June 10, 2015

How Sweet It Is

By Editor

Sifting through the natural sweeteners.

Our craving for sweet foods exists from day one—mother’s milk is naturally sweet, and as babies we develop a taste for this sweetness.

There’s nothing wrong with craving and consuming sweets, but all sweets are not created equal. Many sweets are loaded with sugar, which is high in calories and low in nutritional value and is contributing to the growing diabetes epidemic. While you may not be able to deactivate your well-programmed sweet tooth, you can start making new choices.

As you think about healthy choices, consider opting for foods that contain natural sweeteners. Although the food industry has created all sorts of sugar substitutes, Mother Nature has quite a few sweet tricks up her sleeve.

Agave Nectar: Agave nectar is a syrup derived from the Mexican agave plant. It is about twice as sweet as sugar and is useful for sweetening drinks and baked goods. It is extremely low on the glycemic index, so it won’t spike your blood sugar. Agave has about 60 calories per tablespoon, so it should be used sparingly.

Dates: Dates contain one of the highest concentrations of sugars of all fruits. Dates can be used as a sweetener either in the form of date sugar (which is made by dehydrating dates and grinding them into a rough sugar) or date paste (made by blending dates with a small amount of water). Dates provide an unrefined, natural sweetener; however, once they are dehydrated they are quite high on the glycemic index, making them a poor choice for diabetics.

Raw Honey: Honey that is raw and unfiltered stays in solid form and retains amino acids, B vitamins, and other nutrients. It is sweeter than sugar and only a little slower to affect the blood sugar; however, it is favored by some who believe that it is a little more redeeming than straight sugar.

Lucuma Powder: Lucuma powder is derived from the sweet fruit of the lucuma tree, which is native to South America. Lucuma has a full-bodied, maple-like taste and is a versatile ingredient that can be mixed into smoothies, puddings, ice cream, pies, and pastries. It has naturally occurring vitamins and minerals, but is low in sugars.

Maple Syrup: Maple syrup is made from the sap of sugar maple trees. It is low in fructose and high in the trace minerals manganese and zinc. It is often used to sweeten pancakes, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, tea, and more. Pure maple syrup is not to be confused with products marketed as syrup that are actually made from high fructose corn syrup.

Mesquite Powder: Mesquite powder is milled from the bean and pod of the mesquite tree. It has a sweet, smoky flavor with caramel undertones. It lends a malty taste to treats such as smoothies, ice cream, or chocolate. Mesquite is high in fiber and lysine (an amino acid). It is effective for balancing blood sugar.

Stevia: Stevia is a sweetener made from a South American herb. It is sold in powder or liquid form and is about 300 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia has no effect on blood sugar and therefore, has become popular among diabetics and individuals who have trouble regulating blood sugar. Many favor it as a miracle sweetener with zero calories; however some people find that is has a slight bitter aftertaste similar to an anise undertone.

Xylitol: Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar substitute found in the fibers of many fruits and vegetables. It can be extracted from birch, corn fiber, raspberries, plums, and corn. Xylitol is equally as sweet as sugar, with about half the calories. It is safe for diabetics and people with hyperglycemia.

Yacon Syrup: Yacon syrup is derived from the yacon root, which grows throughout South America. The syrup tastes similar to molasses and is sweeter than sugar with half the calories. Furthermore, it will not raise blood sugar levels.

Tags: Nutritional Know-How

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