Artificial Sweeteners: Neither Friend Nor Foe
Have you been using artificial sweeteners (such as Sweet ‘n Low, Splenda, Equal and NutraSweet) in your morning coffee, or choosing sugar-free desserts or sodas in order to lose weight? Artificial sweeteners can be found in all sorts of processed foods--in baked goods, sodas, breads, cereals, pastas and rice. And they can be tempting, especially when you're trying to watch your weight.
But the truth is we don't know enough about how artificial sweeteners affect our brains or hunger/fullness signals to be able to say they aid in weight loss. In fact contrary to that theory runs the fact that dieters tend to mistake "sugar-free" foods for "calorie-free" foods, which often leads to eating more than what was wanted/needed in the first place. If you're familiar with my thoughts on dieting, then you know I became disenchanted with it years ago while I was reviewing the research as a dietetic intern. Why? Because diets are strict. They zap the joy out of meal times and can be physically and emotionally taxing. Plus, what the diet industry doesn't want you to know is that dieting doesn't usually lead to long-term weight loss. If you think back to the last time you tried a diet, or recall a friend or family member's experience, it won't take long for you to notice a pattern of restriction, short-term results, and subsequent weight gain.
For diabetics, prediabetics, and even some women with PCOS, managing blood sugar levels can be of special importance. It's important to note that just as artificial sweeteners aren't the answer to our prayers, they're also not something we should be going out of our way to avoid or demonize. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, artificial sweeteners are generally recognized as safe when used in limited quantities.
I want to leave you with a short list of sweeteners I like to recommend. They're perfect for the non-dieter in you (yes, most of them do contain sugar) and have the added benefit of a lower glycemic index for those of you who have a medical need to be a little more careful in managing your blood sugar levels.
Do you have a recommendation for me? I'd love to hear it.
1) Raw, unrefined honey
Rich in enzymes, antibacterial components, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and phytonutrients; unprocessed honey is a tasty sweetener without the usual side effects: it does not spike blood sugar levels, so there’s no risk of a "sugar rush." It tastes great when added to lemon tea, and is also yummy drizzled atop plain cooked oats, or added to plain Greek yogurt for extra flavor.
2). Evaporated cane juice or coconut sugar
Evaporated cane juice or coconut sugar are both high in nutrients and elicit a low glycemic index.
Both date paste and date sugar are excellent in baked goods, desserts, ice creams/sorbets, and other foods that typically call for sugar as an ingredient, like salad dressings. This natural sugar is mildly sweet in flavor and has the ability add a delightfully soft texture to baked goods. Also, dates have less sugar content than table sugar, but can still substitute table sugar at a 1:1 ratio.
4) Licorice Root
Just a tiny scrape of the granular bits of licorice that come from peeling a licorice root and scraping out the stem can naturally add a strong, sweet flavor to your herbal tea or other beverage. Or, use a pinch of licorice in the dried powder or extract forms.
Having a lighter taste but a similar consistency to honey, agave syrup can be used as a subtle sweetener in coffees, teas, and baked goods and other foods.
6) Real, pure stevia extract
Commonly used to sweeten up beverages like coffee, tea, and yerba mate, stevia extract is rich in antioxidants and registers a zero on the glycemic index--making it especially useful for diabetics. It’s sweetening power is superior to that of sugar’s, so less of it should be used.
7) Sea salt or Himalayan pink salt
Believe it or not, adding a little bit of unrefined sea salt or Himalayan pink salt to your morning smoothie, sweet potato pie, fruit salad, or other sweet beverage or dish can actually enhance its natural sweetness. This is because salt enhances the flavor and sweetness of many foods.