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Reducing the sugar

With almost 800 calories per cup, sugar can contribute a lot of calories and many grams of carbohydrate to a dish. It can often be reduced in recipes by one-fourth to one-third. In other words, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, you can reduce that amount to 3/4 cup or 2/3 cup. When you use less sugar in a recipe, you can enhance the sweetness in the food with spices and flavorings such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg or vanilla extract.

Besides providing sweetness, sugar has other functions in foods, particularly baked goods. It helps quick breads, cakes and cookies to brown and gives them a moist, tender texture. Sugar also causes cookies to spread during baking. Reducing sugar in baked products may result in a lighter-colored product that may be less tender.

In yeast breads, sugar is necessary for the growth of the yeast, which is what makes the bread rise. Omitting or reducing the sugar in yeast bread recipes could result in dense, flat loaves and is not recommended.

In candies, crystallized sugar provides the proper consistency and texture. It’s not advisable to reduce the sugar in candy recipes. If you enjoy making candy and wish to eat less sugar, your best bet is to eat less candy.

In jams, jellies and marmalades, sugar acts as a preservative as well as a sweetener. For safety reasons, therefore, use recipes developed for reduced-sugar preserves rather than adjusting your own recipes. Also be aware that homemade, reduced-sugar jams and jellies may have a shorter shelf life — both at room temperature before opening and refrigerated after opening — than full-sugar varieties.

Sugar substitutes can be used to replace sugar in some items. However, nonnutritive sweeteners do not add volume, tenderness or moistness the way sugar does, nor do they brown foods, ferment or act as a preservative. For foods that rely on sugar for their structure, appearance and texture — such as cakes, cookies, muffins and quick breads — replace only part of the sugar called for in the recipe with low-calorie sweeteners. For foods in which sugar is used primarily for its sweet taste — such as beverages, sauces, marinades, frozen desserts, puddings, custards and fruit fillings for pies and cobblers — you may be able to replace all of the sugar with low-calorie sweeteners.

When using artificial sweeteners, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions for amounts to use in place of sugar and types of foods to use them in. Some sweeteners lose sweetness when heated to high temperatures for extended periods, while others do not.

Originally Published February 28, 2011

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