I’m back to my old habits again, posting late on a Tuesday night (this is quickly becoming a Transformation WEDNESDAY post)! This weeks Transformation Tuesdays post is a follow-up to the very first, STEP ONE: Avoid Corn Syrup and Artificial Sweeteners. If you have already followed the advice therein, by now you should have swapped most of your foods containing toxic sweeteners for sugar-sweetened ones, with a few corn syrup-laden favorites “on notice”. Perhaps you took the plunge to make some of those favorites from scratch! (Please let me know how that process is going in the comments section below –A.M.)
Today I’m going to discuss two natural sweeteners that have some health benefits and are significantly less damaging to the body than refined sugar (which is pure sucrose, a non-nutritive chemical that can create dependency).
The first of these is my favorite, RAW HONEY. It is available at many Farmer’s Markets and health food stores; you can also call a local apiary to find out if their honey is processed raw and if so, where it is sold. “Raw” means the honey hasn’t been heat-treated, a process that destroys one of honey’s most valuable assets: ENZYMES (particularly amylase, from pollen). Enzymes provide energy and overall good health by making the nutrition in food more readily available. That’s why raw honey on whole wheat toast, in moderation, is actually good for you. In fact, because of its amylase content, raw honey it is the perfect sweetener for grain-based carbohydrates because it helps the body to better digest them.
If you are going to use raw honey, make sure you do not heat it above 117 deg-F (just above “lukewarm”), or the enzymes will be destroyed. Add it to oatmeal that has already cooled slightly and try to incorporate it into desserts (like homemade ice cream) without heating. It may also be used in warm coffee or tea instead of sugar to sweeten; if you need a “hot cuppa”, you may still use honey but you’ll lose the enzymes.
If you can find it, UNFILTERED RAW HONEY is best; it’s the one with the little specks in it and the tiny bits of beeswax that have worked their way to the top. Those “specks” are bee pollen. According to Sally Fallon of Nourishing Traditions (2001):
Bee pollen contains 22 amino acids including the eight essential ones, 27 minerals and the full gamut of vitamins, hormones, and fatty acids. Most importantly, bee pollen contains more than 5,000 enzymes and coenzymes. (p. 617)
The benefits of bee pollen have been linked to incredible longevity; bee pollen is a potent detoxifier (and can trigger allergic reactions if too much is consumed too quickly) and a natural remedy for all sorts of ailments. While bee pollen can be consumed as a supplement, which is probably very useful for treating certain conditions, I’d rather take it “as God intended” by consuming unfiltered raw honey every day, especially on my steel-cut oats and whole wheat sourdough bread. Unfiltered raw honey has a slightly different taste than filtered raw honey (I can taste mild hints of wax and pollen, but those “flavors” are not very noticeable; it gives the honey an overall more “earthy” note); on toast or in oatmeal, it is barely noticeable (and pretty good even on its own).
Even if honey is heated, it is still easier on the Endocrine system than refined sugar, resulting in a lower “sugar-spike”. The difficulty comes in incorporating it in recipes that call for over-processed and refined ingredients. Here are some guidelines for switching from refined sugar to honey (it will not produce the same results, but the recipe should still “work”…sort of):
- Reduce the liquid in the recipe (if possible) by 1/4 cup for each cup of honey used (honey is 17% water)
- Use 1 cup of honey to replace 1 cup of sugar; the taste will be slightly sweeter.
- Recipes calling for creaming butter with sugar will not adapt well to honey; the “crumb” will be more dense.
- Honey absorbs water over time; this keeps baked goods moist. Some suggest this reduces the shelf life; I think it depends on the baked good.
If your recipe really doesn’t work with honey, try to use Rapadura (dehydrated cane sugar juice that is the least processed and the most nutritious out of ALL “natural” sugar-cane based sweeteners, explained here). One of my favorite honey recipes is for HEALTHIER MARSHMALLOWS (try finding THOSE without corn syrup at the grocery store!)
Of course, every honey post has to point out that infants’ stomachs cannot kill bacteria spores that may naturally occur in honey; please do not give honey (raw or otherwise) to any child under 12 months old.
Another beneficial sweetener is a Michigan-favorite, PURE MAPLE SYRUP. It contains many beneficial vitamins and minerals (including manganese and zinc) that maple trees extract from the ground through their roots. Two notes of caution: avoid pancake syrups and buy organic. Most “Maple Syrups” are corn syrup with maple flavoring; there should only be one ingredient listed (e.g. Grade A or B Amber Pure Maple Syrup). Non-organic maple syrup is more likely to contain formaldehyde. While using formaldehyde to keep tap holes from closing is illegal in the U.S. and Canada, there is little to no guarantee that this practice has entirely ceased. USDA-certified organic maple syrups have to go through rigorous screening that would hopefully catch any clandestine formaldehyde use. To convert to baking, follow the honey guidelines above but reduce the liquid by 1/3 to 1/2 cup per cup of maple syrup used. Of course, the nice thing about maple syrup is that it can be converted to maple sugar! Maple sugar can be substituted for refined sugar 3:4. Maple syrup doesn’t come with the same warning as honey: recommendations for its usage vary. It is produced by boiling; this supposedly kills off mold and bacteria, but does not address possible contaminants in the packaging process. If you are concerned, contact your child’s pediatrician. I have read that 9 months may be a safe age to introduce maple syrup (read my disclaimer –>).
I love the taste of Maple Syrup, but it is significantly more expensive than honey, especially for baking. It’s primary nutritive component is manganese. For most of my needs, honey is my sweetener of choice and unfiltered raw honey is the most nutritive. Except for the organic white sugar I bought to start my Kombucha Tea culture, I haven’t bought regular sugar in almost a year and I am not missing it at all!
Helping of Hope! Right Choice: as you are able, gradually give up all the products containing refined sugar (the ones you recently switched to from corn-syrup laden alternatives) by replacing them with products sweetened only with organic honey, maple syrup/sugar, sorghum syrup, and rapadura. This may require making many of your favorites by scratch (I hope to provide some recipes on this site that will help). Bright future: reduced risk of sugar addiction and insulin resistance; increased vitamin, mineral, and enzyme content of diet leading to better overall health.
I hope you enjoyed this Transformation Tuesdays post! If so, please share using one of the many features below. Have a sugar question or suggestion? Ask/comment below. Thanks!