I’ve decided to start a little series called Ricki’s Raves, in which I share some of my favorite items (both food and non-food alike) that I truly love and use all the time. Today, I rave about my favorite low-glycemic sweeteners and sugar-free chocolate. In case you missed Part One, “Healthy Food Made More Convenient” (my favorite appliances), you can find it here. Part Three will cover prepared and packaged foods that I love.
Following an anti-candida or low-glycemic diet does NOT mean that you have to give up your sweet treats (or, heaven forbid, your chocolate!). Here are my favorite ways to sweeten my treats (and regular foods), and the chocolates I use when I need that hit of threobromine.
What it is
Stevia is an all natural, herbal sweetener originally from Latin America. Leaves of the stevia rebaudiana plant are dried and pulverized into a powder (the least processed form, which yields a green powder), or processed into a white powder or added to a liquid suspension (usually glycerin, alcohol or purified water). Because stevia is so much sweeter than sugar (up to 100 times sweeter), a very little goes a long way. Look for stevia in its purest forms, without any added fillers or other extracts.
Why you’d use it
With a glycemic index of zero, stevia doesn’t affect blood sugar levels and won’t feed yeast if you’ve got candida. So, in my books, that makes it an almost-perfect sweetener (I say “almost” because it can’t be used one-for-one in place of sugar in baking; substituting a cup of sugar for 1/4 teaspoon (1 ml) of a liquid will not result in a similar baked good, which means you’ll need to learn how to adapt recipes and find other ways to create the same texture in the final product. Luckily, I teach you how to do that in my new Food Freedom course, coming in January).
What I recommend
I’ve tried many brands of stevia, with varied degrees of success. And while I’d recommend quite a few for versatility and good flavor, I always come back to the same two brands: NuNaturals and SweetLeaf.
NuNaturals is an incredible company that makes stevia in many forms that are all known for their purity and lack of any aftertaste or bitter/metalic undertaste. If you’ve tried stevia before and think you don’t like it, I’d suggest giving NuNaturals a try. I love that they offer a variety of flavors as well, plus their new syrups (the Cocoa Syrup tastes like that classic chocolate syrup-in-a-can that you may already know and love).
Plus, NuNaturals is constantly innovating and seeking out the latest in low- and zero-glycemic sweeteners that are both natural and supportive of good health. I’ve been using their products ever since I discovered them almosts ten years ago, and I still love them.
SweetLeaf is another great brand that tastes terrific and is very versatile for cooking and baking. I’ve never tried their powdered stevia, but I do love the liquid for all the interesting flavors that can be added to drinks, baking, and other desserts.
Recipes I love using stevia
Basically, are there any recipes I DON’T love using stevia? Even when I use another sweetener, I tend to add some stevia to top up the sweetness while simultaneously lowering the overall glycemic index. But here are a few with stevia-only as the sweetener:
What it is
Despite its chemical-sounding name, xylitol (a “sugar alcohol,” though it contains neither sugar nor alcohol!) is considered a natural sweetener. It’s made through a fermentation process from any fibrous or woody plant materials (like corn cobs or actual wood), and is naturally occurring in nature. Because it contains non-digestible plant carbohydrates, we humans don’t absorb the nutrients in it very well, which means it contains fewer calories than sugar (at about 40% of the calories in sugar). It’s also low on the glycemic index, at 7.
Important note #1: the same factor that makes xylitol lower calorie and low glycemic also results in potential digestive issues. As it passes through the digestive tract undigested, it can cause gas, bloating, cramps or diarrhea (I will say here that I’ve never had any of those symptoms). It’s all a matter of degree: if you want to try xylitol, start slow and low–introduce just a little, and don’t eat it frequently, to begin. Your body will adjust and you’ll be able to increase the amount you eat with time.
Important note #2: like grapes, onions, macadamia nuts, chocolate and a few other foods, xylitol is highly toxic to dogs and can cause life-threatening drops in canine blood sugar within 60 minutes. So, if you have pets, be very careful where you store your xylitol, and what you share with them!
Why you’s use it
Unlike stevia, xylitol is a dry, granular, white sweetener that can be used one-for-one instead of sugar. That makes it a great replacement if you’re trying to convert existing recipes. In addition, xylitol has a neutral, mild, sweet taste with no aftertaste, bitterness, or any other flavors. It is, simply, sweet. I love it.
What I recommend
I’ve tried a few brands of xylitol, but for taste and safety, I always go with Xyla brand. Made from North American hardwood trees, Xyla is the only brand that guarantees nothing GMO and 100% North American ingredients (even non-GMO corn-based xylitol may have been produced in other countries, such as China, where we might not be sure about the origin of the ingredients).
I’ve also tried a few of the other Xyla products containing their xylitol, such as the sauces, jams, mints, candies or gum. I love (lurve!) the jams and tinned candies (which remind me of SweeTarts and bring me back to my childhood!) and gum (see photo, above). The sauces are also great (I’ve tried the Teriyaki, BBQ and ketchup). And I wish I’d known about the hard candies a couple of months ago when I had a sore throat and couldn’t find a single lozenge without sugar or artificial sweeteners.
Recipes I love using xylitol
I’ve only recently begun to share recipes with xylitol on the blog, but here are some recent faves:
What it is
As someone who professes to be incapable of living without chocolate, it was imperative for me to find sugar-free chocolate that I could use for baking, eating, and anything else (no, the HH and I don’t play those kind of games! I meant for candy molds, or the odd piece in a mole. Silly!). I use chocolate in my baked goods, in raw treats, and as a snack.
Why you’d use it
What I recommend
Depending on the use, I have different recommendations:
For baked goods, my favorite brand is the Canadian-owned Cuisine Camino. Their 100% cacao baking chocolate was the first chocolate I tasted after banning it from my diet for about 8 months when I was first on the ACD in 2009, and it was like manna from heaven: I was both shocked and delighted to find that it was not in the least bitter (though not in the least sweet, either). For baking, it chops and melts beautifully, and has a deep, rich flavor as well. I do realize that it may not be accessible to those of you outside Canada, though. I’ve been told that Ghirardelli 100% cacao and Scharffen Berger 99% cacao bars are both great quality.
To make homemade chocolate, or as chips in raw desserts or drinks, I prefer cacao paste, which is less processed than baking chocolate, cold-pressed and then solidified. Unlike unsweetened chocolate, cacao paste is technically a raw food, so I don’t “waste” it by heating it in baked goods. I go for Organic Traditions cacao paste, also 100% cacao, but again, there may be other brands available in the US or elsewhere with which I’m not familiar (and please let me know what you use!).
Another great option is the raw 100% cacao Giddy YoYo bars, which are fabulous quality and quite delicious (though rather expensive).
Finally, although I generally don’t use erythritol, I make an exception for the flavor and convenience of chocolate chips. I’ve been searching all over in vain for Lily’s chips, which I have heard from several people are incredible. That said, I’d prefer to buy a single bag for my first try, and they seem to be sold in packs of 12 on amazon.ca, or else sold out at all the vendors I’ve found who carry them here in the Toronto area.
I did find a Canadian counterpart that seems to use the same ingredients at Lilys: Krisda. They taste exactly like the semisweet chocolate chips I remember. They melt perfectly. And the HH didn’t know the difference when I baked with them. [UPDATE, 2018: Krisda now contains full milk powder.]
New brands of chocolate and chocolate bars are coming out almost daily lately! Two recent discoveries that I just love as snacks are the Cavalier bars (sweetened primarily with stevia) and the KZ Clean Eating bars (sweetened with xylitol. These may only be in Canada–but you might find them in the US here). If you can find them near you, they are both great quality, texture and taste–just like the chocolate bars I remember!
A 300g box of the Cuisine Camino retails for $8.49 in Canada.
Scharffen Berger 99% cacao baking bars (9.7 oz) sells for $16.88 in the US (not available in Canada, as far as I can tell).
A 227g (.5 lb) bag of the Organic Traditions cacao paste is $9.71 in Canada.
Recipes I love using sugar-free chocolate:
I hope you enjoyed this installment of Ricki’s Raves. Stay tuned for the next installment on which convenience foods I use, coming up!
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