082: How To Ditch Sugar To Improve Your Skin (Without Feeling Deprived) w/ Ricki Heller

Sweetness is too important a part of your flavor palette to remove entirely from your life. But what do you do when consuming sugar results in health problems like candida overgrowth? My good friend Ricki Heller is back to share how you can swap out sugar for natural and healthy alternatives.

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Ricki teaches people to love their food regardless of how restrictive their diet is. She’s spent 19 years following an anti-candida diet and now helps people learn to cook, eat, and live well so that they can focus on healing and enjoying their lives.

Through her programs and writing, she shares her passion for sugar-free, gluten-free, allergy-friendly recipes and healthy living. She has authored three bestselling cookbooks and has written for Simply Gluten-Free, Gluten-Free & More, Allergic Living, Clean Eating, The Globe and Mail, The Huffington Post, Mind Body Green, Kris Carr and others.

Candida loves sugar. If you’re going to get a handle on it you need to understand what the sugar-free landscape looks like. It’s not just swapping out sugar for Splenda. There are healthy and natural sweeteners to use instead. Today we discuss how to find the sweeteners that work for you and how you can cook with them.

What’s your favorite sugar alternative? Let me know in the comments!

In this episode:

  • The difference between alternative and natural sweeteners
  • Stevia as a natural sweetener and how you can use it in your food
  • What sugar-alcohols are and how you might be able to incorporate them into your food
  • Tips and tricks for baking with sugar alternatives


“Even within that natural category, there might be something that isn’t unhealthy for a healthy person. But for someone who’s really sensitive to sugars, I have to think about other factors like the glycemic index, how quickly it raises your blood-sugar.” [3:40]

“If you’re a sweets addict like I am, what you don’t want to do is bake a brownie and eat half the thing in one sitting.” [9:36]

“There are definitely recipes for out there. If you want to try any of the things you’re used to, you can find recipes for all of the standard treats that use these low-glycemic sweeteners and are good.” [14:08]


Find Ricki Online

Get Ricki’s free ebook

Ricki's first episode on the Healthy Skin Show: How to tweak your diet to combat candida

Ricki’s pumpkin pie recipe

Swerve sugar replacements

NuNaturals erythritol


Follow Ricki on Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Pinterest

Living Candida-Free cookbook

Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free cookbook

084: How To Ditch Sugar To Improve Your Skin (Without Feeling Deprived) w/ Ricki Heller FULL TRANSCRIPT

Jennifer: So Ricky teaches people how to love their food, no matter how restricted your diet is. She spent 19 years following an anti Candida Diet and now helps people learn to eat, cook and live well so they can focus on healing and enjoying their lives. Through her programs and writing, she shared her passion for sugar-free, gluten-free, allergen friendly recipes and healthy living. And she has authored three best-selling cookbooks. I will put those in the show notes. Everybody, they are fantastic and I highly encourage you to check them out. Ricky, thank you so much for coming back and talking to us about this.

Ricki: Oh, I love it. Thank you for having me.

Jennifer: Well, so now here's the thing. The last time we talked, we talked all about like your experience and you kept mentioning, Oh, I've done this like anti Candida Diet whole thing and you and I both know candida loves sugar and isn't even necessarily about Candida. A lot of times when I have got clients or gut infection clients they really need to reduce their sugar intake and they don't know how they love to bake. And they're just really used to things tasting sweet. So you have really mastered this. I am not a good Baker. I admit it. So I'm not the person to talk on that this. And that's why I want you here today. So can you share with us a little bit about how the sugar-free landscape has changed? Because a lot of people might be thinking, well, I'll just go and buy Splenda.

Ricki: Don't do that. Don't do that. Don't do it guys. Yeah. You know, so first I think I should just make the distinction between alternative and natural sweeteners because alternative basically means anything that isn't sugar. So the Splenda would fall into that, or like the Saccharin or sucralose. All those things. Aspartame was the other one I was thinking of. So that's just alternative. But those are not natural sweeteners in the sense that they have to be created in a lab and they're chemically altered and they're not healthy as you. and I well know, whereas you can have a whole category of natural sweeteners, which just means I don't, my sort of most basic definition is if I had the right equipment, could I make this at home? Right? So you know, like Maple Syrup, if I knew how to tap trees, I could gather maple syrup.

Jennifer: We could totally do that. You can totally do that. You're in Canada.

Ricki: We could, yeah. Or like honey or other natural sweetener would be brown rice syrup. So, so things that haven't been grossly modified from the original form. So even something like Sucanat, which looks like brown sugar and the name Sucanat is an acronym for sugar cane natural, right. So what they do, they just extract the juice from the sugar cane plant and dehydrate it. And there's your Sucanat. So that's a whole category of natural, but at the same time, even within that natural category, it might be something that isn't unhealthy for a healthy person. But for someone like me who's really sensitive to sugars, I have to think about other factors like the glycemic index. How quickly does it raise your blood sugar? So I had to even eliminate a whole bunch of natural sweeteners. So I guess it depends on where the person is in their journey. You know, when I first started and I just didn't want to have refined white sugar, I did use maple syrup. I did use coconut sugar and coconut palm sugar. I did use brown rice syrup. Black strap molasses is incredibly healthy. It's got so many minerals in it and vitamins. But for me it's too high on the glycemic index because it's like 98, which is very close to white sugar. So I had to look for natural sweeteners that were also low-glycemic. And when I first started, the only natural sweetener around was Stevia. So because that comes from an herb, it's a a hundred times sweeter than sugar. I don't know if you're a fan of Stevia or not?

Jennifer: I am, I use Stevia. I know some people aren't. And I've also had an increase in clients who do not tolerate Stevia, surprisingly, but, and there's some people that don't like they feel that it has an aftertaste, but I have personally found that the liquid versions of Stevia tend to be less after tasty. And I don't mind it. I really don't. And I do use it. I don't eat a ton of sweet stuff guys. So again, I think what Ricky is encouraging you to do and which is what her and I both do, which is, you know, you have to find the sweeteners that work for you, but you shouldn't just like hang on to one thing. The idea is to figure out like what grouping of alternative and low low-glycemic sweeteners can you do that are more natural. That way too, you don't end up developing a sensitivity to them, which can happen. Some people do find that they don't tolerate certain things after a while, but so tell us a little bit about Stevia for those people that don't understand, they're like, wait, it's a plant. Yes. And guys, you can actually buy it at Lowe's or Home Depot. If you're in the US you can actually go and buy a Stevia plant at your local home gardening center. And then you're wondering, okay, how do I, how do I use this? So let's talk a little bit about that.

Ricki: Sure. So that's how it was originally used is people would dry the leaves and pulverize them and use them like tea leaves almost and then it would be infused in your water. It will be sweet. And they realized it was so sweet. So if you want to go totally natural with Stevia, there are different brands. The one that I know of here, it's dehydrated leaves that are pulverized to a green powder. So it's literally just the leaves that have been dried and powdered. That one is going to have the strongest sort of earthy flavor cause it's actually the whole leaves. But then you can get, like you said, the liquid Stevia or the powder is just be sure that it's pure Stevia extract in there that they haven't added any fillers.

Ricki: So because Stevia is so concentrated in that sweetness if you find any brand that's advertised as Stevia that says you can measure it, one for one, like sugar, that is not your Stevia, they've added fillers and cellulose and things. So to bulk it up so that you can measure it. So true Stevia powder, which I actually have is like one 68th of a teaspoon is like a serving or something, right? It's a tiny, tiny amount. I just did a little pinch on the tip of my knife and that, you know, I use it for baking. So for like a whole recipe, you would use a quarter of a teaspoon, right? So, but again, a lot of people find it that it's metallic or bitter. So one thing that I've done is I've started combining Stevia with other low-glycemic natural sweeteners so that you're not using as much stevia and it's offset by the other sweetener in terms of taste. But the overall glycemic index or glycemic load is still low.

Jennifer: And then, I would assume as far as baking is concerned, it makes up for the bulk that is missing because that's the thing. Okay. So again, I don't bake, but I do know this. Because stevia's so sweet and you're using this like one 68th of a teaspoon compared to the full amount. Like one cup, you're missing bulk that are like a baking recipe actually needs. So that's one reason why you can't just try and sort it out with Stevia. So this is one of the keys that Ricki has figured out.

Ricki: And also it's not just the bulk, it has a chemical reaction in there, right? Sugar reacts chemically with everything else. So your cake or whatever it is, you want to hold together the same way. So then there's this whole category of sweeteners, which don't sound natural, but the research I've done that they have some really good results and they are considered natural sweeteners, which are the sugar alcohols. So I don't know how you feel about those, but like erythritol, xylitol, those are the two that I have found in my research to be the best because they are low-glycemic, they don't seem to have any kind of negative effect on blood sugar. And xylitol in particular contains some compounds that inhibit candida growth. So that's why I use the xylitol. And these are made by fermenting natural sources. So, often xylitol is made from corn, but if you have an allergy, obviously you're not going to want that or just because so much corn is genetically modified. So I look for the Birch source xylitol. It's fermented Birchwood and it's much easier for people to digest. The only issue with the sugar alcohols is that we don't have enough of the enzymes to digest them fully, which is why they passed through without us absorbing all the calories. So they're lower calorie, but you could have some digestive distress with that, meaning gas, bloating. Some people get diarrhea because you're supposed to start slow and incrementally increase those. With xylitol, we do have the enzyme, but in very small amounts and our body will increase its production as you continue to use it. But you know if you're a sweets addict like I am, what you don't want to do is bake a Brownie and eat half the thing in one sitting right, the first time you ever use xylitol.

Jennifer: Don't dive into a xylitol brownie unprepared. I will also say this, if you know you have issues with FODMAP foods, they are high FODMAP foods. The sugar alcohols. That's usually why. But some people too, if you find that you can't do like a whole lot of prebiotics, that may be another red flag that the sugar alcohols might not work for you. But I'm not opposed to them personally. In the US you can get them from like Swerve is probably the most popular commercially produced erythritol. And it's used heavily, like a lot of the keto, a lot of my keto friends use swerve in many of their baking recipes. And then new naturals also sells a bunch of different like a sugar granulated sugar version of erythritol. It may have a xylitol one. I'm not sure. But those are the two that I know of where you can get them from.

Ricki: A big one is Lakanto as well. Yeah, cause they have a brown sugar variation as well.

Jennifer: Oh, so you could use that if you were looking for brown sugar for a recipe, you could actually use that.

Ricki: And then, this is a fairly new category, but it's also, I imagine because it's prebiotic, there are inulin based sweeteners that are fiber based and you can get like a sweetener. Someone just sent me this information on this sweetener from sweet potato fiber. And that's also considered a natural sweetener. So I haven't actually tried those. But the other one, which seems to be good for most people is monkfruit because it's actually a fruit. It's also known as luo han guo, which is the Chinese name and that's zero glycaemic, not that sweet, but it's got a nice flavor. And so that's another alternative too or combining. Right.

Jennifer: Can you bake with monk fruit sweetener?

Ricki: Oh yeah, sure you can.

Jennifer: So there's a lot of options here then. We were saying about the Beware Rules with Stevia and baking? You know, look, I know I'm a clinical nutritionist. You work with people on their health. And so people become embarrassed when they know they're supposed to eat better, but they still like sugar or they like sweets. It's their birthday, it's the holidays, any number of things. And the reality of it is I have faced the fact a long time ago that sweetness, the literal flavor of sweetness is an important part of our Palette. So to take it out entirely means that you're missing an integral part of life of our body that we naturally seek out. So if we want to do that a little bit more healthfully, and especially as people are moving toward these various holidays and they can start to experiment with things like this. Do you have any other rules around using erythritol, or changing out the sweeteners? A) so it doesn't make them sick; B) They're not like, oh my gosh, this tastes like the worst thing ever and have to throw it out after it's done. Any tips or tricks around that?

Ricki: Yeah. So the first one is the combining that I said, and with Stevia, my mantra is always less is more. So you always want to start with a little bit: less than you think you need. So if you think you're going to want five, because it's so intense, right? If you think you're going to want five drops worth of sweetness, start with three, taste it and then see, because it should always be a tiny bit less sweet than you're used to with Stevia. I find to avoid that kind of aftertaste or whatever people consider a bitter taste or whatever. But I always combine. And then the third sort of golden rule, when you're working with cocoa and chocolate, you do not want Stevia to be your, your only sweetener because they just tend to bring up the bitterness in each other. So I always, always use something else, whether it's Lakanto, or you know, xylitol along with the Stevia when I'm working with chocolate. And, I mean you could use 100% of the Xylitol or whatever, but the fact is these sweeteners are really expensive. And this way I'm kind of a lowering the glycemic index a little bit more by using part Stevia. And I'm also counteracting the potential overuse of Stevia in terms of the flavor. So I find when you combine, and it's what you said too, in terms of the chemistry. For people who just playing around and recipes, I think there's over 800 now on my blog. So those are all free. And you know, this is what I do. I for like as an example, my Sweetlife club, we develop holiday menus where people can play with these kinds of things and try them out. So there are definitely recipes for you out there. If you want to try any of the things you're used to, you can find recipes for all of the standard treats that use these low glycemic sweeteners and are good. You just have to play a little.

Jennifer: And you guys, Ricki is super generous. So she's got this top 10 quick and easy anti candida recipe ebook that I'm hoping that that might have a couple of recipes or so in there maybe that they can start playing with.

Ricki: Yeah, I think there are a couple of dessert recipes in there and I think there's a latte recipe in there, like a golden latte recipe in there that people are familiar with that. It's a way to introduce you to a little bit of the sweetener in the beginning, but there's a grain-free Pumpkin pie recipe for the holidays. That is also egg free, dairy free, obviously gluten free and sugar free on my blog. So anybody can go and check that one out or if they want to.

Jennifer: Oh my gosh, we'll have to link that in the show notes. Like we need to do that. I'm getting hungry right now. And the other thing, just so you guys know, I do use the liquid Stevia probably more frequently. I have bags of powdered stuff that I probably never use and I use the liquid Stevia a little more often. So it's very infrequent that I would want to make soda to be honest with you, cause I don't really like the regular soda. It's too sweet and I'm very happy normally with like Seltzer water or you know, club soda, that kind of thing. But you can add like four or five drops of a liquid Stevia formula. They have different flavors. So they might have one that's like chocolate, raspberry and other that's ginger. Another that's French vanilla or something and they taste like cream soda or something that you're familiar with. That way if you're looking to get off your Diet Soda Kick, or you've got to get off of the regular soda. This can be a really easy way as well as just kind of get that fixed, the taste, the bubbliness. But also without go into stuff that's not super great. The Stevia, liquid Stevia, a seltzer water trick is really easy and very inexpensive and those bottles last forever.

Ricki: Yeah they do. And I'm just going to add this. This is what I've been drinking. It's very similar to what you're saying. I'll brew up some herbal teas, fruity herbal teas. So this is a mango passion fruit flavor. And then I will add, I'll just ice it and add Stevia, but sometimes if I want that bubble I'll just pour some club soda in about half and half and it gives it that bubbly texture or non texted that bubbly feel but the taste of the ice tea. So it's almost like a kool-aid that's sweetened with Stevia. You can do whatever flavors you want. Sometimes I mix different flavors and it's really delicious.

Jennifer: That's awesome. Well Ricki, I just want to thank you so much for giving everybody so many ideas. And again, guys, you have to go over to rickiheller.com she's got so many recipes. If you're looking looking for clean stuff. You're looking for things that obviously are gluten free and dairy free. I think most of your recipes are also Vegan, correct?

Ricki: They're all Vegan.

Jennifer: So if you've got issues with eggs, which can happen a lot if you've got eczema issues, not everybody, but some people have egg issues with Eczema. This is a great resource for you and hopefully this will help give you that stepping stone and that courage to go to the store and try something. And if you're like, oh my gosh, I don't know if I want to buy all this stuff right now, think about once a week saying, okay, I'm going to try one product a week. And then before you know it, over the course of a couple of months, you'll build out this little alternative, healthier, sweet sweetener arsenal that you can start to play with that way too. If you know you're on a budget, it makes it just that much more affordable. And Amazon's a great spot to also look these things up if they're not available in your local grocery store. Ricky, thank you so much for joining us.

Ricki: Oh, my pleasure, thank you.“There are definitely recipes for out there. If you want to try any of the things you’re used to, you can find recipes for all of the standard treats that use these low-glycemic sweeteners and are good.”


Jennifer Fugo, MS, CNS

Jennifer Fugo, MS, CNS is an integrative Clinical Nutritionist and the founder of Skinterrupt. She works with women who are fed up with chronic gut and skin rash issues discover the root causes and create a plan to get them back to a fuller, richer life.

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