Natural Sweeteners

canisterLast night I made mugs of hot chocolate to sip by the fire.  What?  Have I given in to sugar?  No, my chocolaty treat was free of sugar and  artificial sweeteners. It was sweetened with a chicory-based product, which not only tastes just like sugar, but is free of carbs, sugar and calories. If you like hot chocolate, check out: Just Like Sugar Guilt-Free Hot chocolate.  It’s rich and delicious, with no sugar.

Refined sugar is one of the most damaging substances in our diet. Sugar can leave us fat, tired and depressed, with digestive woes, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and elevated cholesterol. Sugar is the fuel of cancer cells.   High blood sugar levels shrink brain tissue and increase risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Artificial sweeteners such as Equal and Splenda, may be worse.  Studies show they drive up sweet cravings, boost blood sugar and seem to cause weight gain faster than regular sugar.  Aspartame (Equal) is associated with neurological problems such as headaches, depression, vertigo and seizures.  More than 75% of all adverse food reactions reported to the FDA are from aspartame.  Studies with sucralose, the key ingredient in Splenda, show it disrupts beneficial flora in the intestines, while lowering blood sugar and inducing hunger.  A change in gut flora can lead to weight gain, digestive trouble and weakened immunity.

Up until now, I’ve recommended abstinence, but a few products let you have your
cake and your body too.

Just Like Sugar, made from inulin fiber from chicory root, is an indigestible (thus sugar and calorie-free) carbohydrate that offers health benefits along with a surprising sugary likeness. Inulin is a pre-biotic, which actually feeds good intestinal bacteria.  It has long been used for liver detox and doesn’t ferment like refined sugar, so is thus beneficial to your teeth.  This sweetener is Paleo-approved.  Just Like Sugar comes in a Baking version, a another type ideal for coffee and tea (Table Top) and a Brown sugar style. Be sure o try the hot chocolate. This sweetener is a tad less sweet than regular sugar.  I used it recently in cooked apples for braised pork chops as well as to make a spectacular pudding.

Try this healthy and delicious pudding recipe with chia seeds. This chia pudding photo came from Elana’s Pantry, a great source of healing recipes.

Vanilla “Tapioca” Pudding
1 ½ cups So Delicious coconut milk (unsweetened)
¼ cup chia seeds
¼ cup Just Like Sugar Table Top or Brown
1 tbsp coconut butter
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla
a few micro plane shavings of nutmeg

Heat the milk with the “sugar.”  Add in coconut butter.  In separate bowl, beat egg yolks.  Ladle a small amount of the heated coconut milk mix into the egg yolks beating to prevent curdling.  Then add another ladle, continuing to beat the mix.  Return the egg yolk-milk mix to the pan and heat on low until it starts to simmer, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat immediately and stir in vanilla and chia seeds, pour into serving bowls or glasses and allow to cool, then refrigerate. Stir up the chia a few more times during cooling to prevent clumping.

Lakanto is also much like refined sugar as far as taste, texture and use in desserts, yet with no carbs or calories.  A granulated sweetener made from non-GMO erythritol, a sugar alcohol,  and Luo Han Guo, or Monk fruit, Lakanto replaces granulated sugar in equal amounts in recipes. It is Paleo-approved. The only downside is it is pricier than other sweeteners, and not so easy to find.

Xylitol, a sugar alcohol, also tastes much like granulated sugar.  Although not carb-free, it has 75% fewer carbohydrates and 40% fewer calories than regular sugar, plus a low glycemic index, which means it will not spike your blood sugar.   It is found naturally in fruit, and in the body.  Xylitol protects against plaque and dental carries, as well as ear and throat infections. I have at least one client who eats xylitol out of the bag for sugar health. Xylitol performs similarly to granulated sugar in recipes, although I find it best when used in puddings.  It does not caramelize like regular sugar, so it doesn’t’ work so well for cookies.  Too much xylitol can cause gas and diarrhea, so start with a little.  Be sure to use non-GMO forms. Xylitol can come from GMO corn or birch trees. You can find it at most natural food stores. Caution: xylitol is highly toxic to dogs.

Stevia has a 1500-year track record as a safe alternative to sugar in countries including Japan, Brazil and Paraguay. It comes from a shrub with leaves hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, yet with no calories or carbohydrates.  Research indicates stevia may help control blood sugar and diabetes.

Stevia comes in powder or liquid forms, refined and unrefined, even with chocolate or vanilla flavor.  Unrefined stevia can have an herb-like flavor, not usually appreciated by sugar fans. Experiment.  Different brands and formulations taste different. Those with sensitive palates complain of a slight bitter flavor, thus it is best used in desserts with intense flavors, like pumpkin pie or chocolate pudding.

I sometimes use refined stevia powder to sweeten lemonade or to make raw almond butter-flax seed cookies.  (Combine almond butter, stevia to taste, a pinch of sea salt, shredded coconut and enough ground flax seeds to form a firm ball.)

A soft drink called Zevia and chocolate bar by Lily’s are both stevia-sweetened, and tasty.  I tested Zevia on a group of high school teens; they loved it.

I find the world of savory foods to be deeply satisfying but my clients complain on a daily basis that they miss their sweet fix.  Give one of these sweeteners a try. Or, read this for more options. And, send your favorite ideas for naturally sweetened foods.


Natural Sweeteners — 5 Comments

  1. Good news, I called the company Just like sugar. Their chicory root comes from Brazil and they guaranteed me it is non GMO. I would still be careful about buying products with inulin or chicory root and check the source before assuming it is healthy. I believe that food grown in Brazil is much less likely to contain GMO chicory root so this is reassuring. The rep at JLS told me they have strict quality control standards that assure purity in their production.

    • Carla, I really appreciate you contacting the company and appreciate both your comments. I also spoke to Just Like Sugar so felt confident about their sourcing. But your comments do point out how important it is to check the source of foods you might not suspect. Many people don’t realize some xylitol is from GMO corn or that papaya is often GMO, or zucchini is often as well. I was just reading a draft law has been submitted to the Russian parliament making it a crime to produce GMO foods harmful to the environment. We may be moving in the right direction.

  2. PLEASE NOTE THIS AUTHOR VERIFIED “JUST LIKE SUGAR” SWEETENER IS NOT A GMO – READ THE NEXT COMMENT: I have used just like sugar in baking recipes. However, I am concerned about its safety as it contains chicory root which is inulin. Plus it’s is listed as “natural” which is a catch all deceiving phrase. ( look up the NAKED juice company lawsuit for example) Inulin is a GMO and that’s a big problem if you’re concerned about your health. There is nothing healthy or beneficial about GMOs. All of our processed foods contain GMOs because our government approves them so that they can continue to take in all the lobbying money from the big food giants like Monsanto, Pepsico, General Mills, etc etc. This is why we are a sick nation with diabetes on the rise. I would like to get verification from the Just like sugar company if in fact their ingredients are non GMO. I highly doubt it.

  3. Fabulous article, Linda! Coincidentally, someone gave me a bag of Lakanto and I used it in my hot porridge this morning. I thought it was terrific, but you’re right about the price. I hesitate to use it on my blog or my cooking classes because it is incredibly expensive. I look forward to trying Just Like Sugar. What do you make of coconut sugar and coconut nectar? Hard to find concrete data on those.

    • Thanks Pamela. You’re right – hard to find the facts on coconut sweeteners: they do contain sucrose, which is sugar, whether it also has substantial amounts of fructose seems up for debate. The glycemic index is low: 30-40 and it is very high in potassium, so better than regular sugar. I say go light when you really want that flavor, which is tasty. Let me know if you hear more.

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