Pumpkin Spice Coffee Creamer

It’s fall! And you know what that means: pumpkin season is among us! Pumpkin junkies unite as pumpkin flavored everything crowd grocery store shelves and fill people’s Pinterest boards. This time of year there seems to be nothing made without pumpkin! Today I would like to address perhaps the most beloved pumpkin treat of all: Pumpkin Spice coffee drinks and flavored coffee creamers. See, most traditional coffee creamers and specialty coffee drinks are made using all kinds of unwanted ingredients. Artificial flavors, artificial colors, refined sugars, preservatives and trans-fats are often added to these popular products and can wreak havoc on our health. What most people don’t realize, though, is just how simple it really is to forego these chemical concoctions and simply make your own.  Choosing to make your own coffee creamer at home allows you to not only skip all the artificial junk and unwanted additives in store bought creamers and specialty coffee drinks, but also gives you the health benefits of using nutrient dense, whole food ingredients!

Pumpkin is loaded with essential vitamins, minerals and fiber that provide us with a number of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and disease-fighting properties.

100% Pure Maple Syrup contains several essential nutrients and is packed with polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants that benefit our health tremendously. (Keep in mind pure maple syrup is 66-67% sugar so it should be enjoyed in moderation.)

Pure Vanilla Extract contains about 200 different compounds, many of which have antioxidant and cancer-fighting properties.

Pumpkin Pie Spice is a blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice- all of which act as potent antioxidants and offer a whole slew of proven medicinal benefits.

I have created a delicious coffee creamer recipe using all of these ingredients that will not only make your taste buds overflow with immense joy but will drastically up the antioxidant power of your morning coffee!

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Ingredients:

2 cups Half-and-Half

(to make this dairy-free or paleo-friendly, use unsweetened almond milk)

1/4 cup Pumpkin Puree

1/4 cup 100% Pure Maple Syrup

2 tsp. Pumpkin Pie Spice

1 tsp. Pure Vanilla Extract

Directions:

  1. Combine the first four ingredients in a small sauce pan and whisk together over low heat until simmering (don’t boil).
  2. Remove from heat and add vanilla extract.
  3. Allow to cool and store in a sealed container.
  4. Keep in your refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

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This also makes an incredible gift for any fellow pumpkin lovers…so if we’re being honest: it makes a great gift for just about everyone!

*Expert tip: Whenever I cook with pumpkin, there always seems to be a random amount left over and it doesn’t last very long. Pumpkin can be frozen for later, otherwise, here are some simple and creative ways to use up what’s left.

Enjoy!

Eat Fat, It’s Good for You.

“Fat is not bad for you.

Fat is not bad for you.

Fat is NOT bad for you!”

This is what I chanted across our kitchen table to my mother this morning over breakfast as she presented me with a “healthy” cookbook she received containing all low-fat recipes. I’ve said it a million times before (and I’ll say it a million times again): Fat is NOT bad for you!!

In fact, we NEED to eat fat for optimal health and here’s why:

Eating fat helps improve metabolism, balance hormones, eliminate cravings, improve athletic performance, increase fat loss…yes, you read that correctly: increase fat LOSS, and improve muscle gain. Adequate fat intake is also required for reproductive health, optimal brain function, bone health, skin and eye health and immune function. Adequate fat intake is even linked to a decreased risk of depression, cancer and heart disease.

So if fat isn’t bad for us WHY on earth have we all been told to avoid it for so many years?

Allow me to explain…Many years ago, it was believed that eating fat (specifically saturated fat) led to weight gain and an increased risk of heart disease. This information was based on low-quality, flawed studies that since have been proven wrong- repeatedly! Nevertheless, low-fat guidelines were published and since 1977 we have been unable to escape this HORRIBLY INACCURATE diet craze. Fast forward to present day and there have been several massive, long-term and high-quality studies that have proven there is NO association between saturated fat and heart disease… that’s right, NONE! Not only is there is no evidence that eating fat increases the risk of heart disease there is also no evidence that avoiding fat reduces the risk!

If you’re detecting a slightly angry undertone here, it’s because I have one and here’s why:

My step-dad recently suffered a heart attack and during his hospital admission he was given instruction to follow a “heart-healthy” diet from yes, (and I say this reluctantly…) a fellow dietitian. I was infuriated by the misinformation that was provided (which is one of the many reasons I have removed myself from a career in healthcare). Years and years of high quality scientific studies have provided CONCLUSIVE evidence that dietary fat does NOT cause heart disease! In fact, fat improves some of the most important risk factors for heart disease! Yet, my step-dad was still advised to avoid some of the worlds healthiest and most nutrient-dense foods because of their fat content. Furthermore, he was instructed to replace these natural, nutritious foods with man-made, chemical laden alternatives. My blood began to boil as I looked over his “heart healthy” diet handout with him. Instead of natural protein sources like meat and eggs for breakfast he was instructed to eat a bowl of refined grains, sugar and chemicals… all of which by the way ARE associated with heart disease. This handout went on to recommend sugary soft drinks (again, associated with heart disease) in place of natural and nutrient dense whole milk. It also recommended using highly-refined and trans-fat containing vegetable oils (also linked to heart disease) instead of butter. One ill-advised “choose this, not that” item after another, and I slowly became enraged.

EAT FAT! Saturated fat never has been (and never will be) proven to cause heart disease. We have been wrongfully advised to avoid fat for decades based on an outdated theory that has been scientifically disproven over and over and over again. Not only does research prove fat causes ZERO harm to humans, it also links fat to several health benefits!  Some of my favorite (and healthiest) sources of fat are: avocado, cheese, nuts, natural nut butters, whole eggs, fatty fish, dark chocolate, responsible meat sources, chia seeds, full fat dairy, olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil. I enjoy these high-fat foods regularly.

**Just to clarify the fats I am referring to in this blog post are ALL naturally occurring fats found in the foods that have been put on this earth to nourish us. Both unsaturated AND saturated fats from animals, animal products and plants are beneficial for the average individual and cause no harm to our health. With that being said, there is one kind of fat that IS associated with an increased risk of heart disease and should be avoided at all costs. This fat is known as Trans Fat. Trans fats do not exist in nature. They are factory-made and present themselves in many processed foods including “heart healthy” vegetable and canola oils and ironically enough many “low-fat” foods. Read my blog post here to Get the Facts on Trans Fats and learn how to avoid them.

Please Comment below or contact me with any questions. Now go eat some fat and enjoy it!

If you are looking to follow a TRULY heart-healthy diet: Choose whole, natural, minimally-processed foods. Eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables (and a lot of them). Avoid foods with long ingredient lists or that contain ingredients you don’t recognize. Eat foods as close to their natural form as possible. Avoid refined grains, trans-fatssugar and other unwanted additives. Oh yeah, and EAT FAT!

How I fought adult acne NATURALLY and won

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IMG_5147It wasn’t until I began suffering from acne at the age of 22 that I realized how many other adults (especially women) were suffering from it with me. For those of you who know first hand, acne can be a horrifying thing. Unfortunately, so can the over-the-counter cleansers, creams and prescription medications used to treat it.  For the sake of my health, I decided right off the bat that I wasn’t going to go down that road, simply because I know how harsh many of those treatment methods can be. Given my natural and holistic approach to health and healing, I decided there had to be a better way. So, I have spent the last 4 years researching and experimenting natural ways in which to cure my acne. There has been a lot of trial and error, several failed attempts and many tears of frustration shed, but in the end I can finally say for the first time in 4 years that I am happy with my skin. It’s not perfect by any means, but it has come a very long way. I decided to share my story in hopes that I can encourage even just one person who is suffering from acne to fight it naturally. Below I have shared some of my favorite all natural treatments and products that have helped me tremendously in my battle with adult acne. With that being said, it’s important to note that everyone’s skin (and therefore acne) is different. If I have learned one thing from this experience it’s that something that works for one person may not always work for another. Much of this process, as with any natural healing process is getting to know your own body, listening to it and responding appropriately. Here are the things that worked best for me:

Eat Natural, Minimally Processed, Whole Foods. 

You can’t expect a dietitian not to put this as number one!  But seriously, what we eat plays a HUGE role in our health and our skin is no exception. Every 2-3 weeks our skin replaces itself. Our bodies make these new skin cells from the food that we eat. In other words, what we eat LITERALLY becomes what we are. Skin issues, like acne, are often an implication that there is something going on with our diet or digestive system. To help fight and prevent acne, focus on eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables as they are loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are essential to our skins health and healing capabilities. There are also some foods you may need to avoid. Food intolerances often show up in the form of problematic skin conditions. Trigger foods for acne tend to be sugar, grains (especially refined grains) and dairy. I have gone months without eating any of the above…and yes, I mean ZERO. It took a lot of discipline, but I was determined to figure this out. After slowly phasing these food groups back in I was able to figure out what diet worked best for me and my skin. I am personally able to tolerate occasional dairy and whole or spouted grains without a problem. Refined grains and sugar seem to be my skin’s main issues. Of course I don’t skip sugar all together (because that would be CRAZY), but I am very intentional about where I get it from. For the most part I avoid anything that comes in a box or a package as the majority of processed food products have sugar added to them. I figure if I’m going to sacrifice my skin, it better be worth it so I mainly stick to my favorites: candy and dessert…on occasion of course. If I go overboard (which I’ve been known to do), I pay for it.

IMG_5145Drink Plenty of Water.  Dehydration is one of the most common underlying causes of acne. There are two main reasons why. 1- Water is essential for our bodies’ natural detoxification process. Our skin itself is our largest organ of elimination and drinking enough water ensures we are able to properly rid our bodies of toxins and impurities- many of which can cause acne. 2- Dry skin clogs pores. When skin is dry all of the gunk that is trying to escape get’s trapped underneath layers of dead skin cells causing acne. Water hydrates our skin and helps to prevent this from happening.

Use All Natural Skin Care Products. The skin is our bodies’ largest organ and just so happens to be permeable. Research shows that within just 24 seconds, most of what we smother onto our skin ends up in our blood stream. With that being said, we need to be reading the labels on our skin care and cosmetic products just as carefully as we read the labels on our food.  You would be surprised at how many chemicals, dyes, fragrances, parabens and other harmful ingredients are found in skin care products today. These ingredients can play a significant role in the development of allergies and even cancer, but they can also wreak havoc on our skin. Two of my favorite all natural skin care lines are Uncle Harry’s Natural Products and Acure Organics. Their products are extremely affordable, effective and most importantly safe to use. Citrine Natural Beauty Bar and 100 Percent Pure are excellent one-stop-shop websites that offer the best in all-natural beauty and personal care products.

Go Makeup Free. I know that the unsightly appearance of blemishes may leave you wanting to pile on mounds of foundation and concealer, but it’s important to give your skin a chance to breathe. Whenever you’re at home, wash off your makeup. Basically, go makeup free whenever possible. When choosing to wear makeup, switching to all natural brands makes a world of difference too.

IMG_5146Exfoliate. This is a MUST! Exfoliation helps to clear acne and reduce the occurrence of breakouts by removing dead skin cells and unclogging pores. It also helps reduce the appearance of scars and discoloration. My favorite ways to exfoliate are with Acure Organic’s Brightening Facial Scrub and by using my Clarisonic Mia facial cleansing brush. I usually use one of these methods in the morning and the other at night.

Microdermabrasian. This is basically just a really effective method of exfoliation. Microdermabrasian should be performed by a licensed esthetician. During a microderm facial, an esthetician is also able to perform extractions, which can remove even the deepest and most stubborn whiteheads and blackheads. The professional tools they use allow them to do so safely and in a way that prevents scarring.  Depending upon the state of your skin, it is usually beneficial to get a microdermabrasian facial every 1-2 weeks for the first 6 weeks and then switch to less frequent visits for routine maintenance. I was fortunate enough to find a phenomenal esthetician who uses all natural skin care products during her services. Her name is Diane and she works out of Pure Salon and Day Spa in Milwaukee.

Moisturize. As I mentioned before, keeping our skin hydrated is very important. Most over-the-counter creams or prescription medications used to treat acne dry out our skin. Although excess oil can be a contributing factor to acne, these treatment methods can actually make it worse by severely drying out our skin. Our skin often responds to this by producing MORE oil, because that is the way in which our skin naturally moisturizes itself. Although these cleansers and creams may work in the short term to dry up acne, acne almost always returns as soon as you stop using them -not to mention your skins oil production can get tremendously out of wack. Simply put, blemishes are a result of gunk that is trying to escape from our skin. When our skin is dry, the gunk gets trapped under layers of dead skin cells forming acne. When our skin is regularly exfoliated and moisturized, the gunk is free to escape.

Hot Towel Method. Heat and steam are two of the most effective ways to open up pores and clean them out. The easiest way I have found to apply these methods is by preparing hot towels. 3 days per week I wet 3 washcloths, roll them up and put them on a plate. I heat them in a microwave for 2 minutes. One at a time, I open a washcloth, shake it out and drape it across my entire face, gently pressing it into my skin. As soon as one washcloth cools, I move onto the next, applying all three in a row. Not only does this feel great, but it really helps draw impurities out of your skin. Heat and steam take a lot of natural moisture with them so make sure to moisturize afterwards!

FullSizeRender (32)Activated Charcoal. This is one of nature’s best kept skin care secrets. Activated Charcoal is extremely porous giving it the ability to attract gunk and toxins- pulling them out of your pores. Simply mix activated charcoal with a little bit of water to form a paste and use it as a full face mask or an on-the-spot treatment. I use and recommend 100% natural food grade coconut shell activated charcoal powder by Coal-Conut. WARNING: it’s messy! I would recommend wearing an old t-shirt (or nothing at all) and applying it before taking a shower. I do this about once every 1-2 weeks and leave it on for about 15 minutes.

Essential Oils. Essential oils have been proven very beneficial in the prevention and treatment of acne. Some have antibacterial and antiseptic properties while others are known to help heal and nourish skin cells, calm irritation and reduce inflammation caused by acne. Once again this treatment method may take some trial and error in order to discover which oils your skin responds to the best.FullSizeRender (33)

My absolute favorite oil blend to use is called fancy face serum by Primally Pure. It’s a vitamin and antioxidant rich blend of all organic oils designed specifically to prevent and heal problematic skin conditions, including acne.  I use 4 drops of it once a day after washing my face. I also use a blend of oils made by doTERRA called HD Clear as a quick on-the-spot treatment for blemishes.

Apple Cider Vinegar. The malic and lactic acids found in ACV help balance the pH of your skin. They also soften and exfoliate your skin, reducing the appearance of blemishes. This combined with it’s anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties gives ACV the ability to clear acne and other problematic skin conditions. Simply dilute ACV with water and use it as a toner after washing your face. Apply it to affected areas using a cotton ball. Drinking 1-2 ounces of ACV each day can also help address some of the underlying internal reasons for developing acne. I usually add 1-2 ounces of ACV into an 8 ounce glass of water and drink it daily. If you hate the taste, ACV can be added to another beverage instead.

Witch Hazel. Similar to ACV, witch hazel acts as a natural astringent to fight acne and blemishes, all while toning, cleansing and conditioning your skin. It’s more gentle than ACV, but is just as effective. My favorite kind of witch hazel is Thayers Rose Petal Witch Hazel. It smells wonderful. Simply use it as a toner after cleansing your face.

Supplement as Needed. Sometimes acne can occur as the result of a nutrient deficiency. I take what I have found in my research to be the highest quality nutrition supplements on the market. Ultra Vitality and Genesis are two products made by Symmetry Global that not only contain a whole slew of skin healing vitamins and minerals, but they are also made with proprietary blends of the most nutritive herbs, medicinal plants and antioxidant rich superfoods on the planet. I have been taking these supplements for almost 8 years now and I have yet to find anything better.

Patience and Consistency. These may be the two most important ingredients to success in any natural healing process. By nature we desire instant gratification so our society as a whole tends to seek out anything that promises a “quick fix.” I will tell you right now that there was nothing “quick” about this process. Healing can take a very long time and it can be very frustrating and discouraging at times as well, but I promise you, it will be worth it in the end. Just keep in mind that it usually takes anywhere from 2 weeks to 4 months to notice a change in your skin’s appearance after making a change in your routine. Patience and Consistency are key!

Please comment or contact me with any other questions regarding natural acne treatment or natural healing in general and I will be more than happy to help how I can.

Grains: Should You Be Eating Them?

Now, more than ever, grain consumption has become a huge controversy in the health community. Some say grains are a necessary component of a healthy, balanced diet, while others deem them harmful- even poisonous! So should we be eating grains or not? If so, which ones and how many? In this blog I will answer these questions with well-researched science based facts.

The Basics

Just like most other foods, not all grains are created equal. And as you have heard me say time and time again it is always better to eat whole foods than processed ones. The same goes for grains. Although, there are many kinds of grains, they fall into two main categories: whole and refined.

Whole Grains are grains in their natural state and contain 3 main parts: bran, germ and endosperm. Refined grains have been processed to remove both the bran and the germ leaving just the endosperm behind. The bran and the germ of grains are nutrient dense, containing carbs, fats, proteins, fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients; whereas the endosperm is made up of mainly carbs (in the form of starch)- and a small amount of protein. So generally speaking whole grains are nutrient dense and refined grains are nutrient poor.

Unfortunately, the majority of grains consumed in the U.S. come from the refined variety. Refined grains not only offer us next to nothing nutritionally, but they have also been linked to numerous diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Some examples of refined grains in the modern diet are tortillas, pitas, pastas, pretzels, crackers, snack foods, breakfast cereals, white rice, white breads, pancake and waffle mixes, pizzas, ready-made doughs, pastries, cakes, cookies and anything else that is made using all-purpose or enriched wheat flour.  I recommend that everyone reduce their consumption of these foods, if not eliminate them all together and seek out whole grain alternatives. Some examples of whole grains are barley, oats, rye, brown rice, wild rice, corn, quinoa, buckwheat, popcorn, bulgur, farro and whole wheat.

Now for a few more things you should know about grains…

Grains are NOT Essential

That’s right people, we don’t NEED grains. This may come to a surprise to many of you, considering grains make up the majority of many individuals’ diets. This may be due to the fact that for years grains were featured at the bottom of the food pyramid indicating they should be what we consume the most of. The truth is, even though whole grains contain several beneficial nutrients- there is not a single nutrient that grains offer that you cannot get from other foods (like fruits and vegetables), which means we don’t need to eat them. Research shows that both diets that include and exclude grains can be compatible with excellent health.

Should You Avoid Grains?

As with most things in nutrition, it depends entirely on the individual.  Generally speaking if you are a normal, healthy, active adult you can safely incorporate grains in your diet (as long as they are mainly whole grains). If you suffer from a serious autoimmune disease, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome or diabetes, you may want to or need to avoid grains (especially refined grains).  Some grains (especially wheat) can cause digestive distress in individuals who are sensitive to it. If you experience excessive bloating, gas or stomach upset after consuming grains you may want to avoid them. Many individuals are sensitive to wheat in particular due to a gluten intolerance or celiac disease, but are still able to safely consume other non-gluten-containing whole grains. Keep in mind that just because some individuals can not tolerate grains does not make grains “unhealthy”. Just like an individual allergic to strawberries doesn’t make strawberries unhealthy. The bottom line is that grains are okay for some people, and not for others. If you are concerned about grain consumption or are still unsure whether or not you should be eating grains, talk to a dietitian.

How Much Should You Eat?

Once again, this depends entirely on the individual.  Some individuals are better off not eating grains at all, while others have diets made up of 50% grains and are perfectly healthy. Next to sugar, which EVERYONE should avoid, grains are our biggest source of carbohydrates. Healthy, active individuals who do a lot of anaerobic work typically need and can tolerate a higher amount of carbohydrates, whereas people who are sedentary, overweight, diabetic or have other metabolic issues are typically better off following a low-carb or grain-free diet. Generally speaking, the average person does not need nearly as many carbohydrates or grains as mainstream nutrition recommends. My recommendation for the average adult is to focus on fruits and vegetables first, then protein and healthy fats, leaving grains as an optional accompaniment. Basically, grains can be a part of a healthy, well-balanced diet, but they should not be the focus of your diet.

Grains and Weight Loss

Can a grain-free diet help you lose weight? It depends. I know that’s not the answer you were hoping for, but something we need to realize is that the answers to our nutrition questions are rarely black and white- and that’s because each and every one of us is different.  What works for one person may not work for another. With that being said, eating fewer grains (and carbohydrates in general) has been proven to be one of the best ways to lose weight. Several studies have shown that individuals who follow a grain-free or low-carb diet experience weight loss, reduced belly fat and see a significant improvement in their health.

Take Away Message: Everyone should reduce or eliminate their consumption of refined grains. If you choose to eat grains, reach for whole grains or sprouted whole grains instead. If you like whole grains and feel good eating them then there is no reason to avoid them. If you don’t like grains or do not tolerate them for one reason or another, there is also nothing wrong with skipping them altogether. While we need fruits, vegetables and meats for certain essential nutrients, a diet doesn’t need to include grains to be healthy. If you’re someone who is looking to lose weight, have insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome or diabetes, following a grain-free diet could be beneficial to you. The bottom line is: grains are good for some people and not for others; health can exist with or without them. Figure out what works best for you and eat accordingly. If you’re still confused as to whether or not you should be eating grains or would like to know how to follow a grain-free diet, talk to a dietitian.

Guiltless Chocolate PB “Ice Cream” Cups

Chocolate, Peanut Butter and Ice Cream are my three favorite ways to satisfy a sweet tooth. When I reach for items containing any of these at the supermarket I am always frustratingly disappointed at the ingredient list. Now, I’m not being unrealistic- I understand I am indulging in an occasional treat that will most likely be high in sugar and not offer much else nutritionally BUT is it really necessary that an endless number of chemical preservatives, artificial flavors and colors be added to it as well? Anyways, knowing full well the dangers of consuming such ingredients, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I came up with an all natural and MUCH healthier version of an American favorite: Reese’s Peanut Butter Ice Cream Cups. I have included a nutritional comparison at the bottom to show you just how big of a difference there is between the traditional version of this dessert and my homemade recipe.

Here’s how I made it…

Ingredients: (Makes 12-14 cups)

1 16 oz can Garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup natural peanut butter (creamy)

1/2 cup milk (I used organic cows milk, but almond milk, coconut milk or soy milk should work just as well)

6 pitted soft dates

1 Tbsp 100% pure maple syrup (may substitute with honey)

1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Coarse sea salt to taste

Directions:

1. Add garbanzo beans, peanut butter, milk and dates to food processor. Mix until well combined and smooth (about 1-2 minutes).

2. Add chocolate chips & stir in by hand.

3. Place batter into lined muffin tin. Top each cup with a pinch of coarse sea salt. (don’t skip this step! It enhances the flavor tremendously)

4. Freeze for at least 2 hours.

5. Allow “ice cream” cup to soften at room temperature for 3-5 minutes before eating. Enjoy!

These are seriously SO delicious. I know it’s hard to believe that garbanzo beans can taste like smooth cold ice cream, but they do! And it’s not just my crazy dietitian taste buds that think so- this recipe is 100% husband approved (and he’s the KING of Reese’s peanut butter cups)!

Now for the good stuff: wonder how these Chocolate PB “Ice Cream” Cups compare to the real deal? Take a look at this nutritional break down (per serving):

                          Reese’s                                                VS.                                                  My Recipe

                        220 calories                                                                                                     120 calories

              16 g Fat (8 g Saturated Fat)                                                                         5.5 g Fat (2 g Saturated Fat)

                          0 g Fiber                                                                                                            3 g Fiber

                        16 g Sugar                                                                                                           8 g Sugar

                        2 g Protein                                                                                                           4 g Protein

                * 8 chemical additives                                                                                      * ZERO chemical additives

                   * 1 artificial color                                                                                              * ZERO artificial colors

There you have it! You do not have to sabotage your diet in order to satisfy a sweet tooth. I hope you all love these as much as I do. Let me know what you think 🙂

Sugars and Sweeteners and Substitutes, Oh My!

Plain and simple, added sugar is the single worst ingredient in the modern diet. I think by now we all understand the serious risks that sugar consumption poses to our health. Okay, but in all seriousness: we can’t go through life without satisfying our sweet tooth! So what’s the alternative?

As awareness of sugar’s harmful effects increases, so does the marketing for other “healthy” sugars, sweeteners and substitutes. So can we keep the sweet without the sick? Does “healthy” sugar really exist? Are artificial sweeteners safe to use? Or is it all just a ploy contributing to more consumer confusion? Take off your blind folds people, because In this post I break down the most popular sugars, sweeteners and substitutes. Take a read and decide for yourselves:

Agave Nectar

The sweet nectar of a medicinal plant- harmless right? Although it is marketed as being natural and a healthier alternative to regular cane sugar, agave nectar is just as bad for you if not worse. Here’s why: agave nectar is made using a harsh manufacturing process that destroys all of the health promoting properties of the Agave plant. Agave is also about 85% fructose (regular sugar is about 50% fructose). Our bodies are only equipped to handle fructose in small amounts and an excess of fructose contributes to a whole slew of health problems including insulin resistance, belly fat accumulation, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. My recommendation is to avoid agave nectar as you would regular table sugar.

Coconut Sugar

The manufacturing method of coconut sugar is very natural. Coconut sugar even contains some fiber and a few nutrients. In addition, it only contains 35-45% fructose, which is slightly less than regular cane sugar. With all this being said, coconut sugar can be considered a better choice than cane sugar- just keep in mind that doesn’t make it “healthy”- it’s still sugar!

Honey

Similar to coconut sugar, honey is slightly less harmful than regular sugar. It’s entirely natural and even contains antioxidants and small amounts of vitamins and minerals, which is a plus. But it’s still sugar- so consume it in moderation.

Maple Syrup

Pure Maple syrup is 100% natural and contains a decent amount of minerals and antioxidants, but it is still very high in sugar. Maple syrup is a less harmful alternative to regular table sugar, but as will any sugar, don’t over-do it. (Keep in mind we’re talking about pure maple syrup here, not Mrs Butterworth’s)

Artificial Sweeteners

These include but are not limited to aspartame, neotame, sucralose and saccharin. You may know them better as Equal, Sweet ‘n Low and Splenda. What all of these have in common is that they are artificial- they are made from chemicals. The pros to these sweeteners is that they contain zero calories and they don’t have the harmful metabolic effects of sugar (which is why they are often recommended for diabetics). The use of them remains highly controversial though and they haven’t been proven to be entirely safe. The bottom line is they are chemicals, so I personally do not use or recommend them for the average individual.

Stevia

Stevia is the best of both worlds: it is 100% natural AND contains zero calories. Too good to be true? Nope! Current research confirms that stevia is perfectly safe and even has a number of health benefits. All of these things make stevia an excellent alternative to sugar and artificially made sweeteners. You can buy stevia in liquid or powder form and use it to sweeten anything from beverages to baked goods. Just look for a brand that has no unnatural additives. (*tip: different brands also tend to taste different so try to read reviews or get recommendations of ones that taste the best)

Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols like xylitol and erythritol are the other natural sweeteners. They are lower in calories than regular sugar and have a few health benefits, but can’t quite hold a candle to stevia. When consumed in high doses they can also cause digestive problems so I usually don’t heavily promote them.

Take away message: Sugar is sugar. Your body digests all sugar the same way and doesn’t care whether it’s “natural”  or not. Some natural forms of sugar like honey, coconut sugar and maple syrup offer nutrients and antioxidants and are lower in fructose than regular cane sugar making them “less bad” options. You may benefit from replacing regular cane sugar in your diet with natural sugars like honey, coconut sugar or maple syrup, but ALL sugar should be consumed in moderation. Artificial sweeteners like Equal, Sweet ‘n Low and Splenda are zero calorie alternatives to sugar, but the question remains whether or not consuming these chemicals is entirely safe. I tend to stay away from them for that very reason. Sugar alcohols act as natural sweeteners and are lower in calories than regular sugar, but consuming to much of them can cause digestive issues. Stevia is a natural sweetener with no calories and is not only proven to be safe, but to have several health benefits as well. In conclusion, If you want to sweeten something, stevia is your best bet. Followed by natural sugars like honey, coconut sugar and maple syrup when used sparingly.