Natural Alternatives to Sugar
How Sweet It Is…Sugar Alternatives
One of several low-calorie sweeteners known as “polyols”, xylitol is a five-carbon sugar that occurs naturally in small quantities in fruits, vegetables and grains. Xylitol is also commercially extracted from corn or birch. It has 40% less calories by weight than table sugar (sucrose) and has demonstrated a number of beneficial effects on the human body. It is not as sweet tasting as sugar, but it also lacks a bitter aftertaste and is quite palatable.
Xylitol has been shown to have many positive effects on dental health , as it is not fermentable by bacteria and can prevent tooth decay
In clinical studies, xylitol gum and syrup both reduced the occurrence of otitis media (ear infections) in children
Xylitol may have bone building effects and may be beneficial to those with osteoporosis
Other benefits attributed to xylitol consumption include a reduction in nasal and sinus infections and H. pylori-killing effects. H. pylori is a form of pathogenic bacteria thought to be the agent responsible for stomach ulcers as well as a number of other illnesses.
Xylitol nasal spray, mouthwash, gum, mints and toothpaste are all available. This sweetener may cause gastrointestinal distress in some individuals, so use cautiously at first until you find your personal tolerance level. Please note that xylitol is very toxic to dogs, so keep products containing xylitol out of fido’s reach!
The herb stevia has long been used as a non-caloric sweetener that is 100-300 times sweeter than sugar, although it does have a bitter aftertaste that many people find objectionable.
Traditionally, stevia was used in folk medicine to help lower blood sugar in diabetics.
Raw stevia is a fine green powder made from the dried leaves of the stevia plant. Stevia is also available in a purified form as a white crystalline powder that is often blended with other low calorie sweeteners such as erythritol, inulin, etc.
After many years and a very long battle, the FDA finally gave GRAS status to rebaudioside A—a derivative of stevia— in 2010. Please be aware that some commercially available stevia products (such as Truvia) are actually not the whole herb, but a single chemical compound found in stevia that is produced by a lengthy process in the laboratory. As such, these products can not truly be called “natural”.
You can find raw stevia and purified stevia powder at many natural foods stores. The live plant is also available at plant nurseries and it is an easy herb to grow from seed. To use the herb, simply pluck off a leaf or two and add it to iced tea, etc. The leaves can also be dried and powdered for later use
Derived from the agave cactus, agave syrup is made by heating the sap of this desert plant at high temperatures (140 degrees F) for 36 hours until the sap becomes a sweet, thick syrup.
Although marketed as a completely natural product, much of the agave that is commercially available has been adulterated with high fructose corn syrup, which is infinitely cheaper to produce.
Agave is about 90% fructose, which in itself is low glycemic. For this reason, agave syrup has been touted as a diabetic-friendly sweetener. While it does have a rather low glycemic index (GI <55) large amounts of purified fructose is definitely not good for diabetics, as it can cause cell damage (glycation), promote fatty liver, raise blood pressure and possibly contribute to obesity and metabolic syndrome.
If you purchase agave syrup, make sure it is organic and that it has not been enhanced with high fructose corn syrup and use it sparingly.
Coconut Palm Sugar & Coconut Nectar
Both coconut palm sugar and coconut nectar are sweeteners produced from the collected sap of coconut palm flowers. These sugar alternatives have a low glycemic index (GI 35), contain traces of several vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes; are raw, gluten free, unbleached and unrefined.
One serving (1 tbsp.) of granulated coconut palm sugar contains 7 grams of sugar. It can be used in a 1:1 ratio to replace table sugar in many recipes. The taste is similar to that of light brown sugar.
Coconut nectar is thick syrup that can be used in a 1:1 ratio to replace liquid sweeteners in recipes. It does not impart any coconut flavor, but rather has a mild sweet taste.
Inulin is a sweet-tasting form of soluble fiber found naturally in hundreds of common foods, such as onions, garlic, wheat, rye, asparagus, artichoke and bananas. Inulin can also be commercially produced from chicory root or agave.
Inulin is also known as FOS or fructo-oligosaccharide—a long chain of fructose molecules that acts as a pre-biotic, fermentable fiber.
It is added to many food products as a “functional food’ to improve digestive health. Inulin is an indigestible fiber that helps to promote the growth of beneficial flora or “good bacteria” in the gut.
It is added to yogurt to enhance calcium absorption and can increase satiety or a feeling of fullness when eaten.
Since it is not digested, it does not increase glucose levels and can be safely used by diabetics.
In large doses (more than 1 or 2 tsp. daily) inulin may cause gastrointestinal distress, so it is best to proceed slowly when adding this beneficial sweetener to your diet. Those who suffer from IBS or other gastrointestinal disorders should be especially cautious about using inulin.