Sweet by Nature
It seems everywhere you go during the holidays, someone is offering you holiday candy, fruitcakes, pies, or anything they want to get out of their house and away from their lips. Ah, sweet temptation! Although it’s pretty challenging to avoid sweets altogether during this time, you can make healthier choices. Avoid all desserts and confections that contain high fructose corn syrup—which is made from genetically modified corn—and any desserts using artificial sweeteners, all of which are poison to our bodies.
Sugar Blues :
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Americans are consuming 156 pounds of sugar and sweeteners per person, each year! Most of this excess sugar (60%) is in the form of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). According to the World Health Organization, consumption of the sweetener—which flavors everything from salad dressings to condiments, crackers, snacks and soda—has increased 3.5% per year in the last decade. That’s twice the rate at which the use of refined sugar has grown.
The United Nations and the World Health Organization released guidelines in 2003 that said sugar should account for no more than 10% of daily calories. In a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, that amounts to 200 calories, or only eight heaping teaspoons of table sugar! A single can of regular soda has the equivalent of 10 teaspoons! Check labels, because once you start paying attention, you will be shocked to learn that sugar and HFCS is everywhere!
Artificial sweeteners should never be sugar alternatives. All artificial chemical sweeteners are toxic and can indirectly lead to weight gain. Aspartame products, for example, convert into formaldehyde in the body which can affect the brain’s protective barrier.
Natural sweeteners can actually have some nutritive value, because they are made from natural whole food sources with very little processing. Natural sweeteners are digested more slowly and won’t cause the glycemic spike and drop in our blood sugar (“sugar blues”) as dramatically as refined sweeteners. Natural sweeteners have varying degrees of sweetness and glycemic reactions, so experiment with them. Most are great for baking but, depending on their liquidity, you might have to adjust your recipe for texture. Diabetics however, must still be very cautious when using any type of sweetener. We are all familiar with honey, maple syrup, and molasses, but many others such as stevia, agave, date sugar, rapadura (evaporated cane sugar), rice syrup, barley malt, yacon, sorghum, and fruit juices are all unrefined and so retain valuable nutrients. Some of the better choices are:
Stevia :is 200-300 times sweeter than table sugar, but it is not a sugar. It’s made from a fresh herb that resembles oregano in appearance. It’s often available at the Santa Barbara Farmer’s Market. Unlike other popular sweeteners, it has a glycemic index rating of less than 1 and therefore wouldn’t cause any of the numerous problems associated with sugar consumption and is safe for diabetics.
Agave : is sweet syrup made from the Blue Agave plant. The syrup is made from the extraction and purification of “sap” from the agave plant, which is broken down by natural enzymes into the monosaccharides (simple sugars): mainly fructose (70-75%) and dextrose (20-26%). However, do choose an organic variety for best quality.
Honey : when purchased locally, and minimally processed, can be a wonderful contribution to your healthy regimen. Bees that forage pollen from local flowers will produce honey that helps us adapt to our local environment. Raw, unpasteurized (heated no higher than 114 degrees) will still contain antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, amino acids, enzymes, carbohydrates, phytonutrients, and antigens that makes this honey a super food. Raw honey will start to crystallize over time however, so in order to get it to a liquid stage again, place jar in a pot of hot water until honey melts. Processed, heated honey has no nutritional value.
Coconut Palm Sugar : is made from the sugary sap of the Palmyra palm , the date palm or sugar date palm, or the sap of coconut palms. With a relatively low glycemic index, Coconut palm sugar is the newest natural sugar to hit the market.
Date Sugar : is simply dehydrated dates ground into small pieces. It is a whole food, high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Date sugar can be substituted for granulated sugar or brown sugar cup for cup, but it does not dissolve in liquids.
Yacon Syrup : is known for its crisp, sweet-tasting tuberous roots. Yacon contains fructooligosaccharides, which have a prebiotic effect, meaning that they are used by “friendly” bacteria that favor colon health and digestion. Yacon syrup can also be found in health food stores.
So if you are the designated baker this season, use one of the natural sweeteners listed above.
And for some simple, quick, and elegant dessert standbys such as Chocolate Dipped Strawberries (much easier than you think), Baked Apples with Cashew Cream, Sunflower Crunch, decadent Chocolate Lace Cookies, and my Mom’s Lemon Crepes, check out my cookbook, The Passionate Vegetable, or link to my blog.
Suzanne Landry is author of The Passionate Vegetable available at www.ThePassionateVegetable.com or Amazon, Whole Foods, and several other local retailers in Santa Barbara.