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Stevia – a healthy alternative to sugar

If you love sweet food and joke about being ‘addicted’ to sugar, you’re actually not wrong.

Sugar addiction is a real problem, with many of us consuming lots of obvious sugar (in cakes, biscuits, sweets and desserts) and plenty of hidden sugar too (in things like fruit juice, sauces, pickles, canned beans and cheese spread).

Slowly but surely, sugar has crept into a huge number of processed foods – duping us to eat more of it. And the more you eat, the more you want!

The repercussions of being a ‘sugar addict’ are huge. Sugar increases your insulin and leptin levels and decreases receptor sensitivity for these vital hormones. This can lead to:

  • High blood pressure and high cholesterol
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Weight gain
  • Premature aging

Sugar also suppresses your immune system, contributing to allergies, and is responsible for many digestive disorders. It contributes to depression and hormone imbalance and excess consumption is associated with some chronic diseases, including cancer.

What sweet treats are OK?

If you are craving something sweet, really and truly the only healthy choice is to reach for an apple or a pear. The more distance you can put between your episodes of sugar consumption the better. In fact, the best plan would be to have a ‘sugar holiday’ for a couple of weeks to decrease your cravings.

But, if you feel you must have something sweet, here are a few guidelines:

Avoid ALL artificial sweeteners – that’s another can of worms, but the health risks are well documented.

Avoid high fructose corn syrup – this is REALLY bad for you.

Limit sugar, of all types, as much as possible.

The lesser of sugar evils!

If you want to sweeten your food and drink, raw honey could be the answer. Honey = sugar, though, right? Well kind of… it is 70% fructose, which is also the sugar in fruit. The important thing with fructose consumption is moderation. A safe daily amount is 15 grams of fructose per day.

So, although raw, unprocessed honey (the only sort you should be eating, ideally) is a perfect natural food, it doesn’t mean you should dip your paws into a jar like Winnie the Pooh and slurp great fistfuls of it!

Natural alternatives to sugar

The other ‘healthier than sugar’ option is Stevia , a sweetener made from a natural herb that’s up to 300 times sweeter than sugar, but without its calories. Originating in Paraguay, it’s been used for decades in Asia, and since 2008, it’s been huge in the US.  It was cleared for UK use in 2011.

Lo Han is another natural herbal sweetener. It has a slight caramel flavour and is a great substitute for sugar in most recipes.

Exercise v fructose

Try to consume your fructose immediately before, during or after INTENSE exercise, as your body will use it directly as fuel. Exercise will also increase your insulin receptor sensitivity and help counteract the negative effects of fructose.

Down and out?

The serious health consequences of too much sugar in our diets means that cutting sugar down, or out, is good news for your body. To protect health, it’s simple (note, I didn’t say easy): Eat and drink less sweet stuff.

Are you up to the challenge of teaching your body to end its love affair with sugar?