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Healthy Sugar Substitutes

Posted Oct 16 2008 7:58pm

Nearly five years ago I kicked the processed sugar habit. It was a hard decision to make, but after being enslaved to the sugar high for most of my life and trying for about 12 years to make the break, I finally did it.

The first year without sugar I warded off any form of sweets. Now I will occasionally take a bite of my husband's dessert or treat myself to high-quality, dark chocolate (with more than 70% cocoa). I've also discovered some natural sweeteners that don't put my blood sugar levels on a roller coaster ride. My two favorites are lo han and agave nectar.

Lo Han, which comes from a Chinese fruit of the same name, is 250-300 times sweeter than sugar, has zero calories and is safe for diabetics. I also prefer the taste over stevia - another healthful alternative, but which often leaves a bitter aftertaste. Several companies are marketing lo han, which you can find at many health food stores. I like TriMedica's SlimSweet because it is not mixed with any other sweetener. You can use it for baking and cooking or sweetening coffee and tea.

While I prefer lo han for sweetening my ice tea and chai green tea, I think agave nectar is a better substitute for sugar when baking. Agave nectar is naturally extracted from a cactus-like plant native to Mexico. It is slightly sweeter, but lower glycemic than sugar and honey. It is considered a suitable substitute for diabetics. You can find it at healthy grocery stores like Whole Foods. If you prefer to buy it in bulk, Amazon offers the best price on Madhava Raw Agave Nectar.

On a side note, I wouldn't recommend using agave nectar in brownies. It makes them spongy. Agave is perfect for baking cheesecakes, muffins and energy bars. It can also be used in cookies and cakes, however, the spongy factor has the potential to creep in here too. Sometimes to make cookies crispier and brown better, I'll mix the agave with a little bit of sucanat (sugar cane natural) .

Neither lo han nor agave seem to trigger my sugar cravings. However, if you are sensitive to sugar you may still want to be careful with the agave. While it may not spike your blood sugar levels, some recovering sugarholics could potentially stumble and take a binge.

If you think you are sugar sensitive, a helpful website to check out is

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