A quick summary of sugar and other sweeteners (or “Why we only use stevia in my house”):

What our cells use to make energy.
Glucose is metabolized by every cell in our body. We need it and use it for quick energy (unlike fats, which we use for long-term energy).

Fructose is almost twice as sweet as glucose. We think of fructose as “fruit sugar,” and therefore as something healthy. However, we process fructose differently than glucose. Fructose is metabolized primarily by the liver, where, depending on the speed at which it hits the liver (ie. fructose from a piece of fibrous fruit will take more time to absorb than that from such non-food substances as a soda or a lollipop), and the quantity ingested, it will be converted to fat. This in turn leads to fatty liver disease, insulin resistance, leptin resistance, metabolic syndrome, increased visceral adiposity, elevated uric acid levels and blood pressure, causes inflammation and oxidative stress, and may be a main contributing factor to many forms of cancer.

Sucrose (common table sugar)
Consists of 50% fructose/50% glucose.
Sugar (and simple carbohydrates in general) adversely effects blood lipids, increases heart disease and stroke risk through all above-mentioned effects. Sugar molecules bond with proteins to create AGES (Advanced Glycation End-Products), which destroy blood vessels and appear to be responsible for many of the long-term complications of diabetes.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
55% fructose/45% glucose.
Created for the soft-drink industry in the late 1970s as a cheaper alternative to sucrose (and as something that could be marketed as “more healthful,” since sugar was starting to [temporarily] get a bad rap in the mainstream media).

Agave Nectar
This sweetener that has been pushed on the public as a “healthy, low-glycemic” alternative to sugar, is even higher in fructose than HFCS, and similar to HFCS in terms of metabolic impact. When fructose is conjugated to glucose or another sugar molecule, the detrimental effects (as listed above) are somewhat modified. HFCS is 55% free-floating fructose. Agave nectar, even the “higher-quality” organic ones that may be processed in ways that would preserve some glucose bonding, is 59% to 67% free-floating fructose. NOT what you want to be feeding your kids (or yourself).

Aspartame (Equal, Nutrasweet)
This artificial sweetener accounts for more reports of adverse reactions than all other foods and food additives combined. It is about 11% Methanol, which breaks down into formaldehyde, 40% aspartic acid (similar to Glutamic Acid in MSG), and 50% Phenylalanine. (FYI, for those who are interested:Nutrasweet is a subsidiary of Monsanto. Need I say more?)

Sucralose (splenda)
An artificial sweetener that alters the microflora in the intestine (definitely not something diabetics–or anyone–want to be messing with), and “exerts numerous adverse effects,” according to a Duke University study. These effects include increasing body weight and elevation of liver enzymes. Sucralose is an organochloride compound. Most of the derivatives of this type of compound are insecticides, herbicides and pesticides. Chlorocarbons like this one are poisons that damage and destroy the liver’s metabolic cells, the Hepatocytes, leading eventually to damage of many of our other internal organs. Sucralose was approved by the FDA in 1998. There are popular claims that the body does not metabolize it at all;that it passes right through. However, researchers have discovered that Splenda is absorbed by our fat and liver.

Sugar Alcohols (Xylitol, Erythritol)
These so far appear to be “safe,” though they have a laxative and “gassy” effect on most people. They have not been on the market long enough to have had any meaningful longterm studies done, though, so I would use them, if at all, sparingly and with caution.

Stevia is an herb that originated in the mountains of South America, that is about 400 times sweeter than sugar. It has been used in many parts of the world for decades as an alternate sweetener. In South America it has been used for hundreds of years, with no detrimental effects. In the US, however, the (sugar-industry-backed) FDA has adamantly opposed its being marketed as a sweetener (though in 1994 legislation was finally passed that allowed it to be marketed as a dietary supplement). That is, until Coca Cola decided in 2007 to create a sweetener consisting of a derivation of stevia combined with some sugar alcohols. The FDA approved it in 2008. Hmmm….
There are various brands on the market, processed in various ways. Get one that’s organic, and preferably not cut with alcohols. The one we prefer is KAL brand organic (they have a non-organic too). Some people think stevia has a bitter aftertaste;others think it’s too sweet. My family loves it, but we did have to try a few different brands. It is the only sweetener you will see in recipes on this blog.
The best thing about stevia is that you can grow it in a pot at home in a sunny window!

Here’s one of our plants when it was just a baby:

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