During the holidays, it seems everywhere you go someone is offering you holiday candy, fruitcakes, pies or anything they want to get out of their house and away from their lips. Ah, sweet temptation! Although it is pretty challenging to avoid sweets all together during the holidays, you can make healthier choices. Avoid all desserts and confections that contain high fructose corn syrup which is made from genetically modified corn.
So if you are the designated baker this season, use one of the natural sweeteners listed below. Some simple, quick and elegant dessert standbys are Chocolate Dipped Strawberries (much easier than you think) and Baked Apples with Cashew Cream. I will make large batches of Sunflower Crunch and give it away in decorative holiday jars. Then there is the decadent Chocolate Lace Cookies…bet you can’t eat just one. Oh, and our traditional Christmas breakfast is and always has been my Mom’s Lemon Crepes. All these recipes can be found in my cookbook, The Passionate Vegetable or link to my blog.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Americans are consuming 156 pounds of sugar and sweeteners per person, each year! Most of this excess sugar (60%) is in the form of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), consumption of the sweetener, which flavors everything from salad dressings to condiments, crackers, snacks and soda, has increased 3.5% per year in the last decade. That’s twice the rate at which the use of refined sugar has grown.
The United Nations and the World Health Organization released guidelines in 2003 that said sugar should account for no more than 10% of daily calories. In a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, that amounts to 200 calories, or only eight heaping teaspoons of table sugar! A single can of regular soda has the equivalent of 10 teaspoons! Check labels, because once you start paying attention, you will be shocked to learn that sugar and HFCS is everywhere!
Natural sweeteners can actually have some nutritive value, because they are made from natural whole food sources with very little processing. Natural sweeteners are digested more slowly and won’t cause the glycemic spike and drop in our blood sugar (“sugar blues”) as dramatically as refined sweeteners. Natural sweeteners have varying degrees of sweetness and glycemic reactions, so experiment with them. Most are great for baking but depending on their liquidity, you might have to adjust your recipe for texture. Diabetics must be very cautious when using any type of sweetener. We are all familiar with honey, maple syrup, and molasses, but many others such as stevia, agave, date sugar, rapadura (evaporated cane sugar), rice syrup, barley malt, yucon, sorghum and fruit juices are all unrefined and so retain valuable nutrients.