Heal the body while satisfying the sweet tooth.
It’s no secret that processed sugar is detrimental to our health. It interferes with our body’s ability to destroy toxins and fight infections, and can influence our mood and behavior by causing an overgrowth of pathogens that reside in our gut. Imbalanced gut flora directly affects our enteric nervous system – a neural network lining the gut that’s often referred to as our “second brain”.
For those with a sweet tooth, sugar-free recipes pose a significant problem, often resulting in the collapse of baked goods or an inevitable flavor slump. Fortunately, natural sweeteners, used in moderation, offer synergistic flavor profiles as well as numerous health benefits.
- Manuka Honey, collected from honeybees in remote areas of New Zealand, is often used medicinally due to its high antimicrobial activity, low pH, and low glycemic index. It contains anti-bacterial compounds like methylglyoxal that curb inflammation and can inhibit up to 60 species of bacteria, fungi and viruses (Mandal, 2011). Look for brands with a high “K” factor, indicating a higher concentration of enzymes, DHA, pollen, and antioxidant levels. This honey is the perfect addition to a morning bowl of overnight oats or as a sweetener for a raw vegan dessert (heat exposure can cause enzymatic breakdown and reduces the sugar’s benefits).
- Maple Syrup is a concentrated sap that contains compounds linked to inhibiting cancer cell proliferation (notably colorectal and gastrointestinal diseases) (Yamamoto et al., 2017). The darker the sap, the more antioxidant potency the syrup has. When shopping, look for Grade B maple syrup which is less filtered and contains more minerals.
- Dates are antioxidant-rich fruits containing phytochemicals with cholesterol-lowering properties as well as carotenoids, a Vitamin A precursor, and polyphenols, which protect cells from free radical damage (Al-Alawi et al., 2017). Medjool dates, in particular, are packed with minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and selenium, as well as high in insoluble plant fiber (Vayalil, 2002). Soaking 1 cup of dates in 1/2 cup hot water for 20 minutes, then blending in a high-speed blender, creates a delicious date paste that can be used as a sticky honey substitute.
Sweeteners to limit, despite their “healthy” label:
- Agave Nectar is made from the juice of agave cactus and is 1.4 times sweeter than refined sugar. While it boasts a low glycemic index, its high fructose content (without all the fiber found in fruit) could increase your insulin resistance and triglyceride levels over time.
- Brown Rice Syrup is made of brown rice, with sugar derived from starches converted to maltose during the cooking process. Its high glucose content (a GI of 98) is not suitable for diabetics or those with sugar handling issues.
- Stevia is derived from a leafy herb that is 300 times sweeter than white sugar. It has been touted as “healthy” given it has minimal caloric value and doesn’t affect blood sugar; however, it it sold as a highly processed white powder.
If you’re trying to avoid unrefined sugars altogether, consider:
- Freezing ripe bananas and blending them into “nice-cream”: https://alyssadougherty.com/nice-cream-basics/
- Baking with unsweetened shredded coconut
- Soaking and cooking dried fruits for a delicious stew or topping
- Incorporating sweet spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom into meals