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Why you need to get off the sugar

Zrinka Peters is a freelance writer living in Minnesota. She enjoys writing about food and health, and her work has appeared in publications including American Fitness, Ft. Myer's Magazine, and Woman's World.

Natural sweeteners

In addition to adding empty calories to your diet, sugar has been associated with a wide range of physical and mental maladies, from obesity and diabetes to ADHD and other mental disorders. For your health's sake, you know you need to cut the sugar out of your diet but you just can't fathom life without sweets. So, instead of living dessert-deprived and sweet-unsatisfied, consider delicious (and potentially more nutritious) natural alternatives to sugar.

Too Much Sugar

Sugar and disease

Recent research presented by the American Chemical Society shows that drinking beverages containing high fructose corn syrup may increase the risk of developing diabetes, especially in children.

Soda pop aside, refined sugars have been implicated in everything from dental caries and hypoglycemia to obesity and mental illness.

This is not that shocking when you consider that the average American consumes around 100 pounds of sugar per year, most of it in the form of refined sweeteners, which are added to processed foods (both savory and sweet products).

The sugar alternative

As if sugar wasn't bad enough, research has also linked artificial sweeteners to weight gain, cancer, migraines and more.

In response to these findings, many people are turning to natural sweeteners as more healthful alternatives. But there are a lot to choose from and the options can get confusing. What's the difference between them? And are they really healthier?

Natural sweeteners are unrefined or only minimally refined, so they retain valuable nutrients which have been removed from refined sweeteners. For example, while refined white sugar, brown sugar, and corn syrup are almost 100 percent sucrose and have no nutritional value, natural sweeteners retain their vitamins, minerals and natural fiber.

As a result, when consumed, natural sweeteners enter the bloodstream more slowly and, thus, help prevent the "sugar blues."

Read Natural sweeteners are a better choice for a comprehensive list of readily available sugar alternatives and read on for additional natural sweeteners that can replace the sugar in your diet.

Natural Sweeteners

Natural and Organic Sugar: These sweeteners are minimally processed sugar cane. The syrup is dehydrated, and then ground into a powder.

Sorghum Syrup: Sorghum cane juice, which has been boiled down to a syrup.

Stevia: Stevia comes from an herb native to Paraguay. It is extremely sweet, and a little goes a very long way. However, this herb is controversial as a sweetener. Although the FDA has approved it as a dietary supplement, stevia has not yet been approved for use as a sweetener. Stevia is one of the few sweeteners that has the same characteristics as artificial sweeteners. It has zero calories and will not elevate blood sugar, yet is super-sweet. Stevia comes in liquid and powder form - be sure to read the label instructions to avoid overpowering a dessert.

Dates: Naturally sweet dried dates can be minced and added to many dishes in place of sugar.

Cooking with natural sweeteners

Sugar adds characteristic moistness, sweetness, and leavening to desserts. Replacing sugar with natural sweeteners can affect the taste and texture of your favorite sweets. The key is to experiment and find the natural sweeteners that work best for you. Do a search for recipes using natural sweeteners on the Internet and check out the growing list of cookbooks featuring sugar alternatives.

And if you need some recipes to get you started, try these naturally sweetened desserts recipes.

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