Let’s be realistic! No matter how healthy we are trying to eat, eventually we all want something sweet. So when you do decide to make dessert at home, what sweetener should you reach for? What should you put in your coffee or tea? And how bad are processed fructose sweeteners for your health when compared to other alternatives? It’s time to find out which are the best sweeteners that, unlike processed sugars, are not taking a devastating toll on your health and secretly plotting your demise.
The Stevia plant has been used extensively by the indigenous peoples of Paraguay and Brazil for more than 1,500 years to sweeten teas, medicines and as a sweet treat. Standing the test of time and despite its long history as a natural sweetener, Stevia has not yet been approved as a food additive in packaged foods in United States. It is however, approved as a dietary supplement.
Stevia has zero calories and it can be purchased in leaf or extract forms. A dried leaf is significantly sweeter than a fresh one and is the ideal form to be used in brewing teas. One the other hand, the extract made from the leaves of the Stevia plant is sold in powder and liquid forms. Powder Stevia is the sweetest form available (200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar by weight), so a little pinch can go a long way. Depending on the concentration, degree of refinement and quality of the Stevia plant some powders may have more of an licorice-like aftertaste. However, this can be avoided by using liquid formulations which usually are subjected to additional filtering to the enhance flavor. Both forms can be used to sweeten anything from beverages, yogurts, soups, salads, vegetables to jams and desserts.
Besides its properties as a sweetener, all forms of Stevia may have numerous health benefits like preventing cavities, do not cause spikes in blood sugar and do not feed Candida. In addition, the unrefined, green leaf Stevia may increase energy and improve digestion by stimulating the pancreas.
In the end, Stevia, in its natural form, is a safe alternative that’s ideal for those watching their weight and anyone interested in maintaining their health by avoiding processed sugars.
|Sugar amount||Aprox. equivalent Stevia|
powdered extract (pure form)
|Aprox. equivalent Stevia liquid concentrate (pure form)|
|1 cup||1 teaspoon||1 teaspoon|
|1 tablespoon||1/4 teaspoon||6 to 9 drops|
|1 teaspoon||A pinch to 1/16 teaspoon||2 to 4 drops|
From The Stevia Cookbook: Cooking with Nature’s Calorie-Free Sweetener, by Ray Sahelian and Donna Gates
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that is found in the fibers of many fruits and vegetables, and can be extracted from various berries, oats, mushrooms, corn husks, sugar cane bagasse, and even birch. Studies suggest that xylitol helps reduce the incidence of ear infections and unlike other sweeteners, it is actually beneficial for dental health, reducing cavities by 33% when used on a regular basis.
In the past years the use of xylitol has been increasing significantly due to the fact that it is as sweet as sucrose, less expensive than other sugar substitutes and tastes better. Also, it has only two-thirds the calories of sugar causes little if any insulin release in humans.
Xylitol appears safe for human consumption, however it can be deadly for pets which recently prompted the FDA to released a consumer alert on the dangers of xylitol ingestion in dogs and ferrets.
3. Raw Honey – The harder the honey, the better!
Honey use and production has a history of over 8,000 years. In many cultures, honey has been associated with uses that go beyond it as a food. Historically, honey has been used by humans to cure a variety of ailments, from gastric disturbances to ulcers, wounds and burns, through ingestion or topical application.
The strength of crystallization (hardness) of the honey determines the level of life nutrients and heat sensitive enzymes. The process of heating and straining the honey, while making it look clearer, also removes most of the nutrients and the bee pollen.
To benefit from all the properties of honey, select honey that is raw, preferably organic and packaged in glass. Raw honey (especially from wild plants and wild tree flowers) in its original unfiltered state is rich in life healing enzymes, amino acids, minerals, probiotics and antioxidants. Some types of honeys such as Hawaiian honeys, Sidr honeys from Yemen and Manuka honeys from New Zealand have been proven to reduced plaque formation significantly (better than the xylitol chewing gum) and have antibiotic, antifungal, and even antiviral effects.
Now remember, honey is still a sugar containing mainly fructose and glucose and if you have blood sugar issues use with caution.
4. Dextrose (pure Glucose)
Every living organism on the Earth, including humans are designed to run on glucose as the main form of energy for cellular function. When consumed, glucose is converted straight into blood glucose therefore, it suppresses your appetite as much of it is “burned up” immediately. A healthy body maintains blood glucose in a narrow range, through careful administration of insulin.
Unlike glucose, fructose sweeteners (such as high fructose corn syrup, agave, maple syrup, honey, plant sugars, etc) are converted by the liver into fat and cholesterol, which are a definite markers for heart disease. Studies have revealed that fructose also pulls important minerals from the body and increases levels of uric acid in the body bringing about symptoms of gout.
5. Unsweetened Whole Fruit Puree
Adding unsweetened whole fruit puree such as banana, apple, pear, date or prune to homemade baked goods can replace sugar while make healthier treats for your whole family. In some recipes you can even use sweet vegetable purees like pumpkin, sweet potato or butternut squash. The fiber content in fruits and vegetables slows down the absorption of fructose by the liver, thus reducing the insulin response.
If you are replacing a dry ingredient like sugar with a wet ingredient like fruit puree you will have to tweak the quantities a bit. Typically, you can replace 1 cup of sugar with ½ cup of puree and depending on the recipe you might want to do a few trials to settle on the desired texture. While purees might slightly alter the texture of your treats, creating a flatter, softer and denser sweet, they make for a great substitute in recipes calling for syrups like agave, and in most cases can be swapped in equal parts.
Word of advice…
If you struggle with insulin issues such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or extra weight, then you might benefit from avoiding ALL types of sweeteners, including stevia, as it can decrease your sensitivity to insulin.