It's natural to crave sweets, we are biologically reprogrammed to do so, originally to fatten up for the winter. The problem is we don't obey the seasons like our ancestors did and sugar now is found in everything from your flavored water to your favorite store bought pasta sauce. It's highly addictive and in big doses corrosive to our health. The average American consumes more than 20 teaspoons of sugar a day which equals to 143 pounds per year per person. That's the weight of a whole other human being....in sugar form!
The first step to ween yourself off sugar is to start avoiding refined white sugar and experiment with some natural sweeteners. They will create fewer fluctuations in blood sugar, stabilizing your mood and cravings. Though these sweeteners are natural and have health benefits compared to white sugar they should still be used in moderation.
Agave Nectar- Agave nectar, or agave syrup, is a natural liquid sweetener made from the juice of the agave cactus. Many diabetics use agave nectar as an alternative to refined sugars and artificial sweeteners because of its relatively low effect on blood glucose levels. However, agave is high in fructose and has been under much scrutiny due to possible manufacturing processes which are similar to that of high fructose corn syrup. Some research suggests that fructose affects the hormone lepitin, which controls your appetite and satiety. Too much fructose may result in overeating and weight gain, so it’s important to consume agave nectar in reasonable moderation.
Stevia- This leafy herb also known as honey leaf has been used for centuries by native South Americans. The extract from stevia is approximately 100 to 300 times sweeter than white sugar. It can be used in cooking, baking and as a sugar substitute in most beverages. Stevia has been shown to have a positive effect on blood sugar levels by increasing insulin production, and decreasing insulin resistance. Stevia is available in a powder or liquid form, but be sure to get the green or brown liquids or powders, as the white and clear versions are highly refined.
Brown Rice Syrup- This product consists of brown rice that has been ground and cooked, converting the starches to maltose. Brown rice syrup tastes like moderately sweet butterscotch and is quite delicious. In recipes, replace each cup of white sugar with 1⁄4 cup brown rice syrup, and reduce the amount of other liquids. Brown rice syrup is made of 50% complex carbohydrates, 45% maltose, and 3% glucose. The small amount of glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream immediately, but the complex carbohydrates and maltose are much more slowly absorbed, providing a steady supply of energy.
Maple Syrup- Maple syrup is made from boiled-down maple tree sap and is a great source of manganese and zinc. Approximately 40 gallons of sap are needed to make one gallon of maple syrup. It adds a pleasant flavor to foods and is great for baking. Be sure to buy 100% pure maple syrup and not maple-flavored corn syrup. Grade B is stronger in flavor and said to have more minerals than Grade A.
Birch Syrup- Birch syrup is also very low on the glycemic index and is rich in vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, potassium, manganese, thiamine and calcium. This syrup is made from the concentrated sap of birch trees, and it takes 100 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. Unlike maple syrup, which is composed of the disaccharide sucrose, this syrup is composed of fructose, a monosaccharide. Monosaccharides are easier to digest because they are simpler sugar units, making birch syrup a gentler choice.