. Contact her at [email protected] or 207-852-0899.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2013 issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.

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