By Courtney Milam, Contributing Writer
My family and I are admitted “rookies” when it comes to the real food movement. In fact, it all started less than ayear ago when our curiousity was piqued while watching Food Inc. on a whim when my husband and I could find nothing else appealing on NetFlix on a random Friday night. We’ve been pretty “healthy” eaters for quite a while, but Food Inc. really shocked and surprised us.
I was intrigued. I started reading and researching. Around that same time, I was considering starting our youngest daughter on solids, and while I planned to make all her baby food (something I really enjoyed doing when our oldest was an infant), I was curious about conventional wisdom of “first foods” and whether I should be feeding her something different than was recommended by the masses. Coincidentally, this is also when I found Modern Alternative Mama and saw Kate’s wonderful, informative e-books.
Handling a Sweet Tooth with Real Food
Throughout this journey, I have been searching for a way to stay true to real food but at the same time satisfy my family’s sweet tooth. If you’ve spent any amount of time researching real food or even nutrition in general, you know that sugar is one hot topic. I think most people can name some negative effects of too much sugar off the top of their head. I am not a dietician by any means, so I will spare you any in-depth nutritional or scientific discussions on sugar. Instead, I want to share the following brief excerpt from Sally Fallon’s, Nourishing Traditions (her embedded citations not included, emphasis added):
“Scientific evidence against sugar has been mounting for decades. As early as 1933, research showed that increased consumption of sugar caused an increase in various disease conditions in school children. Sugar, especially fructose, has been shown to shorten life in numerous animal experiments. Sugar consumption has recently been cited as the root cause of anoxeria and eating disorders. In the 1950s, British researcher Yudkin published persuasive findings that excessive use of sugar was associated with the following conditions: release of free fatty acids in the aorta, rise in blood cholesterol, rise in triglycerides, increase in adhesiveness of the blood platelets, increase in blood insulin levels, increase in blood cortiscosteroid levels, increase in gastric acidity, shrinkage of the pancreas and enlargement of the liver and adrenal glands. Numerous subsequent studies have positively correlated sugar consumption with heart disease.”
Yikes. Sugar can be a scary thing. But, few can deny that it is also a very yummy thing. Was there a compromise? Can you prepare healthy, real food for your family that also “cures” the sweet tooth? Yes, I think you can. Here are some options we’ve found that have worked for our family:
(1) Eat Fresh, In Season, Fully Ripened Fruit. I’ll admit this is kind of a no-brainer. Who can deny that a strawberry, a peach or a pear (just to name a few) taste infinitely better when eaten in season and at that perfect period of ripeness right before they turn and start to spoil. Eating alone or perhaps pairing with some homemade honey-sweetened whipped cream (full fat!) is perfect any time of day.
(2) Enjoy a Small Amount of Dark Chocolate. While chocolate tends to have a bad rap, choosing the right kind and indulging in small amounts can actually have health benefits in addition to satisfying that sweet tooth. Dark chocolate is better over milk due to its antioxidant properties and positive cardiovascular benefits. Studies have shown it to help reduce high blood pressure, to relax the blood vessels and make them more flexible, aiding in circulation. Most conventional chocolates contain soy lecithin (a yucky emulsifier you probably have heard about before), so organic is also best if you can find and afford it (be sure to check the labels, though).
Choose chocolates with higher cocoa percentages. My husband and I really enjoy dark chocolate with 70% or higher cocoa content; for me, I’ve found that the higher the percentage, the less we need to do the trick and cure our craving for sweets. If you are interested in learning more about different organic chocolate brands, check out this post. Rapunzel is very available brand here in Germany, and one my husband and I have already latched onto. Keep in mind that dark chocolate does contain theobromine, which is a stimulant, so it really is best to consume in small amounts.
(Note from Kate: my kids love dark chocolate; it is one of their favorite treats, and something we encourage family members to buy them when they want to get them food-treats. Sometimes they’ll even eat 100% pure chocolate, no sugar added!)
(3) Experiment with Natural Sweeteners. This is where it gets fun (especially if you’re an experimental cook like me)! Most natural sweetners are high in a variety of vitamins and minerals. I have stumbled upon a few natural and health food stores (some chain, some”Mom and Pop” shops) here in Nuremberg, and I must admit the available natural sweetener options are quite impressive (and overwhelming since they also are in German). Here are the most popular ones: honey (raw honey has some great health benefits if you can find it), maple syrup, brown rice syrup, date sugar, barley malt syrup and molasses.
Kate also has a great recent post about sugars and natural sweeteners. For us, the easiest “transition” has been replacing sugar with either honey or maple syrup in many of our foods we prepare. I also recently stumbled upon The Green Market Baking Book. If you’re in the market for a cookbook format that also serves as a “primer” for how to use and substitute natural sweetners (among other things), this is a perfect for you. Even better, it focuses on eating what’s local and the recipe section is broken down by season. So far, the recipes I’ve tried have been fun to shop for, a joy to prepare and delicious.
We still have lots to learn in our real food journey, but I think the important part is that our curiosity was peaked and our focus shifted towards a more healthy way of life that involves real food.
How do you cure your “sweet tooth”? Do you use natural sweeteners in your cooking?
Courtney currently lives in Nuremberg, Germany, with her stellar hubby of almost six years, and two gorgeous baby girls, ages 2 1/2 and 1. She is a lawyer by trade who is taking some time off full-time work to be at home with her girls while abroad. She loves Jesus, cooking, all-things-creative, and photography. She blogs at www.lovebugsandlegalpads.com