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The Lesser (Sweet) Evil

We can’t seem to do without sugar. Even an infant knows the vast difference between a drop of sugar and spinach. But pure sugar is rare in nature. While it used to be an expensive commodity, these days sugar and it vast array of substitutes are cheap. We have become accustomed to consuming a lot more than we actually need. Most of it is in the form of refined sugars or high-fructose corn syrup that can create a vicious cycle of spikes and troughs in the body’s blood glucose levels. This can lead to hyperactivity. Excess sweeteners have also been linked to other medical problems, including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

At Cook For Your Life, we recommend using all sugars sparingly, whether refined white or organic brown. The more minimally refined varieties of sugar are a slightly lesser evil. Turbinado and raw sugars are the extracted, evaporated, and crystallized juice of the sugar cane plant. White sugar is so refined that it’s 100% sucrose, lacking the trace nutrients that less refined sugars still have. You can also use honey, maple syrup, molasses, or agave to sweeten food and treats, all of which have trace vitamins and minerals. However, at the end of the day, sugar is sugar in any form, and the overall goal is to try and keep your consumption of refined sugars to a minimum. Even when we try to use sugar in moderation, it’s easy for it to slip into our diets unnoticed. Sugar and other sweeteners have an overwhelming presence in all kinds of packaged foods, from cookies to frozen peas and ketchup. In many products, sugar has been replaced by highly processed high-fructose corn syrup, which is twice as sweet as sugar. We recommend always reading food labels and ingredient lists to determine how much sugar may be hiding in your food and what the source of the sweetness really is.

So what about all those zero-calorie artificial sweeteners? According to the American Cancer Society and The National Cancer Institute, there is no conclusive evidence that common sweeteners on the market today including aspartame (Equal), sucralose (Splenda), saccharin, and acesulfame potassium cause cancer, but they may have other negative effects. When your tongue tastes something sweet, it sends a signal to your brain, alerting it that a carbohydrate load is coming its way. When these carbs never show up, our bodies may just be left wanting more, although the mechanism has not been fully understood.

So, what is our advice? Use the real thing, and consume sugary treats in moderation. Try making your sweet treats with whole wheat flour and adding in more fiber to help slow down the rate of sugar absorption, such as fruits with their peels, nuts, oats, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, etc. The more fiber in our diets, the more easily our bodies can manage the sugar we consume. People have been eating natural forms of sugar since time immemorial. Artificial sweeteners are only a recent development, and we have no way of knowing what kinds of long-term effects they have on our bodies.

Chef Tips

Buy brown cane sugar or turbinado sugar for daily use instead of the more refined white sugars, and use it in small quantities. Bear in mind that for optimum health, all sugary sweets and desserts should be an occasional treat and not an everyday habit.

Always go easy with sugar when you cook. Cut down on it wherever you can, especially when you make desserts or bake cookies and cakes. For starters, try making tarts and pies with unsweetened crusts, as in our Apple Pie. The savory short-crust pastry deliciously enhances the natural sweetness of the apples. Many traditional cake recipes don’t need all the sugar they call for to come out well. In our rich Marble Pound Cake, for instance, you’ll find a little goes a long way.

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