Several years ago, early in my weight loss journey, I always used real sugar, honey, and agave nectar when I wanted something sweet. I added them to my tea, sprinkled or drizzled them on my grapefruit, and tossed them in my fruit salad. This was a great improvement over my previous morbid-obesity-inducing diet of candy bars, bakery cakes and packages of Oreos, but over time I realized that eating low carb is what truly works for me. I needed to get away from sugar and agave and all their carbs and calories, but still wanted to use sweetener once in awhile. Sure, I learned to drink my coffee black and my teas unsweetened. Yes, I started eating plain, delicious, naturally sweet fruits for my desserts. But on Medifast, fruit is something you add after the weight loss phase. And every so often, I like to sweeten something a bit: a cup of "dessert" coffee, a bowl of ricotta with cinnamon, or some light cream cheese to spread on my Medifast muffin.
Ever since switching to artificial sweeteners, I've loved the taste of Splenda. When I still drank diet sodas, I switched to Splenda-sweetened drinks. At one time I had six glass bottles of various flavors of sugar free syrups on my counters. For years I've kept a box of Splenda packets in my cupboard and a few little yellow packets in my purse, just in case. But recently, I started to wonder about the safety and possible side effects of ingesting this chemical called Splenda. While the Splenda company's website lists plenty of studies regarding the safety of their product, not everyone shares this opinion. The Truth About Splenda website discusses some of the concerns about the sweetener, including this study about possible side effects of Splenda. Many people claim to have gotten sick or to have various symptoms from ingesting Splenda, including everything from depression to rashes and from migraines to hair loss. It's anecdotal, but enough to concern me.
So what to use instead? After reading lots of articles including this Complete Guide to Sweeteners, I decided I should give stevia a try. Stevia is a plant that's been used as a sweetener for over a thousand years, so it felt safer and more natural to me. Granted, I am not picking and crushing stevia leaves into my food and the stevia we buy in stores *is* processed, but it is not turned into another chemical entirely. There are two different forms of stevia. One is based on a single extract from the plant, called rebaudiosides, and is FDA approved as a sweetener. The other is a whole-plant extract called steviosides and is sold as a dietary supplement (but still used by lots of people as a sweetener). I believe the latter is better, as it contains all the beneficial compounds in the stevia plant and not just one compound in isolation. There are very few reported side effects of stevia in what I have read, but those listed on WebMD include lowering blood sugar and lowering blood pressure! Those are both benefits for some folks, myself included. Studies even indicate that stevia may help treat insulin resistance and hypertension. You can read more about stevia and these studies in this excellent article: Is Stevia Healthy?
After deciding to switch to stevia, I tried Truvia. It came in little packets in the grocery store. Yuck! I hated it! It tasted excessively bitter to me. I tried several times and just couldn't enjoy it. I know that Truvia does not taste bitter to everyone, but to some the bitterness is very pronounced. So I set off in search of a non-bitter stevia. In my research I read that NuNaturals brand stevia (liquid) is not bitter, so I decided to give it a try. I ordered myself a little bottle of this: NuNaturals Pure Liquid Clear Stevia. I love it! It is not even the least bit bitter, is very sweet so you only need a few drops, and is made from the whole plant extract. It is so convenient to have it in a dropper bottle, so I can add one drop at a time to sweeten anything to taste. And I feel good knowing that it is not just a sweetener but a supplement that might help me keep my blood pressure down and blood sugar stable.
Last week I threw out all my Splenda packets. I am sticking with stevia from now on. This is a change I really feel positive about and intend to keep.
What sweetener do you use, and why?