Since the dawn of time, humans have been indulging in sweets—from the fruits and berries gathered by our cave-dwelling ancestors to the sugar-laden treats that take up multiple aisles in today’s supermarkets. The desire for something sweet is innate. It is the first taste recognized by newborns, and the sweet foods our ancestors were drawn to contained nutrients necessary for survival.
Today, however, we’ve just gone overboard. Americans consume a whopping 165 pounds of sugar per year, most of it coming from candy, sodas, and the like. We guzzle nearly 57 gallons of “liquid candy” per person annually, and 99 percent of all US households purchase candy at some time during the year. Now, that’s a lot of sugar.
In the late 50s, scientists opened a whole new can of worms: artificial sweeteners with low or non-existent calorie counts. This was music to America’s ears. In 1963, Tab, the first diet soda, debuted, and, over the next few decades, thousands of diet products flooded the market. The nation was hooked.
Problem was, numerous studies conducted in the 1970s linked these artificial sweeteners to serious problems, including cancer. Yet these findings were swept under the rug as these chemical additives were accepted with open arms by the FDA and approved for use by the general population. Today, it seems new sugar-free products are introduced almost daily and each claims to be the best, safest, and tastiest. But as far as I’m concerned, artificial sweeteners are not the answer—especially when far safer natural alternatives exist.
Topping my list of favorite natural sweeteners is stevia. This herb has been used for over 1,500 years in South America and continues to boast world-wide popularity. It is calorie-free and does not affect blood sugar levels, making it safe for people with diabetes. Just a few drops of a liquid concentrate or a dusting of powdered stevia is all you need to lend sweetness to any dish. It’s the sweetener of choice at the Whitaker Wellness Institute, and if you haven’t tried it yet, you should.
Running a close second is xylitol. This sweetener looks and tastes like sugar, making it ideal for baking. Better yet, it’s good for your teeth: Xylitol actually reduces cavity and plaque formation, a dental claim approved by the FDA. Although xylitol is not calorie-free, it is metabolized much more slowly than regular sugar and has an extremely low glycemic index, so it too is safe for diabetics. The only reported side effect is gastrointestinal (GI) distress when large amounts are ingested.
Finally, there’s erythritol. It looks like sugar, it tastes like sugar, and you can even cook and bake with it just like sugar. But unlike sugar’s 16 calories and 4 carbohydrates per teaspoon, it has zero calories, no carbs to speak of, and it doesn’t affect glucose levels, which makes it perfect for diabetics and people watching their weight. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol naturally present in many fruits and vegetables. While many sugar alcohols are notorious for their laxative effects, erythritol has far less potential for causing GI issues when consumed in moderation. As for safety, an entire issue of Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology was dedicated to this sweetener, and only minimal side effects were noted at high doses.
I know as well as you do that cravings for treats aren’t going to disappear, but there are good and bad ways to satisfy your sweet tooth. An occasional sugar splurge isn’t going to hurt you, but overindulgence can contribute to a host of health problems. When the urge hits you, get your “fix” with stevia, xylitol, or erythritol. You can find these natural sweeteners in health food stores, some grocery stores and supermarkets, and through various online retailers.
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