It is commonplace to reach for sugar to sweeten tea or coffee and to gulp down sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages. Even though most people are enlightened about the harm of refined sugar on health, and opt for sweetener alternatives like Ace-K, Sucralose, and sugar alcohols, there are still plenty of people who don’t give it much thought. But a closer look at the benefits of natural sweeteners is enough reason to think about switching from refined sugar to a more natural alternative.
If you want to avoid the potential health risks of refined sugar and artificial sweeteners, the choices may seem very limited. You can either drink bland beverages or choose the lesser of two evils.
And there is a third option: opt for a natural sweetener with health benefits. There are nutritional rewards found in maple syrup, agave nectar, honey, and blackstrap molasses. Blackstrap molasses has the highest antioxidant activity compared to these other natural sweeteners.
What Is Blackstrap Molasses?
Molasses derives its name from the Latin word “mel” for honey. During processing, sugar cane or sugar beet juice is boiled to separate the crystals from the syrup. And then, the dark syrup that results from this process is called molasses.
There are three main cycles of boiling in the sugar making process. The by-product of the third boiling produces blackstrap molasses. It is very dark in color with a thick consistency. Because it is produced in the final stage of sugar-refining, it has the least sugar content compared to other types of molasses. This makes it a good choice for individuals with diabetes.
There are two main types of molasses: sulfured and unsulfured molasses. Sulfured molasses has been treated with sulfur dioxide as a preservative measure. This can leave a chemical taste and it is not as nutritious as unsulfured molasses. Unsulfured molasses also has a rich natural flavor.
Blackstrap molasses was the most commonly used sweetener until the 1880s, when the price of refined white sugar drastically dropped. This resulted in consumers switching to white sugar and losing out on the benefits of blackstrap molasses.
Blackstrap molasses is bursting with vitamins and minerals. It contains high amounts of B vitamins, including vitamin B6, which is good for de-stressing as it helps to boost the production of the feel-good hormone, serotonin in the brain. The thick syrup is also a good source of essential minerals like magnesium, which plays a vital role in the growth and development of teeth and bones.
One tablespoon, which is the general serving size, contains:
- 100 mg magnesium,
- 2.70 mg iron,
- 200mg calcium,
- 30mg sodium,
- 450mg potassium, and
- Trace amounts of copper, manganese, selenium, zinc, and chromium.
These are minerals the sugar cane plant absorbs as it grows. Blackstrap molasses is FDA-approved to be a natural sweetener. It can be incorporated into your menu without you having to worry about the side effects associated with other FDA approved artificial sweeteners such as heart diseases and obesity.
Although artificial sweeteners have low or no-calorie content, it is best to take them in moderation or avoid them completely. They have been approved as “safe” by the FDA but there are growing concerns over the increasing list of side effects associated with their constant use.
Studies have revealed that the daily consumption of artificial sweeteners is associated with an increased risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. It is also important to keep in mind the way the human brain and body respond to these sweeteners. Since they are sweeter than real sugar, they can impact a person’s tolerance for sweet things. Healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables become less appealing and cravings for foods with artificial flavor that have less nutritional value get stronger.
The Health Benefits Of Blackstrap Molasses
Promotes A Balanced Mood
Vitamin B6 is required for synthesizing serotonin, one of the key neurotransmitters associated with controlling mood, preventing anxiety, and depression. According to a survey conducted in 2004 that was published in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, low levels of vitamin B6 were highly associated with depression.
Adding a tablespoon or two of blackstrap molasses into your daily regime may help maintain mental health and promote a balanced mood.
Balance Blood Sugar Levels
People with diabetes will particularly benefit from consuming blackstrap molasses as its low on the glycemic index scale and helps to stabilize blood sugar levels. According to the American Diabetes Association, foods with a high glycemic index level raise your blood sugar level. In diabetes, the body cannot control or make enough insulin. Molasses aids in slowing down the process by which sugars and carbohydrates are absorbed into the system. This results in less insulin production.
Another essential nutrient in molasses that helps control blood sugar levels is chromium. Although the body only needs it in small amounts, it is highly effective for diabetes control. High amounts of chromium present in molasses, enables the body to control sugar intake and balance the blood glucose levels. This results in spikes of energy levels.
Improves Bone Health
Getting sufficient calcium and vitamin D is crucial for your bone health. The heart, blood, muscles, and nerves also need calcium on a daily basis. Most calcium you ingest is stored in your bones. The remaining small percentage circulates in your body to perform other vital functions. The body requires a certain amount of circulating calcium, and when it is low, it will take some from your bones. Blackstrap molasses is rich in calcium to help you have sufficient circulating levels without needing to leech from the bone.
As an added bonus, blackstrap molasses also contains manganese, a trace mineral that is normally difficult to obtain from a traditional diet. Manganese aids in bone cartilage and bone collagen formation. Thus, the combination of these minerals strengthens the bone structure and helps prevent osteoporosis.
Fights Against Cancer
Overconsumption of sugar calories may lead to unhealthy weight gain, which puts you at risk of cancer and other degenerative diseases. All the cells in the human body, including cancer cells, depend on sugar as a source of fuel. Excess intake of refined sugar translates to more calories than you need and leads to body fat. There is a high association between obesity and cancers. That is why health experts recommend reducing sugar intake and opting for natural sweeteners.
In addition to its benefits to weight, blackstrap molasses may also help prevent cancer because it contains high amounts of antioxidants that help the body to ward off any free radicals. Free radicals in the body can often get out of hand, attack healthy cells, promote tumor growth, and promote the growth of cancer cells. Antioxidants found in blackstrap molasses act as protective agents, preventing problems associated with oxidative stress including cancer.
How Does Refined Sugar Compare?
Although there is little evidence to support the fact that refined white sugar “poisons” the body, studies prove that foods high in sugar boosts insulin levels and can contribute to the growth and multiplication of abnormal cells.
The liver stores any excess sugar as fat. So, excessive sugar consumption can contribute to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This may also lead to storage in the fat cells in other areas of the body, including the thighs and stomach.
How To Incorporate Blackstrap Molasses Into Your Daily Routine
Blackstrap molasses may not be as sweet as your ordinary table sugar. But its rich flavor can go a long way in adding depth to your homemade dishes. Blackstrap molasses is a natural sweetener that is a common ingredient in baking recipes. It is used to prepare delicious cookies, gingerbread, pies, and cakes. It provides a rich dark flavor similar to brown sugar. You can also use it as a flavoring agent to desserts or use it to glaze vegetables.
Besides culinary use, it can also be used for beauty purposes as a hair treatment or as a treatment for skin blemishes. The anti-aging and antioxidants minerals found in blackstrap molasses such as selenium and zinc contribute to its hair enhancing benefits.
Consuming one or two tablespoons in water will improve hair texture, prevent hair loss, and reverse grey hair. Alternatively, you can mix it with water and apply it on the hair as a conditioner. Leave it for about 15 minutes then rinse it off.
As a good source of carbon, it has also been effectively used in horticulture to feed microbes and thus increase microbial activity in the soil.
Here are some examples of how to include it in your daily routine:
- Include it in your morning smoothies to add nutrients to your breakfast for all-day energy. You can add 2 tablespoons of blackstrap molasses, 1 banana, fortified nut milk for more calcium, 2 tablespoons chia seeds to boost iron levels and half a cup of water.
- Mix it with warm lemon juice or apple cider vinegar as a tonic drink in the morning to help you deal with the day’s stress. Another brilliant idea for making molasses tonic is to mix it with unrefined sea salt and add hot water for a calming effect on the body and mind.
- You can try gingerbread, loaves, muffins, cakes, spiced cookies, or pies. Molasses cookies can serve as energy bites at any time of the day.
- Pour it on pancakes or spread it on toast.
- If your idea of a good breakfast includes oatmeal or yogurt, try to sweeten it with blackstrap molasses. Add oats, a pinch of sea salt and 2 teaspoons of blackstrap molasses and water or milk. You can add yogurt and top up with any toppings of your choice such as blueberries or granola.
- Add a teaspoon to a cup of your morning coffee or tea to prevent anemia for women and girls. If anemia is caused by a lack of iron, it can serve as a good source of iron. One tablespoon has 20 percent of the recommended daily value of iron.
Keep in mind that while healthier than some alternatives, blackstrap molasses should still be consumed in moderation. A teaspoon contains 5 grams of carbohydrates and 3.5 grams comes from glucose, fructose, and sucrose which are still simple sugars.