There is a lot of misinformation regarding sugar free. Some people opt to be free of refined sugar, instead opting for maple syrup, agave or honey. However, a word of warning. You are still taking in sugars in the form of glucose and, most worryingly, fructose. Your body metabolises them in the same way whether they are from refined or natural sources so really, you are just taking a sideways step. You will also continue to crave sweet foods so it will make your sugar-free journey so much harder. Agave contains over 90% fructose.
One of the main objectives is to train your palate off sugar and sweet cravings; so you don’t want to swap one sugar for another alternative. By all means use the natural sweeteners as a transition towards sugar free, but gradually reduce your sweeteners as your palate changes. I hardly use any natural sweeteners in my food now as I find them sweet enough.
The three sugar alternatives I would recommend – Stevia, Xylitol and Erythritol, are fructose free, meaning they have very little adverse impact on my health. Some people don't get on with these natural sweeteners or prefer to go without anything replicating sugar. I believe it can really help the way of eating become a lifestyle choice for families, without feeling as though you are deprived. It is personal choice, but for many of my clients, having cakes, biscuits and tasty desserts helps make this way of eating more manageable.
Although recipes include these sweeteners, I must emphasise that the key is to use these as treats to help you in the transition phase of becoming sugar free and not to overdo the sweet hits.
Stevia is a wild plant from the subtropical forest in North East Paraguay. The leaves of stevia contain glycosides of which sweetening power is between 250 and 400 times their equivalent in sugar. Stevia contains no calories and no carbohydrates. It does not raise blood sugar or stimulate an insulin response so for many, it is the preferred choice as it is completely natural.
However, Stevia is very very sweet and the cheapest out of all 3, but it does have a strange aftertaste which is hard to control. I have found liquid stevia has less aftertaste but it is really trial and error and depends on the brand you use. I use Sweetleaf Stevia drops, they are very good and have the least ‘aftertaste’. I buy these from Amazon but they are getting more available in UK stores.
Stevia is very hard to gauge in recipes as it is very much down to personal taste, product and the person’s sensitivity to the aftertaste. If you are new to this you may prefer to use xylitol or erythritol, but if you are a fan of stevia, you can still follow my recipes, but add stevia to suit your own personal taste/requirements.
Xylitol (In supermarkets called Total Sweet) looks just like sugar. Xylitol may sound slightly odd, but the word is derived from the Greek word for wood ‘xyl’, as in xylophone, because the natural sugar alternative was first discovered in birch wood. Xylitol has now been found in a host of other plants and fruits, such as sweet corn and plums, but is still largely extracted from birch and beech wood in Europe today.
Xylitol look and tastes just like normal granulated sugar, but it has a host of benefits. It has 40% less calories than normal sugar and less than 50% of the available carbohydrates (those that are utilised by your body), but it does contain carbohydrates and therefore does stimulate an insulin response so not suitable for everyone.
Xylitol can have a laxative effect in some people and if eaten to excess. The laxative effect is caused because xylitol attracts water to it. This effect is different from one person to the next and can change as your body gets use to xylitol. The lower your body weight the less xylitol it takes to cause the effect, so children can be affected more. As a general rule daily consumption should be limited to 5g-10g per 10kg of body weight (adults and children alike).
You also need to keep xylitol, or any food made with it, well clear of dogs. As with grapes and chocolates, dogs metabolise xylitol quite differently to humans and it can be very dangerous if not fatal, for them in even small amounts. Don’t be tempted to give your dog anything with xylitol in, no matter how small.
The UK’s leading brand of xylitol is Total Sweet (www.totalsweet.co.uk). Made from sustainable European birch and beech wood and is available in most supermarkets.
Erythritol, found in blends from companies such as Natvia and Surkin. Just like xylitol, this is another sugar alcohol known as a poll found in grapes and pears. Erythrytol is You can buy this as icing sugar, sugar and even brown sugar. Again use this as a direct replacement in recipes, but be aware they often add stevia to these blends as Erythritol on its own is not so sweet, so you may still detect a slight aftertaste.
Unlike other sugar-free, low calorie substitutes like xylitol, erythritol contains zero calories. Erythritol does not affect blood sugar or insulin levels during or after consumption, making it safe for diabetics and for those following a LCHF diet.
Unlike other sugar alcohols such as xylitol, maltitol and isomalt, erythritol is well absorbed from the digestive tract, passed into the urine and eliminated from the body, so does not have a laxative side-effect but some may find it can cause flatulence.
Eat whole fruits and not fruit juices or anything sweetened with fruit concentrates. Do not eat dried fruit or anything sweetened with dried fruit as they are very high in fructose and glucose.
I opt for berries which are lower in fructose. Fill up with nutritious vegetables and only use whole-fruits when needed.
If you like juices or smoothies, opt for vegetables with only a very small amount of fruit. This way you will gain the essential nutrients and antioxidants but limit your consumption of damaging fructose.