You may have noticed that when I am making some paleo version of a food for my kids (like Paleo Snickerdoodles), I use actual sugar (or honey or molasses) in my recipes. Your saying to yourself “Wait! I thought we were supposed to avoid refined sugars!”. We are. Research is now showing that it is sugar and other carbohydrates (and not saturated fat!) that are the cause of the current rise in cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. I don’t eat much of these sweet recipes myself. But I think that kids don’t function that well on too low of carbs and as I transition my kids to paleo foods, it helps to feed them something really yummy! Now you ask “so, why not use a sugar substitute?”. Good question. My answer is that I just don’t like them. I definitely fall under the Julia Child philosophy of I’d rather eat an occasional little piece of the real thing than a giant bowl of the imitation (I think she was talking about mashed potatoes made with butter versus milk, but I can’t quite remember).
Why am I so suspicious of sweeteners? Well, different sweeteners cause me different heebee geegies, but it boils down to how sugar substitutes affect insulin and hunger hormones. Some of the natural sweeteners, like agave syrup, contain a large percentage of fructose. While it is true that this is a low glycemic load sweetener, it’s also true that consuming alot of fructose completely messes with your insulin, leptin and other hunger hormones. Fructose makes you hungrier. Artificial sweeteners and some natural sweetners have been shown to do something similar. For some people, they elicit an insulin response (basically, they taste sweet so your body releases some insulin before it realizes there isn’t actually any glucose in there!), which drops your blood glucose, so your body tells you to consume more glucose, so you feel hungry. I just don’t like messing with this.
So why don’t I stick with honey and maple syrup? I do in some cases, but I’m not opposed to small doses of white or brown sugar. All of these sugars are basically half fructose and half glucose, so they have nearly identical effects on your body chemistry. There is some benefit to using raw, unprocessed sugars (like Blackstrap Molasses or Tropical Traditions Organic Whole Cane Sugar or Dark Muscovado Sugar) since these sugars do have some valuable trace minerals. I generally choose which sugar (yes, these are all sugar) to use in my recipes based on chemistry (desired texture, other binders, etc.). BUT I have to tell you one very important thing. When you stick to a strict paleo diet, your sugar taste buds get REALLY sensitive. This means that eating something that wouldn’t have tasted very sweet to you before, tastes GREAT! Some of my sweet recipes are Kid Friendly (like my Paleo Snickerdoodles), which means there’s more sugar than most adults would want to consume except for very special occasions (or maybe this is a good post work-out food?). I have other recipes that qualify as Paleo Treats (like my Almond Coconut Bars), which means maybe not sweet enough for the kids, but probably okay for a more frequent treat for adults. So, when you go to do some paleo baking, don’t worry so much about which form of glucose and fructose I’m using in my recipes so much as how much of it you eat.
Another KEY POINT here is that a lot of the sugar substitutes out there are quite a lot more expensive than the old standbys. And I am doing this on a tight budget (and I’d rather put that extra cash toward some really good quality almond flour). But, by all means play with other sweeteners, if that floats your boat. I like the look of a lot of recipes from www.elenaspantry.com (and love the recipes that I’ve tried so far) and she often uses substitutes like stevia and yacon syrup in her baking.