By Sarah Mitrovic
When I was in the last months of my pregnancy during the summer in New York City, I allowed myself to eat ice cream nearly every day it seems...shhhhh! Now, with summer upon us, I don't want that to happen (this is actually the case no matter the season). I wanted to write about this here to help me focus on my goal of cutting out refined sugar as much as possible and to hopefully be a resource for others that might want to do something similar. I also don't want to be unrealistic, I am sure I will eat sugar! But, I want to get out of the rut of craving it at some point in the day, every day. Dr. Robert Lustig, a neuroendocrinologist and author of several books about the negative impact of processed foods and sugar on the body, allows his family to have homemade baked cookies (in moderation) on the weekends and fruit during the week. I think this sounds like a good goal, and the sweet on the weekend could also be something with an alternative sweetener (not an artificial sweetener!). He also talks about cutting the sugar in baked goods recipes, it doesn't have to be all or nothing.
Alternative sweeteners, such as maple syrup and honey, do still raise your blood sugar similar to refined sugar, but not as intensely and offer a few other benefits. For example there are 100 g of sugar per 100 g of sugar, but in 100 g of maple syrup, only around 60 g of sugar. Maple syrup is less processed and has some minerals and nutrients, there is a little more info here. Agave and coconut palm sugar are sweeteners that are lower on the glycemic index. Fruits have a combination of sugars, but they also provide fiber, which helps slow the absorption of fructose (nytimes.com).
There is a lot of information out there about this topic (here's another post), I think what it comes down to is balance and moderation. If alternatives to refined sugar help keep cravings in control because of general mindfulness about sugar consumption, and they have some minerals and nutrients, I think that can be a good thing. But being aware that even alternative sweeteners to refined sugar should still be used in moderation!
So what are some alternative sweet treats to help along the way? Eating an apple, mango and jicama with lime, or tahini and honey on some kind of toast do satisfy, but I am thinking about things that feel a little bit more indulgent. So when I am having a craving for Three Twins cardamom or mocha ice cream (such amazing stuff if you ARE going to go that road), there is something else just as tasty that isn't as sugary. Sometimes it's as simple as whipped cream and berries! I like to get organic heavy whipping cream, whip it with nothing else (no sweetener of any kind), then have it with strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, mango...any fruit really! It is delicious and very satisfying.
Something that satisfies another craving - chocolate, is homemade hot cocoa. This stuff I love and it is my go to treat when I am wanting a chocolatey treat with not a lot of sugar. I mix a cup or so of whole organic milk with about 2 T of plain cocoa powder, I have a handheld frother that mixes it up really well and gives the milk a little more presence. As that heats up on medium low I add various things. Lately it has been powdered cardamom, in the winter it was cinnamon and nutmeg. Then I add just a touch of maple syrup, maybe a teaspoon or so. It really does the trick.
It's also nice to have something already made to snack on. Bija Bhar, a wonderful new energy bar, or what I like to call a nugget of deliciousness, taps into chocolate cravings in a more holistic way. Cacao nibs make up 20% of the bar, which contribute antioxidants, nutrients, and natural mood lifters which can increase levels of endorphins and serotonin in the brain. They provide all the benefits of chocolate without the sugar and other ingredients. Sesame, chia, and flax seeds are combined with shredded coconut to give these bars a good dose of protein and fiber. Some of the reasons a little bit can satisfy for a long time. A serving of four of these nuggets has 7 grams of sugar, so in one nugget there is less than 2 grams of sugar. The minimal sweeteners used are coconut palm sugar and agave syrup. I can eat these like cookies, one will do the trick, but I often would like another!
When I am having an ice cream craving, I have some Coconut Bliss. This stuff is amazing, and I actually prefer it to ice cream. The Dark Chocolate is my favorite flavor, but Vanilla and Coconut come in a close second. It is very simple, only organic coconut milk, organic agave, and organic and fair trade vanilla extract and cocoa. I find if I can wait a little after I scoop it, it's best after just a few minutes (as with most ice cream). It tastes decadent, creamy, wonderful, very chocolatey and not over sweet. It is also vegan if that is important to you.
Another treat that satisfies those stubborn chocolate cravings is Raw Chocolate Love. Based in New York City, their bars are intense dark chocolate made with organic ingredients. They are raw, organic, vegan, and low glycemic. These bars have helped me through 'no sugar' phases. Even though they do have some agave in them, I would only have a little slice, very much in moderation. I have only tried the bars, not the individual chocolate pieces. I haven't found these everywhere, so I am not sure how easy they are to buy in stores, but you can purchase them online.
Sugar can comfort and celebrate but it can also do many other things such as affect our heart, insulin levels, aging, it has even been linked to cancer and lower rates of healing. Kristin Kirkpatrick spells it out in easy to read terms in her Huffington Post article. I think the key is moderation and awareness. It can be helpful to see where extra sugar can be cut out of the diet. For example, years ago I stopped putting sugar in coffee and now, in my morning chai I often choose to sweeten it with stevia. With a goal to cut out sugar as much as possible, there needs to be some options that will help make that goal more realistic for when I want something sweet. If I choose one of the options listed in this post (or something similar), then chances are it won't be as intense a dose of sugar, so my system is able to stay more balanced and I will be able to stay more in control of what I want to feed my body.