Ask Amy: I know you say not to use artificial sweeteners like Splenda, but what can we use to sweeten foods and beverages? – Stephanie, Boston, MA
Amy says: Who among us doesn’t love sweets? The sweet flavor releases serotonin in our brains, the chemical responsible for our sense of well-being and contentment. But when it comes to sweeteners, not all are created equal. There are side effects and health risks from refined sweeteners like white table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, and from artificial sweeteners like NutraSweet, saccharin and Splenda. Since refined sweeteners have been stripped of vitamins, minerals and fiber, they can spike blood sugar, which can often lead to cravings and mood and energy fluctuations. Instead, using naturally and minimally processed sweeteners can reduce cravings for sugary things.
Here are a some natural sweeteners to substitute in drinks, food and baking. Since they are all typically sweeter than refined sugar, you can use less. You can find them in most supermarkets or natural food stores. I have also included links to Amazon. When replacing sugar with liquid sweeteners in a recipe, reduce the amounts of other liquids. With any sweetener, a little goes a long way. We ultimately should be training our taste buds to appreciate the natural sweetness of fruits and veggies without adding a lot of extra sweeteners to our foods. If you take sweetener in your tea and coffee experiment with weaning yourself little by little.
What’s not to love about honey, one of the oldest natural sweeteners on the market? Honey will have a different flavor depending on the plant source. Some are very dark and intensely flavored. Wherever possible, choose raw honey, as it is unrefined and contains small amounts of enzymes, minerals and vitamins. The GI of raw honey is 30.
Maple Syrup Maple syrup is the concentrated extract of the sap of maple trees. It adds a rich, deep flavor to foods and drinks. Make sure to look for 100% pure maple syrup, not maple-flavored corn syrup. As with all sweeteners, organic varieties are best. Recently, maple syrup was found to contain substantial quantities of abscisic acid, a phytohormone known to stimulate insulin release through pancreatic cells and to increase sensitivity of fat cells to insulin, which makes it a potent weapon against metabolic syndrome and diabetes. The GI of maple syrup is 54. Read more: http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2010/03/26/Maple-syrup-reduces-cancer-diabetes-risk/UPI-11371269647350/#ixzz1QasIy8NF
Stevia Stevia is a sweetleaf herb, a relative of the sunflower. Amazingly, studies have shown stevia to taste 300 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia is high in chromium and has no effect on blood sugar levels while also aiding the pancreas and supporting digestion. I like to use Navitas Naturals Organic Raw Stevia Powder. I use stevia to sweeten oatmeal, smoothies and beverages. This brand is not as processed as most “white” forms of stevia.
Yakon Syrup Yacon syrup is native to the Andean region of South America. It is glucose-free, and does not increase blood sugar levels. The syrup is derived from the roots of the yacon plant, and according to some studies is a good source of antioxidants. Yacon syrup is often compared to molasses, caramel, or honey in taste, with a deep and rich flavor. It easily substitutes for maple sugar or molasses in recipes, and can be used to sweeten beverages.
Coconut Palm Sugar is derived from the coconut palm tree. It is the crystallized nectar of the coconut palm flowers. Palm sugar serves as an ideal sugar substitute for those of us with PCOS who are watching their glucose levels. The glycemic index is low at 35. This organic, evaporated palm sugar has a nutritional content far greater than all other commercially available sweeteners — with high amounts of potassium, magnesium, zinc and iron, as well as vitamin C and many of the B vitamins.
Organic Blackstrap Mollasses Blackstrap molasses is the dark liquid byproduct of the process of refining sugar cane into table sugar. It is made from the third boiling of the sugar syrup and is therefore the concentrated byproduct left over after the sugar’s sucrose has been crystallized. Unlike table sugar that has been stripped of nutrients, blackstrap molasses is a healthful sweetener that contains significant amounts of a variety of minerals that promote your health. Molasses is also an excellent source of iron, calcium, copper and manganese and a very good source of potassium, and magnesium. The GI of blackstrap molasses is 55.
Brown Rice Syrup Brown rice syrup is another alternative to tame the roller coaster ride of your blood-sugar levels while continuing to indulge your sweet tooth. This is an organic natural sweetener produced by steeping brown rice with a special enzyme preparation. Following this method the broken whole grains or brown rice are converted into a smooth-flavored and pleasantly sweet liquid extract. It has a mild almost buttery flavor and delicate sweetness, which makes it a nice choice for baking and desserts. The glycemic index is 25.