Sunday, January 19, 2014

Reducing Sugar and Sweets

I don't demonise sugar and sweets per se - they make life sweeter and nicer, and to my mind they have their place in a balanced, healthy diet. But they should be very small part of what we eat, and I am the first to admit that I have a sweet tooth and love to overdo it.
And I can tell you from my own experience how addictive it is - eat more and you will crave more, eat less and you will need less.
So at least for my own sake I will try to compilate some ideas of how we (I!) can reduce sugar and sweets to live a bit healthier.

Substitute sugar
Now,  substituting white sugar by more "natural" sweeteners like brown sugar, different types of syrup, stevia etc. seems to be a somewhat controverse subject. While some people point out that many of these products don't cause insulin peaks like sugar, others emphasize that precisely fructose (contained in high doses for example in agave sirup) is quite unhealthy, and there are many other suspicions and theories.
I'm not a doctor or nutritiounist, I can't give you any advice about this.
If you want to substitute sugar by a product like this on a large scale, I highly recommend that you do some research first.
Here I'm just offering some very general, innocuous ideas:

- Baking with unsweetened applesauce instead of sugar:
Applesauce Waffles:
Beet Brownies:
Almond chocolate-chip biscotti:
Cinnamon roll baked oatmeal:

- Baking with dates instead of sugar:
Carrot cake:
Almond cakes with pureed dates:
Apples and dates buckwheat cookies:
No bake cheesecake:

- Use cinnamon: This is a trick I learned from a flatmate years ago - instead of adding sugar to her muesli or porridge, she used cinnamon. I suppose you could also use it for other things


Convenience Food
If you want to reduce sugar, avoid convenience products or at least read the list of ingredients carefully. Even food that isn't sweet may contain added sugar, as can seemingly healthy stuff like granola mixes or canned corn.

Soft drinks and even many storebought juices contain a lot of sugar.
- As a substitute try fresh juices and smoothies. Of course I'm talking about "natural" juices and smoothies without additives. Smoothies are something that I started to try recently, and I find them really practical, because they allow me to ingest a big amount of fresh fruits and vegetables in a very short time and without getting my hands all sticky. What more can you ask for?
- Fruit teas without sugar are nice as well, last summer I used to make a whole jug at a time and put it in the fridge, so I would always have a refreshing and healthy drink at hand.
- Flavoured water can also easily made at home: Just put some cut pieces of fruit and/or some mint leaves into a glass or jug of water, wait ten minutes, ready.

Eat more fruit.
This one is tough for me, as I find fresh fruit kind of cold and messy to eat and often a bit sour.
For me it helps to buy fruit that comes already in handy little portions, like cherrys, strawberries etc. I am also more likely to eat an apple that has been cut into portions than a whole one.
[Don't judge me, I am an adult and provide/cook for myself, I can be that demanding. ;-)]
One substitution that has really worked for me has been the "banana on the go". I used to teach a lot more in the past and was often away from home during the day, taking the bus or underground to get from one student to the next. At some point during the day I was so hungry and down that I inevitably bought a chocolate bar to get me through the rest of my classes. Chocolate is readily available and filling and provides a lot of energy. But you know what? So does a banana. I do not even like bananas that much, but I felt so much better when I started to buy a banana instead of the usual chocolate, and it's even cheaper!

Make your own jam and spreads
Personally I think that a bit of sweet storebought topping on bread from time to time doesn't do any harm, especially in the morning, when you need energy for the day. But just in case I've gathered some information about making your own, healthier sweet spreads:
Hazelnut spread:
Raw Blueberry Jam:
Fig Jam (contains honey which could probably be substituted:
Tomato Jam:
Strawberry Rhubarb Jam (uses stevia):
Spiced raw carrot date jam:

Homemade Sweets
Homemade sweets have been my big discovery of 2013. Some things are so easy to make and really impressive, I would never have thought of that!
The big  advantage, even of homemade sweets WITH sugar, is that you know at least exactly what they contain, and there are no preservatives etc. 
- Spiced Orange Holiday Balls:
- Mango Cashew Sunshine Bites:
- Almond Joy and Mound Bars:
- Butterscotch Candy:

After a hearty meal our insulin level falls, which causes the body to crave fast energy, that is "something sweet". (Please correct me here if you can explain it better.) This is why in so many cultures a sweet dessert is served after the main meal. Experts says that after a short time (about 10 min) the insulin level is balanced again and the craving disappears, so you just have to put up with it and wait. Personally I don't think it's necessary to bear this, it's much nicer to take this into account and prepare a small and healthy-ish dessert, like a piece of dark chocolate or a fruit salad. Even a fruit tea may help.
However, it's always a good idea to brush your teeth after the meal - not only because it's good for your dental health, but also because it helps to avoid eating sweets in two ways: On the one hand your clean teeth are a psychological barrier - you will probably not snack shortly after brushing them. On the other hand the sweetish taste of the toothpaste diminishes the craving.
Some ideas for healthy desserts:
Mango chili lime popsicles:
Vanilla chia and berry pudding:
Chocolate mousse tarts:
Peach cobbler (contains honey):

Nibbling and Snacking
Some ideas for those whose problem isn't that much the sweet tooth, but more the urge to nibble and snack:
- Dried fruit: I'm not keen on the texture, but I know that some people like to nibble on dried  fruit as an alternative to candy or gums. When I grew up, raisins were practically the only choice, but nowadays there are dried cherries, pieces of mango or pineapple ... Personally I mostly use them for my muesli or homemade sweets (see above), but I you like them in their basic form - good for you!
- Nibble some nuts: Personally I really prefer those to dried fruit. Of course nuts and seeds are not helpful when you really crave something sweet, but if your problem is the nibbling and snacking more than the actual craving of sugar, than this might be a perfect solution.
- Eat more crudités: The same goes for vegetable sticks, carrots etc. - those will convert unhealthy nibbling into healthy snacking, but will not help with the sweet tooth.  Although some vegetables like cherry tomatoes and red bell pepper are actually quite sweet.
- If you tend to buy stuff when you're out and about, always bring a little food container with some of these healthier snacks.

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