Some like it sweet. And admittedly, I’m one of them.
Seduced by the tasty allures of Valentine’s Day, it’s hard to resist the traditional boxed candies and processed sugar. But with good health as our aim, let’s focus on the natural sweetness of whole, raw foods.
You’ll find lots to love in some of nature’s hidden treats, which hold the power to curb cravings and fortify the body.
Regular white sugar, a staple in candy and chocolates, goes through a lengthy refining process before landing on store shelves. Much different from the plant from which it derives, white sugar is clarified and stripped of any trace minerals, processes that greatly alter its chemical form and can be detrimental to health.
According to the Global Healing Center, refined white sugar actually drains the body of precious vitamins and minerals due to the havoc it wreaks on the digestive system.
Corn syrup, another ingredient you’re likely to find in many commercial chocolates and candies, is even sweeter than white sugar and much more processed. The harmful side effects of corn syrup have generated media attention recently. A Princeton University study reported that corn syrup causes considerable weight gain, along with mood swings, crashes in energy and cravings for more sugar.
In short, these common sweeteners may be delicious, but they come with a hefty health price tag.
But all forms of sugar are not created equal. Fruit, for example, contains fructose, a sugar free of refining and processing, which affects blood sugar much more gently and contains vitamins, fiber and antioxidants to boot. Many other plants provide sugarlike appeal as well, and can replace white or brown sugar in most recipes.
Following are my favorite plant-based sweeteners and their benefits.
• Dried figs and dates. Because the water has been evaporated, the sweetness of dried fruit is more compact than in its fresh form. Figs that contain omega-3 fats and fiber-heavy dates make these chewy and delicious treats guilt-free.
• Raw honey and maple syrup. Honey is known in holistic, ayurvedic practices for its medicinal and healing properties when left raw and unheated. When sourced from local beehives, honey can also aid in the treatment of seasonal allergies. Real maple syrup contains trace vitamins, minerals and an earthy allure, making the long-loved pancake accompaniment much more enjoyable.
• 100 percent fruit juice. Like dried fruit, apple, pomegranate and orange juices feature a boosted dose of sweetness. Fresh-squeezed fruit juice contains all the vitamins and antioxidants of the original fruit, released from the fiber and even more readily absorbed by the body. Instead of milk or water in your favorite pancake recipe, try substituting pomegranate juice for an antioxidant-packed breakfast.
This Month’s Morsel: To sweeten up your Valentine’s Day the natural way, try substituting more wholesome forms of sugar in your favorite treats. The raw-chocolate truffles in the accompanying recipe contain dates, nuts and cocoa powder for an indulgent but healthful take on the store-bought variety.
With a hint of rose flavor from tea, they’re sure to please even the pickiest romantic (or child) without sacrificing nutrition.
Rose-Scented Raw Chocolate Truffles
• 1?2 cup almonds
• 2 tablespoons cashew butter
• 1 cup pitted dates, packed
• 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
• 1?4 teaspoon sea salt
• 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
• 2 teabags rose-flavored tea
In food processor, process almonds until fine. Roughly chop dates, then add along with cashew butter. Process until crumbly. Add cocoa powder, almond extract, sea salt and rose tea. Process until fully incorporated and mixture begins to stick together a bit, but do not overmix. Working mixture between your hands, form balls and roll in cocoa powder, melted chocolate, coconut or crushed almonds. Chill for one hour before serving. Store in airtight container in refrigerator.
Sarah Manning is a Los Altos resident who blogs weekly about her gastronomic adventures. To read her food blog, visit www.thechocolatefigSF.com.