(NaturalNews) Sugar is everywhere. And if you have a sweet tooth, it can be quite difficult to avoid it in one of its many refined forms, as it is added to all sorts of processed foods. But not all sugar is bad, and there are many ways to sweeten food without going over the edge, and sometimes without even having to use sugar or a sugar substitute. Here are seven easy ways you can sweeten up foods and drinks without resorting to refined sugars or artificial sweeteners, both of which are linked to health problems:
1) Stevia extract. Said to be 300 times sweeter than sugar by volume, stevia extract is one of the easiest and healthiest ways to sweeten up foods, and particularly beverages, without having to use sugar. Rich in antioxidants such as apidenin, kaempferol and quercitrin, stevia extract works particularly well at sweetening tea, coffee, yerba mate, and various other beverages. And since it contains no sugar and a zero glycemic index, diabetics and others trying to avoid sugar can safely use it without incurring any harmful side effects. (http://www.naturalnews.com/023728_stevia_sweetener_FDA.html)
Just be sure to use only real, pure stevia extract from companies like Wisdom Natural Sweet Leaf, Stevita, or Wholesome Sweeteners, as these brands do not parse and manipulate their stevia like Truvia (Coca-Cola and Cargill) and Pure Via (Pepsico and Merisant) do. Pure stevia extract also typically does not contain processed fillers like dextrose, cellulose powder, and erythritol, all of which are commonly derived from genetically-modified organisms (GMOs).
2) Raw, unrefined honey. If sugar itself is not completely off limits for your diet, raw, unrefined honey is an excellent alternative to table sugar or artificial sweeteners. Rich in healing enzymes, antibacterial components, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and phytonutrients, unprocessed honey is an amazing alkaline-forming food that can naturally sweeten food without spiking blood sugar levels and creating a “sugar rush.” (http://www.naturalnews.com/026847_honey_raw_food.html)
When cooking or baking with honey, Prevention magazine recommends substituting only about one-third of the sugar for honey. For the other two-thirds, you can use a healthier, unrefined form of sugar such as evaporated cane juice or coconut sugar, both of which are high in nutrients and elicit a low glycemic index.
3) Himalayan pink salt. Believe it or not, adding a little bit of unrefined sea salt or Himalayan pink salt to your morning smoothie, sweet potato pie, fruit salad, or other sweet beverage or dish can actually enhance its natural sweetness without the need for sugar. Not only does salt help cover up the bitterness inherent in certain foods, but it also causes the natural sweetness of many foods to become more enhanced, which means less sugar is needed to bring them to the desired taste level.
This is the precise reason why many people sprinkle a little bit of salt on watermelon, lemon, and other fruits before eating them — salt essentially increases the brain’s ability to process the sensation of sweetness, which in turns makes naturally sweet foods taste sweeter. (http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2009/11/04/2732686.htm)
4) Raw cream. Similar to how salt brings out the natural sweetness of foods while suppressing bitterness, a little bit of raw cream can do the same thing for coffee, soup, stew, pie and various other foods without the need for added sugar. The lactose found in raw cream is a type of natural sugar that adds a slight sweet kick to food without going overboard on the sugar content.
Raw, organic, non-homogenized cream is preferable to most store-bought varieties of cream; however, as this form of cream contains the necessary lactase enzyme required to properly break down lactose. Pasteurized cream does not contain lactase, which can cause digestive upset and other health problems in people with lactose intolerance.
5) Dates. Both date paste and date sugar make excellent sugar substitutes in salad dressings, baked goods, desserts, and other foods that typically call for sugar as an ingredient. Though they obviously contain their own natural sugars, dates are a healthier form of sweetness that also happens to add a delightfully soft texture to foods. Dates also tend to have a milder sweetness with less overall sugar content compared to common table sugar, and yet can still be used instead of table sugar at a 1:1 ratio. (http://www.organicspark.com)
6) Luo han guo. A native to China, the luo han guo fruit, also known as the “longevity fruit,” is an all-natural sweetener that, just like stevia extract, is roughly 300 times sweeter than sugar by volume. Long utilized as a natural healing remedy for many centuries throughout the Asian world, luo han guo can not only take the place of sugar in food and beverages — luo han guo is commonly sold as the all-natural sweetener “lakanto” for this purpose — but it can also be used as a medicine to help deter the aging process, fight free radical damage, and actually promote healthy blood sugar levels.