Low Carb Eats #5 - A little sweet without sugar
Saturday, March 08, 2014
Before low carb, my morning started with a hot cup of strong black tea, with milk and sugar. In my low-fat vegetarian experience, I'd made adjustments to reduce the calories, but nothing was a suitable substitute for the 2% milk. Thanks to tracking on SparkPeople, I'd confronted the reality that I was getting up to 400 calories a day from my multiple cups of sweetened tea.
When I adapted to low carb, I had to cut out the sugar. I focused on really enjoying non-sweet foods for the first few weeks, and found that if my sweet tooth wasn't banished, it was at least no longer the dominant impulse! I continually work on having more veggies and non-sweet courses of food, but the availability of dessert is important to my happiness, and that's just how it is!
I've tried many of different non-sugar sweeteners. All of the sweeteners below are appropriate to sweeten tea or coffee, or to add to whipped cream, or to sweeten some ricotta a little bit. I'll save pointers to my favorite low-carb food bloggers and their sweets for another blog entry. If you try a sweetener and don't like it, give it another chance with a 2nd sweetener added. If I'm making something that I want to very much taste like "real" sugar, I'll usually include 3 different sweeteners.
I avoid all of the newer big company stevia blends in the grocery store. Sad artifact of our food laws and supplement laws in the US, is that you'll find the more natural non-sugar sweeteners labeled as "supplements".
My first discovery was that aspartame (Equal) seemed to trigger my rosacea to flush. That finding was an interesting benefit to adapting to low carb. The primary benefit was in my taste buds being more open to new tastes.
Even if you have a well-stocked natural foods store available, you might find that Amazon is the most convenient way to find these sweeteners. It is a bummer to get to the store and find they're out of what I'm in need of that day!
Stevia - before low carb, I'd tried and detested the aftertaste. When I gave it another try, I could taste the sweet. I started with Kal Pure Stevia Extract, a power that comes in a salt-shaker sized bottle. It is important to be careful to find the literal "sweet spot", because you cross that line and the yucky aftertaste really takes over. This comes with a tiny spoon, and you might want to start with one tiny spoonful in your coffee or tea.
Stevia Glycerite - This liquid product mixes stevia into a vegetable glycerin base. I bought the NOW Better Stevia brand. Get a 2 oz bottle at first, in case you don't like it. This formulation is much more forgiving, and I can actually get something "too sweet" without tasting the stevia aftertaste. Like stevia, the flavor is not affected by cooking. As with other highly concentrated sweet flavors, it can't substitute for sugar in cookies or other recipes where the sugar is part of the "body" of the food. I put 3 or 4 drops in a spoon first (to make sure I'm not adding too much), then stir it into my tea.
Sucralose - This is the highly concentrated artificial sweetener found in Splenda. When provided in the packets, or in the granulated version that measures like sugar, it is mixed with other ingredients, primarily dextrose and maltodextrin, which contain carbs. A better and tastier way to enjoy sucralose as a sweetener is EZ Sweetz. I get it on Amazon. Look for the 2oz - 800 servings per bottle version. A drop is about a teaspoon worth of sugar flavor. For my picky eater husband this product is the difference between success and failure with low carb. I have granular Splenda around, and will occasionally add some to baked goods.
Erythritol - This sugar alcohol is available in granulated and powdered forms. It adds about 2/3 the sweetness of sugar, but is not digested by the body, isn't believed to spike insulin, and doesn't cause the digestive distress of malitol, another sugar alcohol. This product does brown a bit, so it is found in many great low-carb recipes. It gives a "cool" sensation in the mouth that can be a draw-back. Sometimes xanthan gum is added to recipes to dampen that affect. Don't know how or why it works, sorry!
Xylitol - Very similar to Erythritol, and preferred by some. Xylitol is hazardous to dogs, and I have four greyhounds (AKA "dishlickers"), so I just don't use xylitol. If you don't have dogs, I don't know of any drawbacks.
Malitol - you won't find this for sale to consumers, but it is the most-frequently listed sugar alcohol in commercially prepared sweet things for low carbers and diabetics. If you eat too much of it, you'll get gas other digestive upset. You will develop a fondness for Gas-X pills, but that won't help. If you can't stop yourself from nibbling on tasty chocolates, you might not want to have any of it in the house. But it won't kill you. And you can really satisfy chocolate cravings if you're missing fabulously mass-produced chocolate crap. I suppose a review of these is another blog entry, too. My husband is somewhat reliant on the Atkins bars to get him through the day, but I figure they're still better than how he ate before, so it is a reasonable trade-off.