Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Healthy Holiday Sweets

With visions of sugarplums dancing in our dreams, what ever your celebrations or baking traditions are this December, there are many healthy options available in this age of hyper nutrition awareness.

The sugar consumed during the holidays affects our health for the next four months, impacting the health of our cells until April. One hemoglobin test shows that sugar stays "sticky" to our cell proteins for that amount of time. I am as indulgent as the next person when it comes to holiday goodies, but as I have aged, that four month window can stretch beyond to the next year, and since I have diabetes in my genes, I can no longer afford to indulge like I did when I was young.

Behaving as a true addict, (studies have proven that sugar is as addictive as cocaine and I would attest to that, as well as treating since drug addicts who often substitute sugar for their substances whist in rehab) I went in search of alternatives that would satisfy my taste buds without leaving the evidence on my bum.

One of the best cook books on the subject is by Kelly E Keough

You can find this in most health food stores in the book section, on Amazon or through her website. When I teach gluten free holiday baking classes, this is my favorite volume on the market. Mainly because she has all these really great conversion tables, a full glossary and the desserts are absolutely delicious.

The reason white table sugar is not so great for you is it is a refined substance that is not found in nature. While a sugar soda may only have 100 calories in it, equal to a piece of fruit, the sugar goes directly into the blood stream while the fruit has fiber and releases the sugar slowly into the body. When sugar is dumped into the system, it spikes blood sugar, stimulating the pancreas to pump insulin to force the sugar into cells, often fat cells and primes the body to store calories as fat. These spikes are very stimulating to the adrenal glands creating feelings of excitement which is why we like the experience of eating sugar. So you get the picture.

In a future segment I will look at some prepared sugar free goodies, for now I will focus on alternatives you can use in baking and for flavor.

Raw Cane Sugar: I highly recommend NOT USING BEET sugar, it is GMO and well, if you want roundup pesticide in your plum pudding, go for it. C&H has lovely raw sugar products, even organic!

Florida Crystals has amazing products, and all of the ones I mentioned in the podcast. Florida Crystals has a great site, and is available in most grocery stores, through Amazon and Google as well as most health food stores.

The thing that is great about raw and evaporated cane juice products is they have nutrients in them, and also offer a caramel taste, especially the darker sugars like Muscovado or Barbados sugar. Muscovado sugar, a British specialty brown sugar, is very dark brown and has a particularly strong molasses flavor. The crystals are slightly coarser and stickier in texture than “regular” brown sugar. I absolutely LOVE putting this sugar into cream cheese.

Honey: Delicious and nutritious, the body knows what to do with it. I suggest local honey and organic honey, some of the cheaper brands might have corn syrup added.

Honey attracts moisture and that is a definite plus in gluten-free baking. Use 1/2 to 2/3 cup for every cup of sugar called for and decrease the liquid called for by 3 tablespoons.
Date Sugar:  This is the product that is put into milk shakes for the famous Southern California Date Shakes. It has fiber and nutrients, and gives a carmel toffy flavor to anything you add it to. Date Sugar has a granular sugar-like texture that works well in certain cakes and cookies, but because it is dense things like meringue and very light goodies, it is not as good as other substitutes. I find it makes for a denser baked goodie.  It is not as sweet than cane or beet sugar in baking recipes. Use a substitute one-to-one in your recipes. 

Stevia is a natural calorie free sweetener from a Paraguay plant. Anything you want to know about Stevia is found here: including baking substitutions. Keough's cookbook is great, and basically advocates mixing Stevia drops with Erythriol, a sugar alcohol that is not absorbed by the intestines. More on that later, but for now, I will share my absolute secret indulgence that is helping me satisfy my sugar cravings and keep below my calories for the day: Stevia Drops.

Sweet Leaf is a company that makes several Stevia products, but the ones that are most useful for baking in my estimation are the drops I carry the Vanilla Creme with me at all times, it really helps that late afternoon sugar craving in a hot spicy tea!

I also add this to plain yogurt for a yummy topping on fruit or oatmeal. The Cinnamon flavor works really well for this, and is great on poached pears or hot baked apples. There are several flavors to choose from, (21 to be exact,) all will add healthy flavor to your baked goods.

Coconut Sugar and Syrup are also lovely alternatives, and can be used as direct substitutions in your baked goods. The great thing about Coconut Sugar is that it has minerals and antioxidants, as well as a substance called Inulin which slows glucose absorption in the gut. Inulin is also a "pre-biotic" and helps the growth of healthy microflora in the intestines. These sugars also have a caramel like flavor which adds a richness to your goodies. There are many options on the market, on line and at health food or grocery stores. I like Madhava Organic products.

And finally the "ols" of sugar substitutes. Erythritol, sorbitol, maltitol, mannitol and xylitol are in a class of sweetners called Sugar Alcohols. They are chemical compounds that are not absorbed into the system, which means in some people they actually cause gas, bloating and diarrhea. Erythritol does not seem to have this problem, and is a wonderful substitute for sugar in your baking. It does not brown like Sugar does, so just be aware. It is also obtained from corn, so if you have an issue with that, then try something else. NOW foods has a great non GMO product called Erythritrol so that should be easy to remember! You can get this online, through Amazon, NOW Foods and at most health food stores. I have seen it at larger chain grocery stores in the Diabetic Section. You can do a straight substitute with this, and add the Stevia drops for an extra added loveliness to your goodies.

So you can see, in this case we can have our cake and eat it too for the Holidays.

Make sure to listen to the podcast 

and let me know what you would like to hear about in future shows and blog posts!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Truly Happy Halloween!

October 31st is fast approaching. If you are like me, this holiday has many happy memories associated with it. What is also true is that Halloween is a challenge for those who are suffering with food allergies, weight issues or the desire to have the celebration not take such a toll on the planet.

Retail does quite well on Halloween, with sales usually topping 7 billion per year. While this figure includes costumes and decoration, some resources state that $600 million will be spent on candy. 

There are several ingredients you should avoid when eating or purchasing candy. The best rule of thumb is to get organic, non-GMO certified candy. The great news is there are so many choices these days.

One of the best resources I found was at this site is full of options for every, I mean EVERY nutritional issue, with many snack sizes of chocolates, gummy worms, caramels and all the gooey deliciousness that makes Halloween so fun.

One of my personal favorites that I have found at several health food stores is There website has this funny saying, say yes to sweet, no to scary ingredients. A percentage of their sales goes towards environmental preservation.

If you listen to the podcast on how to have a Happy Halloween, I talk quite a bit on how High Fructose Corn Syrup is probably not the best thing for anyone to eat, particularly children. Industrially produced candy is basically full of this "biologically novel" product, that is full of things like herbicides and other toxic metals like mercury. Don't worry, if you stick to organic, you will be OK.

Some ideas for non food trick or treats:

Raisin Boxes: Organic selections are available, like Newman's Own, Made in Nature, Earthbound Organic Farms to name a few.



Tooth Brushes


For after trick or treat snacks, try the ones below, they are gluten and sugar free and so cute!

These are made with fruit. The ghosts are made by peeling firm bananas, slice in half and use raisins or organic chocolates for the eyes and mouth, you can press them into the banana. 

For the "pumpkins" peel tangerines, leave whole, then place slices of celery in the center to be the "stem."

Hot Spiced Cider is a seasonal favorite. Place un filtered Apple Cider in a crock pot, add a sliced orange or lemon, a few sticks of cinnamon, a tablespoon of whole cloves and a couple slices of fresh ginger, place crock pot on low and let it simmer for an hour, it will be good for an entire evening, and your house will smell wonderful!

And finally, since Candy Corn is one of the most popular candies of the holiday, and I can not find an organic option, here is a recipe:

Homemade Candy Corn


2 1/2 c organic powdered sugar, sifted 
1/3 c organic powdered milk 
1 c organic granulated sugar 
2/3 c organic light agave syrup
1/3 c organic salted butter 
1 t organic vanilla extract 
Food coloring


1. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the powdered sugar and powdered milk together. Set aside.
2. In a medium saucepan, combine the granulated sugar, agave syrup, and butter over high heat, stirring frequently, until it comes to a boil.
3. Reduce heat to medium, add the vanilla and continue stirring frequently for five minutes— the mixture will begin to reduce and thicken.
4. Remove pan from the heat. Stir in the powdered sugar/milk mixture a little at a time, stirring after each addition until all the dry mixture has been mixed into the wet mixture. 5. You can either leave the dough in the saucepan or turn it out into a bowl sprinkled with
powdered sugar until it is cool enough to be handled. 6. Divide the dough into as many sections as you’d like to create colored segments for your
finished candy, and place them in small separate bowls. Mix each mound of dough with food coloring until you reach your desired color. Hint—you may want to wear gloves so your hands don’t get stained, and the longer you wait the harder the dough will be to work with.
7. On top of a sheet of waxed or parchment paper, roll out each color of dough into a long thin rope. The thinner the rope, the smaller that segment of color will be in your finished candy. I divided my dough into three colors and made four 17” ropes of each color (they were about 3/8” thick).
8. Press together your ropes of dough in whatever color combination you’d like. To make sure that each segment sticks together, press a second sheet of waxed or parchment paper on top and press with a rolling-pin or your hands.
9. Using a very sharp knife, cut the dough into triangle segments. Keep a damp, clean cloth on hand to wipe off the knife if it gets sticky.
10. Let the finished kernels set for an hour or two before serving.

What ever you decide to do on Halloween, I hope you try some of these ideas. Your body and the planet will thank you!

You can listen to the podcast here: