Jude Blereau offers hope to the sweet tooths among us.
A new year stands before us, full of possibility and opportunity. I'd like to put forth some fundamentals for you to have and hold, upon which you might like to build. I'm going to sweet talk you a bit here, and start with sugar.
Sugar is the poster child for all things bad. And, it's a perfect, perfect example of everything that's wrong with the way we currently make decisions about what makes a food good or bad. Sugar (as with most foods) is not necessarily a bad thing - it really is more about what we do to it that makes it so.
When you take the natural juice from cane sugar, strip and refine it of everything but the sucrose - which is then bleached - you are going to end up with a highly body-incompatible product. What we do now, is eat this sugar left, right and centre and wonder why there are problems. It's interesting to note here, that a very popular supplement is molasses - this is all the goodness (vitamins and mega minerals) that is stripped from the sugar, as a supplement.
When you have a whole, unrefined sugar, commonly called Rapadura, things are a little different. Most people are surprised to know sugar actually contains minerals and vitamins - Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Sodium, Iron, Manganese, Zinc, Vitamins A, B1, B2, B5, B6, C, D2, E, PP, it's even got proteins! A cup of a whole, Rapadura sugar is a very different beast to a cup white, refined sugar. Very different.
White sugar is going to enter your bloodstream very quickly and stress the pancreas to pump out massive amounts of insulin and leave you trashed, evil. Rapadura is about 73-85% sucrose, and it enters the bloodstream more slowly, because there are lots of other things there to slow it down. Nature is amazingly intelligent - it protects sugars so they enter the bloodstream slowly.
So, it's not necessarily that sugar is bad, it's more what we (as a society) have done to it that makes it so. This is an exceptionally important thing to understand. It's a very wise thing to not only ask why something is bad, but to ask what makes the thing we are replacing it with good. Again, sugar is a perfect example. Among the very "in" replacements at the moment are sugar alcohols they're pure, white and highly refined. They are called sugar alcohols because their chemical structure partly resembles sugar, and partly alcohol. I'm not a fan of sugar alcohols, primarily because they are highly refined and fractionalised sweeteners, but also because they are not broken down in the stomach and, once in the bowels, draw water. This can lead to fermentation of bad bacteria (to name just one problem) and common reactions to sugar alcohol can be stomach cramping and anal leakage. But guess what - that's promoted as better for you, because it's not sugar!
Truly, I look at the human race sometimes and think our overall stupidity is staggering. If you're interested in reading more on sugar alcohols, and other sugar free options, I'd highly recommend the article, "Sugar Free Blues" at www.westonaprice.org Personally, I'd rather have a small amount of an organic, whole sugar than any amount of a highly refined something, pretending to be sugar.
There are lots of other good, real, whole sweeteners - maple syrup is one of my favourites. This syrup is the concentrated sap of maple trees and rich in trace minerals (including calcium) and it imparts beautiful taste to the finished product. Buy maple syrup carefully - many can have formaldehyde residue (they use these pellets to extend the sap flow) and anti foaming agents. This is not allowed under Organic Certification, or Canadian and Vermont laws. Palm sugar (coconut palm) and agave nectar are also sap sweeteners. I buy my palm sugar from an Asian store, and prefer the softer, dark ones. Agave nectar is new to the market and here the sap is filtered and heated at a low temperature which breaks the carbohydrates down to sugars.
Don't overlook raw honey either, almost always the most local source of sweetener. It is sometimes tricky to use - the type of sugar in honey is Levulose, which melts and ends up dense and sticky. It's also twice as sweet as sugar. Note also that children under 12 months should not have raw honey. Barley malt and rice syrup/malt are the least sweet, and most nearly whole food, sweeteners. Brilliantly body-compatible, these sweeteners contain good percentages of complex sugars, which take longer to digest than the highly refined, simple sugars. The problem with using them in baking is their tendency towards creating a "chewy/brittle toffee like" effect in the end result, both in appearance and flavour. But in sauces, syrups, soft puddings and biscuits they are fabulous. They are especially workable when you use them together with maple syrup. Rice is the more mildly flavoured of the malts.
Stevia is a plant native to Paraguay, where the leaves have been used for centuries to sweeten and as a remedy for diabetes. It is available both as a liquid or in a white powder (where the sweetening components are separated) or in a more whole form, where the leaves, are ground into a fine powder. I'm not overly mad about stevia - not because it's a bad thing in its whole leaf form, I just don't like its aftertaste.
I'm on the record as saying that I believe we are hardwired for some sweetness in our lives, and don't think a small amount of good, whole sweeteners is a bad thing. I'd absolutely ask you to ask more questions about your food, and remember it's generally not what the food is that makes it bad, but what we do to it.