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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 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 hard to decide

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!)

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.

-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.
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. 


· 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. 



·       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.


·        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. 
 -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 
   Goes well anywhere where maple syrup or date

   paste would be used.           
·    -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!


· -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.
·  -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.

   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.

·  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.
· 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. 

   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: is an amazing source for all kinds of dried fruit, fruit powders and freeze dried 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.

   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 


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
   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. 


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