Stevia, a zero-calorie herbal sweetener, can meet all of your holiday baking and sugar alternative needs.
Sweet Rewards: More Sugar Alternatives
Type-2 diabetes and obesity, both linked to sugar consumption,
Meanwhile, studies pointing damning fingers at faux sugars continue to surface. Is there a sweet ending to the sugar saga? Maybe so. Consider these sweet solutions.
Agave nectar With a neutral sweet flavor, this syrup comes in both light and dark varieties. Hailed as the next miracle sweetener, agave nectar is reported to have a low glycemic index and to cause minimal fluctuations in blood sugar.
Brown rice syrup Made by adding enzymes to cooked rice to break down the starches, it has a lighter color and texture than barley malt syrup, and can be used like honey or agave. Like barley malt, it’s not intensely sweet, and is broken down more slowly.
Honey Of all the sweeteners, raw, unfiltered honey is probably the closest to nature and the least refined. Use it to sweeten beverages, in baked goods, or as a spread on toast.
Erythritol A sugar alcohol that, like xylitol (below), occurs naturally in fruits and fermented foods. It’s virtually free of calories, and doesn’t affect blood sugar levels or cause tooth decay. Safety data is sparse, but because it’s made by fermenting glucose with yeast, erythritol may not be appropriate for those with candida.
Xylitol A sugar alcohol that’s found in many fruits and vegetables. It’s absorbed slowly, and has 40 percent fewer calories than sugar. Xylitol’s claim to fame, however, is its ability to reduce tooth decay rates, a finding that many studies have borne out.
If you’re looking to kick the sugar habit but want to avoid chemical-laden artificial sweeteners, stevia just may be your natural—and zero-calorie—solution. Thanks to its glycoside-rich leaves that are sweeter than sugar, this shrubby South American herb is on the verge of becoming a big player.
Ever since Antonio Bertoni first recorded its usage by natives in 1887, stevia has mellowed everything from medicines to beverages. Having recently received a long-anticipated green light of safety from the United States Food and Drug Administration with GRAS (generally recognized as safe) labeling, it’s a sure thing that more stevia sweetening is in the works. FDA approval has spurred some companies to begin incorporating it into mass-marketed products, from soft drinks and juices to snack bars.
Clinical data has found that stevia helps to regulate blood sugar, suppress dental bacteria, encourage weight loss, and regulate blood pressure. And, unlike sugar, stevia won’t exacerbate candida. Impressively, no negative reactions to the herb have been discovered. “Stevia has been used in Japan and other countries for several decades,” says Ray Sahelian, MD, coauthor of The Stevia Cookbook: Cooking with Nature’s Calorie-Free Sweetener. “I am not concerned with stevia causing any medical conditions; in fact, from all the studies that I have reviewed, stevia is a very safe supplement and most likely much, much safer than many artificial sweeteners. Stevia has been available in the U.S. since the mid 1990s, and there have not been any reported adverse effects with its use.”
New Stevia Products
Recent developments in stevia processing have uncovered Reb A, a compound extracted from the sweetest leaf section of the plant.
It’s 250 to 300 times sweeter than sugar and offers clean flavor without the bitter aftertaste. When reading labels, look for rebiana, rebaudioside, or Reb A for the purest, most natural sweetening power of stevia. Products such as PureVia and Stevia Extract In The Raw are composed of high levels of rebaudioside and offer powerful sweetening without the less favorable licorice-like flavor of the glycosides known as steviosides. Rebiana is also available combined with erythritol, a naturally fermented sugar alcohol, in Truvia (by the same manufacturer as PureVia).
Stevia is available in a variety of forms: from cut herb leaf to refined clear liquid to white powder. Watch labels for extra fillers that cause quality, flavor, and sweetness to vary. A little truly goes a long way when working with pure stevia. When substituting stevia for sugar in recipes, the recommended amount is 1 teaspoon for 1 cup of sugar, or 2 drops per 1 cup of liquid for beverages.
Mini Pear-Mango Soufflés
These fruit soufflés are simple and tasty. Baking them in a hot water bath ensures a perfect rise every time. Starting with ripe fruit means that you might be able to get away with less than a teaspoon of stevia—if you choose one of the high-end brands, just a couple of drops will maximize the fruits’ natural sweetness.
1 large mango, peeled and cut into chunks (1 cup), or 1 cup frozen
2 medium pears, peeled and cut into chunks (1 cup)
1 tsp. liquid stevia
¼ tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. salt
2 Tbs. cornstarch
2 Tbs. organic low-fat milk
2 egg whites
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Purée mango and pear chunks in food processor until fruit is blended and creamy, about 30 seconds. Add stevia, vanilla, and salt, and purée 5 seconds more.
- Whisk together cornstarch and milk in large mixing bowl until creamy. Add fruit purée, and mix well.
- Beat egg whites in mixer on high speed until stiff, about 3 minutes. Gently fold egg whites into fruit purée until fully incorporated.
- Scoop fruit mixture into 6 1/2-cup ramekins. Set ramekins in 13- x 9-inch baking pan, and pour about 3 cups of very hot tap water in pan around ramekins. Bake 25 minutes, until soufflés are puffed and golden brown. Serve immediately.
PER SERVING: 52 CAL; 2 G PROT; 0 G TOTAL FAT (0 G SAT FAT); 12 G CARB; 0 MG CHOL; 118 MG SOD; 1 G FIBER; 7 G SUGARS
Naturally Sweet Peanut Butter Cookies
Makes 36 cookies
Recipe taken from steviaextractintheraw.com.
½ cup whole-wheat flour
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp. double-acting baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. kosher salt
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
½ cup all-natural chunky peanut butter
9 packets Stevia Extract In The Raw
1 large egg, beaten
½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in small bowl;
- Beat together butter and peanut butter until smooth using electric mixer in large mixing bowl. Beat stevia into mixture until blended. Add egg and vanilla, and beat until just blended.
- Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Set balls two inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten, and make crisscross pattern in each cookie with fork.
- Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven, and cool on wire rack. Store in tightly covered container.
PER SERVING: 70 CAL; 1 G PROT; 5 G TOTAL FAT (2 G SAT FAT); 6 G CARB; 15 MG CHOL; 45 MG SOD; 0 G FIBER; 0 G SUGARS
Product Examples (from left)
NuNaturals NUSTEVIA White Stevia Powder can be sprinkled on cereal, yogurt, or mixed in your favorite beverage for a sweet taste without calories.
NOW Foods Stevia Glycerite. Just 5 drops of this liquid is all you need to sweeten any beverage. This all-natural herbal extract is gluten- and alcohol-free.
Ohgave! Raw Blue Agave Nectar, made from the blue agave plant, has a low glycemic index that prevents blood sugar spikes. A great sweetener in coffee, smoothies, or oatmeal.
Stevia in the Raw comes in convenient individual packets—no measuring necessary. Best of all it has zero calories, is all-natural, tastes great, and is gluten free.