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Ever since the first landmark study about sugar being more addictive than cocaine was published in August 2007, the medical world has turned its attention to the dangers of sugar due to it hooking people in and leaving them craving more and more like an addict in need of a fix.

We are brought up knowing too much sugar is bad for us, yet the average American now eats more than 125 pounds of sugar per year. How is that possible, you might ask, especially if you never touch the sugar bowl?

Because sugar, and also sugar substitutes, are in many of the foods you eat, added for flavor, texture, and a replacement for fat in low-fat products. If you eat pre-packaged foods like candy, cookies, soups, stews and even salad dressings, chances are you are consuming far more sugar than is healthy for you.

The most obvious places sugar lurks is in desserts and baked goodies. Desserts should be eaten only in moderation. If you are trying to go sugar free, it can be tough to give them up, but there are ways to make natural desserts that will satisfy your sweet tooth without adding tons of table sugar. In this guide, you will discover a range of desserts with low carbohydrate counts and/or natural sweeteners.

These desserts should be suitable for any phase of Atkins apart from Induction; they should also be good for South Beach, Paleo and Ketogenic diets if you practice careful portion control.

One way to do this is to make the dessert and don’t leave it hanging around. Then you won’t feel obligated to eat it all. Package it up into portions and freeze it so you can have a healthy sweet treat any time you need one and will be less likely to grab a bad choice if a craving hits.

So let’s get started by looking at the kinds of natural foods that you can use as healthy substitutes for sugar.

NATURAL SUGAR SUBSTITUTES

Since the food industry knows that many people are aware of the dangers of white sugar, a whole new range of supposedly healthy sweeteners has come on the market.

Some truly are all natural, like agave nectar and raw honey, but it is important to note that the body will process them in the same way as sugar. The only question is how much of an impact they will have on your blood sugar, measured in part by glycemic index.

Using fruit, which contains fructose, or fruit sugar, is another way to avoid white sugar. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS), is natural, and often found in industrially made food products, but while it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels too much, it can still be stored as fat in the body.

So, if you are looking for natural sweetness without too many calories or serious impact on blood sugar, there are a few options as long as you are aware of the impact on your blood sugar and any calories they might contain.

Agave syrup, Agave nectar, 310 calories per 100g
This is the sap of a Mexican cactus. It is sweeter than white sugar, but its glycemic index (GI) of 15 is much lower than that of honey, so it will not have a spiking effect on your insulin levels. Agave syrup is composed essentially of fructose, so it can cause bloating and stomach upset. If you tend to bloat when eating fructose, stay away from fruits that are usually turned into alcohol, such as grapes and apples. Agave tastes similar to honey.

Applesauce (unsweetened)
It can be used as both a natural sweetener in recipes, and as a substitute for butter in healthy cooking. It has a glycemic index of 53, lower than sugar but still high enough to have a significant impact on blood sugar. It has about 90 calories per cup. Apple juice can also be used, and will offer the same intense sweetness and taste.

Birch xylitol or corn cob xylitol, 240 calories per 100g
Birch xylitol and corn cob xylitol are extracted from those respective sources. Birch xylitol originates from Finland and is available in organic stores. It uses the bark of the birch tree, which will kill the tree. The tree takes 15 years to grow to the point where it can be harvested. If you are concerned about the environment, this is not a great choice.

Corn cob xylitol, on the other hand, is made from corn cobs, which are usually discarded after the corn kernels of it have been removed.

Xylitol in either form can be used to sweeten all kinds of foods; the most popular choice is sugar-free chewing gum. It can be used in baking too, but quantities will need to be reduced by around 50% because its sweetness increases when it is heated.

It has a very low glycemic index of only 7. However, it is important to note that some people experience gastric distress eating it. It usually passes through the digestive tract without breaking down when it comes into contact with digestive juices.

NOTE: It is extremely toxic to pets, so if you have animals in your home, do not use it or buy chewing gum containing it.

Fresh fruit
Fresh fruit is the sweet bounty of nature. Berries, bananas, you name it, you can eat it as is, or often make some form of dessert from it. Berries are versatile any almost any dessert, plus sweet treats like smoothies and shakes. Melons and kiwis are delicious on their own, but can be used to top a cheesecake, meringue, angel food cake, and more. Make the most of the fresh fruit you find at your farmer’s market. Make and freeze any leftovers so you can have a tasty treat on hand any time you feel a craving coming on.

Fruit fillings and spreads with no sugar added
All fruit is naturally sweet, so there’s really no need to add sugar to them. Look for no sugar added or low carb on the label and add to pies, cakes, cookies, desserts and low carb crackers if you fancy a sweet treat. Save money by cooking the fruit yourself with a little honey or stevia when the fruit is in season and freezing it.

Pumpkin is a great pie filling if you don’t overload it with sugar. It is full of fiber and will help curb cravings. Cut a fresh pumpkin in half, clean out the seeds, and place on a baking sheet in a 350F oven. Add water to the bake sheet and bake for about an hour to an hour and a half, until it is soft if you prick it with a fork. Remove from the oven, cool, peel, and use in recipes as needed. If it is too stringy, process it in small batches in your blender or food processor.