Happy Halloween! Are You Ready for Sugar Season?
Here it is already holiday season again, and for most of us there is usually a sharp increase in the amount of carbohydrates we eat this time of year. I’m talking carbohydrates from holiday sweets and treats.
Not only do we naturally want to keep ourselves warm by eating heartier and more nourishing foods as it gets cold out but, we also get bombarded by the temptations of sweets all around us and if you are like me you may have some deep rooted holiday traditions that involve lots of sugar.
Do you crave more carbohydrates this time of year? Well, that’s actually pretty natural. It’s how our ancestors ate, fattening themselves up with berries and root vegetables before winter. It’s normal to eat more of the complex healthy carbs seasonally. Markets, gardens, and stores are filled with all kinds of squash and roots. But all the candy, cookies, chocolates, pies, sweet breads, and desserts? How do we deal with all this?
I used to bake with all the refined sweeteners and refined flours that we all did, and perhaps some of us still use? I literally subsisted off of simple carbohydrates from sugars and flours. I was the scone for breakfast, muffin for lunch type. For me the holidays were all about sweets, making candies, cookies, bars, and pies.
I was a mess though.
It began every year with Halloween. The trick-or-treating, school parties, family feasts, the office candy bowls… and it kept up until after Christmas, when I would realize I had unconsciously decided to put off any change until the New Year.
Are you relating to this? How are your cravings? Are you starting to cave just thinking about the holidays?
How do we keep holiday traditions going without overindulging?
Not to worry, I’m not going to suggest you stop baking or give up delicious holiday traditions, that would take away too much fun. I will say that there are some simple changes we can make, changes that can really make a difference to our overall wellness. We can begin with what we eat, and the ingredients we use. With a few adjustments, we can make delicious new traditions that aren’t so wrapped up in being sweet…
I want to talk to you about sugar and how with alternatives you can continue to enjoy some great traditions, indulge in some freshly baked creations, and feel awesome at the same time. I will share some of my new favorite low carb, Keto friendly, Paleo sweeteners and what sweeteners to avoid (there are tons).
The more refined and processed a sweetener is, the worse it is for your body. High fructose corn syrup and cane sugar are obviously two of the worst. And, the truth is, our bodies metabolize different sugars in different ways. Sugars like cane sugar, glucose, dextrose, sucrose, and refined flours like wheat flour, rice, and oat, cause an immediate spike in blood sugar, tamper with your appetite-controlling hormones, and increase fat storage.
High fructose corn syrup, agave, fruit juices, and other higher fructose sweeteners used to be viewed as better options for those of us with blood sugar imbalances because their effect on blood sugar is not immediate. Were we ever wrong! Fructose is now well known as the major fat creator (lipogenesis). And even more interesting is that cane sugar is actually 50% fructose and 50% glucose. So those newer sodas made with organic cane sugar are no better for you. Both lead to the same problems of addiction, fat storage, and inflammation.
Remember when agave was all the rage? I used tons of agave years ago. It’s not all that. These higher fructose sweeteners, and fructose, in general, can only be metabolized and processed by our livers, on the way to our bloodstream, making them pretty harmful for us. Previously, this reaction was actually considered beneficial, because fructose does not cause the immediate rise in blood sugar that glucose does. What we know now is that fructose may lead to more damage over time and can be just as detrimental as too much glucose.
Fructose, in high amounts, acts as a toxin in your body. It’s your liver’s job to process fructose. The liver turns it into fat, in the form of triglycerides, which gets sent to our fat cells, filling up our liver with fat, leading to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Fructose also increases inflammation in our blood and damages our blood vessels through increased oxidative damage leading to a negative shift in our blood lipid markers (small dense LDLs). Overall, fructose can increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and a host of other chronic diseases.
Sounds awful. What can we use instead? Let’s look at some awesome alternatives and what I use in my kitchen.
Making Sweet Choices
I use a variety of natural sweeteners – green leaf stevia powder, liquid stevia, erythritol, monk fruit, and xylitol are my favorites. I pretty much do all my baking with these sweeteners. Occasionally, I will use a few dates in my Paleo granola, raw brownies, or raw power bars. I will sometimes use raw honey and coconut sugar, very rarely, mainly just for very special occasions. When I do, I mix them with either stevia or erythritol and cut the recipe’s sugar amount in half.
Green leaf stevia has become my all-time favorite. It is the most natural sweetener I have found, basically the stevia leaf ground up. I grow stevia in my garden every year now, It’s an herb with beautiful white flowers. I have a hard time keeping my kids from eating all the leaves off the plant before I can harvest them! We put whole stevia leaves in our Green Smoothies and use them in ice cream recipes. I also use liquid stevia fairly often, but it is very concentrated with a slightly bitter aftertaste in baking, so keep the amount you use low. You can put a few drops in your water, your Paleo Oatmeal, and it adds tons of flavor. Stevia is great because it has no effect on blood sugar and has zero calories. 1 tsp of liquid stevia is equal to about 1 Tablespoon of green leaf stevia, which is about the same as one cup of sugar.
My next favorite sweetener is erythritol. Swerve is my favorite brand. It comes in both granulated and powdered. Erythritol is an alcohol sugar that is broken down in the small intestine before it reached the colon. This means it avoids any digestive issues, such as cramping and bloating, that can occur from alcohol sugars, like mannitol and sorbitol. Erythritol does not have any effect on our blood sugar levels and it has zero calories, just like stevia. A big plus, Erythritol is really easy to bake with because it is basically a one-to-one ratio when substituting for regular sugar, 1 cup erythritol equals 1 cup cane sugar.
Monk Fruit and Xylitol are close runners-up in my kitchen. Monk fruit is a great sweetener. The best low carb maple syrup replacement, made with monk fruit, I have found is called Lakanto Maple Syrup. My kids really love it. I use Xylitol just like Erythritol, and it acts petty much the same. Some people have a little difficulty digesting xylitol, so start by using a small amount and make sure you can digest it.
You’ll be surprised how quickly you can adapt your palate to less sweet foods. Discovering the natural sweetness of real foods can be such a relief and a huge health benefit. Try letting your taste buds adapt to the sweetness in real foods like carrots, spinach, berries, and sweet potatoes. You may even find yourself turning away from the hyper-palatable foods you reached for before.
See my Ultimate Guide to Sweeteners for details on more of my favorites. It will keep you in the know about making good choices and what you need to avoid (there are tons!)
Do You Know How Addictive Sugar Is?
Sugar activates the same chemical response in your body as drugs, stimulating the brains release of feel-good hormones. Endorphins and Dopamine are triggered by sugar in the same way morphine and opiates are.
We also know that sugar simply makes some people feel good and then they want more of it. A tolerance to sugar can develop, meaning the more you eat the more of it you need to satisfy your craving and get the same feeling of contentment.
Sugar causes a spike in blood sugar, causes your hunger and satiety hormones to get out of whack so you constantly feel hungry, and leads to addictive behavior. All changing our relationship with food.
What sweeteners do you have in your pantry? Should we figure out whether you can keep them or perhaps just make some hummingbird food out of them?
My final piece of advice to you is to watch your cravings closely this holiday season. If you are getting a lot of cravings, mood swings, and energy dips, if you are having trouble maintaining your weight, or trouble sleeping, you should be very wary of sweets, including sweeteners on my allowed list. Even my favorite sweeteners (which don’t directly raise your blood sugar or add calories), will send messages to your brain that you are eating sweet foods. Which triggers a hormone release reaction, like regular sugar does, and it can keep your blood sugar imbalanced.
While I was healing my own blood sugar issues it worked best for me to take a break from all sweeteners before going back and discovering my new favorites. I have found that some of my clients also need to eliminate all sweeteners for a period of time to rewire their brain chemistry and really lose their cravings.
We can dive more deeply into this after Christmas, right? I can help you with a total reset in January and make sure you are burning fat and are not solely reliant on glucose for fuel. Until then, as Halloween approaches, remember you can make small changes and have a tasty holiday season. I hope you will try some of my low carb, Keto friendly, Paleo sweetener favorites, and let me know how it goes…..