Sweeten Up Without Ruining Your Health
Along with the cooler days and longer nights of fall comes the season of sweet temptation: Halloween goodies, apple cider, hot chocolate, candy canes and peanut brittle. It is easy to overindulge. That's why it is important to understand some of the effects sugar has on the body and how to sweeten up without hurting your health.
Not All Sugar is Equal
The truth is that not all sugar is equal - not in nutritional content nor in the way our body processes it. You see, our body needs glucose to function. This simple sugar literally fuels our cells and is the main source of energy for the brain. However, the sugar we consume on a daily basis in the processed foods we eat and drink is not glucose (also called dextrose on food labels). It is fructose or a fructose/glucose mix.
Fructose is bad for the body because 100% of what you consume is metabolized by the liver instead of being used for energy. Instead, it gets packaged up and stored as fat for later use. The process of metabolizing sugar also produces metabolic waste and puts stress on the body's liver and pancreas, and creates unhealthy fluctuating blood sugar levels. Excessive sugar also takes an incredible toll on the body's immune system, making us more susceptible to illness such as winter ailments like colds and flus.
In the last 100 years, our consumption of sugar each year has doubled. One of the driving forces behind this increased consumption is that sugar is now hidden in most of the processed foods we eat from salad dressing to pretzels. Even infant formula has added sugar equal to about one can of soda. We may be cutting out sweets and desserts, but unless we are looking at the food label of everything we put in our mouth, we may still be on a high sugar diet.
So What Should You Eat?
There are many choices for sweetening up your life such as agave, stevia, honey, and molasses. Which one is right for you? First, avoid agave even though it is marketed as a "good" sugar. Agave is actually highly processed and contains 80% fructose with little nutritional value. Raw honey is about 50% fructose, but is a better choice than agave because of its additional nutritional value. Stevia is another good choice because it tends to affect blood sugar little, if at all. However, it is important to get pure stevia from reputable sources. Brands like Truvia, actually mix Stevia with sugar alcohols. And finally, molasses is about 40% fructose. Yet, like raw honey, molasses contains so many additional nutrients, that it is one of the world's healthiest foods.
As with any sugar, everything needs to be consumed in moderation. Extra sugar of any kind is very damaging to the body.
What About Fruit, It Has Fructose?
Fructose literally means "fruit sugar". If that is the case, should we avoid eating fruits? The answer is that fruits have many other health benefits that make them essential for good health. They contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, enzymes, and water. If given a choice between an apple or a candy bar, the apple will benefit your body in a way the candy bar never could. Fruits that have low fructose include: lemons, limes, cranberries, passion fruit, prunes, apricots, dates, cantaloupe and raspberries, among others.
As you head into the holiday season, here are five easy tips to help you sweeten your life without hurting your health.
- Moderate sugar intake, especially during cold and flu season.
- Look at food labels and avoid things with corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn sugars, fructose, etc.
- Consume small amounts of sugars after a balanced meal full of protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates.
- Replace regular sugar with substitutes like stevia, molasses, and raw honey.
- Replace candies and sweets with fresh, organic fruits.
Blackstrap Molasses is made from sugar cane by crushing or mashing the plant to extract its sugar. Then it is boiled three times to help crystallize the sugars so they may be extracted. What is left is a sweet black syrup filled with a high concentration of minerals and some vitamins. It is slightly less sweet than most refined sugars, and has a richer flavor. Molasses is very high in manganese, copper, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, Vitamin B6, and Selenium. It helps replenish iron, a key factor in energy production with helps you combat fatigue. In addition, iron helps you replenish calcium levels, a critical nutrient in bone health. Also, unlike some other sugars, molasses is usually a non-allergenic food. Add molasses to smoothies for added sweetness and rich flavor. Its high mineral content can help the body absorb nutrients in fresh fruits and veggies. It can also be used to make salad dressings, added to baked goods, or makes a tasty marinade for poultry.
Sometimes during the food manufacturing process, sulphur dioxide is used. This is a common ingredient in acid rain and not one that has health benefits for the body. That's why it is recommended that you use organic unsulphured blackstrap molasses.
This old fashioned gingerbread recipe is lightly sweetened with nutrient rich molasses. The ginger can be very soothing to the stomach and aids in digestion. Ginger is a warming food and combined with the nutritive molasses, makes a great fall treat.
- 1 3/4 cups plus 2 Tbsp flour (or flour substitute)
- 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 2 1/4 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- Pinch of salt
- 5 Tbsp butter, softened at room temperature (Earth Balance is a great dairy-free substitute)
- 1 large egg
- 3/4 cup molasses
- 3/4 cup cold water
Heat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8 x 8 cake pan. Sift together the flour, baking soda, spices and salt onto a sheet of waxed paper. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter until light and creamy. Add the sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat until well combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and pour in the molasses in a slow, steady stream, beating all the while. Add half of the sifted dry ingredients and mix just until well combined. Mix in the remaining dry ingredients. Slowly pour in the cold water and stir until well incorporated. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35-40 mins. Let cool in the pan about 1 hour before serving. Cut the cake into squares and dust with powdered sugar. Yields 16 two-inch pieces.
Essential Fatty Acids
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are an excellent addition to your diet, especially during the holiday season when foods high in sugars, carbohydrates, cholesterol, and food allergens can tempt us. Essential fatty acids help support your system during times of poor diet by reducing inflammation, balancing blood sugar, decreasing lipids like triglycerides and cholesterol in your bloodstream, and preventing hardening of the arteries.To get the health benefits of EFAs, add in Omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids to your diet in the form of organic, wild caught fish, oils such as flax, coconut, olive and avocado, and nuts such as walnuts. To add in EFAs as a supplement, talk to your Doctor about adding in a high quality fish oil to your regimen. Always talk to your doctor before making any significant changes to your diet or supplements.
Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana)
Sweeten up this holiday season with Stevia, a South American native plant that can be used as a sweetener that does not cause a rise in blood sugar or suppress the immune system. Because there are many different varieties of Stevia plants and many different ways of processing the herb, it can be trial and error finding the brand of Stevia that best suits your family. Make sure to try different preparations such as liquid extracts, powered preparations or even glycerites. It is important to note that Stevia is sweeter than sugar, so read the instructions carefully when replacing sugar in recipes. Some brands, such as Truvia, combine Stevia with sugar alcohols. Ask your Doctor about using a brand that is the purest form of Stevia with the least amount of added chemicals as possible.
Fall is filled with wonderful aromas: cinnamon, peppermint, nutmeg. Some aromas have a healing affect on our bodies from stimulating mood enhancing chemicals to balancing hormones, and even signaling muscle relaxation. Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils to stimulate healing in the body and can take many forms such as inhaling the essential oil through the use of diffusers or applying essential oils during a massage. Clinical evidence has shown that certain aromas can help in specific ways.
Essential oils can vary greatly in quality. Synthetic fragrance will not have the health benefits of the volatile oils extracted from plants. It is important to use organic, high quality oils when using aromatherapy.
Below is a list of common applications for various essential oils:
- Lavender - for muscle relaxation and stress reduction
- Chamomile - for relaxation and to induce sleep
- Neroli - to calm anxiety and nervous tension
- Peppermint - to calm nausea and upset stomach
Photo attributions: adauzie/freeimages.com, Badagnani/wikipedia.org, ©Corey Amaro, Ethel Aardvark/wikipedia.org, yenhoon/freeimages.com
The information offered by this newsletter is presented for educational purposes. Nothing contained within should be construed as nor is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. This information should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider. Always consult with your physician or other qualified health care provider before embarking on a new treatment, diet or fitness program. You should never disregard medical advice or delay in seeking it because of any information contained within this newsletter.