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!