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Healthy Shades of Sweet

Stevia

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The ongoing demand for sugar alternatives is evident in the vast markets for both artificial and natural sweeteners.

Though there exist ‘natural’ sweeteners like honey and agave nectar neither contains any real nutritious value. In fact, they can be as hazardous to your health as sugar.

Luckily, with these ‘bad’ sugars, nature has also provided a few sweeteners that are safe and beneficial to your health. Stevia is nature’s answer to calorie free sweeteners.

Extracted from the Stevia rebaudiana leaf, it is 400 times sweeter than sugar. Because of this, Stevia can achieve the same amount of sweet as sugar in smaller doses, which accounts for it being non-caloric.

Stevia is still a newer concept to countries like the United States but by no means is it a health fad. On the contrary, it has been used in Asia and South America for centuries. Though not yet mainstream to the U.S. market, Stevia can be found at most grocery and health food stores. (You know its getting acceptance when generic versions are sprouting up.)

Extensive research shows Stevia does not affect blood glucose or insulin levels, making it suitable for diabetics. Because Stevia is heat resistant, it can be used in cooking and baking or sprinkled into hot beverages. To make things sweeter, Stevia does not contribute to tooth decay the way sugars do. You can find Stevia in crystal, powder, or liquid form.

A more common sweetener among households, black strap molasses is the nutrient dense by-product of sugar processing. One serving of molasses provides great sources of calcium, iron, copper, potassium, manganese, and magnesium – and only 32 calories. At two teaspoons per serving, it’s all just a spoon stir away.

With a rich, bittersweet flavor, molasses not only gives gingerbread its distinctive flavor but also is a defining addition to savory foods like black beans. Its scent and texture can add a soothing touch to a cup of tea, especially if you have a sore throat. When you are picking out molasses, make sure to get the unsulphured variety to avoid the processing chemical, and ensure a more clarified taste.

Among the coconut tree’s many talents (totaling over a thousand for those counting) is its ability to produce a sap that is both delicious and nutritious. This sap is harvested to create coconut sugar. Not to be confused with palm sugar, which has a different glycemic index, coconut sugar contains a low 35-54 GI per serving, making it safe for diabetics.

Among the many nutrients in coconut sugar are those that keep bones and joints healthy, including magnesium, calcium, phosphorous, and boron. It is also rich in zinc, which has been called the “nutrient of intelligence” because it is necessary for mental development. At present, you may find coconut sugar online or at health food stores. Check local Asian stores as well. To be certain you have real coconut sugar, rather than a different type of palm sugar, check the label. If it reads 100% coconut palm or coconut sap, then you’re good to go.

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