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Making Smart Sugar Swaps
Think about it: Using a sugar substitute in a batch of chocolate chip cookies doesn’t make much sense; the butter and chocolate account for a whole bunch of calories, too. (Let’s look at the math: Sugar has 775 calories per cup; butter has 1,627, shortening has 1,845 and oil has 1,927.) In many cases, it can be better to treat yourself to one (yes, one) really good homemade chocolate chip cookie, rather than making a batch of high-fat, high-calorie cookies that just happen to have a little less sugar. Says SparkPeople Dietitian Becky Hand: "Using an artificial sweetener in cooking and baking can actually backfire and trick you into thinking you can eat more. Be sure to analyze your reduced-sugar recipe with SparkPeople's Recipe Calculator so you know exactly what's in it."
In other words, don't automatically assume that you can eat a few more treats simply because you're using artificial sweeteners--those calories from all the other ingredients still add up fast! It would make more sense to use sugar substitutes in dishes that don’t include much (or any) fat, or in recipes where you’re taking other steps to reduce overall calorie count.
So what kinds of foods lend themselves to smart sugar swaps?
Beverages: Stir away in your morning coffee, tea or even a batch of summery lemonade.
Cereals: If you need a bit of sweet in your corn flakes or hot oatmeal, then a sprinkling of sucralose or stevia is a good choice.
Puddings, which can be made with low-fat or non-fat milk, are good candidates for sugar substitutes, like this recipe for low-calorie chocolate pudding. Likewise, Chef Meg’s 150-calorie chocolate mousse, which includes fat-free Greek yogurt, is another good recipe where you could substitute a sugar alternative.
In recipes where you’re taking other steps to reduce overall calorie count. Look for baked goods prepared with applesauce instead of oil, or ones that are partially sweetened with fruit like prunes or bananas. These light lemon-raspberry scones, made with fat-free evaporated milk and less butter, are a great example.
As you consider whether to use a sugar alternative in a recipe, calorie count from sugar alone is only part of the equation. You also need to weigh other questions: Can I do more with this recipe to sensibly reduce overall calorie count from fat and other ingredients? Will the taste of the sugar substitute be noticeable? Is the extra cost of using an alternative sweetener OK for my budget? And perhaps most importantly, Can I avert the ''low-calorie'' trap and avoid eating more than I intend?
Bryn Mooth Bryn Mooth is an independent copywriter and journalist focused on food, wellness and design; she's also a Master Gardener and enthusiastic green thumb. She shares seasonal recipes, kitchen techniques, healthy eating tips and food wisdom on her blog writes4food.com.
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