Friday, July 16, 2010

Sweet Confusion

There are enough "healthy" sugar alternatives on the market today to make your head spin. Xylitol, Maltitol, Erithrytol, Luo Han Guo, Agave and Stevia just to name a few. They all have a different sweetness level and taste. Some have a powdery consistency, some come in liquid form and some are like regular table sugar in taste and texture. Which one is the best? Which one is for you? Here is a Natural "Sugar Alternative" Primer to help you choose which one is the right one for you!

Luo Han Guo: Derived from an herb called Siraitia grosvenori, it has been used in China for hundreds of years as a sweetener. It's about 300 times the sweetness of sugar and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine. Usually found in powder and syrup form. Zero calories and carbs. Safe for diabetics.

Stevia: Also an herb and a species of the sunflower family and native to subtropical regions from western North America to South America. Stevia rebaudiana, commonly known as sweetleaf, sweet leaf, sugarleaf, or simply stevia, is widely grown for its sweet leaves. Stevia's taste has a slower onset and longer duration of sugar, although it can sometime be bitter tasting and licorice-like. It also has 300 times the sweetness of sugar, low in carbs and has shown possible benefits towards treating obesity and high blood pressure. Usually found in a liquid and powder form. Zero calories and carbs. Safe for diabetics.

Xylitol: A sugar alcohol sweetener used as a naturally occurring sugar substitute. Found in the fiber of many fruits and vegetables including berries, corn husks, oats, birch trees and mushrooms. It is roughly as sweet as sugar yet with any consumption of sugar alcohols there is always the risk of bloating, diarrhea, and flatulence, although generally rather less so than other sugar alcohols such as sorbitol. Low in calories and contains carbs. Safe for diabetics if eaten in moderation. Does not promote tooth decay.

Maltitol:Contains 75-90% sweetness of table sugar. It is a disaccharide which is a "carbohydrate formed when two monosaccharides undergo a condensation reaction which involves the elimination of a small molecule, such as water, from the functional groups only. Like monosaccharides, disaccharides also dissolve in water, taste sweet and are called sugars". That was the best description I could find. It sounds very complicated and I'm still on the fence about how I feel about this one. And just like with the use of xylitol it can cause "bloating, diarrhea and flatulance. Fun! Low calorie and safe for diabetics. Does not promote tooth decay.

Agave: Mostly grown in Mexico, this plant can also be found in southern and western United States as well as South America. They are succulents that grow thick fleshy leaves, think aloe vera on steroids. Blue agave is used in the production of tequila. The nectar comes from the base of the young flower stalk and is sweeter than honey but not as thick. It has a much lower glycemic index than table sugar but does contain fructose....and calories, and a lot of them at that.

I hope this helps with some of the confusion you may or may not be having with alternative, natural sweeteners. There are a TON more out there that I didn't list because they are quite rarely used in the products that we carry. You can find alternative sweeteners available at Food for Thought in sodas, teas, juice, gum, toothpaste, protein bars, ice cream and ice cream mixes, low carb mixes, yogurt, syrup, ketchup, cookies and a bunch more i'm sure i'm forgetting!

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