The new natural sweeteners like stevia, agave nectar, monk fruit and xylitol are better for you than refined white sugar. Sometimes much sweeter than sugar, these natural sweeteners have a lower glycemic index, which means that they don’t raise the level of blood sugar significantly. Use them as substitutes for refined white sugar at the table and in cooking. These natural sweeteners are real sugars, and preferable to artificial or non-nutritive sweeteners which break down under heat.
Stevia is a natural sweetener extracted from the leaves of the sweetleaf plant. It is about 300 times sweeter than refined white sugar, and has many benefits that sugar doesn’t. Stevia has a low glycemic index, so it has only a small effect on blood sugar levels. Unlike white sugar, stevia controls food cravings, improves digestion, does not cause tooth decay and can reduce high blood pressure. It is the ideal substitute for white sugar, and you’ll find several brands of stevia at your grocery.
You can use Stevia in cooking because, unlike most artificial sweeteners, it doesn’t break down when heated or frozen. And stevia combines well in the kitchen with salt, vinegar and other natural sweeteners such as barley malt, honey, fructose and sorbitol. Stevia is an excellent substitute for refined white sugar and artificial sweeteners. Use about 1 teaspoon of stevia powder to replace 1 cup of sugar. When stevia replaces white sugar in baking, recipes must be modified to add bulk and moisture to the batter by adding applesauce, canned pumpkin or yogurt.
MONK FRUIT SWEETENER
Monk fruit sweetener, also called Lo Han Guo, is extracted from the fruit of a Chinese vine. Because it is 300 times sweeter than white sugar, you need a lot less, a whole lot less. Just 1/2 teaspoon of monk fruit sweetener can replace one cup of refined sugar. Monk fruit sweetener is a benefit to diabetics and dieters as a natural low-glycemic, low-calorie option to white sugar. Because it tolerates high temperatures without breaking down, it can also be used in baking. Try monk fruit to sweeten smoothies, tea or yogurt. Brand names are Jarrow Formulas Lo Han Sweet and Naturewise Monk Fruit Sweetener.
Relatively new in the USA, monk fruit sweetener has been used in China for nearly a thousand years as a natural low-calorie sweetener. It may have antioxidant properties, with anti-viral and anti-cancer benefits. It is being used as a sweetener in packaged foods and even supplements.
Agave nectar is a natural sweetener produced from the agave cactus. Agave nectar is about 1.5 times sweeter than refined white sugar. It has more calories than white sugar, but you will use less of it. Agave nectar is also sweeter than honey, though not as thick. The added benefit of agave nectar for dieters and diabetics is its low glycemic index and glycemic load. Vegans can use it as an alternative to honey, the non-vegan product of bees.
Substitute agave nectar for sugar or honey in recipes and on the table. It dissolves quickly in iced tea. Brands of agave nectar at the grocery store are Domino and GH. Agave nectars are sold in light, amber, dark, and raw varieties. Light agave nectar has a mild, almost neutral flavor, while dark agave nectar has a distinct caramel taste people enjoy on pancakes.
Xylitol is a natural sugar sweetener that can be produced from the fibers of many fruits and vegetables, even from corn husks and birch trees. Just about as sweet as refined white sugar, but with fewer calories, xylitol is a low-calorie alternative to table sugar. It, too, has a low-glycemic index and does not elevate blood sugar levels. It is a safe sweetener for diabetics and may even prevent tooth decay. You’ll find xylitol used as a sweetener in chewing gum, toothpaste, fluoride tablets and mouthwash.
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