How Sweet It Is! 

You can have your cake and eat it, too. Here's how.

Many of us consider sugar a food villain but we all love its sweetness. Though sugar’s bad reputation is not unfounded, we don’t have to swear it off -- not completely anyway.

In the previous issue I talked about why sugar is so prevalent in our diets, why we like it and what’s so bad about it. This week, let’s take a look at why our choice of sugar matters, what the healthier choices are and how to better handle our consumption of it.

One of the benefits of habitually eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly is the reward of good health. One of the benefits of being in a good state of health is that we can occasionally indulge our sugar cravings by treating ourselves to a healthy portion of wholesome dessert without any remorse or fear of serious health risks.

Although the energy from fruit and many vegetables is provided to the body in the form of sugar, eating candy bars and soft drinks laden with concentrated forms of refined sugar are as opposite as day and night, nutritionally speaking.

Fruits and vegetables contain naturally occurring sugar. But when we eat them we ingest the sugar in a diluted form thanks to the water content in fruit and vegetables. And our bodies' process of extracting the sugar results in a slow, steady release of sugar into our bloodstreams. Fruits and vegetables are also nutrient dense rich in beneficial fiber, vitamins and minerals.

On the other hand, all forms of refined sugars (white sugar, brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup) -- including honey -- reach the body in a highly concentrated form and go directly into the bloodstream. White table sugar and corn syrup are highly processed and refined, providing zero benefits—they’re bad for your health and bad for the environment.

Naturally occurring and unrefined sugars contain some nutrients whereas concentrated sweeteners or refined sugars are devoid of nutrients. In addition to better nutritional value, natural sweeteners are metabolized in the body more slowly than refined sugar.

Healthier Sugar Alternatives

There are many varieties of sweeteners, which can be produced in a number of ways. Sugars can be made using various degrees of processing, resulting in refined, unrefined and organic products. Organically produced sweeteners are produced with plants that have been grown free of pesticides and herbicides.

Raw honey is a popular sweetener. It's actually sweeter than sugar, contains small amounts of B vitamins and enzymes and it is believed to have medicinal properties. Honey is not considered a vegan food, however, because honeybees make it from the nectar of flowers. It is also recommended that children under 18 Amira Elganmonths do not eat honey or any foods made with honey as their digestive tracts and immune systems have not developed enough to combat bacteria present in honey.

Blackstrap molasses also has some nutrients but its use is more limited due to its strong flavor and dark color.

Organic sugar is about 50% less processed than conventional white sugar. It’s unrefined and made from evaporated cane juice. Though organic sugar is better for your health and the planet than white table sugar and corn syrup, minimally processed sweeteners like sucanat and rapadura are healthier choices.

Sucanat and rapadura are great sugar alternatives and offer the most nutritional value among all manufactured sweeteners. They’re made from sugar cane juice that is clarified, filtered and evaporated. The remaining syrup is crystallized to create the wholesome sweeteners, which retain all the vitamins and minerals along with molasses and caramel flavor, making them excellent substitutes for any recipes that call for sugar.

Here is a comparison chart I’ve created listing the most common sweeteners.

How to Solve the Sugar Conundrum?

The safest and most beneficial action to can take when it comes to sugar is eliminating all added sugar from your diet and eating only naturally occurring sugar in food commonly found in complex carbohydrates, the ultimate source of glucose.

The key is to avoid beverages with added sugar, especially soda -- also known in some quarters as "liquid candy" -- and avoid desserts loaded with hydrogenated oils (trans fats), highly saturated oils (coconut oil, palm kernel oil), refined sugars, corn syrup, artificial flavors, artificial colors, preservatives and many other unknown and possibly cancer causing additives. These include commercially made cookies, cakes, pastries, frozen treats found in supermarkets, bakeries and some restaurants.

Some health food stores sell baked goods made with real butter, creams, eggs, unbleached flours and well, yes, lots of refined sugar. These types of desserts are a step in the right direction, as they are made with 100% natural ingredients free of trans fats and preservatives. The problem is that they don’t really offer any nutritional value (they contain lots of saturated fat and way too much sugar). Eating such desserts translate into high intake calories and cholesterol contributing to weight gain and other health problems.

People gain weight not necessarily from sugar but from excessive calorie intake, in other words, eating too much of anything. Most commercially available desserts are not only loaded with sugar but also loaded with fat, which has more calories than sugar—together they make a deadly combination of empty calories.

Top Ten Sugar Suggestions

Here's how to control your sugar cravings, reduce your intake of sugar and lose some unwanted pounds in the process:

1. Increase your consumption of vegetables and fruit and other whole foods to help you regulate your sugar cravings. A well-balanced diet coupled with exercise are always key in regulating your metabolism and appetite

2. Eliminate refined and artificial sweeteners from your diet completely

3. Quit soft drinks altogether (a 12-ounce drink contains 10 to 16 teaspoons of sugar depending on the brand. Each teaspoonful is about 20 calories)

4. Make your own desserts from scratch using wholesome organic, lower fat, natural and whole grain ingredients to reduce fat and sugar intake

5. For cooking recipes that call for sugar use healthier sugar alternatives including fresh fruit juice, fruit puree, dried fruit, molasses, sucanat, rapadura and stevia

6. Clean up your kitchen by discarding any foods made containing highly processed ingredients such as refined sugar and corn syrup.

7. Teach your body to live without hardcore sweets by eating desserts less frequently and in lower amounts.

8. Find healthier dessert substitutes like fresh fruit, frozen fruit and real fruit smoothies, low fat breads, low fat pastries with no creams or frosting, etc.

9. Avoid packaged, convenience, fast food as they’re loaded with refined sugar, corn syrup and white flour

10. Read food labels carefully for hints on total sugar content

Your individual tolerance for sugar intake depends on your health, weight and genetic tendencies but ultimately, if you are healthy, you don’t have to severely restrict sugar from your diet—it’s all about smart and moderate consumption.

When you eat sugar, enjoy it and savor it. Sugar is one of life’s simple pleasures—just eat it with awareness and make nutritionally smart choices.

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Words of Wisdom

“I’m a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

Thomas Jefferson

The Research Department

Obesity is now ranked the number one health threat in the U.S. according Dr. Gerberding, Director of the Centers for Disease, Control and Prevention, a top U.S. federal health agency. Obesity, sedentary lifestyles and smoking are underlying causes of cancer, diabetes and heart disease leading to premature death among Americans.

As obesity is on a sharp rise among children and adults, a recent survey conducted on the eating habits of 3,000 infants and toddlers of 4 to 24 months old shows that their parents are feeding them fatty, sugary junk food like french fries and soft drinks.

The study, which is soon to be published by the American Dietetic Association, was conducted by Mathematica Policy Research and the maker of baby foods, Gerber Inc., in conjunction with Tufts University School of Medicine. Children are becoming the victims of their parents' hectic schedules and poor eating habits. Young children are getting used to only eating junk food when they have not yet developed dietary behavior that would prompt them to exert some restraint about what they eat. Children who eat nutrient poor foods are inevitably displacing fruit and vegetables and other wholesome foods, which puts them at a higher risk of developing obesity at an early age, robbing them from the beginning of ever feeling good and living active, comfortable lives.

Reader Comment

Dear Amira,
I'm slowly going more and more veggie. I soooo love your newsletter, and just wanted to drop you a note of sincere thanks for taking the time and effort to provide it. It delivers the gentle and informative encouragement I need to eat well in this crazy society of ours.
D.B., Burlingame, CA

Vegetarian Organic Recipe of the Week

Apple Cinnamon Scones (vegan)
Makes about 12 scones

For special occasions or when you just decide to indulge your sugar cravings, these scones are the perfect compromise to satisfy your sweet tooth. They’re delicious, easy to make and a better alternative to any other high fat, high-refined sugar dessert.

Preparation time: 5 minutes Cooking time: 30 minutes Bake ware: Cookie sheet

Get ingredients ready (use organic ingredients if possible)
2 Red Delicious apples, peeled, cored, thinly sliced and chopped into small pieces
1 teaspoon non-hydrogenated (trans fat free) margarine
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon sucanat

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup whole spelt flour
2 tablespoons EnerG Egg Replacer
1 tablespoon non-aluminum baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold non-hydrogenated (trans fat free) margarine
½ cup sucanat (or rapadura)
¼ cup regular or vanilla creamy soymilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
½ cup walnuts, finely chopped (reduce quantity or eliminate if desired)
¼ cup raisins (optional)

1. To make filling, in a large sauce pan, over medium heat, combine apples, margarine, cinnamon and sucanat stirring and sautéing for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to very low, cover with lid and continue to sauté for 7 more minutes occasionally stirring. Set timer to turn heat off and set aside.

2. In the meantime, pre-heat oven at 375ºF. To make the dough, in a large bowl, combine flours, EnerG egg replacer, baking powder, cinnamon and salt and mix well with a large fork. Add cold margarine to mixture and cut into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture looks coarse or like large granules. Add sucanat and use fork to mix and toss well. Add soymilk, vanilla and applesauce mixing with fork completely until a wet and soft dough mixture forms (yet firm enough to hold its shape). Add walnuts and raisins combining thoroughly.

3. Add apple filling to dough and mix well. Promptly, with a large spoon scoop about 1/3 cupfuls of dough onto a cookie sheet (not greased) each 2 inches apart. Drop the mounds carefully so they’re tall—not flat. Place on middle oven rack and bake for 23 to 27 minutes on until they show a few tiny brownish spots. Remove from oven and let them cool for 2 minutes then place them on a cloth-lined basket or plate. Serve and enjoy. Will last for a couple of days and may be reheated in a toaster oven.

Favorite Ingredients:

Earth Balance Non-GMO, non-hydrogenated, trans fat free margarine
Vitasoy Classic Original Soymilk
Simply Organic vanilla extract
Simply Organic cinnamon
Solana Gold applesauce



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This newsletter is not intended to provide and replace medical advice. The author and editor expressly disclaim all responsibility for any adverse effects resulting from any information, diet or exercise suggestions. It is imperative that the advice of a physician is sought before any diet or exercise programs are adopted.

Copyright© 2003 - 2009 Amira Elgan. All Rights Reserved.