Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sugar, Sugar Everywhere. Not Sure What To Eat?

By Rachel Nowakowski, L.Ac.

Eliminating sugar from the diet isn’t easy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the per capita consumption of sugar is 44.2 lbs per year! Sweetened items on special occasions and in moderation can make life a little more fun, but there are alternatives to refined white sugar and high fructose corn syrup.

In Chinese Medicine, the sweet flavor is associated with the Spleen energy. The Spleen energy benefits from a small amount of the sweet flavor, as found in whole grains and vegetables. In large quantities, sweet foods weaken the Spleen, impeding the digestive function and causing dampness to accumulate in the body. Just because something is “naturally sweetened” does not necessarily mean it is any better for you. As a general rule: the less sweet, the better. When we read labels on natural food products, we see a variety of different sweeteners.

Here are a few:

Grain Malts like rice syrup, barley malt, and amasake are mildly sweet and do not cause a rapid rise in blood sugar. These sweeteners are considered to be among the healthiest sweeteners in the natural food industry.

Stevia is an all-natural substance derived from the leaves of a South American shrub. It has virtually no calories, doesn't raise blood sugar levels, and does not appear to have the same dampness-producing quality of other sweeteners when used in moderation. But because it is considered to be 300 times sweeter than sugar, an overconsumption can lead to Spleen weakness.

Molasses is a thick syrup by-product from the processing of the sugarcane or sugar beet. Black Strap Molasses contains significant amounts of vitamins and minerals and is the least sweet of the varieties. It is considered a Blood tonic because of its high iron content.

Honey is as sweet as sugar. Research has found that honey enhances growth of specific strains of Bifidobacteria, beneficial bacteria in the colon. Honey neutralizes toxins, activates the Lung and Spleen meridians, and nourishes Yin.

Sugar Alcohols (Mannitol, Sorbitol, Xylitol) are derived from the fibers of fruits and vegetables. Excess consumption can have a laxative effect and may produce gas, which implies that they do impact on the Spleen qi.

Many people turn to artificial sweeteners in an attempt to cut sugar from their diet. But what are they really made of? Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal) breaks down in the body and converts to formaldehyde! Saccharin (Sweet n’ Low) is a petroleum-based compound, which was temporarily banned in 1977 when a study suggested saccharine caused bladder cancer. Sucralose (Splenda) is chlorinated and other chlorinated substances are known to contain pesticides. With these sweeteners, you may get more than just a little sweetness.

With all the options readily available to us, why not go for more natural, less sweet foods? The best source of sweetness is whole foods, chewed well to bring out their natural flavors.

Baked Apples

2 red apples, cored
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place apples in a baking dish.

2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine all other ingredients.

3. Bring to a boil, and drizzle equally over apples.

4. Cover with foil, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove cover, and continue to bake for 10 minutes, or until apples are tender. Serve warm.