When I watch YouTube videos from bodybuilders and fitness pros, my favorite submissions are usually the ones where they share some new idea for a recipe or even an ingredient to consider that I haven’t been using. It’s in that spirit that I bring you this new series.
This is not a series of everything that is in my refrigerator. That may get pretty boring! I have 4 young kids in the house and my wife as well so there is a lot more in there, and not all of it is worthy of this post! Rather, these posts will highlight some of my favorite finds over the past few years, and items you may not have heard of.
SweetLeaf Liquid Stevia
Sweet is probably the hardest flavor to fake naturally. There are so many choices in sweeteners and they always seem to have a downside. While some sweeteners have a multitude of studies that underscore their dangers (eg, Aspartame), most often, that downside is the process by which the sweetener was made.
A lot of health conscious eaters avoid Sucralose (Splenda) because of the reaction with Chlorine made by the base sugar itself. Yet even table sugar (Sucrose) goes through a bleaching process during its refinement (usually using lime or carbon dioxide), so products made with sugar are really not that natural after all! And if you think raw sugar (turbinado) is truly raw, I encourage you to read up on the process some time – click here
Stevia is derived from a plant (in the sunflower family) and has been used for centuries in many countries in South America and Asia, but it’s relatively new to the US. Originally Stevia was only available if it was listed as a dietary supplement, and that limited the chance you’d ever see it in foods from your grocery store. But in 2008, it was finally approved as a food additive and the EU just approved it last year. Why the delay? That’s actually a cause of a lot of controversy. In the early 90’s an anonymous FDA complaint was filed that caused the FDA to label it as an unsafe food additive based on the lack of research proving it to be safe. Who submitted that complaint to the FDA? We will likely never know as the FDA deleted the names off the complaint, which raises concerns that it was some entity that had a lot to lose if Stevia were declared safe, and rumors abound to this day that it was an artificial sweetener company trying to protect their interests. This is stuff for the makings of a TV drama, but it’s real life we are talking about!
In any case, one of the great aspects of Stevia is that it’s naturally much sweeter than sugar. Because of this, you only need a small fraction of actual Stevia to have the equivalent sweetness in a packet of sugar. As you can imagine, it would be hard to serve this small amount, so the Stevia packets you see are usually filled with some type of powdery filler. This can range from insoluble vegetable fiber to Maltodextrin (a type of sugar that has very little sweetness). Having the latter seems kind of counterproductive- filling a packet with non-sweet glucose and then using stevia to give it its sweetness seems kind of insane to me! And it definitely doesn’t work towards our fitness goals if counting carbs or guarding insulin sensitivity!
It’s this reason that Stevia drops make sense. Rather than dilute/dose with some powdery fiber or dextrose type material, the stevia is mixed with water and the result- just 3 or 4 drops in your snack/treat/whatever can give you the sweetness you desire. SweetLeaf makes stevia drops in a plain sweet flavor, but they also offer many natural flavors as well (links are to Amazon product listings):
Of those I’ve only tried a few- Chocolate, Chocolate Raspberry, and Vanilla Creme. But all were excellent (Chocolate Raspberry is my favorite!).
What can you do with these? You can put them in anything you make sweet. I use Almond Milk instead of water in my protein shakes to make things creamier. Almond milk has a small amount of fat and zero carbs, so it’s great to add creaminess to a shake, unlike Skim/fat-free milk which has no creaminess and a bunch of sugar and lactose in it. Almond milk has a sweetened variety but it contains a bunch of sugar. Not for me- I use the unsweetened kind and add 4 drops of Chocolate Raspberry sweetener. Delicious!
We also use this to sweeten plain Greek yogurt, where the fruit filled variety usually kill any benefit the greek yogurt had with tons of sugar! My wife uses these in her coffees sometimes, and I even used it to make some homemade chocolate, though that didn’t go over very well I’ll admit 😉
I have been thinking of buying some unflavored bulk BCAAs (Branch Chain Amino Acids) and sweetening them myself as I’ve yet to find a BCAA product that is naturally sweetened.
One word of caution- more is not always better, and that is definitely the case with these drops. If you like the taste and decide to add more drops to make it even more sweet, it can quickly overwhelm and taste almost bitter. On the flip side, that means that this little dropper lasts for a LONG time. We’ve only had to replace one in the last two years!
Tomorrow I’ll be back with another item from my refrigerator! What do you think of these drops? Have you tried them before? What flavor?