The foodie community is always buzzing about some new miracle ingredient that can completely replace fattening and sugary additions to your meal. Coconut oil is the healthy butter of the baking world; applesauce is a fantastic substitute for canola oil; and sugar… Well, there aren’t many substitutes for the sweet stuff. Who are you kidding, anyway? Those paleo vegan sugar-free chocolate chip cookies? Those were biscuits – dry, crumbly, tasteless biscuits. Nobody was fooled.
But wait a minute – it’s true that alternatives to sugar usually suck the flavor right out of your cake recipe; still, there are a few sweeteners on the market that really do help you provide healthy food to your family without sacrificing any of the taste. Stevia is one of those sweeteners.
Stevia is a powder or liquid derived from the Stevia rebaudiana plant, native to South America and a member of the daisy family. Stevia is a no-calorie sweetener that undergoes minor processing before it’s sold in your local Whole Foods or organic grocery store. Some major supermarkets have also begun to carry this increasingly popular product. Stevia has historically been used for a variety of things besides sweetening your favorite cookie recipe. There is evidence that stevia was also ingested to help with diarrhea, inflammation, and an antibiotic; to prevent pregnancy; and, as a topical remedy, stevia has often been used to soothe burns and rashes.
But lately, in diet-crazed America, stevia has gotten attention because a.) it’s tasty, and b.) it doesn’t have calories. Although nutritionists and scientists warn that stevia isn’t some kind of miracle drug that melts fat off your body, it’s true that this little plant is packed full of health benefits. And, frankly, as refined white sugar is notoriously bad for your body – you can’t go wrong by replacing it with an ingredient that actually has some health benefits.
There are a lot of reasons stevia is a good alternative to sugar – it contains a variety of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B3 (helps to lower cholesterol), potassium (lowers blood pressure), magnesium (builds bone and nerve health). Stevia may also be a good sugar-substitute for sufferers of Type 2 Diabetes and blood sugar issues.
So, practically, how should stevia be added to your baked goods?
Stevia’s flavor is powerful – it has approximately 300 times the sweetness of sugar. You only need to use 1/2 teaspoon for every 1 cup of sugar. Obviously, this also decreases the mass of the ingredients you’re using; therefore, if you are substituting stevia for sugar, make sure you replace approximately 3/4 cup of the absent sugar for something that will add density and moisture. Yogurt, applesauce, water, or juice are all good options.
Stevia is an excellent addition to tea or coffee as well, and a healthy alternative to honey, sugar, or Splenda packets. Although stevia has only begun to gain popularity in the last few years, it has been used in a variety of sugar-free and low-calorie American snacks such as candy and protein bars. When making your child fresh muffins or cookies, consider substituting in stevia for a healthier alternative.