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Dear Hungry Girl,

What is the deal with stevia? I hear it's all-natural and everyone is talking about it. I've seen all different kinds at the store. What do you think of stevia? And which kind is the best? I'm in need of info because, as of right now, I have given up all artificial sweeteners and am looking forward to something new.

Sweet-less in Seattle

Dear Sweet-less,

Here's the story. Every decade or so, the world decides to hang its hat on some new calorie-free sweetener. First it was the pink stuff -- Sweet'N Low (saccharin). Then the world became obsessed with the blue packets -- Equal -- and also NutraSweet (both aspartame). Next, the yellow ones -- Splenda (sucralose). Now everyone's talking about stevia (in the green packages). Stevia is an all-natural, calorie-free sweetener, so people are all abuzz about it. But remember, people are fickle and they fall in and out of love with calorie-free sweeteners FAST. These days, people who don't like to use artificial sweeteners are FLIPPING over stevia, because it's actually an herb. And now food companies are starting to come out with products that feature it. There's the new orange juice drink Trop50 (with half the calories of regular OJ) and a slew of other drinks from Coke and Pepsi that'll soon hit store shelves. OK, now on to my personal opinion of the stuff. I tried SweetLeaf (one of the first stevia products available in packets) about a year ago, and I'm not a fan. It's way too bitter. Since then I have tried Truvia and PureVia. They are much better -- but still not great, in my opinion. In general, stevia is SUPER-sweet and has a slight aftertaste. Truvia is very light and not as bitter as other stevia products. PureVia is grainy and has a bit more of an aftertaste than Truvia. I have not started to use any stevia product on a regular basis because I prefer Splenda. (My doctor uses Splenda and recommends it.) I am going to experiment more with stevia though and will let you know how it goes. I want to add one more thing. While many experts feel that stevia is totally safe (it's been used in Japan for years and many studies attest that it is harmless), others question its safety (certain studies suggest potential side effects and health concerns, especially with excessive use). Anyone out there wanna weigh in? Talk about it on our Facebook fan page!


Dear HG,

I know you always say that when it comes to baking, we should swap out oil and eggs for applesauce and egg whites. Is it an even swap? How much do we use? What about using pumpkin with cake mixes?

Help Me, HG!
Dear Help Me,

Yup, we're all about the swapping here at HG. Swapping out fattening ingredients for ones that are low in fat and calories is pretty much my life, and it's easy once you get the hang of it. Let's start with oil. You can easily just use applesauce in place of oil in cake or muffin recipes. If a recipe calls for 1 cup of oil, use 1 cup of applesauce instead. It's an exact exchange. Easy. Next up -- egg whites for whole eggs. Use two egg whites for every egg a recipe calls for. And if you buy liquid egg whites or Egg Beaters, use 1/4 cup for every egg called for. As for pumpkin, what we usually do here at the HG HQ is mix a 15-oz. can of pure pumpkin with a box of cake mix, and then bake it in a muffin pan at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. We don't add anything else at all to the batter. No water, no eggs -- nothing. The result is a bunch of brownie-like treats. But when it comes to those other low-fat swaps, don't alter the cooking times and temperatures -- and be careful not to overcook whatever you're making, 'cuz low-fat recipes tend to dry out when they're cooked too long. BTW, if you want to figure out the nutritionals for baked goods made with these items, just start with the total stats for the cake mix only. Then add the stats for whatever you're using (applesauce, egg whites, etc.). Divide by the number of servings, and there you have it!

Today, February 18th, is National Crab-Stuffed Flounder Day! If we had a pet flounder, we'd feed it crab legs. But we don't, so we'll have to find another way to celebrate...
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