The Sweet Spot!
I'm asked some variation of the question "What is the best sweetener?" several times a day. I've never written about it, because about 6 months ago, I decided I wanted to tackle the subject with both feet. I sat and thought and wrote and wrote and created a master plan of attack.
Just my outline was several pages long. It is currently collecting dust somewhere on my hard-drive. I DO hope to pull it out and fill it in, but it's becoming clear I need to address the topic.
Interestingly I've found that "What is the best sweetener?" is almost like asking someone their religion, or political leanings, any more. People tend to have strong and often fierce beliefs, in this realm. Someone who has educated themselves into a locavore, raw honey dipped corner is VERY unlikely to ever change their stance on the subject ... and will defend that stance to the end. I've seen serious fights break out on chat rooms and social media networks over things like "Honey vs. Splenda".
Some of the time, I see these feuds and chuckle. These sweeteners don't really benefit us in any meaningful way. They don't really have vast quantities of nutrients. Distilled down, it's just "sugar vs. 'nothing'", really. Empty and void of any meaningful nutrients ... they either raise blood sugars or just pass through the body. I sometimes like to think it's like people fighting over which is the most healthy cigarette brand, or the best beer for attaining a lovely "beer figure". I'm sure there's an answer to the question, but ... I think the real answer is, "None."
I'm honestly not completely sure I understand the passion by which people defend their sweeteners, but as someone that's been attacked by the honey lovers, or the stevia freaks or the maple fanatics ... I know how devoted some people are. For them, it's a simple universal topic that encapsulates larger dietary philosophies ... and can even be used to help frame even larger ideologies ... Someone that rubs raw Manuka honey all over a recent burn is coming at the world from a very specific place. They'll defend that place. Maybe they should? I don't know ...
In any event ... what people put in their coffee is a serious topic!
Guest Post: Blackberry-Chocolate Panna Cotta
Before I dig much deeper into the topic of sweeteners, I think it's a bit of fun to share a guest post from a fairly new blogger on the block ... and one I see doing GREAT things!
I take a huge amount of pride in the fact that I offer ALL the macronutrients all the ingredients in my recipes. I'd long thought I was the only one that did this, until I found Craig and his website "Ruled.Me"; a site focused more on the Ketogenic diet (low carb, higher fat). Craig's site not only does a full nutritional profile of his recipes, very similar to mine, but he ALSO does the step-by-step photos. As far as I know, Craig's site is the most thorough of any site I've ever seen. I know how hard this is to do, having done something similar in the past. I REALLY want to encourage this kind of work, because it's ... quite frankly ... VERY hard to do, but MASSIVELY rewarding to the people viewing the info. Craig is doing some seriously great work.
PLUS! ... the positive aspects of sweets really shouldn't be overlooked. Much like vacations probably aren't necessary for life, I think it's important to take a trip from time to time. It's fun! It's part of life's experience. Sweets are delicious. They bring a smile to the face. They can serve as a reward. Sweets still very much have a place in the world, it's just a matter of looking to find the best way to include them in one's life.
Without further adieu ... take it away, Craig!
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When DJ Foodie first reached out to me on my website to give me compliments, I was awestruck. Me? Getting recognized by such a big blogger? Wow! Let's just say I was on cloud nine for the rest of the day. I'm really glad that DJ reached out to me, and since then we've become pretty good pals. He gives me tips, encourages me, and heck - even lets me post on his blog. So, the first thing I want to say is thank you DJ! You're an inspiration, a fantastic and creative genius in the kitchen, and a great role model for me.
I ended up working on a cruise ship for a year, from 2012-2013, our home port being Naples, Italy. Being that I've been to Italy many a time over that year, you'd imagine I've had the real deal before, right? Nope! For the life of me, I was able to live and thrive on a low carb lifestyle the entire 12 months I was working there. The treats, the sauces, and the buffet....oh, that buffet, was never enough to pull me down. So, in memory of the great time I had there, I wanted to re-create something of Italian heritage I could share with all of you - Low Carb Panna Cotta.
I bet ya'll are wondering how the food tastes...well, of course you are. If you've had panna cotta before, you know that it has a luscious creaminess to it, similar to that of a soft set pudding. If you're a fan of the original (made with cream, sugar, and gelatin) this won't disappoint. The decadently soft touch of cocoa whisks over your taste buds with an airy quality; just so often, hints of blackberry come through to give that fruity, almost acidic note that bursts with flavor - leaving you with a delicious, easy, and low carb treat that you can enjoy any time!
Just like DJ, my ambitions are big (maybe too big)! Though he's finished with his expedition of posting a recipe a day (for a year), I am following in his footsteps to do the same. Don't get me wrong, I did miss a few days, but I managed to make up for it by double and triple posting for the days that I wasn't able to make time.
In even better news, I was actually able to self-publish a cookbook! That's exciting to me, an actual author? Well, not so much, but there are some mean recipes inside. Between cooking for the blog, cooking for my family, and cooking for the book, I'm really not sure how I ended up finishing this one. I'd be really grateful and thankful to anyone that'd check it out: Cooking by the RULED Book - a not-so-witty name based off of my website.
So, you might be asking who I am. I'm just a run-of-the-mill 22 year old computer nerd that loves to cook. Maybe not so run-of-the-mill after all, I suppose. I went to university for my degree in Information Technology, struggled with an addiction (not to mention my weight) and decided enough was enough. I got serious, started to hit the gym, and took my food intake seriously. From then on, I've absolutely loved to create new things in the kitchen, re-create old and favorite classics (AKA Binge Food), and tried my hardest to convert my family to this way of eating.
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Thanks, Craig! Great recipe and wonderful website. I hope to see you do great things and flourish!
How Sweet It Is
Before we get any deeper into this post ... I'm just going to come right out and say ... my pick is "Swerve Sweetener". If you bump into me at the grocery store ... this will be my answer. If you private message me, send me an email, comment on a Pinterest post, indirectly field the question through my grandmother ... I'm going to say, "Swerve Sweetener". I sometimes feel like it's a big trick to make people wait for the big reveal. Never one to perform these kinds of shenanigans ... here's the big reveal: Swerve Sweetener.
Is this a big commercial for Swerve Sweetener? Are they paying me to say this? Nope! Not really, anyway. I AM an affiliate of theirs, but ... I chose to be. I could've picked any other product to support ... potentially making more, but I stand behind Swerve. It's sweet, it's tasty and it measures cup for cup, like sugar. It also has the least impact on blood sugars. I dig it and put it in my bulletproof coffee every morning!
BUT ... there is much more to the story!
Let me just say that ... we don't NEED sweeteners, at all. Yep! I'm a big party pooper! I know. I'm no fun, but ... I want this to be seen as an honest and sincere presentation. It's hard to act as if these ingredients or the sweet taste is necessary for life. It absolutely has its place in history and evolution and there are some benefits, as mentioned above, but ... really ... if we REALLY back up to a place of pure health and survival ... sweeteners are totally unnecessary. In fact, there are some schools of thought stating that even just the simple taste of "sweet" will cause an insulin response. The body believes some sugar has just entered the body, so it proactively secretes insulin to manage it. When it doesn't find the sugar ... it takes the existing glucose in the blood and stashes it in the fat deposits anyway ... dropping blood sugars and causing cravings. This is one of the reasons to support why diet sodas don't work.
There are loads of studies based on various sweeteners and the release of insulin. Technically, there have been studies done showing that sucralose, the primary sweetener in Splenda, does not cause insulin to respond. At bare minimum, this suggests that the "sweet release of insulin" is a bit of a myth, or only applies to "some" sweeteners. Yet ... it persists and there are always exceptions.
Here's a great article on Mark's Daily Apple that discusses this topic at some length.
When I began my big change, I began with a "zero sweets" experiment, lasting about 6 weeks. I HIGHLY recommend everyone try and eliminate sweets from their diet, for a period of 30 days. This means, nothing sweet in the coffee. No chocolate. No fat bombs or OMM's. No pies, panna cotta or ice cream, either. It's AMAZING how the sweet taste in broccoli stems begins to reveal itself. Who's ever tasted a sweet bell pepper and thought it tasted sweet? Now, try eliminating all sweets for 30 days ... AND THEN bite into a pepper. Sweet, right? Almost like an apple. Yep, I thought so, too!
A grand experiment; it's like rebooting the sense of taste.
For the most part, sweet things are interpreted as high energy foods and bitter things are considered poisonous. It's these traits that have helped up taste our way through history. Now that we've got an established food system, we know that the bitter leaves of endive are better and more nutrient dense, than say ... a tablespoon of sugar, which ... may supply a shorter burst of energy. However, I think it would be a challenge to find a person who would agree that the sugar is better than the endive.
Sweetness is no longer necessary. We now know better. We have the knowledge.
For anyone who likes beef jerky, or things like salami, or pepperoni sticks, but gets tired of the needless sugars, starches, preservatives and other fillers that go into them ... I'd like to present these tasty snacks. I was approached by this company, whom I've been watching do some pretty cool stuff, from a distance. Never one to promote stuff I haven't tried ... I ordered some of the sticks. DELICIOUS!!! I ordered the beef and turkey (enjoying the beef, just a bit more ... but both were AWESOME!). In any event ... these sticks are great and the company is hosting a fun little giveaway on my site. Click below to enter for a chance to win!
The Sweet Spot: Sugar
Now that we've talked a bit about the sensation of "sweet", let's talk a bit about sugar.
Sugar is a friendly word, for the less friendly sounding sucrose, which is friendlier than the even less friendly sounding "saccharose". Each of these names are just common table sugar; a disaccharide composed of the monosaccharides glucose and fructose. (about 50/50)
Sugar is DELICIOUS! It sends a quick and immediate message to the brain, "SWEET LOVING DELICIOUSNESS! ENERGY! WHEE!!!!" See, this reaction is evolutionarily advantageous. It's what kept us going, in the time before time. Our present day body doesn't know that we've extracted the sweet white stuff from beets and a really really tall thick grass. We've distilled the flavor down to a pure crystal, without any nutrition. YUM!
The actual roots of sugar go back many thousand years, starting simply as sugar cane juice. Over time, refinement techniques have improved. Sugar, as we know it, has more or less been a part of most cultures for about 500 years with serious popularity increasing dramatically ... ever since. In the mid 1800's, the process became completely mechanized, allowing for substantial amounts to be inexpensively produced. Present day Americans consume about 152 lbs. of sugar, per person, per year. This is between 1/3 and 1/2 a pound a day ... every day. This is roughly a cup of sugar. This is about 190 carbs ... PURELY just from sugar. Interestingly, the USDA suggests we eat about 300 carbs per day ... every day. So, aside from our sugar intake, the USDA suggests we eat a FURTHER 110 carbs ... every day. That's just astounding to me. Mind bottling, even!
I feel pretty good that ... this system is broken. The evidence is all around us!
In any event ... this is A LOT of sugar ... and there are increasing claims that sugar is bad for us. I know, right?! Go figure!
... or at least ... in extreme quantities. Sugar is a prime suspect in the increasing cases of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, macular degeneration and tooth decay.
Here's a fairly recent news report that hit big a few weeks ago, about sugar and heart disease. Excess sugar, with its empty energy ... is making us sick.
I could post more and more articles like this, but ... I think we all know that sugar is pretty closely linked to just about all medical conditions, in one way or another. Yet, we are all hard wired to enjoy the tastes of sweet. It's in our physiology. We desire it, likely because ... from an evolutionary standpoint ... it means nutrients!
I've made my peace with all of this by using sweeteners that don't impact my blood sugars, while still tasting great, giving my instinctual yearning for sweet something to smack on completely recognize that there's a sense of pleasure that comes along with the taste of sweet. I see nothing wrong with pleasure!
Cream Cheese Raspberry Frozen Custard
Oh ... before I forget! Also, I have another guest post over at the great Vanessa Romero's Healthy Living How To.
The Sweet Spot Continues ...
Next week, I'm going to continue this 6-part series and discuss all the various sugar alcohols. The following week I'll dig into the various natural sweeteners and share my thoughts on each of the heavy hitters. Then, I'll dig into synthetic sweeteners, followed by the odds and ends, like sweet fibers, glycerin, etc. Finally, I'll wrap it all up by talking about mixes, blends and brand names!
Again, because I'm never a big fan of making people wait for the big reveal, I'd like to present you the opportunity to look at the rough drafts of the second and third parts of this series. They will be more fully edited by the time I send them out, but I wanted people to get a chance to see the depth to which I'm pursuing this topic. I'd also really like your feedback, so I may weave your input into the future segments. Please let me know what you'd like to see come from the future of this series, by either emailing me or posting a comment in the blog.
Thank you and ... more fun next week!