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Treat Your Cravings for Sweets by Using Spices and Herbs

Craving those desserts and sweet foods but are diabetic and want to avoid the simple sugars? Want to lower the calories in a recipe?

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Here are some tips to using spices and herbs in your cooking and recipes. You can cut the sugar by as much as 1/3 or even 1/2 by increasing the sweet-tasting spices and flavorings in the dish. Those wonderful spices and herbs that we use at holiday time can be used to give sweetness all year round. Try cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and mace in a dessert, fruit, grain and even vegetable dishes. Other herbs that help give foods a sweet flavor include sweet basil, coriander, mint leaves and lemon verbena. Other spices include sweet paprika, cassia (Chinese cinnamon), cardamom, vanilla and ginger.

Cooking Tips
Herbs are leaves of fresh or dried plants. Add fresh or dried herbs at the end of the cooking time.
Spices are aromatic parts: buds, fruit, berries, roots or bark -- usually dried -- from plants that thrive in tropical regions. Add at the beginning of the cooking time.

If you crave sugar foods, eat more whole grains, squash, apples and cooked fruits. If you crave sweets, eat more meats, beans, fish, eggs and chicken while eating less processed grains, refined flours, processed fruits and jellies.

Two sweeteners that are getting attention include Stevia and Agave. Stevia is an herb in the sunflower family that is native to Central America and South America. It is widely grown for its sweet leaves. The sweet taste has a slower onset and longer duration than sugar. It is 300 times sweeter than sugar and has negligible effect on blood glucose. You can now find it in the grocery store as Truvia and PureVia ready to sweeten your favorite foods and beverages.

Agave nectar is a sweetener produced in Mexico from the Agave plant. It is sweeter than honey but less thick and sticky. It is primarily fructose and glucose, so you do need to count it as a carbohydrate (1 Tablespoon = 60 calories, 16 grams carbohydrate). Its glycemic index is lower than many other natural sweeteners and, therefore, may not raise blood glucose as quickly or as high as sugar. Light agave nectar has the mildest flavor and will sweeten delicate tasting foods and beverages without changing the overall flavor.

Sources: American Diabetes Association, American Dietetic Association and The Encyclopedia of Herbs, Spices and Flavorings by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz 1992

Spice It Up!
from the American Dietetic Association

Dozens of herbs and spices can provide variety to your cooking, making an old meal new while earning you points with your family.

Here's the difference between spices and herbs: Spices grow in tropical areas and come from the bark, buds, fruit, roots, seeds or stems of plants and trees and are usually dried. Herbs grow in temperate climates and are the fragrant leaves of plants.

Cook herbs and spices with these foods to enhance the flavor of your meals:

  • Allspice -- Stews, tomatoes, gravy
  • Basil -- Fish, lamb, salads, soups, sauces
  • Cayenne Pepper -- Soups, casseroles, cheese sauces, baked egg dishes, barbequed turkey, lean meats
  • Cinnamon -- Pork, breads, sweet potatoes, squash
  • Cumin -- Chili, stews, beans
  • Curry -- Meat, chicken and fish dishes; tomatoes, sauces, rice
  • Dill -- Fish, chicken, vegetables, potatoes, salads, pasta
  • Fennel -- Lean pork, squash, beets, sauces, seafood
  • Garlic -- Lean meats, fish, turkey, soups, salads, vegetables, pasta dishes
  • Lemon (or Lime) Juice -- Fish, turkey, salads, vegetables, sauces
  • Mint -- Salads, potatoes, bulgur, beans
  • Nutmeg -- Potatoes, chicken, fish, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage dishes
  • Rosemary -- Chicken, fish, sauces, stuffing, potatoes, peas, lima beans
  • Sesame -- Salads, breads, chicken, vegetables

Add small amounts of dried herbs at the beginning of cooking. Add fresh herbs at the end of cooking and use more than you would for dried, since fresh herbs aren't as strong. Get more ideas from our Herb Guide.

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