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Diet

The lowdown on alternative sweeteners

Got a sweet tooth, but want to cut down on sugar (and artificial sweeteners)? We've rounded up some options.
The lowdown on alternative sweeteners

honey stevia maple syrup and agave syrup nectar

Sweeteners

Stevia

This non-caloric sweetener, named after the Brazilian plant it is extracted from, is 300 times sweeter than sugar, according to the Canadian Journal of Plant Science. It mimics powdered sugar's texture, but because of its compound stevioside, it has a slightly chalky and bitter aftertaste.rnrnIn its raw state, stevia is not approved by the FDA, but purified and refined stevia products are generally recognized as safe (GRAS). Research on stevia is still in its early stages; Health Canada does not have an opinion on stevia yet because of insufficient scientific data.

The lowdown on alternative sweetenersPhoto, iStockphoto.

Blackstrap molasses

Slightly denser in calories than sugar, blackstrap molasses compensates with its richness in minerals like iron and calcium. When processed, sugar cane plants produce refined sugar and molasses, but the latter doesn't have as high of a glycemic index, which makes it an attractive option for diabetics.

The lowdown on alternative sweetenersPhoto, Wikimedia Commons.

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Maple syruppart of the Master Cleanse diet. Turns out, maple syrup brings several health benefits to the table. A 2011 study from the University of Rhode Island detected 20 compounds in maple syrup, some of which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which are shown to fight bacterial illnesses, diabetes, and cancer. The syrup has to be 100 percent pure in order to reap its rewards. The lowdown on alternative sweetenersPhoto, iStockphoto.

Agave nectar

Similar in texture to honey, this antioxidant-filled sweetener comes from the agave cactus (which also brings us tequila!) It has been used for everything from insulin resistance reduction to wound healing. However, it is quite empty of nutritients and very high in fructose, which doesn't make it a healthy sweetener.

Agave nectar syrupPhoto, iStockphoto.

Honey

It really is the bee's knees. Though its exact composition varies depending on which plant the bees feed, a study from the Tabriz University of Medical Sciences in Iran says it contains an enzyme composition that helps with calcium absorption. rnrnPlus, the golden stuff (the darker the better) may have protective properties, thanks to its high antioxidant levels, according to scientists from the University of Illinois.

honeycombPhoto, Brian Hagiwara/Getty Images.

Monk fruit

Native to China, this melon-like fruit — which also goes by the name luo han guo or arhat fruit — is said to have been harvested by monks to treat coughs and constipation 800 years ago. A low-calorie option, monk fruit contains mogrosides, a chemical compound that can help stimulate insulin secretion. This insulin release helps the body absorb sugar to use it for energy. Mogrosides have an intense sweet taste, and in its pure form, is almost 300 times sweeter than sugar.

A single arhat fruit, also known as monk fruit or buddha fruit. Latin name: Siraitia grosvenoriiPhoto, iStockphoto.

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Date sugar

In a 2009 study from the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 12 sweeteners were tested for their antioxidant activity — and date sugar came in a very close second behind blackstrap molasses. Unlike most sweeteners, it's ground in its natural form, with no processing involved, so it retains all its vitamins, including magnesium and vitamin B. But it also retains all its natural fruit sugars, which will add to your calorie count.rnFun fact: Notable pastry chef James DiStefano of the Michelin-starred Rouge Tomate in New York City uses date sugar in his sweet treats to abide by the SPE guidelines (Sanitas Per Escam or "Health Through Food").rn

leftover ingredients, loose ends, dates, fruitPhoto, Masterfile.

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