Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sweetener-free Sunday! (last one :)

OK, so it's April. I only wanted to do "Sweetener-free Sunday" for the month of March, but I just couldn't resist one more post :)

My husband's favorite dish is apple crisp. A fairly easy to prepare crowd pleaser. However, we do not eat refined sugar at all anymore. period. And lately our other kinds of sugar intake has decreased while our desire for raw fruits has increased. So I set out to make a raw apple crisp! I was inspired after I made my Grain-free Granola the other day, and thought, "This would make a perfect topping to a fruit dessert". The banana/ almond butter/ lemon juice/ salt/ cinnamon mixture gives the illusion for the taste buds of that just-baked gooey sauce the baked apples would have made if this was cooked....not exactly the same but close enough for a much shorter wait ;)

If you don't count chopping the apples, this dessert is pretty fast to make (I hate chopping so to me just cutting up 3 apples seems like an eternity!). Also, don't be surprised if you + a friend/ significant other/a child/ a random passer-by finish the whole 8"x8" pan in one sitting. We've had this twice and we did both times :)

Raw Apple Crisp
Serves 2-3…or more if you have self-control :)
Ingredients
- 1 large banana
- 2 Tbsp raw, unsweetened almond butter (if you don’t have any raw or homemade AB (much cheaper!), you can use the roasted butter you buy at the store- but if you AB has sugar added, obviously this wouldn’t be sweetener-free :)
- ½ tsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- Pinch of sea salt
- 2-3 granny smith apples (I usually do 3 medium sized, but 2 if they are large…you can also substitute any other apple- I just prefer this with granny smiths for tartness and low water-content)
- 2 cups my grain free granola or any other raw granola of your choice (also, if you want to make this only part-raw- go ahead and use whatever granola you have in your pantry!)
Method
- Slice the apples and place in an 8”x8” dish (or something of comparable size)….
- Mash the banana with the almond butter, lemon juice, cinnamon, and salt and pour over the apples…..
- Stir together until you get a gooey apple mixture like so…..
- Dump the granola on top……
- And there you have it! So. Easy. I also add a dollop of coconut butter that I have whipped with a little almond extract and cinnamon to go on top for the whipped “cream”
This post has been linked to Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays @ SS & GF. Also, this post has been added to Sugar Free Sunday. Check out this site on Sunday's for some refined-sugar-free yumminess!

Moroccan Millet

I think I have mentioned before my love for Thai food. Well, before there was Thai, I had another food-love: Moroccan food! I haven't made anything Moroccan inspipred lately so tonight I decided to make a side dish that was sort of like Moroccan couscous. I chose millet, but this recipe could easily be made with couscous as well.

We had this Moroccan Millet with mahi mahi topped with a rub from a place called Savory Spice shop. When I lived in Colorado, I LOVED this place...and fortunately for me...and you!...they ship their yummy spices, extracts, and so much more. I sound like a paid advertisement- I'm not. I just really love/ miss that place. If you are ever in the Boulder/ Denver area it's a neat place to visit/ stock up on some good quality spices :)
Moroccan Millet
Serves 2-3
Ingredients
- 2 T olive or grapeseed oil
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- ¼ tsp ground clove
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp turmeric
- Pinch of cardamom
- ½ tsp sea salt
- ½” piece of ginger root, grated (I use a Microplane, or you could use ½ tsp ground ginger)
- ½ onion, diced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 clementine or small orange (also can sub 2 Tbsp orange juice)
- Vegetable broth
- ½ cup uncooked millet
- 1/2 red or green bell pepper, diced
- ½ zucchini, diced (or broccoli would be nice too)
- ½ cup raisins or chopped dates (optional)
Method
- In small saucepan heat the oil.
- Add the cumin, clove, cinnamon, turmeric, cardamom, salt, ginger and onion and sauté until the onion is translucent about 3-5 minutes over medium heat
- Then add the minced garlic and chopped pepper and sauté another minute or so
- In a blender or food processor, puree the clementine. Then add enough vegetable broth to make 1 ½ cups of liquid
- Add this liquid when the garlic is done sautéing and bring to a boil
- Add the millet and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook covered for about 25-30 minutes (this may vary based on your millet cooking instructions)
- Add the ½ zucchini and raisins or dates (if using- we don’t add these but they would make the dish more completely Moroccan :), fluff, and serve right away
- We had ours with Mahi-mahi fillets topped with Limnos Lamb Rub from Savory Spice Shop to complete the Mediterranean-themed dinner!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sweetener-free Sunday!


So not too many posts this past week. We have some crazy things going on in our lives. You can read about them here on our personal blog if you like.

But, I did manage to make some yummy Sweetener-free Banana Puddin' amidst all the craziness. Yes, I said "Puddin"- no "g". That's how Granny says it, so that's what I'm calling this recipe! This recipe is quick and easy....good to throw together when you don't have much time. Hope you like it :)

Banana Puddin’ (Sweetener-free/ Dairy-free/ Raw/ Vegan)
Makes 4 Parfaits
Ingredients
For the Puddin’
- 1 young coconut- meat only (about 1/3 cup- if you would like to replace this with 1/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes it does work as well, although for a creamier pudding- I recommend young coconut meat….you can find them at your local Asian or International market- also at Whole Foods)
- 3 bananas
- ½ avocado * (see note at bottom)
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- ½ tsp pure vanilla powder or extract
- 1 more banana for assembly, sliced thin
For the Wafer Cookie-like layers
- ½ cup cashews
- ½ cup coconut flakes, unsweetened and unsulfured
- 1 Tbsp almond butter
- 1 Tbsp coconut oil (not melted)
- ¼ tsp pure vanilla powder or extract
- 1/8 tsp salt

Method
- Thinly slice a banana (not part of the 3 that go in the puddin’) and toss with ½ tsp lemon juice in a bowl, set aside for now
- Blend all ingredients for the wafer cookie-like layers in a food processor or blender (on low) by pulsing all ingredients until crumbly
- Set aside in a bowl while you blend the puddin’ ingredients
- Puree all ingredients for puddin’ in a food processor or high powered blender until smooth and creamy

Assembly
- You can serve these in 4 individual glasses parfait-style, or you can make one big bowl of puddin’
- Either way, simply put pudding in, followed by cookie-like crumb mixture, followed by banana slices
- Repeat layering until all ingredients are used.
* NOTE: I add this for creaminess without adding sweetness, but if the slightly green tint bothers you or you don’t have one on hand- you can replace with ½ a banana. But this will make the end result a bit sweeter. Our sweet tolerances are slightly on the low side these days :)
This post is a part of Slightly Indulgent Tuesday's @ SS & GF. Check out more recipes there!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Grain Free Granola


So I just recently purchased a dehydrator! It was prompted by a visit to a raw restaurant in Atlanta called Lovin' It Live. We were both so in love with the food (which is saying a LOT for my husband!) that we thought we needed to purchase a dehydrator to be able to make similar things at home. As it turns out we don't think they dehydrated anything at Lovin' It Live, but still I'm glad we purchased this. We used our Bed Bath & Beyond coupon for the 20% off, but I found out you can get this one- which is comparable to ours-- on Amazon.

All that to say that one of my newbie dehydrator experiments has been trying to get a good grain-free, low sugar granola! Well, I feel as though I have gotten a pretty good Grain-free Granola 1.0 version going so I am going to post it. But I will definitely be playing around with this one, and possibly creating a version with coconut sugar soon.

Grain-free Granola Version 1.0


Ingredients
- 1 apple, banana, pear, or 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 1 Tbsp cinnamon
- 1 Tbsp vanilla powder or extract
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1 cup nuts: slivered almonds, Brazil nuts, hazel nuts, and cashews work well
- 1/4 cup pumpkin or sunflower seeds
- 2 Tbsp chia seed meal (ground up in a coffee grinder or high powered blender, or bought from a whole food market or iherb.com)
- optional: coconut flakes, buckwheat groats (pseudocereal/grain, not a true grain- these give an extra crunch to the granola), raisins, other dried fruit- the possibilities are endless! What you see pictured has buckwheat groats in it but no coconut.


Method
- First, puree the banana, apple or pear that you are using with the cinnamon, vanilla powder or extract, and sea salt
- Next, in a food processor, pulse the nuts, seeds, chia seed meal, and coconut/ buckwheat groats/ other add ins (if using) until nuts and seed pieces are pea-sized (or about the size you picture granola pieces being- I like to make them small so that they look kind of like oats)
- Mix the fruit mixture with the nut mixture in a bowl. The mixture should resemble a crumble topping (moist, but like what would go on top of an apple crisp before it’s baked).
- Sprinkle onto dehydrator trays (I use parchment paper to keep the smaller pieces from falling through the holes in the dehydrator trays) and dehydrate at 110°-115°, overnight or until crispy like granola.*

I mostly use the above recipe for a formula now. Playing around with ingredients, but making sure to have about the same ratio of nuts/seeds to fruit/ other liquid. The beauty of granola is it is pretty hard to mess up. As long as you have some good, tasty ingredients, some chia seed meal and some liquid, this formula will pretty much make a nice crunchy granola for you :)

*NOTE: If you do not have a dehydrator, you may be able to make this in your oven set at it's lowest setting (probably around 135-150). The drying out time will probably not take overnight as well. If you try this- let me know how it goes!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sweetener-free Sunday!

OK, so I know I missed last Sunday after I promised to do this every Sunday in March. I spaced! So here is my apology with a bonus recipe...yes, two for the price of one with this post :)

I'm a big custard lover. Especially for breakfast. If ice cream were high in protien, fiber, and low in refined sugars and empty calories (and while I'm at it- dairy free!)- I would eat it every morning for breakfast! Lately, I have been thinking about my love for a particular custardy, breakfast treat- rice pudding (or porridge as it's sometimes called). When we lived in Fort Collins, we would go to a quaint little New Orleans inspired breakfast place called Luciele's. One time, while there with friends, someone told me to get the Rice Pudding Porridge, which had hints of orange/ citrus and came topped with raspberry sauce, currants, and cream! It was heaven. I could not eat that if I ever got the chance to go to Luciele's again, because I now know that I am pretty allergic to dairy....bummer!

I don't know why but the craving for orange and cranberry comes to me sometimes and I just have to figure out a way to make it! I also wanted to recreate Luciele's recipe without eggs or any dairy products (kind of hard to do since those two things are in the definition for "custard"!). But coconut milk and Quinoa flakes (descent source of protien, iron, and fiber) saved the day! Coconut milk provides the richness that dairy cream does, and quinoa flakes, similar to cream of wheat when cooked, provide the thickness and puddingyness (simply for lack of a better word:) that eggs would have.

So for this Sunday's Sweetener-free recipe, I present Qunioa Pudding Porridge, yay! (can you tell I like this recipe :)

Sweetener-free Orange Cranberry Quinoa Breakfast Pudding Porridge
Serves 1
Ingredients and Materials
- 1/3 cup Quinoa Flakes (I use Ancient Harvest which can also be found at Whole Foods and most local whole food markets)
- 1 orange, zested first, then peeled
- Coconut milk
- Pinch of salt
- Banana (optional for added sweetness)
- Frozen or fresh raspberries
- Frozen or fresh cranberries
- Lemon juice
- Quart sized pan for the stove top
Method
- Zest the orange into a food processor or high powered blender (I use a Vitamix), then peel the orange- removing the pith- and discard the peel. If using a food processor de-seed first as well. If desired, you can add 1/8-1/4 banana for a sweeter pudding porridge. Blend until the orange is pureed, and add enough coconut milk to make 1 cup total liquid when combined with the pureed orange. Blend with a pinch of salt.
- Transfer the 1 cup coconut milk/ orange/ zest/ salt mixture to a pot and heat on medium until it begins to boil, then turn down to low.
- Add the quinoa flakes and heat about another minute. The mixture should thicken up quite a bit. Transfer to a bowl
- Puree equal parts of frozen raspberries and cranberries together in a food processor or high powered blender with about 1 tsp lemon juice per cup of berries.
o TIP: I do this in a big batch (because I know I eat this a lot now!)- a cup of raspberries and a cup of cranberries at a time, then I freeze the mixture in ice cube trays to have on hand. When my pudding porridge is ready, I just pop a couple ice cubes on top and the quinoa pudding is hot enough to melt them right away. If you are just making this one time, I would just macerate a Tbsp of each raspberry and cranberry with a dash of lemon juice. This can be done with a fork, potato masher, or pastry blender.
- Top the quinoa pudding porridge with the berry mixture and enjoy!



The bonus recipe for today is a variation of the recipe I posted two weeks ago, Sweetener FreeElana Amsterdam's recipe as a guide, but I made it into more of a berry bar for dessert instead.
Berry Breakfast Bars, made sweetener-free:
Makes 9-12 bars

Simply make Elana's recipe as described here, replacing the following:

-
I replaced the 1/4 cup agave with 1/4 cup unsweetened, organic apple sauce
- I pureed the applesauce with the oil added 1/4 banana + 1 Tbsp water in a food processor (as in step 2 of Elana's directions)
- Finally, I replaced the 1/4 cup raisins with 1/3 cup finely chopped pear (or apple would work as well)
Here is how to alter Elana's method to make Berry Breakfast Bars:
- Make her recipe as directed (and make above substitutions for sweetener-free, if you like). But stop before you spread the mixture into the greased pan.
- Then, reserve 1/3 of the batter in another bowl while you spread the remaining 2/3 of the batter into a 8"x8" glass baking dish.
- Puree 1/2 cup of berries of your choice (I used strawberries and raspberries) with 1 tsp lemon juice. Then spread this over the 2/3 batter in the pan.
- Top that by sprinkling the reserved 1/3 batter, pinching it onto the berry mixture.
- Bake at 325 for 25-35 minutes until browned on top.
- The berry mixture will congeal after a while. In the pic above, it's a little runny because it was straight out of the oven- I couldn't wait!



This post has been linked up to: Slightly Indulgent Tuesday's at SS & GF. Don't forget to stop by and see what everyone is brewing up for healthy inspirations!

Ani Phyo's Raw Food Essentials Cookbook


So, I'm not sure how often I will review cookbooks on here since me and cookbooks rarely get acquainted with one another. Now, I'm not dissing cookbooks AT ALL! But I think I'm just so particular about what I'm wanting in my head that I can hardly ever find it in a cookbook that I have at home. And I know the ones I have bought rarely get used. But- recently I have gone through a lot of my cookbooks....from Great Mamaw's hand-me-down early 19th century ones to Rachel Ray's most recent...so cookbooks have been on my mind lately!

And then, I saw that Borders was going out of business....

While I was first excited (because my mind of course went to what kind of steals can I get?), it does make me sad to think that bookstores are some of the first casualties of a down economy. I mean how many movie theaters do you know closing? Just sayin'...I'm a sucker for the old fashioned :)

Anyways, so I did find a steal at Borders for Ani Phyo's newest book, Raw Food Essentials Cookbook (40% off!). I have noticed this cookbook before, whenever my husband goes to Barnes and Noble or Borders and I just find myself in the "Special Diet" section looking for new healthy things to try. Of course, on a student budget- this book has been off limits. But at 40% off (and the fact that I am now working :), I got to snag it up, and man am I pleased!

This morning for breakfast my husband and I made the Banana Brazil Nut Pancakes with fresh banana, pear, and Ani's Blueberry Jam (we omitted dates and put a pinch of banana in instead). And we had these things syrup-less and they were yummy!

Last night we had Hawaiian Pizza. This recipe was in her book, but we made it "mostly raw" adding some cooked smoked zucchini and rutabaga (her recipe calls for some yummy coconut meat "bacon", but we didn't have the time to dehydrate any). We made her Marinara Sauce (and added a few extra sundried tomatoes), spread that on a flax-seed pizza crust, added her Basic Cheeze, and topped with pineapple and zuchini and rutabaga that were fixed like these Chipotle BBQ sweet potatoes.

I am not eating all-raw anymore; however I do feel like I felt more energetic eating all raw so I am trying to fix us a couple raw meals a week. My husband is eating mostly raw right now (just nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables) as well (for health reasons- under the direction of a doctor/ nutritionist). So it works out that I just got this cookbook because of our need for more yummy raw recipes!

I hope you will check her website and cookbook out. She makes it simple to incorporate more raw in your diet. Her recipes are flavorfull, yet very few ingredients. Many of her recipes require a dehydrator- but she gives directions for attempting to dehydrate in you oven if you don't have one. Also, most recipes can be made if you have a food processor, but it probably helps to also have a Vitamix or Blendtec.

Ani Phyo's raw, vegan, healthy cookbook found it's home on my pantry shelf right between Southern Living's 2005 Annual Recipies and Bo Friberg's The Professional Pastry Chef; 4th ed! How is that for middle of the road cookbook ownership? :)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Raw Pad Thai


When I was eating all raw (for health reasons, for a short period), I discovered raw kelp noodles. I can get them from my local health food co-op, Life Grocery here in Marietta, GA. Now some of you right now may be thinking- "seaweed?...gross!" Not so with these kelp noodles! They have virtually no flavor and, therefore, easily can be created into any popular noodle dish when trying to go lower-carb. And they have the perfect texture and shape for noodley dishes like Pad Thai.
Nutritionally- kelp noodles are power packed. They are rich in around 70 minerals (like iodine, magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron), trace elements and enzymes. Also, kelp is a natural antibiotic because of it's iodine content, and can help the body fight bad bacteria and infections. Iodine is also good for correcting the functioning of the thyroid gland, which regulates metabolism (.

Kelp noodles are slightly salty, naturally. In fact, some cultures don't even use salt (can you imagine that, my fellow Americans?); they use sea vegetables in flake or powdered form to "salt" things!

If you have homemade or store bought raw almond butter around (or if you have a roasted version if you don't want to go all raw with this) and my Thai dressing, this recipe can be made in no time at all.
Raw Pad Thai
Serves 2-3
Ingredients
- 1/4 cup almond butter
- 2/3 cup this Thai Dressing
- 8 oz. of raw kelp noodles (1/2 a package of Sea Tangle Kelp Noodles)
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 1/2 bunch of green onions, chopped thin
- 1 large carrot, chopped into thin rounds
- 2 Tbsp crushed cashews
- Large bowl
Method
- Mix the almond butter and the Thai dressing together
- The kelp noodles may clump together, so I recommend getting a big bowl to spread them out in. Once you have de-tangled them a bit, mix half the almond butter/ dressing mixture with the kelp noodles.
- Mix the rest of the almond butter/ dressing mixture with the chopped bell pepper, green onions, and carrot
- You can serve right away, but I think it tastes better after it sits and marinates for about 15-30 minutes.
- Serve in individual bowls or plates and top with crushed cashews.
If you don't want to do this meal all raw, here are some options:
1. Use 1/2 box Thai rice noodles- prepared according to package directions and make the rest of the recipe the same way.
2. Or add chicken that you marinate in the Thai Dressing and saute to this dish as well.


References:http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=135
This post has been linked up @ Slightly Indulgent Tuesday @ SS & GF

Thai Dressing

Thai food is quickly becoming my favorite. I love spicy...and a little sweet with the spicy is even better! This dressing goes well with salad's and I use it in my Raw Pad Thai recipe as well.

Thai Dressing
Ingredients
- 1 Tbsp grated orange peel (do this before peeling the orange so it’s easier to grate)
- 1 medium orange, peeled- removing the most of the pith (white stuff that makes the dressing taste bitter), also remove the seeds
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
- ¾ tsp Celtic sea salt
- ¼ tsp Herbamare (or omit this and replace with sea salt)
- ¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 clove garlic
- ½ shallot (or 1 heaping Tbsp of chopped onion)
- ¼ inch fresh ginger, peeled
- 1 tsp pepper
- Optional: 1 Tbsp coconut sugar
- 1 cup oil, olive or grapeseed
Method
- Mix all ingredients but the oil in a food processor or high powered blender.
- Then drizzle the olive oil in while machine is running (if using a Vitamix, set machine to speed 6). Make sure to pour it slowly so the dressing can properly emulsify.




Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ingredients 301: Natural Sweeteners

"Sugar free". "Reduced sugar". "Refined sugar-free". "Made with all natural sweeteners".

Confusing!

There are a lot of "labels" out there with regards to white, refined sugar alternatives. I was on the hunt for chocolate at my International Farmer's Market the other day, and I thought I could find "just dark chocolate" (with no sugar added). So I bought some "sugar-free" chocolate (and yes, I read the label which said the only ingredients were cocoa butter, cocoa liquor, cocoa nibs, and non-GMO soy lethicin). "Great!" I thought, BUT it had in small print at the bottom (which I read post-buying the product) an excerpt about how it's sweetened with Maltitol, which is a sugar alcohol derived from corn! Since Maltitol has no nutritive value, it doesn't have to be listed in the ingredients list!!!! I don't know a lot about possible negative effects of this sweetener; however, I try to not eat sugar alcohols because they are chemically processed ingredients and I want to eat things I can understand!

This experience was a bit frustrating, but, yes I ate the chocolate anyways... I mean it was chocolate for crying out loud! But lesson learned: ALWAYS, always, always read your labels :)

Here is my "middle-of-the-road" approach to Natural Sweeteners. With all the confusion out there I thought I would post some information on the pro's and con's ...so here is the good, the bad, the ugly, and also where to find them :)

First up: Agave
Pros
- Agave is low glycemic (meaning it can be a good alternative to white sugar for diabetics- not spiking their blood sugar as much as white sugar)
- It also has a low glycemic load, about a 6 for an oz. of Agave (an oz. of raw apple is a 1 for glycemic load and an oz. of regular sugar is about 19 to give you a comparison)…although this differs from brand to brand
Cons
- Agave nectar (at least the way it is sold in stores) is a “processed” food- meaning it has to be processed to be sweet (hydrolyzing the polysaccharides usually by thermal hydrolysis (meaning temps of 160+ or more). If it’s not processed by hydrolysis, then it’s not sweet- therefore, the question begs can it really be “raw”?
- Also, the processed product of the agave plant we eat is very high in fructose. Fructose alone is not a monster by any means (I know we think of it that way because of High Fructose Corn Syrup—which now the evil food conglomerates are petitioning congress/ FDA to rename it “corn sugar” for a while until the public catches up!...I digress). But high fructose intake (which some agave syrups can be almost all fructose- 98%) is linked to a number of not-so-good things: diabetes, obesity (fructose converts to fat more easily than any other sugar), malabsorption, and even high blood sugar! Fructose is harder on the body to process because it must be processed by the liver, whereas glucose can be processed by every cell we have in our bodies.
- Agave, because it is processed, even if it says “RAW” (which there are no FDA regulations on what “raw” has to mean if it’s not a vegetable, fruit, or animal product), contains very little of the nutrient benefits of it’s parent plant.
- Although this cannot be confirmed in the major brands, imported Agaves have been thought to have additives like corn syrup in it to make it more profitable, and the corn syrup can easily be “snuck in” across the border.

Where to Find:
Agave can be found most everywhere from local grocery stores, to whole food markets to Costco (not sure about Sam’s Club)

Raw Honey
Pros
- Honey is a “whole food”, meaning it contains vitamins, enzymes, amino acids, phytonutrients, etc.
- It is lower in fructose than Agave, and usually has a 1:1 ratio of glucose:fructose.
- Raw Honey may also have anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral benefits.
- Also, if you get your honey Raw and Local, you may see a reduction in allergy symptoms because the bees have enzyme aides to process local pollens and allergens
Cons
- It is closer to the glycemic load of regular sugar than Agave, for example. Honey is a glycemic load of 14 per oz. (real sugar is 19 per oz.)
- Many of the anti-inflammatory benefits/ enzymes/ Vitamins are reduced significantly when heated, making it similar to Agave when used in baking.
- Raw honey may not be suitable for babies or small children (botulism, toxic things the bees may have gotten into that cannot be processed easily by tiny digestive systems)
Where to Find:
The best place to find raw honey is a local beekeeper. Savannah Bee Company has nice raw honeys, mostly grown in FL or the North, though- but they are sold across the South in specialty shops. Whole Foods also has local honey companies products and most often, raw honey from at least the regional area. Localharvest.org is another good way to find local honey in your area.

Coconut or Palm Sugar

Pros

- If you want to support small farmers, coconut sugar is the way to go…this is a highly sustainable product….

o “The most remarkable blessing about tapping a coconut tree, is that once it is tapped, it flows its sap continuously for the next 20 years. From a sustainability viewpoint, the harvestable energy production from tapping coconut trees for their sap (which yields 5,000 liters per hectare), rather than allowing them to produce fruit, is 5-7 times higher per hectare than coconut oil production from mature coconuts.” [from here]

- Even if it is processed, it requires much less because it is more naturally sweet coming straight from the sap of the palm trees (thus requiring evaporation over heating to process and can many times be found truly “raw”)

- It’s loaded with vitamins, essential amino acids, etc.

- Also can have anti-fungal, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial properties like honey

- Low glycemic index and, more importantly, low glycemic load (1.4 per serving= appx an oz. compared with white sugar at 19 per oz. serving)

Cons

- If highly processed, which each brand processes it differently, it can be boiled denaturing some of the beneficial enzymes and vitamins the raw form contains

- It is also very caramel-like (stronger than brown sugar) in taste and has a strong flavor when used for confectioner needs. While it is a good healthy alternative to white sugar, you wont get the same results (i.e. a fine crumb) when you use in baked goods…although, it does have descent caramelizing properties

- This is my favorite natural sweetener to work with so it’s hard to find “cons”…maybe I’m a little biased :)

Where to Find:
Coconut sugar can be found at Whole Foods (I have not seen it in local grocery stores yet). It can also be purchased for a reasonable price at iherb.com.

Maple Syrup

Pros

- A unique “maple” flavor, ideal for candy making, maple flavored desserts, or a breakfast topping.

- If you buy Pure Maple syrup (or Grade B), you are most likely supporting responsible, sustainable forestry and local businesses.

- Grade B can sometimes have higher mineral content, adding minerals like calcium to your diet.

- It is lower in fructose, thus, less hard on the liver to metabolize.

Cons

- This stuff is pretty on par with regular sugar as far as the glycemic load goes- and sometimes is higher on the glycemic index than refined sugar per volume. This, therefore, would not be a good choice for diabetics or people with blood sugar problems.

- It can be quite pricey if getting the Grade B kind in the grocery store.

- Also, as with agave, this sweetener can sometimes be called “raw” but be wary of that label because, again, to have a sweet product some processing and, perhaps, some heating must occur.

- Beware of regular "maple syrup" or generic brands in grocery stores: most of the time these are blended with 15% or more refined, white sugar!

Where to find:
You can find Grade B Maple syrup now at most grocery stores. If you want a higher quality product, also try iherb.com.


Stevia

Pros

- Lowest glycemic index and load of ALL “natural sweeteners”, which is zero, making it an ideal sweetener for all!

- Can be found in neat flavors like: Vanilla Crème, Hazelnut, or Root Beer (yum!)

- It can be found in liquid or powder form, making it versatile for both baking and smoothies/ lattes/ etc.

Cons

- Some brands have bitter aftertastes

- Does not work as a direct replacement for white sugar in baking needs as it has little ability to caramelize through the baking process

- Although stevia has been used to sweeten for centuries, not enough is known about the derivative of stevia (Rebaudioside A) and it’s effects that we consume in today’s modern society

- Anything that your body perceives as sweet will trigger a release of insulin into your blood. If it actually is sweet (containing glucose- like honey, fruit, etc.) the combination of glucose and insulin in the blood will activate the satiety center of the brain (making you feel full). HOWEVER, if there are no actual sugars in what you are eating (like stevia or artificial sweeteners like aspartame), the insulin in the blood without the sugars being present will activate the hunger center of the brain. Therefore, stevia could promote hunger- leading to over-snaking!

- Also, if some of you care- Truvia is made by Coca-Cola and PureVia is made by Pepsi.

Where to Find:

I try to buy brands other than Truvia and PureVia (for personal reasons), so I usually buy mine at Whole foods or my local organic co-op. It can also be found in more flavors in both liquid and powder from at iherb.com.


Dried Fruits (Dates, Cherries, Raisins, etc.)

Pros

- These would be my first choice (other than real fruits) to go to for a sweetener.

- If not heated too high to dehydrate, they have all the benefits of their full-version fruits (vitamins, proteins, etc.), just less water.

- Depending on the dried fruit, they can contain essential minerals as well

- They usually have a good deal of fiber which aides in the bodies process to process sugars (not spiking blood sugar because the fibers bond to the sugars and make them slow to release into the blood stream)

- They usually have a low glycemic load because of how much fiber they contain per volume

Cons

- Because they contain much less water than whole un-dried fruit, you can eat a lot more of them and don’t get the “full feeling” quite as fast as with real fruit

- Some dried fruits were heated at extremely high temps, and, therefore, have lost some of their original vitamins

- They will never fully dissolve or caramelize and, therefore, can not be a replacement for all baking needs

- Also, many times white sugar is added to dried fruits (especially cranberries)- so read the labels!

Where to Find:

You can find dried fruits at a plethora of places. I recommend making sure they are organic and looking into how your favorite brand is “dried” to see how high it has been heated to dehydrate.



Sweetener Free: see my recipe index and be waiting for upcoming recipes using whole fruits as a sweetener!
There are others, like Yakon Syrup, for example. But I felt this was a good starter list :)

References:
My husband (from his Physiology class :)
http://www.living-foods.com/articles/agave.html
http://www.allaboutagave.com/agave-nectar-and-the-glycemic-index.php#gl
http://www.organiclifestylemagazine.com/blog/healthy-sugar-alternatives.php

http://www.coconutsecret.com/index.html

http://nutritiondata.self.com/
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