Sugar is fairly high in calories at about 16 per teaspoon. Switching to a natural sugar substitute can be a great way to cut back on calories and potentially get a healthy boost as well. There are several natural sugar substitutes available, some high in calories, some low, and some virtually calorie-free. Some of these sugar substitutes are more difficult to use properly as a substitute in your favorite recipe. Others, while higher in calories, are much sweeter than sugar allowing you to use them in smaller portions, possibly saving on calories in the long run, and certainly being a much better choice for your health.
Stevia has emerged as one of the healthiest low calorie, natural sugar substitutes available today. Stevia is an herb that's part of the sunflower family and native to parts of Central and South America. Also referred to as sweetleaf or sugarleaf, stevia leaves contain extracts that are about 300 times sweeter than sugar. Because it's so sweet, much less can be used to attain the desired flavor. In fact, if higher concentrations are used there's often a bitter aftertaste. Either way, stevia is very low in calories. It's actually nearly calorie free. This herb is readily available as a natural sugar substitute and dietary supplement.
Benefits of Stevia
The introduction of stevia to the general public was resisted during the 1990s, likely by lobbying companies who might lose money if the sugar industry went out of business. Since then, some attention has been paid to this healthy herb and studies have been conducted on its usefulness to the human body. Stevia has nearly no effect on blood glucose levels and may even enhance tolerance to glucose. Findings also show that this herb may be effective at relieving heartburn, treating obesity and lowering high-blood pressure.
The Bitter Aftertaste
Though stevia is a great low-calorie substitute for sugar, it does tend to have a licorice-like aftertaste when used in large quantities. To avoid this use less of the sweetener in beverages like coffee or tea. You can also avoid the bitterness by using a brand of stevia that contains higher levels of steviosides. When an extract contains a high percentage of steviosides, like 90%, much of the bitterness can be avoided.
Other Natural Sugar Substitutes
There are a few more natural sugar substitutes available which are also low in calories. Erythritol and xylitol are sugar alcohols derived from fruit or fermented sugar cane. Xylitol tends to be a little sweeter in taste, but while it contains half the calories of sugar, it's not calorie-free. Caloric intake from erythritol is almost nonexistent, and this substance won't cause any gastrointestinal upset. Xylitol can cause diarrhea, gas or bloating, but it has additional benefits such as the ability to repair and heal teeth and gums. It really boils down to a matter of preference when choosing the best low-calorie natural sugar substitute to use for your sweetening needs. It's important to understand the difference between truly natural and sugar substitutes that have been highly processed, therefore removing any health benefit and potentially replacing them with harsh toxins.