The other night, I was perusing (desperately searching) the isles of Trader Joe’s for a sweet treat. This was not a time when an apple or any other non-crack-like sugar would do. I went for the dark chocolate covered marshmallows…seasonally peppermint, of course. I proceeded to eat nearly the entire box. I say “nearly” because I offered a few to friends, who just had one or two, and I left two, so that I didn’t eat the entire box. Dizzy and crashing hard soon after, I realized (yet again) that this needed to stop.
Sugar is so addictive! I’ve been struggling with regulating my sugar intake for years. It’s a vicious cycle that feeds into itself: starting with just a piece of pie and then, before you know it, you’re in a dark ally looking to score a Twix hit. To wean myself off, I usually tell myself no chocolate for one week, no refined sugar for one week and then usually I’m back on track and not totally obsessed.
In culinary school, we learned the origins of sugar and its effects on the body. Refined white sugar is the extracted juice of sugar cane or beet sugar. It goes through an intense series of high-heat filtration processes that strips it of all color and most nutrients. The product is then pure sucrose, which is a simple carbohydrate and can easily throw your body’s balance out of whack. Here is an explanation from the founder of my school, Annemarie Colbin in her book, Food and Healing:
To metabolize refined sugar, [the body] draws the missing companion nutrients (needed in the digestive process) from other sources. These sources can be either other foods present in the same meal or the body’s own tissues. for that reason, when we consume straight white sugar, we lose B vitamins, calcium, iron and other nutrients directly from our own reserves. This siphoning effect of sugar is also what lies behind the gnawing hunger it can produce in some people; since the hunger is for the missing elements- fiber, vitamins, minerals, protein, water-it can provoke great binges as the sugar eater searches to satisfy it.
One way to help your body out is to eat sweeteners that are closer to their natural state. These sweeteners below have more of their natural vitamins, mineral and fiber intact – they are also more flavorful. I have also included some technical baking information on how to use the sweeteners as a substitute for white sugar. Most of the liquid sweeteners, you need less of and you need to increase the baking powder. This information is from the baking master: Chef Elliot at the Natural Gourmet Institute.
Brown Rice Syrup – is half as sweet as white sugar
- Baked goods made with rice syrup tend to be hard or very crisp. Use in cookies, crisps, granola, pies and puddings. Substitute 1 1/3 cups for every one-cup of white sugar. Per cup of rice syrup, reduce liquid by ¼ cup and add ¼ teaspoon baking soda.
Date Sugar – ground, dehydrated dates
- Can substitute like amounts for white sugar. Can use in crisps, some baked goods and sprinkled as a topping. Careful as it tends to burn easily.
Natural Cane Sugars – Sucanat (pure dehydrated cane sugar) and Rapadura
- Relatively low cost; Use one for one of white sugar. Replace ¼ teaspoon baking soda per cup Sucanat.
Honey – 20% – 60% sweeter than sugar
- Can use in all baked goods. Use ½ the amount called for in white sugar. For each ½ cup of honey used, reduce liquid by ¼ cup but if there is no liquid, add 3-4 tablespoons of flour. Also add 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda and reduce the oven temperature by 25°.
Maple Sugar – is from dehydrated maple syrup. Con is that it’s very expensive.
- Can use in all baked goods. Use one for one for white or brown sugar. Per cup of maple sugar, add 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda.
Maple Syrup – it takes 40 gallons of maple sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup (that’s why it’s so expensive!)
- Can use in all baked goods. Substitute 2/3 to 3/4 cup of maple syrup per cup of white sugar. Per cup of maple syrup: reduce liquid by 3 tablespoons and add ¼ teaspoon of baking soda.
Sweeteners to Avoid:
-Artificial sweeteners like: Splenda, Equal and Sweet’n Low
-Brown sugar (is just white sugar with molasses added back in)
-White granulated sugar
-High-fructose corn syrup
‘Tis the season to cut down on refined sugar! Not likely, but here are a couple non-refined sugar cookie recipes that you can add to your mix this year.
These couldn’t be easier to make: no baking required! It’s fun for little helpers to make too. Yields about 20 balls.
1 cup natural peanut butter (creamy or chunky, your choice)
1/3 cup honey
¼ – ½ teaspoon salt (depending on your taste and weather or not your PB is salted already)
1 cup crisp rice cereal (I used “Koala Crisp”)
Coco powder or powdered sugar for sprinkling (hey, it’s only a little bit. ;)
1. Add the salt to the honey then, in a large bowl, combine with the peanut butter. Add the rice cereal at the end.
2. Using a tablespoon or mini ice cream scooper, scoop out batter and roll in the palm of your hand.
3. Using a fine mesh strainer, add coco powder or powder sugar, holding above the balls and tap the side of the strainer gently until they are covered.
Almond Cranberry Cookies
Yield 20 cookies.
1 ¼ cup whole wheat pastry flour (can use regular flour too)
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter, room temp
1 cup sucanat
1 teaspoon almond extract
zest of one tangerine or clementine or orange
¼ cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup slivered almonds
1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly grease two cookie sheets, or line with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt, set aside.
3. In a large bowl or stand mixer, cream the butter and sucant until fluffy (about 5 mins). Add the egg and beat for one more minute. Add the almond extract and zest. Next, on medium speed, add the dry ingredients, gradually, doing 1/3 at a time. Once combine, manually stir in the cranberries and almonds (so you keep their shape intact).
4. On your prepared cookie sheet, place about 2 tablespoons of dough. Bake for 8-10 minutes until light brown. Remove from the cookie sheet and place on a cooling rack.