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Sugar-free: 6 natural sugar alternatives

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It’s no secret that childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes are on the rise, but what seems to be the principal culprit? Research points to hidden processed, refined white sugar in our daily drinks and food.

Consider this, just four grams of sugar equals one entire teaspoon of sugar. Given that a classic coke has approximately forty grams of sugars, that’s about ten teaspoons in each 12oz can of refreshment. It’s probably more than one can stomach in a single sitting, if aware of it. With commercial ads bombarding the market for quick fix energy products, Americans tend to underestimate the quantity of sugar in every can of soda chugged, every granola bar grabbed on the run and every handful of packaged dried fruit mix or side coffee biscotti popped into their mouth for a brief afternoon snack.

Thankfully, successful nationwide campaigns such as Rethink Your Drink and No Kid Hungry are promoting sugar awareness and creating quite the buzz to offer healthier choices for children in America. In concert with national health efforts to educate parents, teachers and children, health food pioneers, including Curt Ellis, Michel Nischan, Jeff Bridges and Bill Shore, are making headway in bringing fresh, nutritious foods to schools and urban areas through organizations like Wholesome Wave, FoodCorps, End Hunger Network and Share Our Strength.

So, what is the solution to leaving behind refined white sugar? Well, as manufactures continue to move toward a healthier America with products that use less sugar or sugar substitutes, there is hope that fresh food and natural sweeteners will replace sugar as the sweet leader. But, in the meantime, begin by selectively eliminating white refined sugar from meals and incorporating sugar substitutes into drinks and snacks.

Not sure what to look for? Try out these six natural sugar alternatives for a sweet surprise.

1. Palm Sugar - A granulated or chunk sugar made by boiling the sap of coconut-palm tree flowers. Palm sugar has a moderate glycemic index (GI) of thirty-five and is similar in calories to white sugar but slightly less sweet. Palm sugar is excellent for baked goods, bean dishes and sweet marinades. Substitute 1 1/8 cup palm sugar for 1 cup of white sugar in baking recipes.

2. Stevia - Comes from the stevia bush and can be used whole, ground, granulated or as a refined liquid. Since it has a low glycemic index of less than one and zero calories, it has minimal impact on insulin and blood sugar and is typically safe for diabetics. Best used in refreshments, smoothies and liquids, it can also be used for making baked goods. If baking, substitute 1 cup of sugar with 1 tsp of stevia plus 1/3 cup of bulk agent.

3. Honey - Derived from transformation of nectar into sugar by bees. Honey is make of the three natural sugars, fructose, glucose and galactose. It has a moderate to high glycemic index (GI =30-58) but is vitamin rich, and since it is much sweeter than white sugar, less is needed. Honey is great for herbal teas, as a spread on baked goods, marinated and sauces. Be sure to use honey raw and not cook it, as cooking can release allergens.

4. Agave - The boiled golden brown sap of the agave plant. Agave has a low glycemic index (GI =15) and is 92% fructose and 8% glucose. It is similar in calories to white sugar but slightly less sweet and works best in smoothies, drinks, salad dressings and baked goods. If baking, substitute 3/4 cup agave for 1 cup sugar and reduce other liquid by 1/3.

5. Maple Syrup - The natural sap from black, red or sugar maple trees. Made of sucrose, it has a moderately high glycemic index (GI=54) but is rich in zinc & manganese. Maple syrup is an excellent sugar substitute for baking, however diabetics should use caution given its glycemic index. Maple syrup is delicious in hot cereals, granola, baked goods, sauces and entrees. Substitute 3/4 cup + 1 tbsp for 1 cup white sugar and reduce liquids by 3 tbsp in recipes.

6. Sucanat or Rapadura - Sugar in its most natural form. Both are pure, dried, mineral-rich sugar cane juice with the molasses retained. Their glycemic index is similar to white sugar (GI = 47), yet they are a better choice because of minimal processing and high mineral content. Diabetics use cautiously. Sucanat works well in drinks, baking and sauces as a direct replacement for white sugar. Substitute 1:1 for white sugar.

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