We, as a nation, have a sweet tooth. But we know that sugar is making us fat and very unhealthy. Luckily, we have other ways to sweeten things. Let's talk about our "sugarless" options, what we should be using and what we need to ditch!
The first two we will talk about are high fructose corn syrup and agave nectar. I know you aren't surprised about high fructose corn syrup. The media has been great about how bad it is, and the realization that it is in just about everything we eat. From ketchup to cereals, and everything in between. High fructose corn syrup has been linked to kidney stones, diabetes, and many more illnesses. When you research the increase in obesity, you'll find it goes hand in hand with the availability of high fructose corn syrup. Ditch it!
Now, agave nectar and its issues. The marketers have been amazing with this one also! It's natural, right? But it has the same effects on your body as high fructose corn syrup. Surprised? I was! There is nothing "alternative" about it. If you choose to use Agave nectar do so because you like the taste, but know that you aren't saving yourself any calories. Agave has 60 calories per tablespoon, whereas sugar has 40 calories per tablespoon. Agave is sweeter than sugar, so some say you won't use as much. Ditch it!
Saccharin, the pink packet stuff. Here's an amazing fact - saccharin was discovered when a scientist was testing coal and tar derivatives. He ended up with a substance on his hands. I guess he licked it, discovered that it was sweet, and the rest is history. Saccharin ended up in sodas and snacks for decades. Saccharin is 300 times sweeter than sugar. Like other artificial sweeteners, it has no calories. However, it is known to leave a metallic taste in your mouth after consuming it. Furthermore, any benefits of using saccharin are not due to the sweetener itself, but due to the fact that you are reducing or avoiding sugar intake. Saccharin got a bad rap when it was listed as a possible carcinogen. Ditch it!
Aspartame, the blue packet stuff, came along after saccharin. It's another chemical. There has been no actual proof that aspartame is bad for you. You know, other than the fact that it is 100% man-made. It has been found that aspartame can cause an atmosphere in your brain that brings on migraines, affects your moods, and increases your appetite. Ditch it!
Sucralose, think yellow packet, is 600 times sweeter than sugar. Just like aspartame, sucralose is said to be safe for consumption by the FDA. So why don't I like it? Well, for one, it's yet another chemical. It was discovered when someone was creating a new insecticide! Maybe he licked his hand too. Complaints have been made, but not proven, that sucralose causes gas, bloating, diarrhea, mood swings and many of the same side effects as aspartame. Why chance it? Ditch it!
The good: The alternatives to sugar that I recommend...
Stevia (stevia rebaudiana) is actually in the daisy family. So it's got to be good, right? Stevia is a small shrub that grows wild in parts of South America. In 1887, a scientist named Antonio Bertoni, recorded that the indigenous people used this plant to sweeten drinks. Stevia has no calories and no carbs, yet provides sweetness much sweeter than sugar. It is heat stable, so it can be used in all of your baking and cooking in place of sugar. Buy stevia at almost any grocery store. It is available in little packets and in larger packages for baking and cooking.
Xylitol is a natural carbohydrate that comes from fibrous vegetables and fruit. It is usually extracted from birch bark. Pure xylitol looks and tastes just like sugar. Xylitol has 40% fewer calories and 75% fewer carbs than sugar. Xylitol is absorbed slowly, which means it doesn't need insulin to be metabolized by your body. It has been used in other countries since the 1960's for diabetics. Just like stevia, xylitol doesn't break down in heat, so it is another option for baking and cooking. Xylitol also fights cavities. Sugarfree gum and candies made with xylitol are even endorsed by dental associations. Sweet!
Honey, we like you too! There are no adverse side effects from honey. Some will argue that the caloric value of honey is the same as sugar, so it doesn't matter which you use. But think about that. Honey is in its natural form. Sugar is boiled and broken down and all minerals are pulled from it. Honey has been known throughout history to have healing properties. Sugar causes intestinal irritation, skin irritation, contributes to diabetes, causes food allergies, and many other problems are linked to sugar. Honey's benefits include a multitude of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, iron, zinc, and more. Honey also has soothing properties. Be sure to buy honey that is harvested in your local area. The bees who made that honey will have used the pollen of local flowers, which helps you deal with allergies and helps your body adapt to your local environment. Honey, the best alternative to sugar!