Guest Post: Gabriela on Sweeteners

Today's guest post comes to us from gabriela aka the Picky Foodie. I first heard about her from her raw recipes in the second Leon cookbook, one of my favorites, and decided to get in touch with her via twitter - and now we're real world friends :). Not only does she come up with some superb raw food ideas, she's also a holistic health practitioner and mother to an adorable 1-year-old named Vida. We could spend hours chatting about nutrition, raw foods, health, living on both sides of the pond, and families - so I am really grateful to her for agreeing to guest post on The Particular Kitchen! Here, she talks about sweeteners - the dangers therein and the benefits of going natural. Enjoy!

Sugar.  These days, it’s in everything from donuts to mayonnaise, pasta sauces to salads.

According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, as hunter-gatherers, humans ate the equivalent of 20 teaspoons of sugar per person per year. These days, that number is closer to 150 POUNDS (no that is not a typo)!

Often, many of us find ourselves unable to stop eating when there is sugar involved.  As a result, I have heard of numerous ways people devise in order to cope with this addiction: some outlaw it from the house like a drug while others only allow themselves sugar on a specific day of the week.  There is even a woman who created a blog around her decision to abstain from all forms of sugar – talk about pressure!

First of all, I would like to make clear that a sweetener is not a sweetener is not a sweetener.  When we talk about sugar, most people think of the white powdery stuff – the stuff we have been told over and over that we need to avoid.  Instead we are sold High Fructose Corn Syrup and chemical sweeteners that wreak havoc on our nervous systems, livers, blood pressure and cholesterol levels and are filled with known carcinogens.  Unfortunately our weight-obsessed society seems to care more about calories than the negative side-effects involved in sweetening our lives with these alien substances.  And the companies making these so-called “healthier alternatives” spend millions advertising slimming waistlines rather than letting consumers know how much damage can be caused in the process.

Sure, natural sweeteners may contain more calories, but they also have far more nutritional benefits, and, more importantly, they are void of the negative side-effects of their artificial counterparts.

So next time you’re thinking of what to put in your tea, why not consider more old-fashioned options?

Like raw honey.  Raw honey, unlike most commercial honeys, is unheated and untreated, and so has retained many nutritional benefits: enzymes that help with digestion as well as anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal qualities (which is why it is recommended for a sore throat – such a shame most commercial honeys no longer contain any of those properties).

Or REAL maple syrup (not maple-flavoured syrup) which actually has a higher concentration of minerals and fewer calories than honey.  It is also high in zinc and a trace mineral called manganese – both of which are important for immune function.  Zinc is especially good for reinforcing men’s prostate health.

Or molasses, especially blackstrap.  Ironically, molasses are a by-product of refining sugar cane into regular old white table sugar.  Unfortunately for table sugar, however, blackstrap molasses is where all the nutrients go: just two teaspoons a day deliver 13% of our recommended daily allowance of iron, 11% of calcium, 14% of copper, 9% of potassium and 7% of magnesium.  Not bad!

Personally, I love to use dates and date syrup to sweeten many of my baked and raw goodies.  Dates are high in fibre and a well-known remedy against constipation.  In addition, they are full of minerals, and promote the growth of friendly bacteria in the gut.  Dates, with their infinite chewy sweetness, are a wonderful transition food for people looking to eat less processed food and candy.

As anyone who has found themselves staring at the bottom of a tub of ice cream fifteen minutes after cracking it open can attest, too much of a good thing can have the opposite effect.  But when we crave sweets, sugar, chocolate, is it really the food that we are needing, or are we lacking sweetness in other parts of our lives?

In India, sweets serve as an offering of love and praise to the divine.  In the West, we often use sweets to make ourselves feel better or mark special occasions.  But chocolate chip cookies aren’t the only ways in which we can sweeten our lives: by doing things we love, spending time with people who make us happy and making sure we find satisfaction in our every day we can add that spoonful of sugar without opening the fridge, the cupboard or any packaging.  Maybe ask yourself: what will that box of pralines really give me?

In the end, there is no right or wrong, no magic sugar pill.  Each person and each situation is unique.  But whether you choose to curl up with a book or a cupcake, make sure it’s worth your while, and if you can add some nutritional benefits while you’re at it, your life will be all the sweeter for it -- I promise!