Sugar is a carbohydrate.

C+H Sugar Company, Inc.

Reducing sugar intake is one of the most difficult aspects of taking off and keeping off weight. But the following low-sugar baking tips can help you stay on a successful plan.

Tips for Low-Sugar Baking

We have a love-hate relationship with sugar. We love the homey feeling sugar gives but hate its effect on our bodies. It drastically improves the taste of many dishes, and yet it can mound on the pounds and cheat us of valuable and necessary nutrients. Sugar is such an integral part of our lives that to cut it out removes much of the pleasure of eating.

However, it doesn't have to be that way. By using common sense and a few of the following tips, you can enjoy sugar and avoid its dark side.

Sugar is a carbohydrate, and research studies show that carbohydrate in the form of sugars does not raise blood sugar levels more rapidly than other types of carbohydrates. The total amount of carbs eaten is important, not the source.

A major problem with sugar consumption is that baked goods -- especially commercial ones -- are often high in fat, carbohydrates, and calories. Even the low-fat and fat-free versions are high in carbs (sugar) to compensate for the lack of fat, which gives flavor. These large amounts of sugar provide empty calories with little or no vitamins and minerals.

It's okay to use sugar in moderation, but use it wisely. In other words, incorporate sugars that contain some nutritional value. Natural sugars -- those naturally a part of food, such as fructose in fruit or lactose in milk -- give you carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Cutting back on the amount of granulated sugar in your recipes and sometimes adding sweetness by using sugar substitutes will help control the carbohydrate count as well.

When it comes to baking, however, that "non-nutritious" granulated sugar is very important. It not only provides flavor, but affects volume, moisture, texture, and color as well. When you bake, substituting other ingredients for sugar can cause problems. Even when using small amounts of granulated sugar in combination with sugar substitutes, it's the combination of other ingredients that will create the successful results larger amounts of sugar normally achieve.

The cooking properties of sugar substitutes are different than those of sugar, so substitutes work best in recipes where sugar is used primarily for sweetening. To get the most natural-tasting sweetness from sugar substitutes, use them on cold items -- over fruits and cereals, in lemonade and iced tea -- or after removing a cooked item from the heat. Prolonged cooking at high heat can destroy some sweetness and produce an unpleasant aftertaste. Try using half sugar substitute and half granulated sugar when baking your favorite recipes.

Following are tips on adding flavor, volume, sweetness, color, and moistness to baked goods made with reduced sugar, sugar substitutes, or a combination of sugar and sugar substitutes.

Using flavor enhancers such as orange or lemon zest brings out the fruitiness in a dish and heightens the flavors of the ingredients used. Vanilla, butter flavoring, and nut flavorings produce an aroma of "fattening" sweetness and buttery nuts without the use of butter or excessive use of nuts.

Sweet-enhancing spices such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger, and nutmeg intensify flavors in a dish. Or try combining several spices instead of using just one for a fresh, uplifting flavor.

In chocolate recipes, substitute cold strong coffee for the liquid needed. This brings out the deep chocolate flavors.

Topping baked goods with fruit, fruit spread, or a generous amount of cinnamon mixed with some sugar substitute allows the flavors to be on top and tasted immediately.

To add volume, use egg whites in place of whole eggs -- 2 egg whites for every whole egg needed. These may be whipped to stiff peaks with an electric mixer for slightly more volume. For optimum volume, set eggs out on counter for one-half hour before separating and whipping, or put eggs in a bowl of warm water while you assemble the other ingredients.

Cookies made using sugar substitute or very little sugar will not always spread enough while baking to cook evenly. Thus, flatten the surface of each cookie before baking with a fork coated with cooking spray. The cooking spray prevents the fork from sticking to the dough.

Bake muffins and cupcakes in small mini muffin tins rather than the standard size to provide the desired shape and allow them to rise higher. Adding 1/2 teaspoon baking soda to a recipe helps the product to rise in a short baking period.

To add sweetness, reduce fruit juices to 1/3 of their original volume by boiling over high heat for concentrated flavors and sweetness. The use of additional vanilla also accentuates the sweetness in a dish.

Dried fruits, such as plums, raisins, apples, pears, peaches, apricots, cherries, and cranberries provide bursts of sweetness. Cutting each one into very small pieces helps distribute the flavors and sweetness more evenly. (In the same vein, using mini morsels of chocolate rather than the standard-size chips helps guarantee chocolate flavors in every bite.)

Overripe fruits, such as bananas, provide a tremendous amount of sweetness, moisture, and flavor. Always buy fruits -- especially apples -- individually, not in plastic bags. The flavors and sweetness are much more intense when the fruits haven't been packaged in plastic.

Sprinkling a small amount of sugar on a pie crust coated with cooking spray will create the taste and appearance of sugar while using only fresh and dried fruits in the filling.

There are many different ways to add color. For example, a small amount of molasses not only provides color, but moisture and deep sweet flavor as well.

When baking with sugar substitutes or recipes very low in sugar and low in fat, food may not brown properly. Sprinkling cinnamon or nutmeg on top of an item before baking gives the impression of browning. And using a small amount of dark brown sugar with fruits will give the dish an intense, buttery, rich color.

To increase moisture in baked goods, use mashed or puréed fruits -- ripe bananas, pureed baby-food pears, prunes, sweet potatoes, and carrots. Applesauce may be used, but the other purees seem to provide more flavor, tenderness, and moisture.

Cookies and brownies will continue to cook while cooling; remove them before they look done and allow them to cool on a rack. When baking with sugar substitutes, in particular, the baking time is shortened considerably.

Use canola oil in place of butter or margarine in small amounts to add moisture while reducing cholesterol intake.

How to Bake Using Less Sugar

Baking with sugar substitutes is the easiest way to convert most of your favorite treats to fit within your meal plan. Equal Sugar Lite® and Splenda® Sugar Blend for Baking are blends that incorporate sugar for better baking, while still reducing total carbohydrates.

For those who can't use sugar substitutes, there are other ways to adapt recipes to use less sugar. Here are some tips:

  • Add dried fruit purée to replace some of the sugar and fat in soft, chewy cookies. Boil pitted dried plums or dates until soft and purée until smooth in a food processor or blender.
  • Experiment with reducing the amount of sugar by one quarter to one third in most drop cookie recipes.
  • Slice bar cookies into bite-sized portions.
  • Take advantage of the natural sweetness of dried chopped fruit instead of the candied variety to add to your favorite baked goods.
  • Portion smaller amounts of cookie dough (for instance, 1 teaspoon instead of 1 tablespoon) for mini versions of your favorite treats. Bake at a lower temperature for a shorter period of time.

Also, try these decorating tips:

  • Drizzle a bit of chocolate icing made from melted bittersweet chocolate and nonfat half-and-half.
  • Press the tops of reduced-sugar cookies into fine-grain colored sugar crystals or crushed sugar-free hard candies before baking.
  • Brush the tops of cookies lightly with a glaze of no-sugar-added jam thinned with a small amount of juice or water.

For more low-sugar baking tips and low-sugar baking recipes, visit:

USDA Nutrition Guidelines: Sugar Guidelines

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