Holiday Treats with Natural Sweeteners

Holiday sweets are everywhere!
With the holidays fast approaching, we all know that one of the staples of the season is a plethora of sweet delectable desserts in all shapes and sizes.  Pies, cookies, cakes, candies, fruitcakes….you name it…… if it contains sugar, we’ll be seeing plenty of all of it as we move into the winter holiday time ahead.

There are some folks, albeit just a few, that don’t like sweets.  But we’re a natural for it, with thousands of receptors in our mouth and digestive system, all ready with the signal to our brain, “Have more, have more!”  Our insides light up like a  blinking Christmas tree when a little sugar hits one of those receptors.  The sweet flavor releases serotonin in our brains, which is the chemical responsible for our sense of well-being and contentment. 
Artificial sweeteners abound

Most of us are aware that there are differences among sweeteners, that they are not all created equal.

There are side effects and health risks from refined sweeteners like white table sugar and  the ubiquitous high-fructose syrup, and also from artificial sweeteners like NutraSweet, saccharin, and Splenda.  Refined sweeteners have been stripped of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, so they can spike blood sugar, which, more often than not, lead to cravings and mood and energy fluctuations.

A better choice is to use naturally and minimally processed sweeteners, which, in addition to retaining some of their nutritive benefits, can actually help to reduce cravings for sugary things.  Hence, they help us to not over-indulge in a category of foods which are notoriously already low in food quality value.There are many natural sweeteners to substitute in drinks, food, and baking.  Most of them are notably sweeter than refined sugar, so you can actually use less.  Those that I list here are about 1.5 times sweeter than refined sugar, and they are easily found in most supermarkets and natural food stores.  When replacing sugar with liquid sweeteners in a recipe, (such as agave for refined sugar, for example), reduce the amounts of the other liquids. 

Raw Honey
Local Raw Honey

Almost everyone likes honey, one of the oldest, natural sweeteners on the market.  Honey will have a different flavor depending on the plant source.  Some varieties are very dark and intensely flavored. Whenever possible, choose raw, local honey, as it is unrefined, contains small amounts of enzymes, minerals and vitamins.  Also, if you can buy from a producer you know, it’s easier to know that the bees who produced the honey were treated well, which is not always the case, sad to say.

Agave Nectar
I am a little embarrassed to say that I had never ever heard of agave nectar before I became a high raw food eater almost seven years ago.  Now it is a staple in my kitchen, and I use it often.  Agave is made through the extraction and purification of the juice of the agave cactus, which also gives us tequila. It has a lower glycemic index than table .sugar, so does not stimulate insulin secretion as other sugars do.  Thus, it does not create a “sugar rush.”  It has a delightful light and mild flavor. 

Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is the concentrated extract of the sap of maple trees. It adds a rich, deep flavor to foods and drinks. Make sure to look for 100% pure maple syrup, not maple-flavored corn syrup. As with all sweeteners, organic varieties are best.

Coconut Syrup
This low glycemic product is rather new on the natural food scene.  It is made from the sap of the coconut palm, and has a very low-key, satisfying sweetness to it. It also has an abundant source of minerals, 17 amino acids, vitamin C, broad-spectrum B vitamins, and a nearly neutral pH. I think that it’s definitely worth a trip to the health food store to get some into your kitchen cabinet. 

Do yourself a favor this holiday season and lighten your sugar load by adding in some of these more health friendly alternatives. 
Enjoy the holidays — preparations and all!

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