In a quest to reduce calories and hopefully lose weight, I developed a sordid love affair with an evil substance known as aspartame, and her name is Equal. (queue scary noises) Equal was my best friend. When I needed a blonde and sweet coffee, she was there for me. Three of her to be exact. Her little blue packages fit so nicely in my purse for those silly restaurants not willing to put it on their tables. When I wanted to have a sweet glass of mango iced tea, Equal was right along there with me. Her delicate crystals cascading into the amber colored fluid, commingling with the ice cubes. I used so much Equal there were times I would need to extract some from the workplace until I had a chance to get to the store.
There are so many reasons not to use artificial sweeteners like Equal and her twisted sister, Splenda. The first reason is the word: artificial. Don't even get me started on their distant cousin - Sweet n Low. These are simply chemical concoctions that have no nutritional value and fool you into thinking you need something sweeter than sugar actually is. Not to mention these chemicals undergo a great deal of animal testing before released to the market. That reason alone should be enough to stop using these products.
I am currently in Equal detox and have replaced my three-a-day addiction of the little blue packets with a delicious, natural and organic syrup known as agave nectar. Agave can be used in so many ways, in coffee, tea, on pancakes, in granola and even to glaze roasted carrots. If you want to give a dish or dessert a caramel (which contains milk) or butterscotch type taste, try using brown rice syrup.
Some of you may be on the stevia band-wagon, and there's nothing wrong with that, so long as you are actually using stevia. There are some products out there that purport themselves as stevia, but they aren't really pure stevia. One in particular comes in a green and white packet and is manufactured by Coca-Cola and Cargill. If you dig stevia, use her straight, raw or organic. Stevia in The Raw tastes pretty darn fine in my mango iced tea.
Not long ago, I learned that regular old sugar was not vegan! The type of sugar you probably have in your pantry is actually processed using animal bones. This is part of the refining process for cane sugars. Once I learned this, I never bought those dixie crystals again. Whole Foods sells a vegan sugar that comes in a plastic zip lock bag. When I started using it, I noticed I did not require so much of it in a recipe. It also smells fabulous when you open the bag. I never noticed that sugar had a 'smell' but it does. If you cannot obtain a product that specifically states it's vegan, you are always better off choosing an organic option over the standard bag of sugar.