Ingredients & Resources
These are primarily for those making low sugar, low carb, or alternate carb versions of recipes. [I try to update this page on an ongoing basis as resources and options change.]
This quote from Gary Taubes in his book Why We Get Fat that echoes what I have been saying about dietary choices for quite some time:
“…there’s no one-size-fits-all prescription for the quantity of carbohydrates we can eat and still lose fat or remain lean. For some,staying lean or getting back to being lean might be a matter of merely avoiding sugars and eating the other carbohydrates in the diet, even the fattening ones, in moderation: pasta dinners once a week, say, instead of every other day. For others, moderation in carbohydrate consumption might not be sufficient, and far
stricter adherence is necessary. And for some, weight will be lost only on a diet of virtually zero carbohydrates, and even this may not be sufficient to eliminate all our accumulated fat, or even most of it.”
The bottom line is that we are all different, at different points in our life, and our bodies respond very differently to diet and exercise. Some folks are naturally lean, some are predisposed to retain and gain fat. I’ve found that controlling carbohydrate intake, as well as controlling calorie intake, has helped enormously with losing and maintaining weight as well as other health benefits as has eating carbohydrates with less processing and a lower glycemic impact.
This page will include some resources for those restricting carbohydrates and/or looking for alternatives to sugars, traditional carbs and substitutes for items with gluten including ingredients, sources, books, etc.
Sweeteners: There are numerous sweetener options if you are looking to replace sugar. Depending on what kind of plan you are following (and I do suggest you follow a
plan, any plan, if you are starting out) you can use “natural” things like honey, agave nectar, oligofructose, stevia, and even small amounts of sugar. Because most natural sweeteners act like sugar in the body or have an aftertaste (stevia), other people may choose to use artificial no calorie or low calorie sweeteners. These too have their drawbacks, many sugar alcohols (and see info below) are incompletely processed in the small intestine can cause intestinal discomfort and in some cases loose bowels. For some, all sweeteners, natural or artificial, raise blood sugar and have to be completely avoided. I’ve listed some options below that I prefer; but please do your own research and choose the options that are best for you.
“Sugar Equivalent” or “Sweetener Equivalent”: I often refer to using X amount of “sweetener equivalent” in my recipes. When I do so, it gives you the option to choose the
sweetener you prefer in substitution for X amount of sugar. Depending on what type of sweetener you use, you may use a few drops or a few tablespoons. Every type of sweetener is different, check the labels and online resources to see how much of your sweetener is equivalent to X amount of sugar listed in the recipe.
Sweeteners, Baking and Desserts: Sugar does much more for dishes that just sweeten them: sugar adds bulk to a recipe, adds moisture, and, among other things, chemically
interacts with ingredients to produce a “mouth feel” that our brain reads as “sweet” or “smooth and chewy” or in some cases “crisp.” It is a somewhat difficult task for the home cook to take sugar substitutes and produce the same results, especially when you are also removing other carbs such as grains. You will find that different no/low carb sweeteners and combinations of ingredients are needed in different dishes. It’s worth it to check out some of the low carb online forums such as Lowcarber.org and Low Carb Friends and see what other low carb cooks suggest. Some of these individuals have been experimenting at home for years and they’ve made the mistakes so you don’t have to.
Some sweeteners are NOT heat stable (aspartame and saccharine for example); they will turn bitter or off tasting when cooked. Be sure to look and see if the sweeteners you plan to use in baking or cooking are heat stable.
Using several kinds of no/lower calorie sweeteners together often produces a synergistic effect resulting in LESS total amount of sweeteners to produce an equal amount of sweetening strength. This is why, in some recipes if you add up the total amount of sweetening effect, you will see that it doesn’t come to say a full cup. The easiest example is my basic sweetening mix: 1/3 cup erythritol, 1/3 “cup” equivalent sucralose and 2 packets of Sweet One (ace-K ). This should only add up to slightly less than ¾ cup of sweetener – but in terms of actual sweetness it’s a full cup.
Products I use or have used:
Stevia: Sweetener derived from the leaves of the stevia plant. Considered a natural alternative to sugar-free sweetening in drinks and foods. Some people are sensitive to the aftertaste of stevia based sweeteners: they may note a flavor of licorice and slightly bitter. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate the slightly different taste of items sweetened with stevia, and that there are more items with this option. I especially enjoy it for sweetening beverages. Products with stevia include Truvia and PureVia: the stevia and erythritol blends that has become popular.
- Truvia and PureVia: This is the brand name for a combination of the herbal sweetener stevia and erythritol, a sugar alcohol that is well tolerated by the body/intestines. It’s now available many places as a generic brand as well. More about both of these ingredient below. The erythritol is in crystal form, so it can make a good sugar substitute in recipes, though it tends to take longer to dissolve. The stevia is derived from a plant and is thousands of times sweeter than sugar so it can be used in tiny amounts so there are few if any calories associated with it. Stevia can have an odd taste to some people and I find it works well in stronger flavored dishes and that one can adjust to its taste in smaller amounts. SUGAR WARNING: “Truvia for Baking” is half sugar and half Truvia.
- Pure Stevia or Stevia Powders: Most pure stevia comes in an liquid alcohol or water base with a dropper or squeeze bottle to distribute it in food. Watch the labels if you are looking for a product that just contains stevia extract: some commercial brands include erythritol (see above and below) or other sweeteners to make the taste more palatable. Stevia powders (like Zing or other brands) usual have added dextrose to make them pourable or package-able for easy consumption and measuring. Dextrose in larger amounts, such as if you are adding a cup for baking can add carbohydrates, so be aware if you are counting carbs. SUGAR WARNING: If you are buying stevia products labeled “for baking” they likely contain at least half pure sugar.
Sucralose: Marketed under the brand name “Splenda” but now widely available under generic brands at most retail outlets. It comes in many forms: small individual packets, bags of powdered, and concentrated liquid sucralose available at several online retailers such as Sweetzfree and EZ-Sweetz . I mainly use the liquid and occasionally packets, which are handy for travel. Be warned: the bags of powdered sucralose have 24 carbs per cup due to the addition of maldextrose to make the sucralose pourable. Powdered sucralose adds NO bulk to baked goods or frosting so you cannot substitute is easily for sugar in those recipes. SUGAR WARNING: “Splenda for Baking” is half sugar and half sucralose.
Erythritol: The sugar alcohol is not digested the same way as other sugar alcohols (it’s completely processed in the small intestine) and most people find it’s easy to digest with
no intestinal distress. It has the same bulking properties as sugar and looks like it as well. However, it has a “cooling” effect on the tongue and is best paired in combination with other sweeteners to offset this effect. Many sugar free gums use this as one of their sweeteners – that cool fresh breath is not just the effect of the mint flavoring. Erythritol in crystal form dissolves slowly, unlike sugar. Available in a crystal and powdered form: Z sweet is a well known brand, but I often buy the generic 5 pound bulk bags that can be found in many internet stores.
Ace-K/Acesulfame potassium: This is a common ingredient in calorie free sodas and other food products. It is often used in combination with other sweeteners like aspartame or sucralose. In Canada it’s marketed for use in small packets under the name Sweet One and Sunett. In high concentrations it can have a slightly bitter aftertaste and is best combined with other sweeteners.
Isomalt: Another sugar alcohol with very similar properties to sugar. So similar in fact that there are a lot of questions about how many carbs one should count when using isomalt. Typically you can “write off” the carbs from sugar alcohols as indigestible and do not need to count them towards the total net carbs in a dish. [Total carbs – fiber and/or sugar alcohols = net carbs]. On the plus side, isomalt looks and acts like sugar, it add bulk to recipes and can be cooked to a hard crack. Sugar free meringues use isomalt. I use small amounts in specific dishes. This is one of the sugar alcohols that can cause digestive problems, and if it’s not, it probably means your body is digesting it the same way as sugar, which in this case means you are getting far more carbs than intended. Isomalt is also found in Diabetisweet brand sweeteners.
Molasses: Yes, this is not low carb. It’s sugar. In tiny amounts it adds that unmistakable
molassesy brown sugary flavor to dishes. Diabetisweet brown is also an option, but it has a powerfully caramelized flavor can easily overwhelm a dish. Use Diabetisweet brown sparingly due to its flavor, use molasses sparingly due to the high carb count.
Sugar-free Honey: Be warned, this is made with maltitol a sugar alcohol that has a lot of sugar like properties but even in small doses causes gas and can cause intestinal upset. Unfortunately if you want the taste of honey you have three options, this, using a honey flavoring from LorAnn along with adding your own sweetener, or using honey (a natural sugar) and deciding to not worry about the carbs.
Maltitol: Sugar alcohol known for causing quite a bit of intestinal distress. Unfortunately its one of the easiest ways to sweeten sugar-free chocolate. Chocolate is very sensitive to aftertaste in artificial sweeteners – things like sucralose tend to taste metallic when added to chocolate, and erythritol’s cooling effect is the opposite of what we expect in chocolate’s warm melty flavor. I’ve used maltitol in chocolate syrup: however there is commercially made chocolate syrup from Sorbee sweetened with a combination of sorbitol and other sweeteners that is quite good. Several manufacturers have found success in blending erythritol, sucralose and ace-K to sweeten chocolate.
Lilys Sweets make a chocolate bar that uses stevia, along with erythritol and inulin, quite successfully to sweeten thier bars and baking chips. I’m a fan of thier chocolate bars in all flavors. Inulin is a soluble fiber derived from chicory that has some sweetening properties and is said to improve digestive health (though in what amount it does that and how much would be ingested for that effect, is unknown).
Chocoperfection uses a combination of erythritol and oligofructose to sweeten their chocolate bars with great success. Oligofructose is a naturally derived sweetener, but some producers of the product have been known to enhance the “natural” production by introducing synthetic enhancements at some point in the process. So there are a lot of questions about how “natural” this product really is, also this is “lower calorie” and not a strictly calorie free sweetener. Many folks swear by it, and I will say that Chocoperfection produces a very good chocolate with it.
Polydextrose/Poly-D/Polydextrose fiber: derived from dextrose, it’s a fiber used to substitute for sugar and fat in foods. There are some claims that it has pro-biotic effects like inulin (derived from chicory root) but not a lot of studies have been done on humans. It has a lot of interesting properties, including the ability to caramelize (like sugar) and to help replace some of the bulk and thickening properties of sugars and grains in low carb dishes. It tends to seize up when added to liquids/water, so some care does need to be exercised when adding it to baked goods. I use it in my low carb granola recipe.
Glycerin (food grade)/Glycerol: A liquid gel that adds sweetness and does not freeze, available where cake decorating products are sold. It is not calorie-free with about 27 calories a teaspoon and has 60% the sweetness of sugar. I use this primarily as an ingredient in low carb ice cream.
Thickeners and Vegetable Gum Stabilizers: These are very useful for thickening foods instead of cornstarch or flour, for replacing some of the syrupy like qualities
of sugar, and helping to create some of the stickyness or gummyness of gluten in lower or no-gluten dishes.
Xanthan Gum: This is a powdered polysaccharide that produced a significant amount of
viscosity. What does that mean in food terms? Well, it will thicken a dish, but if used in too great an amount can add a slimy feel/taste. Bob’s Red Mill makes one that is available in health/natural food stores and now in many stores that sell gluten free products, and some pharmacies carry products like Simply Thick. Use sparingly. I keep it in a shaker bottle next to the stove to lightly sprinkle on foods and stir in. I bought one small bag 10 years ago and just replaced it in 2014. Xanthan thickened items seem thicker when at rest – when agitated will lose some of its thickening properties. Xanthan may be added to other vegetable gums with different thickening properties to produce a product like Thick it Up from Dixie Diners which contains locust bean, (and/or tara), guar, acacia, xanthan gums.
Where to buy products?
There are now SOOOOOOO many retailers online and with stores to get great products. I’ve only listed a few here that I’ve regularly used. Do you have a favorite retailer? Add it to the comments and I’ll check it out!!
- Large selection of low carb products, including sweeteners, flours, thickeners, sugar free flavoring syrups (Torrani, DaVinci, etc) as well as other nutrition products like vitamins and protein shakes.
- Online resource devoted to low carb foods and ingredients, large selection of products plus other information.
- Almond meal (whole ground), stevia, diet Hanes sodas, gluten free flour blends, organic foods, dairy free and and other gluten free products.
- Stevia, erythritol and erythritol blends (in small amounts), Bob’s Red Mill brand items, unsweetened almond milks, natural alcohol free flavorings, coconut flour, protien powders, gluten free flour blends, baking mixes and a variety of other gluten free products.
- Flavorings – helpful for substituting for high carb flavors like honey and fruits
Michael’s Crafts, Walmart, AC Moore
- Food grade glycerin – found in the cake decorating section.