I only allow one kind of sweetener on the farm:
Stevia is brilliant stuff. Made from a plant, low-GI, zero calories, safe for diabetics. Stevia is not actually a sweetener at all – it just stimulates the sweet taste buds on your tongue, so that you have the sensation of sweetness.
Stevia has been used for for centuries as a bio-sweetener and a traditional treatment for diabetics — and studies show it may actually improve blood sugar control. 1 Stevia also appears to have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial properties. Researchers particularly recommend its health benefits for diabetic patients, those wishing to lose weight, and children. 2
The sugar folks fought long and hard to keep stevia out of this country and off the shelves – and who can blame them! You would too, if faced with an alternative to your product that had zero calories and actual health benefits.
The sugar barons lost the fight, though, and had to adopt a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach, so stevia can now be found on the shelves of many supermarkets. Little word of advice though – check the label on the stevia you purchase. Most stevia you will find in the supermarket is layered onto a dextrose base to give it extra bulk- and dextrose is sugar! Naughty marketers…
Which kind of stevia is best?
What you want is the completely pure stevia. It comes in crystals, drops and clickers that you can put into coffee and tea. I like the clickers and the crystals – but only the 100% pure stevia. Make sure it says so on the label. I usually order mine online, or get it from a health food store.
The pure stuff is pricey – but as it’s something like 30 times as sweet as sugar, one bag will do you for a long, long time!
I also like the clickers for coffee and tea. I don’t like the drops, as I find them fiddly and I’m generally in a hurry – but that’s just personal preference, you might find they work really well for you.
The only downside to stevia that I’ve found is that it’s hard to bake with. It has an odd, fluffy texture unlike the lovely grainy quality that sugar gives a cake. If you find a good way to bake with it, please do let me know , and we’ll go into business together! ; )
There is a baking version of stevia that has erythritol added for bulk. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that is made by fermenting glucose. Like stevia, it does not raise your blood sugar, so is microbiome-safe. The advantages of erythritol is that it creates the same shiny effect in low-calorie chocolate, adds bulk to dairy products and improves shelf life in baked goods. Stevia and erythritol work for home baking because they’re both heat-stable. It’s safe enough – but I’m still not crazy about the results.
For baking I prefer to sweeten with whole blended up fruit and veg, like bananas and carrots, or dried fruit. Dried fruit tends to have a similar glycemic index to its non-dried counterpart, so is safe to use sparingly as a natural sweetener – because it still has its fiber, the sugar goes into your bloodstream more slowly. Dried apples, apricots, peaches and plums are all low GI and nice to work with. If you need to increase sweetness levels, you can top up with stevia until it’s sweet enough for your taste.
Now that we’ve talked about adding stevia to your diet, let’s talk about what you need to let go of:
Sorry to say, it’s a real baddie. Quite simply, it kills the good bugs in your microbiome.
Professor Cynthia Kenyon from the University of California, one of the world’s top researchers in the field of ageing, experimented with giving glucose to worms, and found that it shortened their life span. Killed them right off. She claims that if you had seen what she has seen, in terms of what sugar does to living organisms, you would never eat sugar again. She doesn’t. 3
Sugar is death to your microbiome. Just like pouring bleach into the river.
Just say no to sugar.
What about honey? Well, honey is brilliant stuff – but I treat it as medicine. It’s a natural antibiotic. If we have coughs or colds, we make a mix of honey, lemon and ginger and drink it down. We also apply sterile dressings that have been surgically infused with honey to wounds, in order to promote rapid healing and prevent infection. I used these surgical honey dressings on Rich’s wound when he had MRSA, and I always keep a few spare in my farmhouse first aid kit – they’re brilliant. 4
Honey should not be mixed with kefir, because its naturally antibiotic action will kill off the good kefir probiotics that you’re trying to get into your system.
We don’t mess with manuka – apparently three times more manuka honey is on the shelves than is actually produced in New Zealand, so chances are good that you’re being over-charged for fake manuka! 5
When we need honey on the farm, we use heather honey – the honey that most beekeepers choose to eat. A little more expensive than regular honey, but nowhere near as pricey as manuka! It’s a mono-honey (made from only one plant) that has been shown to be just as anti-bacterially effective as manuka. 6 And it comes from right here in the good old UK.
Honey is very high on the GI index – almost as high as pure glucose – so don’t use it as an everyday sweetener. It will rock your microbiome.
Maple syrup, agave syrup – same. Maple syrup is even higher on the glycemic index than honey, so is no good for your microbiome either. And do not use agave syrup! Agave nectar is about 85% fructose, which is much higher than plain sugar, and can contribute to insulin resistance when consumed in large amounts.
I don’t hold with artificial sweeteners, so those are out.
Xylitol – mmm, well, I do chew xylitol gum, because it has been shown to promote dental health.
But stevia is the only thing that goes onto my farmhouse kitchen table, or into my Nutribullet to mix with my kefir!
Note: Pregnant or nursing women shouldn’t use stevia. Whole stevia leaves were also traditionally used as a contraceptive by the Guarani Indians in Paraguay. Those on blood pressure or diabetes medications should check with their doctor before using stevia-based products, as they may interact with these medications. People allergic to ragweed may be allergic to stevia as well.