Following a real food lifestyle doesn’t mean you cannot enjoy an occasional sweet treat. The key is healthier ingredients and moderation.
What makes your sweet treat sweet?
If it’s refined sugar (white, brown, raw, confectioners), high fructose corn syrup (now disguised as “corn sugar”), artificial sweetners, etc., then it’s time to give your sweets a major overhaul by using healthier real food sweetening agents in moderation, such as raw honey, pure maple syrup, coconut sugar and Rapadura (or sucanat). Each of these healthier options is discussed in detail below.
Developing a healthy palate
As Americans, we have been reared in a culture geared toward sugar (and salt) addiction. Because most of our food supply is nothing more than nutrient-stripped, processed junk, sugar (and salt) has to be inserted at high levels into these “foods” in order to give them some level of flavor. So it’s no wonder that our palates have become accustomed to high levels of sweetness (as well as saltiness).
The good news is, by adopting a real food lifestyle and weeding out refined sugars, we can retrain our palates to enjoy the delicious variety of flavors of real food rather than masking them with an overdose of sweetness. Unlike processed food, real food is bursting with a wealth of amazing flavors that God has infused within them for our enjoyment.
So the ideal is not to use natural sweeteners in excess either. Moderation is key with any of these healthier natural sweeteners. As we back off our addiction to sweet (and salt), we will come to enjoy the full flavors and health benefits of real food.
Pure Raw Honey
Raw honey is the best option because it’s a living food full of natural antioxidants, enzymes, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, including calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, copper, chromium, manganese and selenium. Research also shows that nutraceuticals are found in raw honey. These important nutrients assist in neutralizing the free radical activity in your body, and also help boost the overall function of your immune system.
Another plus is that raw honey tends to be much sweeter to taste than sugar, so you can use less, yet still achieve an exceptional sweet taste. Raw honey is a great choice for recipes that you will not be heating, as heating above 115 degrees destroys the naturally occurring enzymes and nutraceuticals.
For example: I like to use Honey Pacifica brand creamy raw wildflower honey to sweeten smoothies, as a sweet treat on toast and homemade biscuits, and as a spread on nut-butter sandwiches!
When it comes to baking or cooking with honey, I still prefer to use raw honey, even though it will be heated because I simply prefer a minimally processed all-natural product. However, when baking or cooking, I prefer liquid raw honey, rather than the solid version, as it is easier to measure and incorporate into recipes. My favorite choice for cooking/baking are the very mild flavors of either clover honey or sage honey, since their delicate taste never overpowers the intended flavor of a recipe.
Important to note: Honey requires a lower baking/cooking temperature because it burns easily. So when baking or cooking with honey, for best results, do not exceed 350 degrees.
Pure Organic Maple Syrup
Pure organic maple syrup is a rich and delicious natural sweetener perfect for use in just about any recipe, especially baked goods like quick breads, muffins and cakes. Additionally, pure maple syrup has a higher baking temperature than honey, so it is a better choice for recipes that require baking temps of 350 degrees or higher.
As with other natural sweeteners, pure maple syrup has beneficial nutrients not found in refined sugars. In fact, according to research from the University of Rhode Island, maple syrup has more than twenty compounds that are beneficial to health, including important trace minerals such as zinc and manganese – and it also contains bioactive compounds that serve as antioxidants. But before you start slathering on the maple syrup, do keep in mind that it is high in calories, so again moderation is key!
When it comes to maple syrup, there are two basic varieties to choose from – Grade A and Grade B. Grade A is the most popular, with a light maple flavor and a relatively thin consistency. Grade A is usually made from the maple sap collected at the beginning of the mapling season. Grade B maple syrup is much darker and has a stronger maple flavor. It’s also a bit thicker in consistency than Grade A. Experiment with both and discover which you prefer.
Coconut Sugar (Coconut Palm Sugar)
Coconut sugar is produced by tapping the sweet nectar from the coconut palm tree flower (similar to tapping a maple tree for syrup) and drying the nutrient rich juice in a large open kettle drum. The juice condenses into a delicious whole brown sugar with a low glycemic value. Coconut sugar can be used as a one-for-one replacement for refined sugar, and not only adds sweetness to recipes, but rich caramel undertones as well.
I personally like to purchase brands such as Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Coconut Palm Sugar because it is produced on small, sustainable, cooperative owned farms. These cooperative farmers are committed to sustainable agriculture and use every part of the coconut palm tree.
Rapunzel Rapadura is a special brand of all-natural sugar made by dehydrating pure organic cane sugar juice. According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, both Rapadura and a similar product called sucanat are healthier alternatives to refined white or raw sugar. That’s because both Rapadura and sucanat are much more nutritious than refined sugars. Like coconut palm sugar, Rapadura and sucanat are minimally processed, therefore, they retain all of the natural vitamins and minerals found in pure sugar cane juice, along with its rich molasses and caramel flavor, making them excellent substitutes for any recipes that calls for sugar. Additionally, because both undergo less processing, they have no harmful chemicals (if grown organically).
Again, moderation is key. Both Rapadura and sucanat work well for baking and can be substituted cup-for-cup for refined sugar. Sucanat can be found in many health food stores, while Rapadura, may be harder to find. However, it is available at many whole foods type markets, or online at Amazon.com.
Other sweet choices
There are several other natural sweeteners that are better choices than refined sugars. The above sweeteners outlined are simply the basic staples I use in my recipes here at The Nourishing Home.
What it really comes down to is opting to use the least refined, healthiest choices available – in other words, selecting natural unrefined sweeteners (that maintain all of their healthy nutrients) rather than using refined, processed or artificial sweeteners.
Yet keep in mind, the goal, even with healthier sweeteners, is moderation. Less truly is more – by using less sweetening agents in our real foods, we can retrain our palates to appreciate the natural flavors of the food God created for us to enjoy and be nourished by!
Joyfully Serving Him, Kelly