People are constantly asking me questions about how to handle the “sweets” thing. And, while it makes me a bit uncomfortable because I’m constantly wondering if I’m talking to someone who is looking for a way to continue bad habits in a “safe” fashion, I’m always willing to help. That being said, I have five bits of information that any person looking to live a little healthier should keep in mind when it comes to the sweet stuff.
1) There is a difference between trying to eat sweets as a clean eater, and trying to enjoy something sweet as someone desiring to lose weight. All things that are clean will not guarantee weight loss for you. Let maple syrup – in all its savory deliciousness – be an example of that for you. All things that can aid in weight loss are not clean, and let splenda – in all its creepiness – be an example of that for you.
2) There is such a thing as “sweet” that doesn’t affect your blood sugar… or your weight. And, as a people with an abundance of diabetes around us, it helps to be mindful of these so that we can help each other make those conversions. It’s not easy, because people are often expecting something “exactly like sugar” but better, but it’ll never be the same. I’m a stevia user, but only in specific instances. (Specifically, tea.) Maple syrup, blackstrap molasses, agave nectar… all flavorful versions of “sweet” that can really turn around a dish… or pot.
And, while I’m on it, stevia looks like this.
It is not a powder, it is not white, it is not supposed to have any other lab experiment ingredients in it and it is not supposed to “remind you of sugar” in any way. It has its own individual flavor, it is unique, and it is not supposed to be a “replacement” for sugar. I’m sorry to break this to you, but there is no such thing, and in my personal opinion no one should want that kind of replacement. It does no one any good.
3) Most granulated sugar in the United States comes from sugar beets… which are genetically modified. According to wikipedia, something like 95% of all sugar beets grown in the US are genetically modified, and those are the ones from which a sizable portion of our sugar is extracted.
4) Your ancestors didn’t eat granulated sugar or any of its powdery facsimiles, and they were healthier than you. Sugar was, once, treated like a spice and was kept just as tightly locked up as saffron (which goes for something like $8 per half OUNCE, and is currently the world’s most expensive spice.) Few people could afford it, and therefore certainly the slaves weren’t given access to it. If they wanted something sweet, they put sweet-flavored fruits and veggies in it. That’s why there were so many cobblers and “sweet potato biscuit” recipes, and that’s also why old school cornbread wasn’t sweet as we know sweet. They didn’t have (nor did they need) access to it, and they were better for it.
5) There are cleaner versions of granulated white sugar, if you must have them. To explain briefly, sugar cane provides us with both granulated sugar as well as molasses (the nutrient-laden portion of what we get during the process. Also note, this is where many Blacks got their iron. Now we don’t get molasses, and we’re iron-deficient.) Those two, when still together, give us cleaner versions of sugar that have been neither bleached nor treated and had its nutrients stripped. (As another note, many brown sugars that are sold in grocery stores are merely granulated sugar with molasses poured all over them again.) Sucanat – sugar cane natural – as well as demerara and dark muscovado all serve as granulated sugars that haven’t gone that far through the process, still have nutrients and are, therefore, cleaner. They’re tough to bake with (insofar as you have to modify every recipe you come across to accommodate the additional moisture) and carry their own flavors, though, but that’s another post entirely.
Six, here, is a bonus: sugar is not vegan. Some granulated sugars are bleached with a chemical that is extracted from pig by-product, and some of the centrifuges that the sugar is spun in are made of animal bone. Sick, gross, yuck and other various other descriptive words.
In closing, you can have cleaner, healthier and more nutritious versions of sweet, but we all owe it to ourselves to think carefully about whether or not we want the sweet we’re seeking, or if we need it. Listen to yourself – if you’re looking to run and hide from your feelings in a sweet treat, then it doesn’t matter what kind of sugar is in it. The problem isn’t the eating, it’s your coping mechanism, and it’s up to you to be honest with yourself about it.