The glycemic index, GI, ranks foods on a scale of 1 to 100 according to how quickly they can raise your blood sugar level. The lower a carbohydrate scores on the glycemic index, the slower it becomes glucose in your body, and the less impact it has on blood-sugar levels. Originally developed as a tool for diabetics to help them choose carbohydrates that would keep glucose levels stable, low-GI foods can also help reduce cholesterol and lower your risk of heart disease. Several popular diets, including the Zone and South Beach diets, are based on choosing foods low on the glycemic index scale.
- Courtesy of the Livestrong website
Science in Plain English:
Simply put, all foods have a ranking on this index, and the higher the number, the harder the food is on your blood sugar levels, consequently making you more susceptible to diabetes and heart disease. When you eat refined sugars and flours, your blood sugar spikes then plummets. Refined sugars and white flour also addict you to them by releasing a chemical called dopamine in your brain that makes you feel good. So it becomes easy to mindlessly eat food you don't need because you're addicted to it.
All foods are on this index, but I've mainly been concerned about the sugars and flours that we eat, as those make up a large portion of our diet. You can search online for charts, listings or articles of/about this index. Livestrong has some good ones. This article at Organic Living is good as well for sugars.
Here's an example of the ratings:
High Fructose Corn Syrup - 87
White Table Sugar - 80
Honey - 30 to 50 (depends on the variety)
Fructose (the sugar in fruit) - 12 - 23
Xylitol - 8
Stevia - 0
However, the glycemic index is not the only factor in deciding what ingredients to use. Sweeteners like honey (raw is best, however, non-pasteurized honey is better than nothing) that are natural have at least some nutrients and don't have some of the toxic side effects of refined sugar or corn syrup. Whole grains contain more nutrients, are lower on the glycemic index, and are more complex carbohydrates (meaning your body has to work harder to digest them, resulting in better nutrition and preventing the spike and crash). Our foods in America are so far from the natural state that God made them for us to eat! The closer we can get to that natural state, the better for our health.
There's so much more that goes into all of this, but these are some of the basics in everyday English. You can research more on your own - my goal in writing this is to just simply pass on my reasoning for making these choices.
Because it is so good for you, and tastes just as sweet as white sugar, I love xylitol. It is a natural sugar alcohol that doesn't harm your body in any way and actually has several good benefits (see this page). However, it is pretty pricey, so I use it as sparingly as I can. In the average recipe, I use honey, molasses, or maple syrup as substitutes. Molasses has a strong flavor, so I generally pair it with something else. Sometimes I use dark brown sugar, which is not great, but a slightly better alternative to white sugar, and good to use when I'm bringing a dish to a potluck or party.
Ratios (from AllRecipes):
Honey: 3/4 cup for 1 cup of white sugar
Maple Syrup: 3/4 cup for 1 cup sugar
Molasses: 1 1/3 cup for 1 cup sugar
Xylitol: 1 cup for 1 cup
It takes practice to use new sweeteners, and like I said in my first post, you will find these more expensive than your white sugar and corn syrup. Sometimes it also takes developing a new taste for old favorite foods. But it's not a bad new taste, I promise. For instance, brownies made with honey and whole wheat flour taste just as scrumptious as the normal ones!
I hope this is clear. And I'm not pretending to be an expert, or exhaustive. Just passing on some info that's been helpful to me. Research some more on your own if this interests you!