Category Archives: Whole Food

7 Good Alternatives to Processed Sugar

Anything natural is better than artificial sweeteners, so nix on the Splenda, sweet ‘n low, and aspartame :) but you already knew that.

Even refined sugar is better than all of those nasty things, but then when you get into the research, you can see that sugar does a lot of damage to our bodies by causing tooth decay, insulin resistance, yeast overgrowth, and weight gain among other things. So we start looking for alternatives so we don’t have to feel bad about treating ourselves (and our kids) to treats every so often. I think that anything – even if it was once natural- if it is over processed,  and even though it may be better than fake sugar, is still something you want to avoid. Things that fall into this category are refined sugar, most brown sugar (which is often just white sugar with molasses added back into it), high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and sadly the onetime favorite of many health conscious individuals, agave nectar. I am also very skeptical of Xylitol for this very same reason. Even refined white sugar is still better than HFCS, because the processing that HFCS goes through causes molecular level changes that have turned out to be REALLY bad. (Think cocaine, and then think crack cocaine – This may be an extreme example, but the basic idea is there)

So what sweeteners are ok, or even good for you in small amounts? My take on this is that if God didn’t want us to have sweets, there would not be dates, bananas, honey, maple syrup, or many of the other good sweet things we have that are naturally sweet with no monkeying around. Of course, we need to use sweeteners in moderation, and you can overdo any good thing. So when it comes to sweeteners, the more natural and the less processed the better.  Here are 7 good alternatives to processed sugar:

  1. Raw Honey: My first choice is all natural raw honey, straight from the hive, maybe run through a strainer, but that’s it. (make sure that the bees have not been fed sugar water – that changes the whole composition of the honey and that is a whole ‘nother story!)
  2. Maple Syrup or Maple Sugar: My next choice would be natural maple syrup, or maple sugar, which is dehydrated maple syrup. These are much less likely to cause your blood sugar to fluctuate – that is the major problem with sugar and that is what leads to insulin resistance.
  3. Raw Cane Sugars: Other good sweeteners are made from raw cane sugar, which is basically dehydrated cane juice, like mascavo, rapadura, turbinado, and sucanat. These can be coarse, medium, or even ground finely into a confectioners sugar, but still has the natural brown color to it, with a lot of vitamins and minerals that are typically removed during processing.Make sure that you get organically grown, otherwise any benefits of vitamins and minerals in the sugar will be outweighed by negative factors, such as pesticide residue.
  4. Blackstrap Molasses: Molasses is another better alternative to sugar – it is the stuff removed from the sugar during processing. You would want to get good quality, again, the less processed the better.
  5. Date Sugar: There is also date sugar, which I have never tried, but I have heard that it is very good and easy to use as a substitute for sugar in baking. But it is really expensive – nearly $50 for an 11oz package! Ouch!
  6. Coconut Palm Sugar: Like cane sugars, organic coconut palm sugar is also very easily used in baking, and is comparable in price. It is more expensive compared to honey, but can be substituted 1:1 like cane sugar. It is not nearly as expensive as date sugar though. You can get an 8oz package for between $6 and $10, depending on the brand. Coconut palm sugar is a darker brown sugar and tastes more like brown sugar than cane sugar. There are questions for some people as to the sustainability in the production of coconut palm sugar, for example they say that carelessly harvested palm sugar can damage the coconut trees from which it is harvested – if all the flowers are removed, no coconuts will be produced, and then no new trees can grow, resulting in fewer and fewer coconut trees, and therefore fewer coconut products like coconut oil, etc. Traditional harvesting methods of palm sugar ARE sustainable, and actually improve the yield of coconuts, and is more friendly to the environment than cane sugar production because it requires no artificial irrigation. There are other types of palm sugars other than coconut palm sugar, but I do not know enough about those to comment on them – see comments for more info on other types of palm sugars :)
  7. Stevia Leaf Powder: Then there is stevia. This is also 100% natural and doesn’t cause your blood sugar levels to fluctuate, and a little goes a loooooong way. It is up to 30 or more times sweeter than sugar, and can be used in recipes instead of sugar in very small amounts with the same sweetness. However, I don’t like the flavor of it, as it can leave a bitter aftertaste, and darn it, one of the only good reason to eat sweets is for a treat, so don’t use it if you don’t like the taste – it defeats the purpose!

Making Yogurt with Villi and Greek Cultures

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Making Villi and Greek Yogurt

When I got my yogurt cultures in the mail from Cultures for Health, I was really excited, but had to put the project on hold due to my trip to the Raw Milk Symposium that weekend. I wanted to have plenty of time to do it right. So when I got back from Wisconsin, I pulled out the packets and with some very enthusiastic help from 7-year-old Zee, I went to work. We started with the Villi culture. Zee opened the packet for me and measured out the recommended 1/2 tsp of culture, which I mixed into 1/2 cup of raw milk. I left this in a canning jar on my stove top for 24 hours checking it occasionally – OK, so I hovered a little, I’m a little controlling – sorry! – after 24 hours, it was still not setting up, so I checked the instructions and saw that on the back of the page of instructions there was a special section for raw milk! So, I set the first try aside and started over, this time I slowly heated the milk to 160° and then cooling the milk to room temperature before adding the culture, and then began the waiting process all over again. Being a somewhat scientifically minded person, I left the first batch on the stove top along with the second one, and waited (alright – I already said I am not much good at waiting, but I really don’t think I hurt it any.) The next morning, the first batch had gelled up to a kind of slimy runny consistency, while the second batch was still not set up. I left it there and decided I would check it again when I got home from work.

When I got home, the first batch had gelled into a very soft yogurt that held form when first scooped up, but then collapsed into a really runny yogurt, more like kefir. The second one was much more firm and was beginning to separate from the whey. Glad that there was an extra half teaspoon, I used the pure starter and mixed it in to a quart of raw milk that I had mixed in about 1 cup of cream, and set it on the counter again. This batch set up very nicely after 24 hours and had a really nice thick mild flavored yogurt. Yum! I used the 3rd 1/2 tsp to make another pure starter (done right by heating the milk first) and put it in the refrigerator to be used in the next batch – I will make another pint of yogurt by heating the milk and then I can use 2 Tbsp in each quart of raw milk without having to heat it again until I want to make another batch of pure starter. This is done to preserve the integrity of the villi culture, because bacteria from the raw milk can change the culture and yield unpredictable results.

The Greek yogurt was a bit different – it requires very low heat. I started out right this time, warming the milk to 180° this time (as per instructions) and then cooled it to 110° before adding the culture.  With only 1/2 cup of milk, much of the liquid evaporated out. I used my food dehydrator and I am wondering if it may have been a little to warm. I put the starter into a Ziploc baggie and put it in the refrigerator. I think I will bring in the cooler and use the hot water method instead.

To be continued! . . .