In an effort to provide sweet options to the people who choose not to eat sugar, food manufacturers, as well as good-intentioned but misinformed nutrition “experts”, recommend swapping sugar with natural sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup. Don’t believe the claims that these sweeteners are wholesome, healthy substitutes for sugar.
Whether it comes from a beehive, a maple tree, or any other natural source, sugar is sugar. Sure, these foods are often less processed than table sugar, so you may feel better about using them. But their effect on your blood sugar, insulin, liver, and cholesterol are the same.
Super Sugar Substitute – Stevia
If you like a little sweetness in your tea or smoothies, try stevia, which is a much safer option than sugar or artificial sweeteners. Stevia is an herb with leaves that are ten to fifteen times sweeter than sugar. You can buy stevia plants at nurseries or grow them from seed, and use
their leaves as natural sweeteners.
Many people refer to it as the “natural” alternative sweetener. However unless you are crushing stevia leaves and using them to sweeten your favorite drink, we’re not talking about a totally natural sweetener.
You can also buy stevia extract which is extracted from stevia leaves that are dried with a water-extraction process. It is refined using ethanol, methanol, and crystallization. The extract then goes through ultra-filtration and nano-filtration to remove those alcohols. Be sure the brand you buy has no alcohol remaining in it.
Stevia extract is as much as two hundred to three hundred times sweeter than sugar, so you need only the tiniest amount. If you use too much, you may taste its bitter licorice-like aftertaste. Use it sparingly until you get the hang of it. For many uses, you might try vanilla or chocolate-flavored stevia as it tastes less bitter if you happen to use too much.
Stevia (the leaf) has been used in South America for centuries and in Japan for decades. So far, there is no evidence that stevia is anything but safe. Some early studies (done with the extract) suggested that it might cause genetic damage in the people who consumed it, but the studies turned out to be flawed because the data were mishandled.
Stevia and Blood Sugar
Stevia doesn’t impact blood sugar levels the way sugar does, and it doesn’t acidify the system the way a toxic sugar substitute does. There is some evidence to suggest that it may stabilize blood sugar levels, enhance glucose tolerance, and reduce blood pressure—but more research is needed to figure that out for sure.
If you take blood pressure medication or medication for diabetes, use stevia with caution. There is some evidence that it may act synergistically with these medications and could cause hypotension (low blood pressure) and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
Please note that stevia should be used in limited amounts, as it still keeps the taste buds hooked on the “sweet” taste of foods.
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