At this point, most of us can probably accept the fact that our society as a whole consumes far too much sugar. Not only does the addictive nature of sugar make it hard to resist, but added sugar often hides in foods we would never expect – breads, crackers, salad dressings & sauces, granola, sports drinks… just to name a few.
Sugar has been shown to promote fat storage and weight gain, increase appetite, disable our bodies’ immune system and can fuel a host of health issues like nerve damage and cardiovascular disease. Processed sugar also contains no nutrients whatsoever making it the very definition of “empty calories”.
Generic artificial sweeteners unfortunately aren’t a great solution, either. Most contain a slew of highly processed chemicals and have been shown to have negative health risks and even contain carcinogens. On top of that, a lot of people experience digestive discomfort when consuming them or start craving even more sweet foods after eating them.
What’s the solution?
One option is to consume natural, unprocessed sugars. Raw honey, pure/high-quality maple syrup, coconut palm nectar or coconut sugar and naturally occurring sugars found in fruits are great options. These sugars contain many beneficial nutrients that processed sugars do not. Of course, these still need to be consumed in moderation.
For those of us that want to avoid the calories and sugar completely, another great option is Stevia.
Stevia is actually not a sugar at all. It is a plant, typically grown in South America and is naturally sweet. Stevia refers to stevia rebaudiana, the plant and its leaves, which are naturally up to 300 times sweeter than regular sugar but contain no actual sugar and have not been shown to affect blood sugar levels.
Stevia has been used for centuries as a sweetener in countries like Paraguay and Brazil and constitutes about 50 percent of Japan’s alternative sweetener market. Despite worldwide use, the FDA was slow in approving stevia as a sweetener in the US due to years of presumed pressure from the billion-dollar artificial sweetener industry, which includes products like Sweet ‘n Low and Equal. In 2008, the FDA approved stevia as a food additive (sweetener) and it is becoming more widely available to the public.
While stevia may be a great sugar alternative, all stevia is not created equal so it is important to use discretion when choosing stevia or products that contain stevia.
Many popular “stevia” products contain added ingredients that are either genetically modified such as dextrose, highly processed like agave inulin or undisclosed as a “natural flavor”. When choosing stevia, it is important to choose whole, unprocessed varieties.
Your best bet is to buy a stevia plant of your own or purchase dried stevia leaves and grind them into a powder using a spice grinder. If that’s not something you are able to do, make sure to choose only packaged stevia products that contain no added ingredients. When looking for products that contain stevia as a sweetener, make sure to look for “organic stevia” or “whole leaf stevia” on the ingredient label.