Wednesday, June 23, 2010
The "no sugar" label on many packaged foods can be tempting. Sometimes, no sugar means not sweetened, and sometimes it means the food has been sweetened artificially. The question is, are sugar substitutes really a healthy choice?
Not if they are causing you to 1) overeat; 2) consume too many empty calories; or 3) neglect nutrients. And that's not considering that we don't yet know the long-term effects of consuming these artificial sweeteners. It is my opinion that artificial sweeteners complicates the digestion of foods, requiring more time and energy which slows down fat metabolism.
Commercially available sugar substitutes have been clinically tested and deemed safe for consumption for most people. They may even be helpful for people on special diets. However, a federal stamp of safety does not indicate that something is your healthiest option, especially when it comes to nutrition.
It's normal to crave sweets. Humans naturally have an appetite for sugary things. But if the foods you typically reach for are candy and cookies, even if they are sugar-free, you're getting mostly empty calories and few, if any, beneficial nutrients. By filling your menu with sugar-free desserts, you may still be getting too many calories and not enough vital nutrients.
Rather than seeking out sugar-free versions of your favorite indulgences, try replacing a few of them with whole foods that offer much more than a satisfied sweet tooth. Whole grain muffins or cookies and berries are great examples of naturally sweet treats that also provide many of the vitamins and nutrients your body needs. Plus, with these types of sweet treats, you will get a serving of fiber instead of the empty calories that come from many processed, artificially sweetened treats. Fiber-rich snacks can help satiate your hunger and assist with weight loss.
I will work on posting some great tasting treats or desserts that limit saturated fats, and processed sugars while still providing nutrition. You may also want to do your own research on some new and old natural, low or no calorie sweeteners that can be found at health food stores and most groceries. I will briefly comment on two I have used and feel comfortable recommending
Stevia: An Herbal Alternative
Stevia is a popular natural sweetener extracted from the Stevia rebaudiana plant. This herb has been used in South America for centuries, is about 300 times sweeter than sugar, and is calorie-free. Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has not officially approved stevia as a safe food additive, in late 2008 it was classified as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS). Stevia can be found in a liquid and also in granules similar to sugar. It can usually be found on the shelf with the cane sugars at any grocery store. I buy the one in a green box, with a strawberry on it labeled "Truvia"
Agave Syrup is a natural low calorie sweetener that has been extracted from the Agave plant. There are many different types of Agave plants and processing methods. Organic Blue Agave is processed naturally, with no chemicals involved. I have also heard that the darker the color the less processing the sweetener has undergone. Organic Blue Agave is much sweeter than sugar, but with a glycemic index of only 11. Sugar has a glycemic index of 68-85 (the glycemic index indicates the effect it will have on your blood sugar levels, see post about the glycemic index) You can use Agave in recipes, use 1/2 -3/4 c. in place of 1 c. sugar. You may also have to reduce the amount of liquid. You can use as you would honey in beverages, cereal, and on bread. I have found it at Costco, health food stores, and WinCo