What’s a girl to do when artificial sweeteners, once beloved but now spurned by the health and fitness community, no longer cut it when it comes to satiating those midday sugar cravings? We have the answer: luo han guo (monk fruit) extract.
This humble staple in Chinese medicine may have been in use for hundreds of years, but it isn’t commonly used as a substitute for sugar – which is a real shame considering that it contains exactly zero calories.
“Luo han guo is commonly used to ease coughs and sore throats, and to relieve constipation in TCM,” notes Jessica Ho, a TCM physician and senior manager of corporate business development from Eu Yan Sang International. Its extract, made traditionally by boiling the dried fruit in water, is estimated to be about 150 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar), with no carbohydrates, sodium or fat.
Now, liquid concentrate and powdered forms of luo han guo extract are available commercially, such as Nunaturals Lo Han Supreme ($17.80 on http://sg.iherb.com). Here are some other sugar substitutes worth trying:
Calorie count: 0kcal
Why it’s good for you: Made from the leaves of the stevia plant, stevia is an approved sugar substitute that has been found to help with weight control. It’s also got health benefits that sets it apart from the rest – it promises to reduce blood pressure and boasts antioxidant effects that may help to fight cancer.
Calorie count: 64kcal per tbsp
Why it’s good for you: Honey is full of nutrients – vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes and polyphenols – that boost your immune system. It helps to ease gastrointestinal pain, dry cough, constipation and inflammation.
Calorie count: 60kcal per tbsp
Why it’s good for you: Agave syrup or agave nectar is a thin golden liquid extracted from the blue agave plant. One benefit of this sweetener is that it has a low glycemic index (GI) of 15, meaning that it doesn’t cause your blood sugar levels to spike. Compared to honey which has a GI 0f 50, it’ll help you stave off your sugar cravings for longer. But make sure you go for the raw organic variety; if it’s highly processed, it’s no better than high-fructose corn syrup.
Calorie count: 66kcal for 1 pitted date (24g)
Why it’s good for you: Dates are full of minerals like selenium, copper, potassium, and magnesium and vitamins. They are also high in dietary fibre and antioxidants. Dates can be chopped up and used as a sugar substitute in your baking or blended into smoothies. But they’re also very high in glucose and fructose, so munch in moderation.
Calorie count: 20kcal per pitted date (15g)
Why it’s good for you: Here’s another superfruit to include in your diet. Red dates are said to improve blood circulation and boost the quality of sleep. Eat these anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich nuggets on their own as a snack, or steep them in your tea as a little afternoon pick-me-up.
Calorie count: 5kcal per fruit (1.7g)
Why it’s good for you: Full of vitamin A and C and bursting with antioxidants, dried longans make for nutritious additions to your drinks, sweet soups and even cake, as they are said to boost energy levels, improve blood circulation and even alleviate the symptoms of insomnia.