Have you ever been put on a bland diet for medical reasons? Perhaps you had surgery or your digestive system needed a break, I have no doubt that you found the foods you were allowed to eat to be less than exciting.
Let’s face it. We like favor. Food manufacturers focus on that fact, often using it against us by creating foods with chemical additives that are designed to make us want to eat more than normal. This would include products with slogans such as “nobody can eat just one.”
If you like sweets, how do you sweeten your food? I’m sure that you have heard about the dangers of sugar and the effects that it has on our immune system and metabolism. Yet it is possible to sweeten your foods, in moderation, while also adding nutritional benefit.
What are healthier natural sweetening candidates?
Raw honey tops the list as it provides enzymes, antioxidants, iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, phosphorus and Vitamins B2, B3, and B6. These nutrients help neutralize free radicals and promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract. But it must be raw – and used at low temperature – for you to benefit.
Stevia is native to South America and has been used in that region for hundreds of years. It has zero calories and carbohydrates, none of the nasty side-effects of artificial sweeteners, and is heat stable. I grow it in my back yard and when I want something sweet I often go out to pick a leaf to chew, but you would probably use the liquid or powdered forms available. One caution … look for brands, such as SweetLeaf, with minimal ingredients and NO dextrose.
Dates are loaded with potassium, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium and Vitamin B6. They are easily digested and evidence shows they may help reduce LDL cholesterol. Unlike honey and stevia, dates can add sweetness and bulk so you can use them to bake. Start by making date paste by soaking the dates in hot water and blending them in a food processor to the consistency of peanut butter, replace the sugar in your recipes with the paste and enjoy nutritional sweets.
Coconut sugar is growing in popularity along with coconut water and milk. Packed with iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, antioxidants, phosphorous and other phytonutrients, coconut sugar offers a source of sweetness that doesn’t spike your blood sugar as quickly. It measures just like sugar, so it is easily incorporated in your recipes, and provides a fuller flavor similar to brown sugar.
Maple syrup, blackstrap molasses and banana puree are also healthier options to use in sweetening your foods.
As you are editing your foods for improved health, you don’t have to give up the sweet taste you love. Choose a sweetening ingredient that provides nutrient value in addition to flavor to get the most bang for your calories.