Natural and Artificial Sweeteners Can Be Healthy Sugar Alternatives
|By Petra Trudell, Managing Editor on Tuesday, June 26, 2012|
|From date sugar to stevia, there are several options available to add sweetness to your favorite foods and drinks. Learn how to cut back on your refined white sugar intake with these tasty alternatives to sugar.||
Cravings for sweets are one of the most common and one of the most likely to lead to excess weight gain and other health issues beyond cavities. Is there a better way?
Refined white sugar can be high in calories and its ranking on the glycemic index is to blame for the drastic spikes and crashes in blood glucose levels. These peaks and valleys can lead to symptoms of hypoglycemia (blood sugar is too low) and hyperglycemia (blood sugar is too high) and cause more cravings for unhealthy foods.
Next time you're craving something sweet, try one of these healthier alternatives recommended by WebMD and our favorite TV doctor to satisfy that sweet tooth without all the guilt:
Coconut Palm Sugar:
This alternative sweetener was featured on "The Dr. Oz Show." Dr. Mehmet Oz praised this sugar, made from the sap of the coconut tree, for helping to keep blood sugar levels regulated with fewer calories. Coconut palm sugar ranks low on the glycemic index, which means the body is better able to burn it off without drastic changes in blood sugar, reducing sudden bursts of hunger that can make you overeat. This sugar can be substituted equally in all recipes calling for sugar and has a light, caramel-like taste that lends well to baked goods.
While it's name may seem anything but natural, this sweetener is actually produced from the sugar alcohol of foods like corn, mushrooms, plums, beets and berries and is typically found in prepared foods like candy and chewing gum. Xylitol has been shown to help prevent bacteria buildup that can lead to cavities and tooth decay. While its taste is not quite as sweet as sugar, when cooking or baking with it, you should cut the recommended amount in half, as xylitol can cause digestive issues if too much is consumed.
The same plant that's used to make tequila is responsible for this tasty alternative sweetener. Agave nectar is sold in liquid form, making it ideal for adding to drinks like coffee or tea, since it dissolves easily without a gritty texture. Agave nectar is considerably sweeter than refined white sugar and honey, so learning to use it in recipes may take some experimentation to get the amount just right. While it does contain more calories than traditional sugar, because of its more potent flavor, you don't need to use as much, which can help you cut back.
The stevia plant is an herb, typically grown in Central and South America. While stevia is significantly sweeter than sugar, it's gotten so much attention because it has zero calories. Yes, zero. You can use stevia products in the same way you would use refined white sugar and it's available in both granular and liquid form to suit different applications. The taste is not as sweet as sugar, but pretty comparable. Stevia also ranks incredibly low on the glycemic index, which means little to no affect on blood sugar levels.
Everyone has owned one of those little plastic bears at one time or another. Produced by honey bees after collecting nectar from fresh flowers, honey is a well known choice for adding sweetness. Honey can be used in drinks, sauces and other recipes that call for sugar. Honey is also known to help boost energy and strengthen the immune system due to its high amount of antioxidants. Raw honey is also commonly used to treat ailments like sore throats and even minor burns because it has antibacterial properties.
This sugar is actually the fruit that's been dried and ground very finely. Dates give you the added benefits of vitamins, minerals and fiber in addition to a sweet taste comparable to refined sugar. You can substitute it equally in recipes, however it's not a great choice for cold drinks and even coffee, as it does not dissolve completely and can leave a gritty texture in your cup. With only 10 calories per teaspoon, it's among the healthiest options available for adding sweetness without the extra calories and is very low on the glycemic index.
With these healthier options, you're giving up the calories and negative side effects without giving up the taste. Not a bad trade at all.
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