Alternative Sweeteners & Candied Walnuts

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Candied Walnuts made with coconut sugar, water, and a pinch of salt.

Welcome to Week Three of New Year, New You!

It's the third week of New Year, New You!—a January blog event created to inspire you to make and sustain healthy changes in 2012. Today we have a “sweet” line-up of bloggers sharing recipes and tips on how to “Swap Your Sweeteners.” I can’t wait to read them all! These ladies are among the most talented recipe developers in the blogosphere using alternative sweeteners. Their blogs are ones I visit weekly and turn to regularly for recipes. While you are visiting Hallie’s site, be sure to enter to win a gift pack of natural sweeteners from Wholesome Sweeteners.

EVENT HOST:
*** Hallie of Daily Bites
***
Author of the cookbook
The Pure Kitchen


*** Maggie of She Let Them Eat Cake ***

*** Iris of The Daily Dietribe ***
Co-author of the soon-to-release
The Essential Gluten Free Baking Guide


*** Ricki of Diet Dessert and Dogs ***
Author of the cookbook
Sweet Freedom and series of anti-candida e-cookbooks 


Amy of Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free
Author (and soon to be mommy!) of the cookbook
Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free



Those of you who frequent this blog know my preference when it comes to sweeteners—natural, minimally processed, and used sparingly. Refined or not, sugar is sugar. Period. No matter what kind or color you use, in excess it will wreak havoc on your body (but that’s a whole ‘nother post). That said, I allow myself and my taste buds an occasional sweet. Two or three times a month I will bake up a batch of low-sugar brownies or cookies. We aren’t deprived, we do not over-indulge.

Further on in this post I will share my favorite natural sweeteners. But first, a great friend of mine, Dr. Wayne Tompkins who practices near Branson, Missouri, is here to shed some light on sugar's effect on the body. His intention is not to steer you away from consuming sugar completely, but to make you aware of how it's processed by the body and encourage you to take a good look at your daily intake.

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Sugar, Sugar, Sugar, Blood Sugar

By Dr. Wayne Tommpkins, DC | Tompkins Wellness Center | Branson, MO

We've all heard in recent years that Type 2 diabetes is a modern epidemic. It used to be called “adult onset diabetes,” but this is no longer the case since more and more children are being diagnosed with it.

Why?

First, let’s dumb down some human physiology for a moment and look at what happens.

The pancreas produces insulin and kicks it out into the bloodstream. Insulin is the key that unlocks the door of each cell to let blood sugar in. Under normal circumstances, you eat an apple, which in turn gets broken down into carbohydrate and smaller molecules of fructose. This is converted to glucose and gets sent out into the bloodstream along with insulin from the pancreas. Insulin unlocks the cell door, glucose rushes in, the cell churns through its functions keeping your body alive at a certain rate (your basal metabolic rate or BMR). In this situation, all is well and good. However, when the body is bombarded with refined carbohydrates and sugars found in soft drinks, candy bars, boxed cereals, pastries, breads, and pastas, blood sugar spikes and insulin gets kicked out of the pancreas. The cells are overloaded with sugar so they change the locks on their doors leaving us with a condition knows as insulin resistance. Basically the cells are saying, “Talk to the hand!” This causes blood sugar to spike higher and higher leading to the condition known as diabetes. And, it’s largely a problem of our food supply.

Take a guess as to the amount of sugar the average American consumed 100 years ago. The answer is: between 10-15 pounds. Today we are at a deplorable 115-125 pounds per average American. Wow! No wonder we’re in trouble.

What can you do? First of all, know your blood sugar level. Fortunately we did a urinalysis on a young lady yesterday during her initial exam. The test revealed urine glucose levels that were off the charts (fasting glucose of 321). I advised her to see a medical doctor right away. That doctor told her that had she not caught this glucose problem when she did that he would have met her in the ICU in about a week.

Once tested, if you find your blood sugar levels falling outside of the normal range. Seek the care of a physician immediately. I also urge you to consider alternative means of managing high and/or low blood sugar by consulting a holistic healthcare provider. In our office, that includes diet, acupuncture and supplementation—all aimed at lowering insulin resistance and virtually eliminating the need for medication except in severe cases. Some will completely get off medication, others will still need some assistance, but to a much lesser degree.

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For those new to Holistic Healthcare, here are some of Dr. Tompkins’ patients sharing how going to a doctor like Dr. Tompkins has made all the difference. If you are looking for someone who can dig deep into your health concern to determine its cause, and do everything they can to address and eliminate the root of it (not just cover it with medications), find a doctor in your area like Dr. Tompkins or consult with him over the phone. Call 417.336.2620 or visit Tompkins Wellness Center for more information.

The Sweeteners I Use—In Moderation

Okay, so now we know why we should consume sugar—not matter the form—in moderation. Here are some of the natural, minimally processed sweeteners I stock in my pantry. Now, when I say I wouldn’t even think about stocking a five-pound bag of refined white cane sugar, don't take me as being elitist (I grew up on a sugar plantation for goodness sake—it was our livelihood), but rather I have opened my mind and palette to a whole new set of sweeteners. Sweeteners that are rich, complex and in their own way, ever so slightly “healthier” than refined cane or beet sugar.

These are my go-to sweeteners, starting with my favorites.

  • Stevia – Zero-calorie, no guilt, combine it with any of these others to reduce sugar in baked goods
  • Raw Honey – Anti-bacterial (when eaten raw), rich and sweet
  • Coconut Sugar – Lower glycemic ... the only "crystalline" sugar I use—a good sub for brown sugar
  • Medjool Dates – Dates, date paste and date syrup (boil dates and blend with water) are divine!
  • Maple Syrup – Sometimes you just need that rich, maple flavor
  • Coconut Nectar – Lower glycemic ... a caramel-like syrup that I drizzle on homemade frappucinos
  • Jerusalem Artichoke Syrup – Lower glycemic and loaded with inulin, this goes in our smoothies

There are numerous articles out there talking about these naturals sweeteners so I won’t reinvent the wheel here, but will point you to this post over at Renegade Health. The one sweetener I will comment on is stevia. It falls at the top of my list for good reason. It is zero-calorie and is completely natural (as long as you buy it pure, sans flowing agents like maltodextin, or in my favorite—liquid concentrate). I have come to realize that many people don’t give stevia a fair chance. They will try it and be turned off by its somewhat sharp aftertaste. If this has happened to you, you just may have used to much or a bad tasting brand. NuNaturals Singing Dog Vanilla Liquid Concentrate is the bomb! Two drop in my tea is all that’s required. And when baking, I always suggest combining stevia with another sweetener (say honey or coconut sugar) to achieve a nice balance.

So, I want to show you just what you can do with one of these sweeteners—coconut sugar. I love coconut sugar because it is one of the few alternative, natural sweeteners that comes in crystalline form. Here is a recipe for Coconut Sugar Candied Walnuts. I love these on a salad of greens and strawberries or atop a chewy (low-sugar, of course) brownie.

Coconut Sugar Candied Walnuts

Makes: 1 cup
Prep Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

6 tablespoons COCONUT SUGAR
6 tablespoons WATER
Pinch of SEA SALT
1 cup raw WALNUTS

Directions:

  1. In a small skillet, combine coconut sugar, water and salt. Bring to boil and reduce to simmer.
  2. Once sugar has dissolved, add walnuts.
  3. Stirring constantly, cook until all liquid evaporates, nuts become sticky, and "cobwebs" begin to form as you stir.
  4. Remove from heat and spread out on a plate to cool and harden.

Notes:

  1. Coconut sugar has a low burn point, so be careful to cook at a low simmer over medium to medium-low heat.
  2. Serve over ice cream, brownies, or salad—if they last that long. I end up snacking on them.