I have been doing a fair amount of research into sugar and natural sweeteners. Over Christmas I got myself addicted to sugar and sweets once again. It seems like this stuff is as addictive as nicotine! I’ve always had a sweet tooth and I hate the thought of giving it up forever. Plus, it seems like some form of sugar is in almost everything! Bacon, barbecue, ketchup, deli meats and much, much more. Did you know that the average American ingests over 160 pounds of sugar annually! Yes, it’s true.
With over 65% of Americans overweight and the extreme increase in diabetes, including in children, escalating to all time highs, curtailing the sugar intake is probably one of the most important HealthKicks of all. So what natural sweeteners are available that are healthy sugar alternatives?
Artificial sweeteners were hailed at the great solution to replace sugar, however more and more information is coming to light that these alternatives are unsafe and even worse than sugar in that they still activate insulin and increase appetite.
So what about all natural sweeteners with no side effects except perhaps good ones, complete with potential blood pressure and blood sugar-lowering properties?
Stevia – Our Top Choice in Natural Sweeteners
Now, I know many of you have probably tried it and possibly did not like the taste. However there is a wide variety of stevia brands and forms. Some taste better than others. In fact the type of stevia I use has been enjoyed by some of the worst critics of stevia without even noticing it wasn’t sugar.
The advantages of using stevia are numerous. In its pure form, it’s non-caloric and doesn’t affect glucose levels, an advantage for diabetics as well as those suffering from candida. Also, it has no carbohydrates or fat, so it’s great for dieters, especially those watching carb intake. Unlike artificial sweeteners, high quality stevia has little aftertaste when measured properly. It has no known side effects like some chemical sweeteners and has been safely consumed around the world for decades. I successfully got off sugar by replacing it with stevia. I felt better, had more energy and lost weight.
Mind you, it doesn’t taste exactly like sugar. I guess that would really be too good to be true. But after using it for a while, you get used to the taste. And, as I stated above, different types of stevia taste better than others. The right brand and the right amount make a world of difference.
Once you are off sugar for a while, you realize how overly sweet a lot of things are. Sugar is addictive and if you break that addiction and give stevia a little time, you will likely settle in to using it. I love it. I find things sweetened with sugar to be overly sweet. I am just as happy, if not more, drinking my iced tea sweetened with stevia rather than sweet tea (made with sugar). You just have to give it a little time and learn the right amounts. In most cases less is better than more with stevia. Trying it one time won’t do it for you and you may pass up the greatest sugar alternative of all time.
In some instances I use a combination of stevia and other natural sweetener options (covered below).
Stevia Brands and Forms
As stevia got more and more popular, suddenly new brands were coming out. It was cheaper and more accessible and some of them tasted too good. And then I discovered that many of these brands are falsely labeling their products as stevia when in fact they are largely sugar alcohols with a very small percentage of stevia in them.
There are quite a few brands of Stevia that are actually mixtures of Stevia and other sweeteners including some that are mixed with sugar. This false marketing of stevia was shocking to me. Stevia in the Raw is mostly maltodextrin and Truvía is stevia combined with erythritol. Both maltodextrin and erythritol are as bad or worse than sugar.
Truvia sweetener is made from about 99.5% erythritol (a sugar alcohol), and 0.5% rebiana, an extract from the stevia plant (but not at all the same thing as stevia). A shocking new study published in the journal PLOS ONE (1) has found that Truvia, an alternative sweetener manufactured by food giant Cargill, is actually a potent insecticide that kills fruit flies which consume it.
The study is titled, Erythritol, a Non-Nutritive Sugar Alcohol Sweetener and the Main Component of Truvia, Is a Palatable Ingested Insecticide.
Erythritol is often indirectly derived from genetically modified corn, by the way. In fact, Cargill was forced to settle a class action lawsuit for labeling Truvia “natural” when it’s actually made from a fermentation process whereby yeast are fed GM corn maltodextrin.
In short, not only is this unbelievable that a company can label a product with such bold-faced lies that is calls itself something that is actually less than 1% of its content and promote it as being natural and healthy, but this might actually be quite unhealthy and unsafe to consume.
There are other brands of natural sweeteners that are also labeling themselves as Stevia that are mostly maltodextrin. “Stevia in the Raw” and other “in the Raw” products are similar culprits. So read the ingredients carefully, despite what the label says on the front.
The full article can be found here: https://www.naturalnews.com/045450_Truvia_erythritol_natural_pesticide.html#ixzz3I7jiT8cW
Here’s an article with much more info about the false marketing of stevia: https://www.truthinadvertising.org/extra-ingredients-natural-stevia-product/
I’ve tried many brands and had a hard time finding pure stevia that actually tastes good. But, I have found a couple. It seems to have to do with what part of the stevia plant is included in the mix and how it is produced.
Here are my recommended brands:
1) Sweetleaf powdered stevia, which you can get in a plastic jar or in packets. I usually get both. Packets are great for keeping in your purse to mix in unsweet tea or use on the go. The jar is good for baking. You can buy it on Amazon. I am not sure what their drops contain as they list “natural flavors” in their ingredients and apparently this wording can include some unhealthy things such as MSG. I don’t know what they are categorizing as natural flavors, but their powdered stevia seems to be straight stevia with some added fiber. https://sweetleaf.com/stevia-products/sweetleaf/
2) There is another very pure form of stevia that you can get that is very good. You only have to use the tiniest amounts because it has no fillers and is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. This is the one I use the most. Here is the website that describes the product in detail and how to order it. https://www.emperorsherbologist.com/stevioside.php
Using pure stevia can be healthy way to replace sugar. You just need to know where to find the right stuff!
Monk Fruit – 2nd Choice in Natural Sweeteners
While there are numerous other natural sugars and sweeteners available such as honey, agave, coconut palm sugar and others, most of these are fairly high in sugar content. On the glycemic index (GI), sugar is rated at 100. Honey and maple syrup are both around 50. Coconut palm sugar is a 35 and agave is as well, even though agave has a high fructose content, making it the least recommended of the 4 listed here.
Monk Fruit or otherwise known as Luo Han Guo is a good option to consider – also zero on the glycemic index. Again beware of many forms of this sweetener being called Monk Fruit, but mostly containing a sugar alcohol such as maltodextrine or erythritol. Monk Fruit in the Raw is an example of falsely marketed monk fruit sweetener. Here is a form of pure monk fruit in liquid form that you can purchase on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07CQLG4P7/ref=oh_aui_search_detailpage?ie=UTF8&psc=1
Monk Fruit is also a zero on the GI and one of the most exciting new sweeteners to emerge in the last few years. The plant is native to the Guangxi province in southwestern China. Luo Han means monk and Guo means fruit.
It tastes a little bit like brown sugar and can be used for things that you would otherwise use brown sugar for such as with squash or barbeque sauce.
There is also a powdered form that doesn’t contain sugar alcohols made by Virgin Extracts ™ and you can buy it on Amazon – here’s the link: https://www.amazon.com/Virgin-Extracts-Concentrate-Stronger-Sweetener/dp/B00JMSIKBM/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1420134526&sr=8-8&keywords=luo+han+guo . Over time however the powdered for hardened, so if you get this, put it in an airtight container.
Yacon Syrup – 3rd Choice in Natural Sweeteners
As far as sugar and natural sweeteners go, here’s another natural sweetener you can try that is healthy and quite low on the glycemic index. It’s called Yacón syrup . Click on it and the link takes you to the Wikipedia entry about it. But in short, it is a syrup that is extracted from the roots of the yacón plant. The syrup is made with a similar process to maple syrup. It looks like maple syrup and has a similar consistency.
People in South America have eaten yacón for centuries because of its nutritional properties, few calories and low glycemic index.
The FOS (Fructo-oligosaccharides sugars) in yacón aren’t fully digested. The body treats them as soluble fiber and they pass into the gut where they provide beneficial bulk helping the movement of waste through the intestine and promoting the fermentation of beneficial bacteria in the gut. As a result, they provide only about one third the calories of sugar.
Another huge benefit is that yacón is almost a zero on the glycemic index, making it suitable for diabetics. Tests have also shown other benefits including regulation of blood sugar and insulin levels and improvement in cholesterol levels.
You can order it on Amazon. It looks like a dark honey, but is about half as sweet as honey (and way lower than honey on the Glycemic Index). No bitterness or aftertaste.
I have used this as a sugar and sweeteners substitute in several sauces such as sweet and sour sauces, barbeque sauce and as a sweetener in salad dressings and it worked very well. It’s great for chicken dishes with some mustard (instead of honey, to give a honey-mustard flavor and it’s also delicious in stir fry dishes with soy or tamari.
Coconut Palm Sugar – 4th Choice in Natural Sweeteners
While this is not a zero on the glycemic index or the calorie count, it is still one of the natural sweeteners that I use at times. It’s a 35 on the GI as it contains a certain amount of fiber, which slows down the metabolizing of the sugar into the bloodstream. I use it when I make frosting or something that requires a lot of sweetness and I always use it in combination with stevia and/or monk fruit. If you are making a frosting or dessert that needs to be very sweet, using too much stevia can result in an aftertaste. But if I use a combination of stevia and coconut palm sugar, it solves that problem and results in a sweet tasting dessert that has a very low sugar content. I highly recommend it.
Mix Them Up!
You may also find that using 2 or 3 of the above sweeteners in combination helps to smooth out the taste. I recommend experimenting and testing to see what you prefer.
I am quite enjoying these new discoveries – staying healthy while still satisfying my sweet tooth!