2/11/10

Sweet Ideas

A friend I exercise with said she wants to stop eating refined sugar. She's addicted to some peppermint candies, and feels lousy after she eats too many. I thought I'd share some tips on how I avoid eating refined sugar. These days, too many people eat way too much food laden with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and other refined sweeteners, and way too many people (and children) are developing blood sugar problems.

The sweeteners I prefer to use are those which are natural, minimally refined, and contain nutrients. Honey, molasses, and maple syrup are condensed sweeteners, for sure, but they are preferable over white sugar. I find they have stronger taste and I can use less than comparable amounts of white sugar. Stevia is an herb grown in the mountains of Central and South America (I've grown it in my garden) which is 300 times the sweetness of sugar and has no calories or effect on blood sugar. I find it hard to substitute in recipes for sugar, but I use it for adding a little sweetness to things like smoothies and yogurt. You can use fresh or dried leaves; I buy it in white powdered form and mix a tiny amount with water in a recycled vinegar bottle with one of those plastic shaker lids, so I can just sprinkle a few drops at a time - that's all it takes. You can buy little packets to carry in your purse and add to coffee in place of sugar. I strongly advise avoiding artificial sweeteners, like Splenda and the others used in diet sodas. I believe they do more harm than white sugar.

There are also lots of non-sugar items which can add a sweet taste to your foods. Vanilla extract, cinnamon (which has positive affects on blood sugar), ginger root, and other spices and flavorings impart their own sweetness. Ripe fruit, with fructose as its form of natural sugar, is also sweet. Cooked fruit concentrates the sweetness - try snacking on a little cup of unsweetened applesauce. Drying fruit also concentrates the natural sugars, but it shrinks the fruit also so you need to be careful not to eat too much. My Favorite Gingerbread is a good example of using spices, fruit juice, raisins, and molasses as the sweeteners. Use over-ripened bananas in a recipe like my Banana Hermit Bread, or freeze them to use in a smoothie. Thawed frozen berries are terrific for mixing into yogurt because they release sweet juices. When you use chocolate in baking, use unsweetened cocao so you can control the sweetness, like in the recipe for Chocolate Raspberry Biscotti.

Teas are another help for satisfying sugar cravings. I love a cup of Yogi Tea Organic Chai Redbush with some fat free milk in late afternoon. Herbal fruit teas are great, hot or iced, as is peppermint tea. Replace sodas in your diet by switching to unflavored selters with a bit of 100% fruit juice added for sweet flavor.

Learn the various names for sugar (dextrose, maltodextrin, etc.) and read ingredients on the foods you buy. It's a challenge to find sugarless bottled salad dressings, cereals, pasta sauces and so many prepared foods which don't even need sweetness... that's why I make my own. The movie Food Inc documents the use of high fructose corn syrup in most of the foods on our store shelves. Last time I looked for frozen pea pods, I was shocked (and disgusted) to find they had added sugar.

I find a balanced diet and limited sugar intake also reduces cravings for sugar, and makes me more sensitive to the taste of added sweeteners. Knowledge helps motivate me, too, and learning how detrimental sugar is to my health was an eye-opener. Read the 1970's book Sugar Blues, and the more recent Sugar Busters to learn more.

I hope these ideas are helpful, and please add your own tips too.