Sugar substitutes: good, bad or ugly? + Guilt free 3 ingredient peanut butter "cheesecake"
This week on Facebook Live and Periscope I made a quick peanut butter "cheesecake" snack.
- 3/4 c. plain Greek Yogurt (I like Greek God's, Chobani and Fage for sour cream substitutes & they work well for this too).
- 2 heaping teaspoons of powdered peanut butter (plus just enough water to mix the powder in smoothly)
- 5-10 drops Sweet Leaf Stevia Vanilla Creme
If you put it in the freezer for a couple minutes, it will firm up a bit and give you more of a cheesecake texture. I haven't had great luck with it freezing though, depending on the brand of Greek yogurt I've used. So if you're going to forget about it, maybe just eat it right away. :)
Let's talk a little about Stevia. You can probably buy this plant at your local greenhouse every spring. I haven't done this yet because I kill plants on the regular, but it would be a fun experiment. When I interned for a major food company after college, I spent several days with the corporate chef. I remember helping prepare a meal for an executive meeting and doing a Stevia taste test for them with the plant leaves and a variety of prepared foods. Truvia, a ConAgra product, was the big cahoona back in 2009 for mainstream Stevia products. Nowadays the options are bigger and better. My Stevia use currently consists of a non-bleached liquid that I can use to drop a little flavor into my lattes and concoctions.
I use a few different sweeteners in my kitchen. Some that fit into the caloric, regular sweeter category (honey, real maple syrup, coconut sugar) and some that fit into the sugar substitute category. Sugar substitutes are generally considered "non-nutritive", meaning there's no calories involved. There are a couple categories:
- Artificial sweeteners have been around for decades: Ace K (acesulfame K), sucralose and asparatame also known as Equal, Sweet N Low and Splenda.
- Then there's the sweeteners derived from nature: Stevia (a plant) and sugar alcohols, which are generally made from fruit through a chemical process.
First sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols include erythritol and xylitol, among others. Usually they end in "-tol". It is thought that the body doesn't really process these sweeteners and just excretes them. I've purchased an erythritol sugar substitute called Swerve (I saw another RD had promoted it on Instagram), and it was okay.
While sugar alcohols aren't exactly "healthy", meaning they don't really have any advantages to consuming them, they are considered better than spoonfuls of sugar, which can be pretty "anti-healthy". Why? Because your body can only handle so much sugar at a time. A different topic for a different day.
The big thing about sugar alcohols? They can cause digestive upset if you eat too much of them. Translation: Loose poop. So just be aware of this when you're chewing "sugar free gum" or eating "sugar free candy" which are almost always made with sugar alcohols.
Artificial sweeteners have had a slew of conflicting research for years. Sometimes research comes out that people can lose weight by substituting with artificial sweeteners. Then the next articles comes out and says that the body still processes artificial sweeteners like sugar. Most importantly to me, the most concerning research about artificial sweeteners is related to gut bacteria. (See here)
In short, artificial sweeteners disrupt gut bacteria. That means they could be triggering inflammation (the root of all disease and pain), reducing immunity and throwing off digestion. This sounds like too much of a red flag to me to wait around on other research. I try not to play roulette with my health. Fortunately, nature has our back. If we stick to minimally processed foods, we're usually playing in the safe zone. When humans get involved and "invent" new foods, it's always best to proceed with caution.
Bottom line: Unbleached Stevia is almost the only sugar substitute you want in your diet.
Be aware, bleached Stevia is processed and this chemical processing could reduce its superiority by a couple notches. Unbleached Stevia is green, like the plant itself.
Interestingly opposite of other sweeteners, Stevia has been shown to actually lower blood sugar levels (see here) in diabetics and have a positive impact on HIGH blood pressure . It's almost like a beneficial herb. (See here)
Here's a couple safe Stevia choices:
Sweet Leaf drops
Sweet Leaf Powder
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