Saturday, October 18, 2008

Healthy Sweeteners

Everybody likes the idea of sugar with no consequences, but it just doesn’t exist. America is addicted to sugar and has turned to sugar substitutes such as aspartame and sucralose which promise the sweetness of sugar without the calories. The problem with these man-made inventions is the unintended consequences. But don’t rely on the industry or even the FDA to inform you that Splenda and Equal are actually toxic and detrimental to your health. Does a little self discipline regarding sugar consumption sound worse than brain tumors or lesions? There is already much evidence emerging to reveal the toxicity of these recent sugar inventions. The evidence will only get stronger as time goes on.

The fact is: you are better off eating real sugar than the chemical substitute. Studies show that artificial sugars also lead to weight gain. The body reacts very strongly to taste. When the tongue tastes sugar, the body is expecting those calories only to be met with low-energy food. This low energy food in turn forces your body to signal “famine,” which results in cravings for refined carbohydrates from which the body can get a quick energy boost. Such cravings may lead you to consume more snacks than you ever intended. Unless you are consuming real calories, the body will never turn off the “I’m hungry” signal. Before you know it, you've gained weight anyway, and you've consumed the toxic chemicals bringing your body further harm.

I am not telling you to switch your Diet Coke to regular Coke. Non-diet drinks are loaded with High Fructose Corn Syrup, which is another issue in itself. I urge you to have some self-discipline. Stop the sugar addiction. Cutting out the excess sugar and all sugar substitutes is the #1 thing the average American can do to improve his/her health.

Once you have given up your daily sugar dose, use healthy sugars on special occasions, and where sugar is really necessary in moderation. Below, are five recommended sugars that I encourage you to use in place of typical refined sugars and artificial sweeteners.

Raw Agave Nectar
Agave Nectar is a syrup extracted from a cactus plant. It has all of its enzymes intact and dissolves easily in cold water. This syrup is a great natural sweetener with a very mild flavor. I highly recommend the use of this sweetener in just about every application.

100% Pure Maple Syrup
This sweetener is a natural, whole food. However, this syrup has lost its enzymes due to the heat used in processing. I recommend using grade B or C since these are less refined and also have a higher mineral content. Be sure to get your syrup from a source that does not use formaldehyde in the extraction process. Organic standards do not allow the use of formaldehyde. Also, syrup from the State of Vermont is safe because the use of formaldehyde is illegal for maple sugaring.

Rapadura is a Portuguese name for sugarcane juice. This sugar is made by crystallizing the juices from sugar cane. Because heat is used in the crystallization process, the enzymes are lost; however, the minerals still remain. I use rapadura wherever white or brown sugar is called for in recipes. This is a much better choice as it is non-processed and still contains the molasses content and flavor.

Raw Honey
Raw honey is an excellent natural sweetener and contains all enzymes necessary for digestion. A little bit of honey goes a long way to satisfy a sweet tooth. Because honey is super sweet, you will not need to consume much to be satisfied. I highly recommend raw honey for use wherever you need to add some sweetness. Be aware, however, that most honey sold in your local supermarket is not raw; it is just as refined as white sugar with all the nutrients stripped out. You will have to visit a health food store or a local bee keeper.

Stevia is a natural sweetener that comes from a leaf and is only used in tiny amounts due to its ultra sweet power. This sweetener can be found in powdered or liquid form. Some people do not like stevia as a sugar alternative because it can have a strange aftertaste. Some say that use of vanilla extract along with the stevia eliminates most of the disliked aftertaste. Stevia is difficult to substitute for sugar in baking as the bulk of the sugar is absent and needs to be made up somehow. Try this sweetener in your morning oatmeal first. If you decide you like it, there are recipes on the internet which help you substitute with stevia in baking. You may be able to find a stevia sample packet to experiment with at a Trader Joe’s sample and coffee counter.

All sugars should be eaten in moderation - even healthy sugars. It stands to reason that honey is so sweet because it was meant to be enjoyed in small portions. I recommend that you cut out excess sugars from your diet and use the above mentioned healthy sugars in moderation.

Healthy Tip: Instead of soda as your afternoon treat, try sparkling water with a squeeze of lime. It’s actually quite refreshing.

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