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Saturday, February 23, 2013

When Life Isn't Sweet Enough

Sometimes, you just need a little sweetener!  But, with all the choices, what should you pick?  What's the healthiest choice when you're out at a restaurant and want to sweeten your iced tea?  Or when you're at home, and you need something on your oatmeal or waffles?

As many of you might already know, sugar is addictive.  It almost takes people a 12-step program to get off of dumping three packets of sweetener into their coffee.  Once you start backing down on the amount of sweetener you use, you realize you don't need as much as you think you do.

When it comes to what to sweeten with, here are things you should not use.  They are not fit for human consumption, as far as I am concerned:

  • Aspartame, also known as NutraSweet, Equal or AminoSweet
  • Sucralose, also known as Splenda
  • Saccharin, also known as Sweet'n Low

These items are all chemicals.  Your body doesn't know how to process them.  Your body thinks it's getting something sweet, but the calories are not there.  These chemicals make your system go crazy, messing with your blood sugar and your cravings.  You end up craving more calories because your body isn't getting what it thinks it should, so you just end up offsetting any calorie savings you think you had.  And for diabetics, messing with your blood sugar is just dangerous!

Splenda advertises, "It's made with sugar, so it tastes like sugar."  Do you know what else Splenda is made with?  Chlorine!  Yep, that's right.  And once you ingest Splenda, you have chlorine floating around in your body.  I'm no doctor, but that doesn't sound healthy to me!

Another thing to think about.  Most of those pink, yellow and blue packets you see on the table in restaurants are filled with a tiny amount of the chemical sweetener.  The rest of the packet contains filler.  The filler is usually dextrose or something else corn-derived.  And that corn the dextrose is made out of is most likely GMO.  So, not only are you eating a chemical, but you're also eating genetically modified food as well.  Not a winning combination!

Aside from the packets of artificial sweeteners on every table in every restaurant, you'll find these garbage sweeteners in diet drinks, juices, sugar free candies and desserts, sugar free cough drops, and most anything that says "No Sugar Added."  If you look on the labels of many prepared foods, you'll see them starting to sneak in sucralose as one of the last ingredients.  Even things that seem healthy, such as V8 Fusion, english muffins, sandwich thins and breads in the regular supermarket are all full of this junk!  Be a savvy shopper and start to look for this stuff.

Let me put something into perspective for you.  How many calories do you think are in one packet of regular sugar??  It's probably less than you think.  One packet has 11 calories.  That's it.  You could do about 20 jumping jacks and burn that off.  It's not worth eating a packet of chemicals and GMOs to save 11 calories!  Just use less and learn to taste your food, rather than covering it in sugar.  When you're faced with all the sweetener packet options at a restaurant, choose regular sugar.

Now that we've gotten what you shouldn't have out of the way, let's talk about some better options:

  • REAL Maple syrup: No Aunt Jemima or Mrs. Butterworth's!  That stuff is just flavored corn syrup! Costco has good prices on maple syrup.  Or if you live in VT and know someone who boils syrup, get it from them!
  • Raw honey: Look at farmer's markets or natural food stores.
  • Date paste or date sugar: I buy large containers of dates at Costco.
  • Liquid Stevia: I say liquid Stevia because the powdered form is heavily processed.  And just like with the fake sugars up above, the bulk of something like Truvia is dextrose, so you're getting into GMOs again.
  • Organic Evaporated Cane Juice: This looks most similar to white sugar - it's granulated and has an ivory color.  You can find this at Costco for a good price.
  • Low-processed cane sugars: Sucanat, Rapadura, Turbinado. These are a little harder to find in regular stores.  You'll most likely find them in natural food stores or a place like Whole Foods.

I'm a native Vermonter, so I always go for maple syrup.  I love the flavor, and a little goes a long way.  I prefer the dark B grades, as I think it has more taste than a fancy, amber syrup.  Maple syrup contains beneficial minerals as well.  Maple syrup is expensive, so we only use it in small amounts, or in something where the maple flavor is key.  A little is wonderful on oatmeal!

If you can find local, raw honey, buy it!  It's full of beneficial antioxidants and nutrients.  And honey never spoils!  It may crystalize, but it will never go bad!

I make my own date paste by just soaking medjool dates in warm water, draining the water and pureeing them in my food processor.  You can freeze the date paste for months, and just scoop out what you need for a recipe.

When I bake, I use either maple syrup, date paste, bananas, apple sauce, evaporated cane juice or sucanat.  For a traditional recipe that needs a granulated sugar, I generally cut about 1/4 or 1/3 of the amount of sugar called for from most recipes, and I don't notice the difference.  And those of you who have eaten my baking have had the reduced sugar recipes, and you didn't even know it!

For in coffee or tea, we use honey, or maple sugar granules.  This would also be a good time to use the liquid Stevia.

We try to stay away from regular white sugar.  It's so heavily processed, it doesn't have any nutritional value, and some sugar cane is GMO.  If you're vegan, white sugar is also processed using animal ingredients, so you'd want to stay away from it anyway!  You usually see GMO more with sugar beets, but sugar cane is also starting to go into that evil territory as well.

Each of the above sweeteners work best for different applications.  Some of the sweeteners are liquids, others are granules or pastes.  You have to choose what works with the recipe you're using.  And also be prepared to adjust the amount of each sweetener you use.  You may find with honey or syrup, you need to use less.  Something like a date paste works best in baked goods, since the date paste won't dissolve like an evaporated cane juice crystal.

There are a lot of options for sweeteners out there, and it's getting more and more confusing.  The big pharma companies who developed all these fake sweeteners want you to think they're healthy.  I work in advertising, so I know how marketing can twist things around!  The bottom line is go for "real" foods.  Stay away from all the calorie-free, chemical garbage.  I hope this information helps you to make better decisions when you're faced with the rainbow colors of sweetener packets at a restaurant, or cooking at home.

Live life to its sweetest and stay healthy!