A big myth about diets is that they force you to eat less tasty food. But when you make the choice to cut your calories by cutting sugar, don’t think that you have to cut out the sweetness. Here’s a rundown on sugar substitutes: what they are, how they taste, and why you should use them.
1. Stevia. Originating from subtropical South America, stevia is grown throughout the world from China to New Zealand to Canada. Also known as sweetleaf or sugarleaf, and primarily marketed as a dietary supplement, one form of this plant – called Rebaudiaside A – has been recently granted Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status by the FDA and can now be used in food. This is great news, as stevia is nearly 300 times sweeter than sugar. Because it is so much sweeter than traditional sugar, it should be taken in smaller doses. It is prized as a sugar substitute because it has a negligible effect on blood sugar, making it a favorite of those who are on a carbohydrate or sugar-restricted diet. Even more encouraging, recent research shows that stevia has promise in helping treat obesity and hypertension.
2. Xylitol. A naturally occurring sugar alcohol, xylitol in its purest form looks like a white crystalline substance. It has a similar look and taste to sugar, although it is a little less sweet. Xylitol is found in beets, berries, mushrooms and corncobs. Despite its exotic name, our bodies produce small amounts of xylitol from the foods we eat. In fact, it’s an essential part of our everyday metabolism. Many types of gum contain xylitol and when chewed, this sugar substitute stimulates saliva production, which helps guard against tooth decay. Like stevia, xylitol does not raise blood sugar the way traditional sugar does, although it has been known to give people gas if consumed in larger quantities (more than 15 grams per day).
3. Agave Nectar. You may have heard of agave nectar in a context outside its use as a sugar substitute. Agave nectar is the plant used to make tequila, a drink responsible for some of the worst hangovers in history. But the agave plant also provides a natural sugar substitute that is great for teas, coffees and other hot beverages. As a low glycemic sweetener, it doesn’t cause a sharp rise and fall in blood sugar and is ideal for diabetics or those on a low glycemic diet. Learn more about the glycemic index.
Agave is much sweeter to the taste than regular sugar, so the amount used should be adjusted accordingly. For baking, agave nectar makes a nice lower-calorie alternative to liquid sweeteners such as honey. However, use caution because the nectar tends to brown at higher temperatures. Check out Nature’s Agave, featured in the Organic Liaison Store.
4. Brown Rice Syrup. One of the most distinctive sugar substitutes, brown rice syrup has a butterscotch taste, while others have detected caramel flavors as well. With only 13 calories per teaspoon, this sugar substitute is less sweet than sugar, making it a good sweetener for baking goods. (Coffee and tea drinkers may find it a little too bland, however.) Although less sweet than sugar and most other sugar substitutes, do not overindulge with this rice-based sweetener because it contains a fair amount of glucose.
For more information on natural sugar substitutes, please see the below links:
• Xylitol.Org – Xylitol on the Web
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