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Honey, oh sugar, sugar: the green guide to sugar do’s and dont’s

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I picked up a copy of EcoParent today and found the most practical guide to sugar-eating there is. So, as we dive into the cookie-ladden holidays, I want to share some bits of it with you.

(Full disclosure: I contribute to EcoParent. But, rest assured, I would have endorsed this information regardless of my relationship with the magazine.)

 

Dr. Heidi Lescanec, the Naturopathic Doctor who writes the article, explains the difference between processed sugar and naturally occurring sugar, like the one found in fruit, this way:

  • In nature, sugars and carbohydrates (our energy sources) come with vitamins, minerals, enzymes, proteins, fat and fiber. (…) In their whole form, sugar fuels our body function, while refined sugars, on the other hand, are devoid of nutrients.

That’s the Doctor’s first warning. And then she goes on to say why consumption of refined sugars has been linked to diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer:

  • Regular high consumption of refined sugars actually depletes the body’s essential reserves of what it needs to function. In addition, when we consume refined sugars alone without proteins, good fats, or fiber, they enter the bloodstream in a rush.

Dr. Lescanec offers a general recommendation:

  • Choose more wholesome sweeteners, eat them in moderation, and make sure to include protein, fiber or healthy fat in your meals or snacks so that the entry of glucose into the bloodstream is slower.

Now, this is the practical knowledge you need before making that first batch of gingerbread cookies. (This is a summary. Do pick up a copy of EcoParent to read the whole thing. It’s truly enlightening —plus, the rest of the magazine is a great read!).

Refined, commercial sweeteners that you should avoid:

Agave: Sold as a health food, agave is now in the hall of shame of sugar. It is marketed as having a low glycemic index, usually a good thing, but the only reason for that is that agave is high in fructose. In short, this means that your body doesn’t metabolize it well at all. I used agave quite a bit in the past but it has no place in my pantry anymore.

White granulated sugar: You probably know this already, but white sugar is highly refined, has no nutrients, and is simply terrible for your health. If you’ve substituted white sugar for brown sugar, see the next entry.

Brown sugar: It might look more artisanal, but the knowledgeable Doctor Lescanec reminds us that brown sugar is pretty much exactly the same as white sugar, only that it has kept some of its molasses. Meaning: brown sugar is also terrible for your health.

Demerara, Turbinado, and Muscavado: I have fallen victim to their fancy names before. Have you? These three types of sugar are pretty much the same, with varying amounts of molasses. All of them are refined sugars with 99% sucrose —same as white and brown sugar. Their appeal is that they are less processed sugars, if only slightly.

High Fructose corn syrup: This is the real bad guy on the list. Known as glucose-fructose in Canada, HFCS is pretty much on every processed food there is, savoury or sweet. It’s the main ingredient in pop. You should avoid this like the plague. Your body simply doesn’t digest this type of sugar, so it goes directly into your bloodstream. HFCS has been directly linked to the obesity epidemic in North America. (A huge bonus of avoiding HFCS is that you will inevitably stop buying processed foods for the most part, if not altogether. Try it as an experiment. You’ll never look back and your future self will thank you.)

This list doesn’t include artificial sweeteners, so here’s my own advice: That stuff is crap. Research has shown that it will hurt your brain cells. Don’t have it.

 

Now, for the good news: sugars you can have!

Unrefined natural sugars that are better options:

Honey: Honey contains vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, amino acids and good bacteria. You should, however, look for raw, pure honey, since the processed kind generally lacks all this good stuff. Plus, it tastes so much better.

Stevia: This is extracted from a natural herb and it’s a lot sweeter than regular sugar. The down side is that it’s not easy to cook or bake with. It’s mostly used for hot beverages.

Maple syrup: This one is my absolute favourite. I buy the 1L jugs at Costco whenever I can and use it for almost all my baking. Maple Syrup has tonnes of anti-oxidants and more vitamins and minerals that any other type of sugar. We’re so lucky that we can get the good stuff here in Canada. ❤

Sucanat and Rapadura: These two are pretty much the same, except for the size of their granules. They’re made of dehydrated sugar cane juice. They preserve the good vitamins and minerals of sugar cane, which means that this helps you digest it.

Coconut sugar: I was pleased to find this one on the list because I felt adventurous at Bulk Barn the other day and bought a bunch of it. It’s delicious and perfect for baking. It’s not very nutrient rich, but has a very low glycemic index.

Molasses: We’re vegetarian, as you may have noticed, so we need to keep an eye for our iron levels. I buy the blackstrap molasses kind, which is very high in iron (and many other nutrients), and use it to cook beans in it. For regular molasses, which is high in iron, zinc, copper and chromium, look for unsulphured molasses (it’s safer because it has no sulphites. These are bad for you, and especially bad for kids.)

 

I really hope this list helps you navigate the supermarket isles better. I’m definitely going to keep it handy in the future. Again, I highly recommend that you pick up the magazine and read the whole article. There’s a lot more useful information, plus a couple of recipes, in it.

Lastly, if you’re still curious about the topic of sugar, the CBC’s Fifth Estate recently aired a pretty good, short documentary about sugar. It’s not the most in-depth investigation but it definitely has useful information, like how to visualize your sugar intake in a whole week —totally scary. You can watch the documentary here.

As always, let me know your thoughts! Have a great week and happy good-sugar baking : )

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The (bottled) water trap we got ourselves into

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Big companies are stealing our water and selling it back to us. And we’re letting them. How did we come to this?

Today’s news that mega-company Nestle gets free water from British Columbia and makes billions after bottling it shouldn’t come as a surprise. This happens everywhere and every day, and we’re allowing it.

Bottled water is convenient, yes. But it should be used only for emergencies or when truly needed. We’ve become addicted to the concept of drinking water from a bottle. This is wrecking our environment, damaging our health and distorting our relationship with one of the basic elements of nature.

At the very least, we should make those who profit from our water pay for it.

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A plastic-free life

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It’s impossible. You can’t really run away from plastic, and you probably don’t even want to: it’s too convenient, too cheap, and sometimes too pretty to avoid. But what you can do is minimize your and your family’s exposure to plastic.

As I mentioned in a previous post, some compounds found in plastic containers, such as Bisphenol A, are known to leach into food and drinks and harm human health. Pregnant women, children and infants are at a higher risk of exposure to these toxins. BPA free plastics are not necessarily safe for us.

You can take very simple and affordable steps to minimize your family’s exposure to plastic, especially when handling food and drinks. Here is what we have done so far:

Avoid tupperware. We mostly use glass containers to store leftovers and bring lunch to work. Yes, they are a little heavier but it really hasn’t been a big deal. Plus if we need to warm our food we can safely use a microwave. (Don’t ever, ever microwave plastic, no matter how “safe” manufacturers claim this is. I’ve consulted with many scientists and they all agree it isn’t.)

Make it fun. We’ve recently become fans of the salad-in-a-jar trend. D has been taking his lunch in mason jars or old pasta sauce jars and he’s loving it. If you haven’t already, Google “salad in a jar.” You’ll find this is no small trend!

Make it nice. I have to say, I simply enjoy a meal better when it’s not served in plastic. Every meal should be a good experience, and re-heated tupperware just doesn’t do it for me.

Start early. Since our lil S was born, just over a year ago, we’ve tried to minimize her contact with plastic. Instead of regular baby bottles, we bought two glass bottles by LifeFactory.

Find what works for you. Instead of buying expensive glass containers marketed for babies (we also found out that some glass containers still have BPA in them, in the liner for the lids), we found the best solution: mini mason jars. I can’t recommend them enough. They’re cheap. They don’t break easily. They are the perfect baby portion. You can boil them, freeze them and stack them, and they come in lots of different sizes. They are honestly the best kept secret when it comes to storing baby food. The only caveat is that the lids can become a little rusty with the constant washing. But they are so cheap, you can afford to buy new ones and keep your old jars for other things, maybe leave them as candle holders.

Avoid packaging. I try, as much as I can, to avoid fresh food packaged in plastic. I always go for the bunch of spinach instead of the boxed kind. I don’t buy bagged peppers. If two similar products come one wrapped in plastic and one in cardboard, I’ll go for the latter. I know this might seem like an exercise in futility, but I like to think every little bit counts. Plus this rule usually means I end up avoiding processed stuff anyway, because my default is to buy fresh, unpackaged food. Now, that’s fodder for a whole new post…

If you have any comments or other ideas on how to stay away from plastic, please do share them!