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Sugar Free - Living The Sweet Life
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Sugar Free   -   Living the Sweet Life

How could one possibly live "the sweet life" and be sugar-free at the same time?

If you have been following this series on sugar, you know that I have ripped apart any concept that it is okay to eat sugar and its close cousins fructose, high-fructose, maltose, glucose, honey, molasses, brown sugar, agave and others like them. You also know that I am not pushing the use of sugar substitutes that come in their colorful pink, blue and yellow packets.

Here are a few healthier options that I can recommend you try.

You may have heard about stevia (pronounced: stee-vee-ah). Stevia comes from the leaves of a South American shrub and has been used by native people for centuries to sweeten beverages. Stevia extract has been available to buy in Japan since the 1970's and in the United States more recently. In the U.S. it is considered a nutritional supplement because it hasn't been approved by the FDA. The FDA website states: "FDA has not permitted the use of whole-leaf Stevia or crude Stevia extracts because these substances have not been approved for use as a food additive." The FDA claimed there were health concerns and I suspect political controversy actually had more to do with it. But eventually stevia products have become more and more available.

Stevia is often the sugar substitute of choice because the extract, which is as much as 300 times sweeter than sugar, has a negligible effect on blood glucose and is attractive as a natural sweetener to people on carbohydrate-controlled diets. Therefore you can use a very little bit of it and get a lot of sweetness.

I was first introduced to Stevia extract through various network marketing companies specializing in such supplements. Some of these are high-quality extracts, some aren't. Today we have a wide variety of stevia and stevia-sweetened products available in the health food stores. And most recently, a stevia product has been marketed broadly in both health food and regular grocery stores. It is a granulated, white product in a green and white packet.

I admit to using some stevia as a sweetener even though it is certainly not ideal. (And don't worry, I am NOT promoting stevia as part of a multi-level thing.) My caution about stevia is the same caution I would give to any food that is not in its whole, natural state. It is a highly refined substance. Perhaps some of the extracts are less refined than say, the white granulated powder in green and white packets, but none of these products is the same as using the leaves of the South American shrub and mashing it up at home or chopping it up into some dish. (Thanks a bunch, FDA!) I don't even know if it is possible to do that. I'm just saying stevia extracts and powders are not whole foods and that makes them something to use very moderately.

What else is there to use? My preferred choice for a sweetener is naturally fermented whole grain sweeteners such as brown rice syrup. I have used this myself and to feed my family since my children were babies. In fact, I used brown rice syrup to make some of their first baby foods.

Brown rice syrup is a light, golden-brown color and is very thick and syrupy. It is made by naturally fermenting brown rice with a little barley. Brown rice syrup is not going to be nearly as sweet as you are used to if you eat a lot of sugar. But I definitely recommend you try it anyway. One reason is that brown rice syrup is a complex carbohydrate rather than a simple sugar. Once you consume it, it does not rapidly convert and make your blood sugar level spike and throw your system off. In fact, it may help you to regulate your blood sugar levels. I always go for organic brown rice syrup when I buy it.

Barley malt is another good whole grain sweetener. It is a dark brown thick syrup and has a sort of toasted flavor. It's great in desserts as long as it is 100% barley and doesn't have anything else such as corn syrup added to it. One of my favorite desserts made with barley malt is a fruit crisp. This is made by putting barley malt into a heavy pan (cast iron works well) and heating it until it is bubbling like you would make a soft candy. By adding toasted oatmeal flakes and chopped nuts to it, and maybe a little whole wheat flour, you can get a nice mixture to put over sliced apples or other fruit. Bake it in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes and you've got yourself a nice apple crisp that won't ruin your health.

Sometimes people ask about maple syrup as a good sweetener. Maple syrup sounds so New-England-down-home-pancake-delicious! Beware that most maple syrup-like toppings are not maple syrup at all. In fact they may have little or no real maple syrup in them and they are only simple sugars made to look like maple syrup.

Real 100% maple syrup is processed from maple sap and is extremely sweet and concentrated. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup! But, if you can tolerate the sugar level of real maple syrup--which is around 65% sucrose compared to 99% sucrose in white sugar, it is a very delicious treat to use once in a while. I would use just a touch!

The bottom line is that any sweeteners you find, simple or complex, healthy or not, are going to be refined foods. They are not going to be in a form that is just like how they grow. Opt for sweeteners that are the least refined and have no additives and are organic and you'll go a long way toward the sweet life without sugar.

Street Talk

Me too, Heather. And I don't like telling people to cut out a big category of their food without first giving them something else to try instead!

  about 1 decade ago

Thank you for this article. I think it's really helpful when people are 'trying' to modify their diets if there are healthier alternatives.

  about 1 decade ago
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