Sweet alternatives offer a healthy boost to holidays
December 20, 2014
Craig — Another holiday means another feast and ample opportunities to gorge on sugar, spice and everything nice.
But as we all know, sugar is not very nice to the body health-wise.
"Sugar feeds viruses, fungus, bacteria, cancer cells — all general pathogens — in the system," said Daniel Wright, co-owner of Healthworks in Craig.
Research links sugar with an increased risk of diabetes, high cholesterol, weight gain and heart disease.
An article from the Harvard Health Blog reviewed a major study published at the beginning of the year that found that participants who ate more sugar (25 percent or more of their daily calories were sugar) were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as those who ate less (less than 10 percent of daily calories were sugar).
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The good news is that natural sugar alternatives can be substituted for the sweet stuff in your holiday recipes, from pies to baked goods to cheesecake. It's best to know which to use and which to avoid, however, as not all alternative sweeteners are created equal.
Good sugar alternatives
1) Xylitol — Xylitol falls into the category of sugar alcohols, which occur naturally in certain fruits and vegetables. It has some caloric value, albeit less than sugar, and has a lower glycemic index value than regular sugar.
The glycemic index is "a means of rating the effect that a particular food has on blood sugar levels," according to the nutrition and natural health encyclopedia, Hyperhealth. "Foods that cause a rapid rise in blood sugar (and consequently an excessive release of insulin) are known as 'high glycemic foods.' Conversely, 'low glycemic foods' cause a slower, sustained release in blood sugar and insulin."
Wright explained that xylitol is actually anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial, in fact counteracting the negative effects of sugar on the body. It has been lauded by some for its ability to counteract tooth and gum decay as well.
2) Stevia — Stevia is an herb native to South America with components that are up to 300 times sweeter than sucrose.
"It can act as an alkalizer in the system but its major benefit to the human body seems to be helping with blood sugar levels and blood pressure," Wright said.
Because stevia comes from a plant, it has no caloric value. Because of its concentrated nature, however, it is not quite as easy to substitute in recipes as xylitol.
Bad sugar alternatives
1) Aspartame — Found in many artificial sweeteners such as Equal and NutraSweet, aspartame has been linked by some of its critics to cancer and a wide variety of nervous system ailments, according to Hyperhealth.
"It destabilizes blood sugar levels for one thing, and can cause short term memory loss, long term memory loss, brain lesions, brain tumors, and it actually sets off the craving for more sweets, which is why its generally not very effective as a weight loss product," Wright said.
Though it is still approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there are better and safer alternatives available.
2 ) Sucralose — Found in Splenda, sucralose derives from sucrose in sugar cane. However, it is highly processed and chlorinated to form an artificial disaccharide that is not well-absorbed by the body, according to Hyperhealth.
Other natural sugar options that can be substituted into your recipes this holiday season are honey, molasses, maple syrup and raw sugar. These products still contain large amounts of sugar (which equates to calories and a higher glycemic index), but they are less refined and offer more minerals and nutrients than white sugar.
Wright's go-to ingredient when it comes time to bake is xylitol.
"You can use xylitol in the pies and the cheesecake and baking stuff," he said. "Quick breads are easy to do with that stuff… We made a cranberry orange bundt cake, gluten free, and used xylitol as a sweetener. It was great."
Online recipes abound utilizing alternative ingredients such as xylitol, so consider branching out and satisfying that sweet tooth in a more healthful way this holiday.
Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1794 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com.