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Quick bites: Sugar-free products have come a long way

SHARE Quick bites: Sugar-free products have come a long way

My grandma, Jessie Johnson, loved sweets — but then she was diagnosed with diabetes.

She tried a low-sugar diet for a while, and I remember trying the vividly colored sugar-free hard candies she'd bought to replace her usual favorite treats.

They were weirdly gummy, only sort of sweet and had a strange, funky aftertaste. You know a candy's not the best when not even kids want to eat it.

In the end, my gram's love of good food overcame her efforts to live sugar free, and she went back to eating food made with sugar, treating her diabetes with daily insulin shots.

As a lover of sugary things myself, I absolutely understand her choices. But my dad, her son, has gone a different direction since being diagnosed with diabetes himself a few years ago.

So far, my dad controls his blood-sugar levels entirely with diet modification. I know this doesn't work for every person with diabetes, but my dad feels strongly that, if it can work, that's the approach to take.

I think, and my dad agrees, that it's much easier these days to switch to sugar-free food. There are more products out there, many by leading manufacturers, and they taste better.

In fact, though there's no one in our house with diabetes so far, we eat a number of sugar-free products. Don't get me wrong: sugar is definitely a part of our diet. But I figure that, if no one can really tell the difference, why not cut it out where we can?

Here are a few of the sugar-free products you can find most of the time in my pantry:

Jelly and preserves. A few years ago, after a visit with us, my dad left a half-used jar of Smuckers sugar-free strawberry preserves in my fridge.

A few days after that, my kids made themselves some PB&J sandwiches with it and didn't notice the difference. When I had some, I liked its strong strawberry flavor and the fact that it was much less sweet than regular jam.

Now, we use sugar-free or low-sugar preserves and jelly exclusively. Our favorites are Smuckers strawberry preserves (www.smuckers.com) and Polaner sugar-free grape jelly (www.polanerallfruit.com). They taste great in sandwiches, on toast or even stirred into plain yogurt.

Polaner also has great sugar-free blackberry preserves, and I like Smuckers raspberry sugar-free jam. All are priced above regular jams and jellies, but not too much, and their strong flavors mean you can use them sparingly to make them last.

Jell-O. Utah's state snack food comes in many sugar-free flavors that are nearly indistinguishable from the sugary versions — particularly if you add fruit to your Jell-O. I'm pretty sure my kids still don't know I've been serving them sugar-free Jell-O salad all this time.

If you don't want to go to the trouble (being a little sarcastic here) of heating water, mixing in the Jell-O and waiting for it to set up, Dole makes tasty sugar-free "gel" in handy little cups. They usually cost somewhere above $3 for a pack of four cups, but it's easy to find coupons in newspaper inserts and online.

So far, the only sugar-free varieties I've tried are pineapple in strawberry gel and my favorite, mixed fruit in cherry gel. Hey, Dole, how about sending some sugar-free green "gel" love our way?

Amber Lyn chocolate. I admit, this company's products are usually in my house only if my dad's coming. But after tasting the candy made by this St. George-based company (www.amberlynchocolates.com) I may be buying them more often.

The company's candy bars come in flavors from chocolate raspberry to English toffee milk chocolate and, more than any other sugar-free chocolate I've tried, are comparable in quality and taste to high-end bars made by companies like Lindt and Ghirardelli.

I first tried Amber Lyn chocolate at a Sam's Club "road show," and now I buy them at Seagull Book. At a couple bucks a bar, they're an indulgence, but one you can feel pretty good about.

This is a recipe for shave-ice or snow cone syrup that I started using last summer. No one who had a shave ice made with this simple recipe, which I found at allrecipes.com, could tell it was sugar free.

Summer Snow Cone Syrup

2 cups granulated Splenda

1 cup water

1 (0.13 ounce) package unsweetened, fruit-flavored soft drink mix

In a saucepan, stir together the Splenda and water. Bring to a boil, and boil for about one minute. Remove from heat and stir in the drink mix. Allow to cool. I keep mine in a dollar-store ketchup squirt bottle, which is perfect for pouring it over shave ice. Try it on the first warm weekend of spring and let me know what you think!

Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret News. Email: skratz@desnews.com