Want to know something really interesting? Warning - it's a bit of a nerd-moment (another one, I know). All sugar - whether that from an apple or your favorite dessert or jar of honey or ice cream - ends up in just about the same place as just about the same thing in the body. Ask me what some of the most thought-shifting pieces of knowledge I gained from my metabolism class last quarter and that is certainly one of them.
Keep in mind - I'm still in my undergrad nutrition program, so I'm not a medical professional or an expert on this stuff, but my professors are, so I trust the information they teach.
All this time, I've been thinking each sugar is vastly different and acts so in the body. I've ignored "sugar is sugar" because I thought dates could in no way be categorized in terms of metabolism in the same boat as cane sugar. You wouldn't have found cane sugar in my pantry - and only a very small, controlled amount in my diet - for the last three or four years for this very reason.
One night, I was half studying and half leisurely reading my metabolism textbook (really though), specifically on the differences in absorption of fructose, galactose, and glucose into intestinal cells. After absorption, in which there are some notable differences between the three said sugars, each of these is essentially converted to glucose to consequently undergo glycolysis and other various pathways.
Okay, wait... so, sugar really is just sugar at this point? I silently asked my textbook (it didn't really give an answer). It gave me a minute to re-read the previous paragraphs and find the answer on my own. And when I did, I couldn't help but gasp and smile and proclaim the wonderful news to my roommates, who don't get to choose whether or not they are the audience for my nerd-moments hehehe. "GUYS. Sugar is sugar! It's alllllll just sugar," I told them, not very well able to form understandable-for-the-non-nutrition-major-sentences. Their response was insignificant.
So, you're probably wondering what the heck makes the difference when it comes to sugar and digestion and absorption and high blood glucose and all that jazz, right? Well, the difference has a lot to do with the specific sugar's glycemic index, which is a measure of how quickly the sugar enters digestion and absorption processes (explained in the links below). More highly processed sugars like cane sugar and brown sugar have slightly higher glycemic indexes than coconut sugar, but honey and maple syrup are right up there with the processed ones, and therefore they enter the blood stream quicker than those with lower GIs. I hope I'm making sense so far and keeping you with me!
What makes the REAL difference here is what the specific sugar comes with - protein, fat, and/or fiber. These nutrients help increase satiation and slow the movement and absorption of foods in the gut. A tangible example is that banana I referred to - sure, high in fructose, but also high in resistant starches (aka fiber). This fiber helps slow the banana's rate of movement through the stomach and digestive system, which keeps blood glucose stable for extended periods of time. Cane sugar by itself, on the other hand, doesn't come with fiber or protein or fat, so it enters the bloodstream quicker and so on and so forth.
BUT good news! Baking usually requires some sort of flour, so I pick ones with high-fiber contents like whole-wheat, oat, or garbanzo. Fat is necessary for flavor and texture, and since I'm butter's new biggest fan when it comes to cookies, I creamed it with sugar here to give that light, airy, and for lack of better words, buttery-ness. Last but not least, what's a cookie or a dessert bar without some hefty chocolate chunks and crunchy nuts?
I'm not trying to rewrite my textbook here, so let's wrap this up. In the body, sugar is basically sugar. In baked goods, that is not the case. I used cane sugar and brown sugar here because they caramelize better in the oven (--> crispy edges, soft interior) and cream well with butter (--> light and airy texture). Coconut sugar and liquid sweeteners like honey and maple syrup just don't do that, for me at least. Sometimes they satisfy, but sometimes I just want a cookie like the ones I'd bake with Grandma as a kid. Ya' feel?
Makes 12-16 bars
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling
1/2 cup butter, room temperature (not melted), plus extra for greasing
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup cane sugar
1/4 cup nut butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped chocolate bar (I used Square Organics - see below for discount code!)
1/3 cup chopped nuts
Chocolate chips, for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 350F and grease and 8x8 baking pan with butter (or oil).
- In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar using a hand- or stand-mixer on high until smooth and fluffy. Add in the egg, nut butter and vanilla - one at a time - and beat again until incorporated. Set aside.
- Combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl and stir. Slowly scoop spoonfuls of the dry ingredient mixture into the large bowl of butter-sugar-egg mixture. Keep the mixing speed on low to prevent flour from flying everywhere. Mix until just combined and gently fold in the chocolate bar chunks and nuts.
- Transfer the batter into the greased baking pan and lightly press it to evenly spread throughout the pan. Sprinkle with chocolate chips and bake for 20-22 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.
- Cool before slicing. Store in an airtight container at room temperature or in the fridge.
SQUARE ORGANICS DISCOUNT:
Use the code "hungryhaley" at the Square Organics online store and get 20% off + free US shipping! These bars are absolutely scrumptious baked into chocolate chip cookie bars - I highly recommend purchasing a box! My favorite flavors for baking are Chocolate Coated Nuts & Sea Salt and Chocolate Coated Peanut Butter.
Explanations of GI and GL
All other information was taken from my lectures and my textbook.