Healthy Sweeteners

This was originally published as my Holistic Outlook column in The Times Herald Record.

So what to do if you want a little more sweetness in your life? Sugar contributes to disease and inflammation. Artificial sweeteners aren’t effective to help lose weight, and have been shown – definitively – to be unhealthy.  Here are your healthy alternatives.

Stevia leaves are more than 150 times sweeter than sugar, but have no calories, and no impact on blood sugar, so are safe for diabetics. Stevia has been used for centuries, primarily to sweeten tea, such as the traditional yerba mate of Brazil.  It has been cultivated for over 200 years, and has been approved in Japan since 1970 to sweeten ice cream, candy, soft drinks and other foods. In the US, stevia has been approved as a food supplement, but not as a sweetener. Based on the existing research, there are no health issues with long term consumption.

While you may occasionally find plants, or dried or fresh leaves, the most common form of stevia is the extract, either in powder or liquid form. For the healthiest and best tasting stevia, look for one without fillers such as maltodextrin (a sugar) or inulin. These additives are also what make so many people complain about the bitter aftertaste. Stevia itself does not leave one. I use a liquid without any fillers. It is hard to find that in packets.

Because stevia is so much sweeter than sugar, it can not easily be substituted for sugar in recipes, but is great for beverages.

Xylitol is a naturally occurring compound found in many fruits and vegetables.  Xylitol has an impressive array of health benefits, and a taste close to sugar.  While it has calories (40% fewer than sugar) it has little impact on blood sugar and does not require insulin for metabolism, so is excellent for diabetics.  It inhibits bacterial growth in the mouth, and interferes with plaque development, which makes it a favorite of dentists. Xylitol decreases ear infections in children. Use 1/4 teaspoon in a Neti pot to clear the sinuses.  It is alkalinizing, increases satiety, and even has some anti-microbial effects.  Unlike sugar, it does not feed yeasts. This is good for your health, but makes it unsuitable for baking bread. It can be substituted 1:1 or sugar in other recipes. While sugar rates 100 on the glycemic index, xylitol is a mere 7.  The FDA recognized it in 1986 as a safe sweetener.

You can find many healthy and delicious dessert recipes using xylitol on my website. Here’s one that’s become popular all over the world, my healthy delicious chocolate chip cookies.

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