Oh sugar. That pesky jerk that you keep trying to break up with but that continues to come crawling back to you over and over again. You can’t quit it because it just tastes so damn good. But you so wish you could kick it to the curb once and for all because you just don’t like the way it makes you feel in the morning. Right? You’ve tried other sweeteners and sugar substitutes but they either taste terrible or cause cancer…and you’d rather have sugar in your life than cancer.
I could go on for hours about sugar in general, but rather than telling you how to eat less of it I’m taking a different approach. I’m going to tell you that it’s ok to eat a little bit of it ESPECIALLY IF IT GIVES YOU NUTRIENTS THAT ARE VITAL TO YOUR OVERALL HEALTH.
Enter molasses. Yes, it’s a sweetener and no I don’t usually tell you that sweeteners are good for your health, but when you look at the nutrients contained in molasses, it makes very little sense to advise people to avoid it.
But, first things first...
WHAT IS MOLASSES?
Molasses is actually a byproduct of refining cane sugar. Once the sugarcane is harvested and the juice is extracted, it undergoes multiple boilings to concentrate it and allow sugar crystals to form. Molasses is what is leftover after the sugar crystals are removed.
Most people think that because molasses comes from sugar that means it’s bad for you (or at least should be avoided). However, the opposite is actually true. Molasses is shockingly nutrient dense with an impressive list of vitamins and minerals contained within it.
However, as with all foods, not all molasses is created equal (you knew it wouldn’t be quite THAT straightforward, didn’t you?).
TYPES OF MOLASSES
Light: This is the result of the first round of boiling and sugar crystal extraction and is thus the lightest and the sweetest form. It doesn’t offer very much as far as micronutrients are concerned and it has the highest sugar content since less has been removed in the form of crystals.
Dark: This is the result of the second boiling and crystal extraction. It’s less sweet and a little bit bitter compared to light molasses. It also has more nutrients than it’s lighter counterpart. This is what you generally find on the shelf of most grocery stores and is used for making gingerbread and other baked goods.
Blackstrap: This is what remains after the third and final boiling of sugarcane. It is thicker and darker than the other types of molasses and has a much higher nutrient content. It has a much stronger flavor and lower sugar content since most of the sugar has actually been removed.
What exactly is in blackstrap molasses?
- Iron (3.6 mg, or 20% of the RDA)
- Calcium (176 mg, or 17.6% of the RDA)
- Copper (0.42 mg, or 21% of the RDA)
- Manganese (0.54 mg, or 27% of the RDA)
- Magnesium (44 mg, or 11% of the RDA)
- Potassium (510 mg, or 9.7% of the RDA)
- B vitamins, including B6 (0.15 mg, or 7.5% of the RDA) and smaller amounts of B2 and B3
- Selenium (3.6 mg, or 5.2% of the RDA)
- Small amounts of sodium, zinc, and phosphorus
Who knew that something like molasses could contain FIVE TIMES as much iron as a steak and 1.5 times as much calcium as cheese (per calorie). Hello superfood!
Yes, this is a sugar and should be used sparingly, but the amount of nutrition per calories is quite impressive and not rivaled by many other foods. The glycemic index of blackstrap molasses is 55 which is on the border between low and moderate, but is still better than table sugar which has a GI of 80 (high). That means that blackstrap molasses is in the same category as fruits and starchy veggies.
BENEFITS OF BLACKSTRAP MOLASSES
- High antioxidant content: Research has shown that blackstrap molasses contains the highest amount of antioxidants compared to other sweeteners. Antioxidants help protect the body against oxidative stress/damage that is associated with cancer and other diseases.
- Supports healthy menstruation: Since molasses is such an impressive source of iron, it is very helpful for those who are at a high risk of developing anemia. Several minerals contained in blackstrap molasses such as magnesium and calcium help prevent blood clots, decrease cramps associated with menstruation, and help to maintain muscular health. Iron can also improve your mood due to the connection between the synthesis of hormones and blood oxygen levels.
- Supports healthy digestion: Anecdotal evidence suggests that molasses may help with digestive issues. Many of the minerals present in molasses such as calcium, magnesium, and manganese aid in proper digestion.
- Supports healthy bones: Iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, manganese, and copper are all nutrients that most people aren’t getting enough of but are necessary for healthy bones. Molasses contains a good chunk of your daily value of all of these nutrients, helping to reduce the risk of osteoporosis (but read why nutrients aren’t the whole story here).
- Healthy hair: One tablespoon of molasses has 20% of the RDA of copper. While copper is toxic in high quantities, it is essential to several important functions within your body. Specifically it helps rebuild and maintain the structures that support healthy hair. Long term supplementation with molasses has been linked to improve hair quality, regrowth in men, and even restoration of hair color in some (personally,I’ll believe that when I see it…but a girl can dream, right?). Since molasses is also high in antioxidants it helps fights signs of aging.
HOW TO USE MOLASSES
When looking for blackstrap molasses in the store, be sure to look for a product that is organic and unsulfured.
You can use it almost anywhere you would use maple syrup or honey. It’s a great sweetener for marinades, BBQ sauce, or baking. My favorite way to use it is in coffee. I put a tablespoon in along with some cinnamon or pumpkin spice mix.
You can also use blackstrap molasses as an alternative for brown sugar in almost any baking recipe.
POTENTIAL SIDE EFFECTS
Blackstrap molasses is perfectly safe to consume in normal food amounts. However, some people may develop allergic reactions due to a sensitivity towards the sulfite present in sulfured molasses. This is why I suggest purchasing unsulfured.
Also, remember that it is still a sugar so consume in moderation. It should be used as a more nutritious sweetener option.
Have you ever tried molasses? What is your favorite way to use it?
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