Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Now Let's Talk About What We CAN Have!
Okay. The discussions have focused enough on what we can't have and what's bad. Now let's discuss what we can have and what's good! I'll start by going through the natural sweeteners allowed for this challenge.
Pure Maple Syrup
First off, I have to be obvious and state that this is NOT pancake syrup--that thick, goobery imitation syrup with mostly high-fructose corn syrup. Ugh. Okay--I feel better.
Pure maple syrup is quite different for those who are used to pancake syrup. It's not as thick and has a much more sophisticated flavor. There are different grades available for purchase--like Grade A and Grade B. To be honest, I don't know much about these differences except that I like the taste of Grade B better:)
Unfortunately, it is much more expensive than Hungry Jack or Mrs. Butterworth's. Especially because if you are going to buy it from Walmart or other big-chain store, I recommend buying the organic selection. Why? Well, some large conventional maple syrup producers still illegally use formeldehyde pellets to extract the syrup.
Fortunately, farmers' market season is upon us and is a great place to get locally-harvested maple syrup. I successfully found a wonderful lady who harvests it herself and sells it at our small-town farmers' market. I was able to confirm with her face-to-face that there was no use of formeldahyde. In conversation, I also found another lady who does it and sells it from her home. Ask around. There could be a few people in your very town that has some for sale! If you are unable to find local maple syrup this way, try your local natural foods store. They often have locally-harvested maple syrup available in bulk, meaning you can buy as much as you'd like.
So what can you use it for other than pancakes and waffles? Oh, so much! You can use it 1 to 1 (or less) in recipes for things like granola (I'll post a granola recipe soon), oatmeal, to make maple banana "ice cream" (Did I post that recipe yet?), and so much more. It is definitely my favorite sweetener. If it wasn't for the cost, I might use it for everything!
Pure maple syrup is an especially good choice for those who are diabetic or pre-diabetic. It is a complex sugar and is absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream than our next natural sweetener. Use it in place of honey for recipes that will be given to babies under age 1.
For cost reasons, I use honey more often than maple syrup. I suggest getting honey with the following qualifications if possible:
1. Raw--not treated with heat. It will state this specifically on the label; and
2. Local honey--from local beekeepers. This is believed to help with seasonal allergies. I don't think the verdict is completely out on this one though. But I'm a big advocate of supporting local farmers!
Check http://www.localharvest.org/ to find a local source of honey. Use it for baking recipes, granola, oatmeal, snacks, tea, etc. And I will let you in on my budget tip--I purchase a big ol' jar of conventional honey from Walmart for baking, since it's going to be heated anyway. Then, I also have a jar of organic raw honey on hand for when it won't be heated or will be only slightly heated, like for teas (the kids don't like their tea too warm anyway), oatmeal, etc. Just be sure not to put it in anything that babies under one year will be eating!
Note: If you or anyone in your family is diabetic or pre-diabetic, I suggest avoiding or at least limiting your use of honey and going with the other sweetener options.
Stevia & Xylitol
Stevia is a natural sweetener that is 300 times sweeter than table sugar. It has been used for decades in Japan and is legal in food in many other countries. It is calorie-free and consequently has no impact on our body's insulin level.
There have been no reports of toxicity or side effects with this natural sweetener but is allowed only under certain parameters in America (because of the FDA's inability to make money off of it essentially). You can purchase it in many forms but the most common are liquid stevia (only a couple of drops will make a pitcher of lemon water into lemonade) and powdered stevia. Since it would only take such a tiny amount of powdered stevia to sweeten a dish, it is usually available in individual packets that have another natural ingredient added to it since the tiny bit of stevia cannot be packaged by itself in a little packet.
Xylitol is great for more than just gum! This article below lists the many great qualities and health benefits to using it. I have only one word of caution: it is sometimes made from corn, which as many of us know, is a genetically-modified crop. If you want to get the benefits of this sweetener, try and buy the ones that are from sources other than corn.
Both of these sweeteners are available at natural food stores. Stevia can also be found at grocery stores like Cub Foods. It has a few different names; Sweet Leaf is one of them; Truvia is another.
Brown Rice Syrup
Brown rice what?! If you haven't tried this wonderful natural sweetener, you are missing out! Brown rice syrup has a low glycemic value, which means it does not cause a sugar rush or a sudden spike in blood sugar after consuming it. This is because the sugar profile in this syrup is 50% soluble carbohydrates, 45% maltose and 3% glucose. The glucose is immediately absorbed and metabolized, maltose takes from an hour to an hour and a half, and soluble carbohydrates take 2-3 hours to be metabolized and energy released. This results in constant supply of energy spread over a long time rather than a sudden rush. It also contains many vitamins and minerals. For a detailed description of those benefits, directions on purchasing and storage, and ideas for use, check out this article: http://www.triedtastedserved.com/natural-sweeteners/brown-rice-syrup.php.
It has a very distinctive flavor and is excellent for baking. The flavor is a bit too distinctive for things like oatmeal, but makes great cookies, muffins, and granola bars. The consistency is so thick that it is my first choice for things that I want to stick together, like granola bars. I'm not sure if it is available at conventional grocery stores; I get mine at a local natural foods store. The cost is slightly less than honey and definitely less than maple syrup.
This is an especially good choice for us woman who often lose iron stores after delivering a baby or during menstruation as it is high in iron. Blackstrap molasses is the best choice but also has the strongest flavor. It is the only molasses. The taste is somewhat acquired but my children now request our oatmeal to be sweetened with it. It makes absolutely delicious pumpkin pies and oatmeal raisin cookies. It is often combined with honey in recipes for a balanced sweetness.
Fresh, frozen, and dried fruits, juices and juice concentrates are wonderful for sweetening up things. I've made refined-sugar-free oatmeal often using either apple juice concentrate or pureed fruits. Many of us have already experienced with using applesauce in baking recipes. There are so many other possibilities.
My favorite fruit to sweeten things up is definitely the Date. Dates have the highest sugar content of any fruit, but in a good way! Dates provide instant energy in the form of glucose, and are one of the best natural sources of potassium – containing up to three times more potassium than bananas (when compared ounce per ounce). They are full of dietary fiber, along with iron, vitamin A, magnesium and may B vitamins as well. And of course, a handful of dates equal a serving of fruit!
You can purchase "fresh" organic dates in the refrigerated organic produce section at many grocery stores, but I prefer the large, plump, fresh Medjool dates from our natural foods store. They are the same price (I think $7/pound) and it only takes a few to sweeten up a dish. If they are fresh, you will need to remove the pit inside each one.
Many natural foods stores also sell date sugar--powdered "sugar" made from dates. It is somewhat expensive and consequently, I have not yet used it. However, it can be ordered online for much cheaper. It is completely natural and works great for baking, especially in place of brown sugar.
For more information on dates and ideas on using them, check out this article: http://www.juliemorris.net/2009/09/18/sweeten-up-your-diet-with-dates/.
Figs are another great choice. Like dates, they have a gritty sugar taste. Unlike dates, they do not have a pit but an inedible stem. They are also available in the refrigerated organic produce section at large grocery stores. I have also found dried figs packed in a tight circle package in the produce section of some Walmarts. I do not buy the Sun Maid brand because they have chemical preservatives added so they can be shelf-stable.
For both figs and dates, you can puree them in a blender/food processor to make an entire batch of oatmeal sweet. If they are dried figs or dates, let them steep in boiling water for a few minutes before pureeing.
Tip: Previous no-sugar challengers recommend keeping dates (or figs) and bananas on hand for snacking when a sugar-craving hits.
I've saved this delicious sweetener for last, because I didn't technically put it as one of the "allowed" natural sweeteners. There has been a lot of controversy over whether this sweetener is a good alternative to conventional refined sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. In fact, Dr. Mercola reports that it is dangerously high in fructose and very refined.
For this challenge, I will leave this decision up to you. I take the same position Julie Morris in her blog post about it: http://www.juliemorris.net/2010/06/04/is-agave-syrup-good-bad-or-just-kinda-tasty/.
As you may have already noticed, the cost of these natural sweeteners does not come close to the pennies-per-pound option white sugar offers. During this challenge, I suggest that you let the cost help you remember to keep your intake of natural sweeteners low. Do not simply exchange your refined sugar intake with natural sweetener intake one to one. Use this time to develop your tastebuds so that you get accustomed to our Creator's foods' natural sweetness.
And if you would rather not search your local stores for these products, simply click on the image to order them online:)