I live a sweet life. And no, it’s not just because I have a happy marriage (which I do), or because I have 3 kids I enjoy spending time with (they turned out pretty well despite my parenting), or because I have a job I enjoy (especially in the summer). What I’m really talking about is the fact that I love sweets! A lot. And I have for a long time.
When I was preschool age, my mom would drop me off at my grandparents’ house while she went grocery shopping each week. My grandma always had fresh molasses cookies waiting for me in the Humpty Dumpty cookie canister on the counter. I would sit at the kitchen table with my grandpa, chatting away while we dunked our cookies into our coffee. (Grandpa had coffee with a touch of milk and sugar. I had milk and sugar with a touch of coffee).
In elementary school my lunches always included a Hostess Suzy-Q, or a Ho-Ho, or a Ding Dong. Suzy-Q’s would be separated into halves, much like an Oreo. I would lick the creamy frosting out of the middle, before indulging in the outer layers of cake. Ho-Ho’s were stripped of their chocolatey coating before being systematically unrolled into flat rectangles. And the Ding Dongs? Well, not much I could do to deface them before eating.
Five gallon pails of ice cream were always in the freezer. Vanilla was my favorite. I would scoop some into a dish, grind up chocolate chips in the nut grinder, and stir them into my ice cream until I had a creamy concoction that would rival Cold Stone. And sometimes, I would just pour maple syrup on top and sprinkle with walnuts. Heavenly.
I enjoyed sweets and felt absolutely no guilt what-so-ever about eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Weight was not an issue for me, and I never connected food to how I felt emotionally or physically. That is I didn’t up until the time I was about 12 and went on my first diet. Suddenly, sweets became the enemy, as they were the source of unwanted calories. They were to be avoided at all costs. When I did ” slip up” and eat a cookie, or some cake, or a candy bar, I felt ashamed and disgusted with myself. This began a relationship that continued for most of my life.
Then, the summer before I left for my first year of college, I decided to eliminate white sugar from my diet in an attempt to get healthy. Within days, I experienced a headache like none other. The headache lasted for days. Definitely a sign that sugar was not good for me.
When I was in my 30’s, I went on the South Beach Diet. Hello aspartame! I used sugar free EVERYTHING-jello, soda, candy, cookies…you name it. This continued for years. Then one summer, I took a class on personal wellness and I began to make the connection between some physical symptoms I was experiencing (most noticeably heart palpitations, and limb numbness) to my use of the product. I decided to do away with artificial sweeteners once and for all. Back to white processed sugar I went.
Then, two years ago, when I switched to a whole foods, plant based diet, I began my quest for a more natural sweetener. I started wondering…
What is the healthiest sweetener I could be using? I wanted to feel good about what I was putting into my body both physically and emotionally. I wanted to provide my body with valuable nutrients, while keeping my diet as unprocessed as possible. So, I did a little research on the sweeteners I typically used.
dry sweeteners-coconut sugar, date sugar
liquid sweeteners-agave nectar (raw and organic), blackstrap molasses, brown rice syrup, honey, and maple syrup
real food sweeteners-bananas, dates
Guess what I discovered? One, every expert and non-expert has a strong opinion. And two, everybody’s opinion is different.
Looking for fiber? Use agave nectar, bananas or dates.
Want low carbs? Agave nectar and bananas for the win.
Protein? Brown rice syrup and dates.
Low GI? Agave nectar, blackstrap molasses, bananas and dates.
Want vitamin C? Bananas.
Iron? Blackstrap Molasses.
Calcium? Agave nectar and blackstrap molasses.
Yikes! What should a person looking for optimal health do? First and foremost…don’t panic! Remember…listen to your body. How do you feel after eating your sweetener of choice? Your body won’t lie.
I have discovered that I feel best when I use real food as my sweetener. Most of the sweets I eat are raw…meaning they are uncooked and unprocessed. This totally takes care of my sweet tooth and allows me to use fruit, dates, and banana as my source of sweetness.
Here is one of my favorite raw recipes:
Raw Peanut Butter Cookies
1 c. raw peanuts
1/2 c. raw peanut butter (I make my own)
10 Medjool Dates
1 T. raw organic agave nectar
1 T. coconut oil
Process peanuts in a food processor until you have fine crumbs. Add peanut butter. Blend. Add dates, agave, and coconut oil. Process until you have a thick dough and you cannot see any of the dates. Form into balls (about 1 1/2 T in size). Place balls on parchment paper covered cookie sheet and press with fork to get criss-cross pattern. Put in fridge while you make the chocolate.
Chocolate Dipping Sauce
3 T. coconut oil
3 T. raw cacao powder
1 1/2 T. raw organic agave nectar
Warm coconut oil by placing jar in warm water ( or stick in microwave if you are not a raw food purist). Put liquid coconut oil, cacao powder and agave in small bowl and stir until combined.
Remove cookies from the fridge. Dunk half of cookie into chocolate and place back on cookie sheet. Chill until set.