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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Health Food 2014 in review and predictions for 2015



It's been a tradition for a few years now to look back at what happened during the about-to-end year and to play psychic to what I think will happen in the new one in the world of health food trends. I know that I'm such an original and that no one else has come up with this lists ever before, but since I know that at least my friend Sarah likes this special edition, it's all worth it! I hope you enjoy it too!

This is the link to last year's post, so you can send me annoying emails telling me how wrong I was, or asking me what kind of super green juice I drank to posses those amazing prediction powers. Share anything, the fact that you read what I write is plain incredible! Here we go,


  • BLACK IS THE NEW HEALTHY: Watch for these black hued edibles. 
1. Nigella sativa seeds (aka black seeds or black cumin), the seeds of a flowering plant found throughout India, South Arabia and Europe, have been used in cooking and in traditional medicine to heal inflammation, infection and cancer, and it's been confirmed that compounds in these seeds have immunomodulatory, antioxidant, antiparasitic and liver-protective effects. Black seeds may also be useful to treat asthma, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, dyspepsia, diabetes, and cancer. Yotam Ottolenghi uses them in Plenty and Plenty More in delicious and stunning dishes. Maybe he didn't know the seeds were so healthy, but now you do! You can get them in amazon.com or if you are in NYC, Kalustyan's has them. 

2. Black garlic. It's well documented that fresh garlic is one of the most potent super foods there are. It has strong cardiovascular, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, cancer-protective and iron metabolism related benefits. But in order to take advantage of its beneficial substances--mainly allicin, which forms as a defense mechanism of the vegetable once a bulb is "attacked"-- garlic needs to be eaten raw and within 1 hour of ripping apart a clove from its bulb. Within the last couple of years, a "new" garlic has been taking up center stage. Not so long ago, a farmer in the UK claims to have tried a very old Korean recipe, which is actually a process to age garlic by elevating temperature and controlling humidity in an attempt to preserve the bulbs through the off season months (although other references state that black garlic was introduced in Japan hailing from Korea in 2005). He hit the jackpot among chefs and foodies, and with a balsamic-like flavor and reduced pungency, black garlic became the culinary it girl. Interesting health claims are now being made about black garlic (which, by the way is NOT technically fermented, as the garlic turns black due to chemical reactions and not due to microbiological processes). It's important to note that sensitive allicine is pretty much gone in black garlic, but black garlic seems to have a whole new range of compounds, including a much higher amount of antioxidants than fresh garlic, more calcium, phosphorous and much more protein. Black garlic is also packed with sulfurous compounds, that may have benefits in the synthesis of cholesterol. Bottom line: eat both, fresh and black garlic. No need to substitute one for the other.

3. Activated charcoal. This black powder is made by heating common charcoal in the presence of an oxidizing gas that causes the charcoal to develop internal pores that trap chemicals and reduce their absorption into our bodies. This comes in handy in medicine when in need of removing toxins or poisons, or in treating overdosage of certain substances/drugs, thus it's often used in the ER. However, activated charcoal is now making it into skincare products and even food, particularly juices. Although it's great to keep at home as part of your emergency kit, and I happily smudge clay-and-activated-charcoal masks on my face (to clear my skin and to scare my kids, two birds, one stone), I won't be ordering it at Juice Generation any time soon. Why? Because even if activated charcoal can prevent my intestinal tract from absorbing certain toxic substances, it can also prevent me from absorbing vital nutrients, as it's not only specific to the "bad guys." Why would I pay $10+ for 1 juice and only absorb a fraction of its nutrients? Again, activated charcoal can be a very helpful tool, but you should be monitored by a doctor to make sure you don't get depleted of nutrients, and be especially careful if you are taking medication (which can also be absorbed by the coal) or if you have a digestive or intestinal condition.


Read more about activated charcoal:

http://dailyburn.com/life/health/eating-charcoal-detox-diet/?utm_source=huffingtonpost.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=pubexchange_article

http://wellnessmama.com/247/activated-charcoal/



  • CHICKEN SOUP NOT ONLY FOR THE SOUL
Bone broths: wild or pastured animal (poultry, beef, fish, etc) bones boiled in water and unrefined salt for at least 3 1/2 to 4 hours (and up to 48 hours) have been around since prehistoric times, but sadly, old-fashioned broths have been mostly substituted for less expensive, instant, artificially flavor-enhancing chemicals. No one seems to have time anymore, and we've become squeamish to face the fact that we're actually eating animals. However, with big supporters in the traditional foods, Paleo/Primal, SCD, GAPS and functional medicine communities, these mineral and collagen rich elixirs are are making a comeback. They can be drank in cups or used as a base for cooking soups or anything else that cooks in a liquid. With some good aromatics, they can be extremely flavorful and enjoyable, plus extremely healthful and restoring: they provide our bodies the building materials to rebuild the intestinal wall, they soothe inflammation, aid digestion, are excellent for joints, ligaments, cartilage and tendons, as well as an amazing tool to ameliorate autoimmune disorders and leaky gut syndrome. A new "window" selling bone broths in New York's Downtown, might just show a bit of how people are embracing them. The key point to make a bone broth is to MAKE IT FROM SCRATCH. No consomme powders or "magic" hydrolyzed soy cubes. They are about using the best quality joints and bones, yes, the real things, and a piece of meat, if you want, and giving them time to cook in the water. Bone marrow, chicken, duck, fish bones, try them all at different times, they all have many healing qualities. I purchase mine from www.growandbehold.com It's like going back into your great-grandmother's kitchen, although I do take the short cut by throwing it all in the crock pot for as many hours as I can. I come back home and all done! I use some right away, and freeze the rest.



  • PLANTS RULE
OK, I'm cheating because this is a repeat from last year, but produce just keeps getting cooler and getting better and better treatment. I love this, because I'm a firm believer that we have to fill our plates 75% with plant-derived foods, and if they taste amazing, the chances of most people doing it, increases. If restaurants (FYI Jean Georges Vongerichten is opening a vegan restaurant this spring at ABC Carpet), cookbooks and online weren't enough, just check out Opening Ceremony's produce-inspired collection for pre-fall 2015.
Some of my favorite cookbooks published this year that feature great veggies (although some are not exclusively vegetarian) are: Plenty More , Clean Eats,  The Oh She Glows Cookbook,  At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, and Bar Tartine . I'm looking forward for next year's My New Roots and for Kim Kushner's upcoming cookbook.
(Photo: Opening Ceremony)
“Locally grown” and “Fresh ‘N Wild” fashion at Opening Ceremony (Photo: Opening Ceremony)
  • THE COOL GUYS ARE DOING IT: SPICES AND HERBS 
Chefs, bloggers, cookbook authors and good cooks all make their food shine with classic and inventive spice blends and fresh herbs. Everyone is crossing culinary borders by mixing the Far and Middle Easts with Latin America, the Mediterranean and Africa. Miso, curries, sumac, dukka, vadouvan, ancho chiles, za'atar, you name it. From spice Mecca Kalustyan's, to La Boîte or Whole Spice's custom blends to Trade Joe's, it just shows how endless the possibilities are. It's all pretty exciting and delicious, and even more when you realize that herbs and spices are loaded with healthful compounds, some of them incredibly effective in preventing disease, others that help digestion and/or are powerful antioxidants, are antibacterial or may help lower glucose levels. Turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, thyme, oregano, and pretty much all herbs and spices have amazing attributes. It's a win-win: more flavor and more health.

Just some examples from healthywaytocook.com:

  • SEED RENAISSANCE
With the whole grain-free current (see last year's post), many people have turned to almond and coconut flours, and they are slowly discovering the magic of seeds, which are nutritional powerhouses and many of them are quite inexpensive. We've seen hemp, chia, sesame, flax, pumpkin, and black seeds featured in amazing recipes, but sunflower seeds, are worth mentioning. You can substitute ground hulled sunflower seeds for at least part of the flour in many preparations, and definitely switch almond flour for these ground seeds, which is beautiful for people with nut allergies that want or need to stay away from grains/gluten. So stay tuned for a company selling sunflower seed flour soon. I have my bets on Bob's Red Mills... We'll see...
Another seed that is making it into the mainstream is Psyllium, a seed with a husk that can absorb great quantities of liquid and that you may know better as the active ingredient of Metamucil. It's actually an amazing ingredient to bake with (although anyone eating it should drake sure to drink plenty of water), especially in gluten/grain free concoctions.

  • NEW WAYS OF FOOD/GROCERY DISTRIBUTION
So now Google knows my deepest emailed secrets and drama, has my bank account number, knows what I search for online, holds money for me (or whatever exactly Google Wallet does), and now is aware of all my consumer behavior and brings me groceries at home. I just recently tried Google express and although I feel Google with its naive-looking logo now owns me, I couldn't have been happier for not having to schlep to Costco! Fresh Direct changed the way we all shopped, at least in Manhattan, and now, with Instacart, Google Express and awesome start ups like farmigo, which sells through communities, there are interesting changes on how we get our goods in our increasingly saturated lives.
  • BIG FOOD, SMALL PRODUCERS
OK, so big food is not going anywhere, but thanks to documentaries like Fed Up, and Origins and bloggers like Food Babe and many others, the food industry practices are definitely being exposed more than ever, and consumers are realizing that there's some thought to be put into their purchases. However, there're still adds and packaging targeting children, and in every store, no matter what they sell (including sports goods--the irony), there're always strategically placed junk foods at kids' eye-level near the cashiers to provoke the child's tantrum and turn the store visit into a parenting resistance test... But at the same time, artisans who put care and their souls into their ingredients, foods and products are slowly growing in some markets, making awesome things. From small batch granola, nut butters, fresh doughnuts, to pickles, sweets, raw honey, or preserves, small producers are making farmers' markets and independent stores, even goodeggs.com, rich places to have incredible food experiences. I'm all for food made by people, not by machines!

  • FERMENTED, SPROUTED AND THE MICROBIOME
You probably already know that I'm obsessed with the microorganisms that inhabit our digestive tract, but I'm clearly not the only one. Cultured and fermented foods are increasing like crazy, there are tons of brands of probiotics that promise they are "the right ones" for your particular needs, and there are scientists all over the world finding new, interesting things every day, although there's still a long way to go. In the meanwhile, this are some things I've learned so far: eat unpasteurized fermented foods/drinks, open my windows (this one is a tough for me), breastfeed (OK, I'm done w that one), I would love to get a dog, don't use antibacterial gel (use a natural, essential-oil based one and/or colloidal silver instead) nor antibacterial soap, leave antibiotics for only occasions that truly need them, eat the largest possible variety I can of plant foods, and preferably, in season. Ditch refined foods and abstain from artificial sweeteners. Perhaps, take a good quality probiotics supplement with as many strains as possible, and with at least 10 CFU. Sprouted foods: they make it easier for your body to digest and are some nutrients are more bioactive, which is great, when the microorganisms are not at their best. Stay tuned for more about poop transplants (now officially Fecal Microbiota Transplants) and pills in the years to come (sorry, not the most appealing in a food blog, but this is actually allowing people to eat again!).

  • BREAKFAST COOKIES
A huge trend all over the blogosphere and the internet in general, just google it and you'll see what I'm talking about. Not completely sure how I feel about this one, as it's very personal. I do sell frozen cookie dough that I prepare using the most wholesome, allergy-friendly ingredients I can find, no refined grains, and no gluten, the smallest amount of unrefined, natural sweeteners that I can get away with to still make a delicious cookie, the best fats, and the widest variety of super foods I can think of. However, I still believe my cookies are a treat, not a meal; and in general, this is what concerns me about the breakfast cookie hype. It's amazing to add sunflower seeds, chia, flax and blueberries to your treats, and to make them at home (that's been kind of the purpose of my blog!). Once in a while it can be lots of fun and very delicious. However....nutritionally speaking, I think we should try to do better with the "most important meal of the day," and not substitute cookies for richer sources of protein and plants that are also lower in sugar. However, if breakfast means artificially-colored-oversweetened cereal with chocolate milk, do make some cookies with beans and sunbutter! And yes,  I'm confessing: I've given my kids my cookies for breakfast in some occasions!




Now, after a treaty that took me about a whole year to write, I hope you find this post informative, helpful and/or inspiring and I wish you a very happy and healthy 2015!

In good health,

Alexandra







Friday, October 31, 2014

There is a place on Earth where baseballs caps, burkas, turbans, kippahs, sombreros, bald heads, hair extensions, and Madison-Avenue highlighted manes all get along peacefully. The UN should go to Costco to take notes on how to make it happen, as everyone happily belongs to The Club! 

You walk into The Wearhouse and happiness, possibility, and excitement hit you like fresh wind. There's no hatred, no differences, we all turn into equal beings breathing the promise of realizing the American Dream. We grab an enormous cart and the magic starts: in goes a gigantic flat screen TV, 1000 rolls of cotton-soft toilet paper, a never-ending supply of soap, a 6 ft Teddy bear, cereal boxes the size of apartments, enough coffee to keep us awake for the rest of our living nights, and/or whatever else our insatiable heart desire--always at a fraction of the price of any other store and at massive portions/sizes. Plus, even less if you brought in your coupons and/or if you have a special membership that gives you money back. How's that for unifying happiness and cross-cultural peace? 

With so much merchandise and cheap prices it's easy to get lost in our personal Costco shopping experience. Impulse buys are hard to avoid... As a health coach, I think the most concerning temptations Costco offers are the excessive amount of hyper processed, artificially flavored and colored, sugar, hydrogenated soybean oil, salt ladened "foods" that come in XXXXL brightly colored packages and that cost $0.15. But this is not to say that Costco only sells the wrong stuff. Within the last couple of years, they've also realized that the health food revolution is undeniable (and quite profiting) and they've added some great products, which are the ones I'd like to focus on in this post.

So here we go (I apologize in advance for the horrible photography, but it's hard to push an overflowing cart, chase two children who think free food samples are the best thing in the world--part of the whole Costco experience--  add the needed items, resist my impulses, read all labels, while taking pics. Something had to give, and sadly, the quality of the photos were it...).

The following are my Costco musts:

ORGANIC FROZEN BERRIES:
I'm a huge fan of organic frozen produce. It's quickly frozen at the peak of the season, so most nutrients are retained, and you can keep it in your freezer for a long time, being ready and easy to use. I love having these organic frozen berries around for smoothies, sauces, dessert and my berry chia bars.  My kids and their friends love when I place the frozen berries directly into drinking water instead of ice. They flavor the water a bit, as they chill it. Yes, they are imported from South America, where the organic laws might (or might not) be as strictly followed as in here, but I think that overall, these berries, are a great product at a great price, and awesome value, as berries are really high in antioxidants, vitamins (especially C) are low in sugar, and a minimally processed fruits (that come WAY cheaper than getting out-of-season in fresh form during fall and winter), and are a great addition to the plant-derived rainbow we should all be eating every day.

truRoots SPROUTED LENTILS and QUINOA:
I was more than hyped when I saw this brand at Costco. I've been loving their lentils for a while. They cook in under 5 minutes, and by being sprouted, they have more nutrients available to our bodies. The initial problem with them was that they are kind of pricey in other stores, but by getting the huge bag at Costco, the issue has been solved! I like them in salads, soups, made into patties, tacos, or just drizzled with a bit of walnut oil and sprinkled with Himalayan salt and nutritional yeast. My children love them, and they totally beat mac 'n cheese in termos of time and nutrition! Their quinoa is also very good, and I like keeping it around to use in salads, side dishes, desserts and I even use cooked quinoa in recipes that call for bread crumbs as a binder (like in meatballs, patties, etc). I cook 1 batch and I use a many bits during the week.


ORGANIC UNREFINED COCONUT OIL:
When I first started baking with coconut oil, the price was prohibitive and the quality was very inconsistent. Some coconut oil can have a soapy flavor. That's why I was hesitant to buy Costco's at first. But once I tried it, never looked back! I always have it around for baking, roasting, sautéing and even for my skin as a moisturizer, eye makeup remover, and for applying essential oils.

AVOCADO OIL:
This oil only is worth the trip to The Club, yes, despite the lines and all!!! Avocado oil, as I've written before, is one of the best oils to cook with, as it can withstand high temps and has basically no flavor. It's quite expensive in most health food stores and not super easy to find. Costco's is a great value.

PRODUCE:
Given the quick turnover in Costco, you can usually get really fresh produce in there at more than reasonable prices (take note Gristides!!!). I've been pleasantly surprised to find organic fruits here and there, although the great majority are not. If you are concerned about not consuming GMOs, always remember to check out the PLU (the number in the annoying little sticker your produce always comes with, right next to the bar code). If the number has 4 digits and starts with 3 or 4, the product was grown conventionally (non organic, but it's not GMO); if the PLU has 5 digits and starts with a 9, it was grown ORGANICALLY, but if it starts with an 8, it's a GMO (genetically modified organism). Also, if you'd like to know what products are worth to purchase organic, you can always look at the EWG's Dirty Dozen Plus (TM) list here or you can download their great app (EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce).

WILD FROZEN SOCKEYE SALMON:
Pre-portioned, kosher certified wild Alaskan salmon. I love having this in my freezer. No comparison to the prices elsewhere. Great quality for this incredible source of omega 3s and excellent quality protein. Other wild frozen fish are also great offerings.

WILD ALASKAN SOCKEYE SALMON:
Many lox or smoked salmon brands are made with farmed salmon and have a bunch of additives in them, even artificial food coloring. This one is made with just the wild Alaskan salmon, salt, brown sugar, and natural wood smoke, kind of the old fashioned ingredients. I love having it around as a great source of quick protein and omega 3s, especially for breakfast or lunch. However, it's important to mention that the suggested weekly consumption of fish is 2/week (sometimes I do 3 times or in rare occasions, even 4, but try to keep it at 2). This is important to keep in mind, as fish is definitely very healthy and we should eat it, but fish every day, given the pollution of our oceans, is not a great idea...

CHIA SEEDS:
If you know me, you know what a big fan I am of chia seeds and how I use them in everything: from salad dressings, to desserts, puddings, overnight jams, in yogurt, breads, and a whole encyclopedia worth of recipes. They are a great source of Omega 3s, fiber, antioxidants, minerals and protein. Costco's are great and again, awesome price!

ORGANIC PURE MAPLE SYRUP:
Awesomely, they just added the organic certification to their pure maple syrup, which trust me (I've looked EVERYWHERE), is the best priced one I've seen. It has a nice flavor, and is the real thing! Beware of pancake syrup, which is basically colored high fructose corn syrup. Real maple syrup is an investment, but you get what you pay for, and a little goes a long way.

RAW NUTS:
I'd love if they were organic, but I'm happy their raw nuts (please note I'm not talking about their roasted nuts, which might have some undesirable oil additions) are just that: nuts. Again, their value is great. Just remember to store nuts in the freezer to prevent rancidity and nuts are more digestible and their nutrients more available when soaked in water overnight, then rinsed and drained. If you don't like the softened effect this gives the nuts, just dry them back in the oven at 200 F for about 15 minutes. I like their almonds, pecans, walnuts, etc.

UNSWEETENED DRIED FRUIT:
Beware because a lot of their dried fruit is sweetened, but their organic dates and figs are great for cooking and baking and are unsweetened. Read the labels!

KIND BARS:
From all the processed snacks and bars out there, KIND bars are my favorite, as they are made of recognizable ingredients, have versions with 5g or less of sugar, and are nicely portioned, tasty and satisfying. Again, best value at Costco, although unfortunately, they don't carry my favorite flavor: dark chocolate chili almond.

POWER BLENDERS:
This is not a food, but a great tool to prepare food. A power blender allows you to do amazing preparations such as smoothies, soups, sauces, desserts, and purees quickly and easily, while clean up isn't that bad! They are a great tool to have. Costco often offers Vitamix, which is The Blender, but which comes at The Price. If you are looking for a great blender for less, Costco often sells the Ninja, which is the one I happily own. For either product, Costco has great prices, although unfortunately, you might not always find these products in the stores.

Pretty please, if you are a Costco connoisseur and have any tips or favorite products, I'd love if you added your tokens of wisdom to the comment section. I'm sure all my readers (and by that I mean me, and 3 more people) would love learn more. Don't be shy!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Alternative sweeteners for better health and flavor

I watched the Fed Up movie a couple of weeks ago, and although I spent most of its length feeling impotent and really uncomfortable, I can't recommend it enough. Among many things, it portrays the effects of the crazy amounts of sugar we are--mostly inadvertently--consuming, through the machine-made, super convenient, ubiquitous foods that have been carefully designed to be liked by most human taste buds, and which are making us and our children very sick and  physically, socially and emotionally addicted to them. OK, must admit, it wasn't like watching "27 Dresses"...

I know I do sound like a broken record (oh! remember those?), but the solution again is provided in Michael Pollan's (who is interviewed in the documentary) motto calling us to "Eat [real] food. Not too much. Mostly Plants." Plus his encouragement to COOK at home, as this is the only way we can know exactly what and how much we are adding into our food, while we create bonding relationship with whomever we're cooking with, but let me get back to this post's point.


Yes, sugar is addictive, there's no question about it, but as opposed to other addictions that we can't do in "moderation," for most of us (please note that we are ALL different, and I can't give you personal suggestions through a blog!), small amounts of sugar are fine to handle, especially when they come together with whole foods rich in fiber and protein. I know my latest blog posts have been a bit alarming, and I hate doing that to you or even to myself, but on the other hand, knowledge is power, and we need power to make our bodies powerful, so here are my thoughts and suggestions so your life (or mine) doesn't have to be lived in absolute sweetness celibacy.


1. Don't demonize your sweet tooth, but taper down the amounts of sugar you consume to find the minimum that still satisfies you. For example, don't buy flavored yogurt. Purchase plain, and sweeten it lightly (alternatives offered below), and try it. If you need to, add a tiny more sweetener and taste again. Repeat until you find it satisfactory, and enjoy it. Later, you can just add a tiny bit less every time until you find the very minimum you need to find it pleasant. This can be applied to coffee, tea, oatmeal and everything else. Sugar tolerance builds up, but you can also decrease it. When baking, cut down the total sugar amount in the recipe between 1/3 and 1/2. It will still taste nice and sweet! Don't let anyone else decide how much sugar you are going to consume. Take charge of it yourself!


2. If purchasing a processed (packaged) product, read its label! Not necessarily for calorie content (I'm not an advocate of calorie counting), but check out how much sugar the product has. It's listed in the nutrition information. Keep in mind, that we should aim to keep our sugar consumption below 24 g/day (the equivalent to 6 teaspoons or 2 tablespoons), so if you're starting your day with sweetened cereal, you might already be giving your body a large enough load of sugar to process for the whole day! Aim to skip products with more than 8g sugar per serving (and check out the size of the serving, as often, it's only a fraction of the package).


3. Don't drink your sugar! Sodas, lemonades and even 100% juice are overwhelming to our body due to their lack of fiber and excess of sugar (yes! it includes fresh, organic, local, made with love, etc). It's quite easy to sip in lots of sugar when there's no chewing, fiber or protein involved to slow down its absorption. Especially, if it comes with your name on its red label!!! But please, please avoid diet soda, that's even worse! 

Can't stand plain water? Infuse water with citrus, herbs, fruit chunks, or a tiny amount of juice.

4. Eat slowly, mindfully and joyously, appreciating the flavor, consistency, scent and every nuance of the food you are eating. When you eat a treat, don't eat it on a rush or with other activities distracting you, don't feel guilty and give your brain and your senses a chance and the time to feel satisfied and to register pleasure.


5. Add flavor: Sweet spices such as vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cardamom and ginger enhance the sweetness of foods without adding sugar. Experiment with a sprinkling, and you'll see how it works!


6. I've found unrefined sweeteners to be a great solution to my own sugar/sweet cravings. Most of them have rich, interesting flavors, so they make treats more satisfying. They are not just plain "sweet." I once heard award-winning pastry chef, author and TV host Johnny Iuzzini say how often people forget that sugar is not a flavor, that sugar just adds sweetness, so we don't need to abuse it, and we do need to find flavor in the other ingredients we're adding (see point #5). Sugar is kind of unidimensional, and some alternative sweeteners are much richer and flavorful, which is an extra point on their side. This doesn't mean that natural alternative sweeteners are sugar free, innocuous, or that we should use them as free for all, but they can do way more for your palate (still in smaller amounts) and add small amounts of nutrients, while sugar is only a source of empty calories. If you are a goop.com reader, you might have already read what Dr. Frank Lipman wrote via Paltrow about his favorite alternative sweeteners. As usual--and despite my husband rolling his eyes-- I was a big fan of the piece. The link for the post is here. I'll just add a couple of things and my own guide to alternative sweeteners (which I started planning way before Paltrow wrote about them, but I'm a lonely snail). If you want to know which one you should get, I'd recommend variety, this way I feel there's less risk of addiction (either physical or even an emotional attachment to the sweetener) and more opportunity for creativity and for finding the right match to each recipe and mood.Also, research keeps changing opinions, just as it happened with agave nectar, which skyrocketed only to be found to be less than the amazing alternative it was once thought to be. So for now, these are the best choices.

So many options...so hard to decide


STEVIA
PROS: The only sweetener that doesn’t have a real impact in blood sugar, this South American plant extract is many, many times sweeter than sugar, so a tiny bit goes a long way. It’s basically calorie free, and its main sugars are stevioside and and rebaudioside, not fructose. 
CONS: -Baking with it is tricky, as you need to find a substitute for the bulk of sugar you are removing from the recipe when using stevia. I recommend using the liquid or powdered all natural stevia extract, as it’s less processed than the commercial, mass produced brands.
             -Some people find its taste unpleasant (I wished I didn't, but I'm in that group!)

COCONUT NECTAR (LIQUID) AND COCONUT SUGAR (CRYSTALS)
PROS:
This natural and sustainable sweetener is produced from the sap of the coconut flowers. It has a complex and delicious flavor (but doesn’t taste like coconut at all). It is higher in nutrients such as potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron and vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, C and antioxidants than other sweeteners. In crystallized form, it can be substituted for regular or brown sugar 1:1. Has a low glycemic index (about 35, compared to sugar's 60, which means that it's absorbed much slower). It only contains 10% fructose.
Goes well with chocolate, cinnamon, oats, nuts and seeds.

CONS: It can only be found in specialty and health food stores, and it doesn't come in cheap.People allergic to coconut could react to it.
 

ORGANIC RAW HONEY
PROS:
-Raw honey (can’t be pasteurized, as it looses most of its nutritional value)) contains minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, copper, chromium, manganese and selenium, which are indispensible for blood sugar balance. Raw honey is also rich in disease-preventive substances such as antioxidants, enzymes, and B vitamins.
             -Honey is 1.5 times sweeter than sugar, so less of it is needed to sweeten a product.
             -Never spoils

             - It has terroir: varies flavors vary according to the place and the flowers of the honey’s origin. Usually lighter-colored honeys have milder flavor, but the darker ones are richer in antioxidants.
              -Raw honey has antibacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal qualities. Especially Manuka honey, from New Zealand. Local honey has been suggested to help heal local seasonal allergies.
              -Pure raw honey is kosher. It doesn’t even require rabbinical supervision.
Goes well with citrus, berries, stone fruits, almonds and other nuts.
CONS:
Honey does contain about 40%fructose, and does have an effect on blood sugar 
             -It’s not worth to use raw honey in baking, as the heating process affects most of its benefits. People following special diets (such as SCD and GAPS) can use honey as their only sweetener alternative, in these cases, if submitting it to a heating process, it's not worth investing in raw honey. 

PURE MAPLE SYRUP

· PROS:Obtained from the sap of the maple tree, recent research has found that 100% pure maple syrup contains 20 unique health-promoting compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and it’s been even been suggested that  pure maple syrup may help treat diabetes.  
      It has a complex, delicious flavor, and medium glycemic index.

   Goes well with apples, pears and other fruits, nuts, grains, sweet potatoes, squash and pumpkins, cinnamon and other spices
   CONS: Real maple syrup is expensive, but DO NOT substitute it for “pancake syrup,” which is artificially colored corn (often high fructose) syrup. 

   DATE PASTE



     PROS:

·       Dates are rich in fiber, contain a nice variety of antioxidants, as well as potassium, sodium, manganese, copper, vitamin K, vitamin A, folates, niacin and 20 different amino acids, phosphorus, calcium iron and zinc.

·        - They add a wonderful flavor and fudgy texture to baked goods and are great in smoothies and other drinks.

    
    Goes well with chocolate, bananas, nuts, seeds,  

    Middle Eastern foods and lovely in home-made  

    nut or seed mylks.
 


     CONS:

·        Substituting date paste for sugar doesn’t always work. The best results are achieved when preparing a dish that will benefit from a moist texture, such as certain cakes, brownies, smoothies, sauces, even ice cream. But doesn’t really work when crispiness is desired.
·     There’s no exact rule as to how to substitute, but usually, in volume, more date paste will be necessary for substituting a certain amount  of sugar (for example, 1 ½ cups of date paste for 1 cup sugar)
·        
Here's how to prepare date paste.



Date syrup (which is NOT date paste) might also be found in stores, 

especially at Middle Eastern or some kosher 

stores. It's made of cooked date paste in 

water until a syrup forms. 

It's also called SILAN, and has a delicious complex flavor. It's less sweet than sugar and it has way less fiber than date paste, but it can be a delicious addition to some dishes. Look for silan made only of dates and water, as there are many brands in the market with lots of additives and sugar. 
      
    YACON SYRUP
   
   PROS:
 -This Peruvian import is a low-glycemic sweetenerderived from the yacon tuber. 
·     - It tastes like molasses/maple syrup
      - 50% less calories than sugar
·    -Yacon syrup's sweetness comes from a high concentration of inulin, a complex sugar that breaks down slowly into fructooligosaccharides (FOS) that are prebiotics (feed the friendly gut flora)
·    -Yacon contains potassium, calcium, phosphorous and iron, as well as 20 amino acids.
·  Some weight-loss claims have been made about consuming yacon syrup every 
   day.                                                                                     
   
   Goes well anywhere where maple syrup or date

   paste would be used.           
     
 CONS:
·    -It's crazy expensive(but this might work as a pro: a natural portion control mechanism)
·    -Very difficult to find
·    -May cause gas, so don't eat it for the first time before going to a job interview!
    

     BLACKSTRAP MOLASSES
     PROS:

· -A byproduct of the sugar processing, is a great source of iron, copper, manganese, potassium, magnesium and selenium.
· -In small amounts, it can add a complex and delicious flavor
   Goes well with spices such as cinnamon, black pepper, vanilla, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, allspice, cacao, beef, and particularly well in Fall dishes.
     CONS:
·  -It does have an effect on blood sugar levels
·  -It cannot substitute sugar in a recipe, as it's not sweet enough. Very small amounts should be used, as it can be bitter.

     
   SUGAR ALCOHOLS 
   These include: xylitol, glycerol, sorbitol, maltitol, mannitol and erythriol. The most widely available (and safer bet) is xylitol, although erythriol is finally appearing in the retail market (it’s been used for years in product manufacturing). Sugar alcohols tend to have zero or very little calories and zero or low glycemic index.
   PROS:

·  Xylitol and Erythriol (sold as "Zero") taste similar to sugar and come in white crystals, just like sugar and it can be substituted 1:1.
· They dissolve well and can be used for baking
· Sugar alcohols are supposed to just pass through the body unrecognized, which causes no blood sugar imbalances and for now, are considered safe.
· It’s been suggested that xylitol may help prevent cavities and cure ear infections.
·  Safe for diabetics
·  They has a long shelf life
   They don't have a bitter after taste.
   CONS:
· Gastrointestinal distress has been reported often by people consuming xylitol and other sugar alcohols 9although not as much from erythriol).
·  Xylitol is toxic to dogs and other animals.
·  Although xylitol is promoted as pure and all natural, it is a very highly processed product derived from all natural sources, and that’s why I suggest using it cautiously, and check its source. No more than 30 grams (a bit less than a tablespoon) should be consumed per day.
   Erythriol seems to be a better choice, but make sure you purchase organic certified, as it's often derived from corn, and it's better not to get the genetically modified product.  
   Sugar alcohols lack those "interesting" flavors I mentioned about the other alternative sweeteners. 

   FRUIT
   PROS: Old fashioned fresh, cooked, frozen (unsweetened), powdered or dried (unsweetened) fruit can naturally add a lot of sweetness, flavor, color, texture, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber into recipes. You can add unsweetened apple or pear sauce, fresh or dried bananas, dried figs, mulberries, goldenberries, mangoes, apricots, raisins, you name it! into baked goods, salad dressings, smoothies, spreads, toppings, meat, poultry, side dishes.... 
   CONS: Keep in mind that when fruit has been cooked or dried, dehydrated or freeze dried, the loss of moisture makes the sugars more concentrated, so less is more!
    
   FYI: nuts.com is an amazing source for all kinds of dried fruit, fruit powders and freeze dried fruit.
  
   MONK FRUIT
   PROS: Also called luo han guo, the extract of this Chinese fruit (some of it currently cultivated in New Zealand) is 300 times sweeter than sugar, and is free of calories and carbs. The small melon is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits. Monk fruit can be used in baking and cooking, although it cannot be substituted 1:1 for sugar, given that luo han is much, much sweeter.

CONS: It's really hard to find pure monk fruit extract or powder. Most commercial brands have either sugars (such as dextrose, molasses, sugar) or even artificial sweeteners such as Splenda, which I stay away from (and would recommend you to do the same!). 
   -Monk fruit has a slightly bitter aftertaste.


  THE NEW KID ON THE BLOCK:
   LAKANTO: A sweetener made of non-gmo fermented erythriol and monk fruit extract. 
   PROS: Zero calories and zero glycemic index. No additives, vegan and non-GMO. It has a pleasant flavor and it can be used in baking.
   CONS: It can only be purchased online (at least for now) and it's not soft in the wallet!


 

You might notice rice syrup, agave nectar and maybe other alternative sweeteners missing from this list. It wasn't a mistake, I can give you a whole spiel about each one, but as usual, I know I already gave you TMI for one post! But feel free to comment on this blog. I'd love to know what you think and have a conversation.


   Now, here's an invitation into action: make these granola bars that are a great on-the go alternative! They are super easy to make and are loaded with nutrients. Plus, kids love them! Use ground sunflower seeds and unsweetened sunbutter if avoiding nuts, or add some dried fruit, dark chocolate chips or switch the oil for coconut oil, and and/or substitute the almond butter for other nut or coconut butter.


                  BREAKFAST BARS 
   

   INGREDIENTS 

4.5 oz (1 1/4 cups) roalled oats (gf, if needed)

2 oz (2/3 cup) quinoa flakes

3 oz (3/4 cup) almond meal

1 oz (1/4 cup) hemp protein powder

8g (2 tbsp) ground chia

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1⁄2 tsp baking soda

1⁄2 tsp non aluminum baking powder

1⁄2 tsp fine sea or Himalayan salt
 
   2 oz (1/4 cup) extra virgin olive or avocado oil
   
   2 oz (1/4 cup) unsweetened almond butter

4 oz (1/2 cup) pure maple or yacon syrup, or coconut nectar

1 tsp pure vanilla extract
 
   METHOD
   Preheat oven to 350F.

Line a 9x9-in square pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2 -inch overhang and set aside.

In a large bowl whisk together oats, quinoa flakes, almond meal, hemp protein, chia, cinnamon, baking soda and powder, and salt, until combined.

Add in oil, almond butter, maple syrup and vanilla and mix well with either the whisk or a silicone spatula.

Pour mixture into prepared pan, pressing well with a spatula and bake until golden and set, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Allow to cool 5 to 10 minutes, until more set and cut into bars with a serrated knife.

Serve or store packed airtight for up to 5 days or double-wrap in plastic and freeze for up to 1 month.