Food is fuel but in this day and age it’s also a place to enjoy the 5 senses: sight, smell, texture, taste and even sound. When preparing meals it’s a pleasure to see the colors of whole food ingredients. Inhale the fragrances of good cooking; the digestive process begins before food ever hits the mouth. The pop of crisp apple; the crunch of a cracker; the smoothness of a delicate, creamy soup; texture is the felt experience.
With eating, the holy grail of the senses may be taste. The wisdom of Ayurveda teaches that a balanced meal includes all 6 tastes; this leads to a more satisfied, satiated and content experience; which leads to less cravings later on. The six tastes are: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent.
With a steady campaign since the 1950’s, advertising has done an excellent job of assuring that processed foods, sugary drinks, eating to pass time and NOT cooking our own food are acceptable social norm. Alongside a sedentary lifestyle, shoddy sleep and increased levels of stress, overly processed and sugary foods have become a big contributor to a culturally influenced state of ill health.
Given the Standard American Diet (SAD) and the six tastes, most meals today are not including the tastes of bitter, sour, pungent or astringent but they do include salty and sweet, often times in excess.
TALK NERDY TO ME
Up until a few hundred years ago concentrated sugars would have been virtually absent from the human diet. The flavor of sweet would have been a rather rare and prized source of energy within our hunter, gatherer days; the sweet taste of sugars would have benefited survival; therefore to crave it (not to mention actively seeking food all day) would have been an advantageous adaptation.
Still, unless these early humans found the rare cache of honey, the sweet flavors they consumed would have come from naturally occurring sugars found in whole foods. Fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, dairy and whole grains all contain simple sugars but alongside these simple sugars there are: vitamins, minerals, protein, phytochemicals and fiber. Sugars found in whole foods are needed (within reason) in the daily food intake.
Stay with me here I’m going to throw in a few science thoughts. I’ll try my best to make it digestible — pun intended! Do you get it?
Sugar is a carbohydrate and a carbohydrate is a macronutrient. There are three types of carbohydrates derived from food — simple sugar, starch and fiber — ALL of these are forms of sugar. Starch and fiber are “complex”; they take longer to digest, meaning they enter the bloodstream relatively slow. Differently, “simple” sugars such as sucrose, fructose and lactose, get into the blood stream quickly, causing a spike in blood sugar levels.
Blood sugar spikes, followed by a telltale “crash” = a metabolism that couldn’t handle the steep spike. Sustained energy levels throughout the day = a metabolism that is well adapted to what it’s been fed.
Any type of sugar that doesn’t come within a source of whole food is a refined sugar and considered to be “added sugar”. The American Heart Association’s recommendation is that women consume less than 100 calories of “added sugar” per day (about 6 teaspoons/24 grams) and men consume less than 150 per day (about 9 teaspoons/36 grams).
KILLING ME SWEETLY
Refined sugar is nutritionally vapid; eat calories with no nutritional value and you’re less likely to eat calories that have the fiber, vitamins, mineral and other nutrients essential for mental/physical health. According to the USDA, people who consume the most refined sugar have lowest intake of essential nutrients, like vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, calcium, and magnesium. Unfortunately, eating refined sugar is lose – lose to the body.
As you learned earlier, when consumed, refined sugar quickly converts into glucose in the bloodstream, leading to a blood sugar spike; the result is a rush of energy. But quickly after the sugar is consumed, there’s an energy crash, resulting in tiredness and the unconscious craving for another sugar rush.
So there you are. It’s a few hours from dinner. You’re not even hungry but you are a bit spacey and tired. Meanwhile, the left over granola bar from the kids’ lunch, the cookie jar next to the grocery check out and the candy bowl at the bank are winking at you.
In excess, refined sugars offer their consumers an increased risk for serious health consequences such as: Heart Disease, Type 2 diabetes, Liver Disease, Hypertension and Obesity. Adding to the conundrum, studies have shown that refined sugars are addictive. People crave them due to the initial — feel good — hormonal response that occurs; this is where the the concept of “emotional eating” comes into play, needing the feel good, not to be fed.
BEEN THERE DONE THAT
I have a pretty deep history with emotional eating; honestly, it’s embarrassing to admit, it caused far too much pain and struggle in my past. My sugar indulgences in particular have always had a binge quality, linked to self-soothing. The onset of awareness was at around age 10, I remember munch-munch-munching the yummy cookie dough while baking, then munching tasty cookies too. At that time the overeating was innocently free from the jaded patterns of guilt.
My first memory of body comparison and shame linked to eating sweets was in junior high. My best friend at the time was naturally thin; she loved wearing short skirts and I often compared her small thighs to my large ones, hers getting the better rating. After I ate lunch in the cafeteria and she ate her white bread PB & J we’d head over to the store where she’d buy 3 – 4 candy bars, sometimes I’d buy one too and often she’d share hers with me. In my mind I was connecting dots: too much food, sugar and weight. I’d pleasurably eat the sugar while the voice in my head whispered, “this is bad; you’re getting fatter”.
Similar eating patterns, that weren’t associated with actual hunger, continued into adulthood. The same inner dialogue continued too, a continually brutal blow to my emotional well-being.
After years of yoga, loads of learning and play with food, and a continued dedication to personal growth and self discovery, the turn around finally began. I was sick of the battle with food. I was sick of my inner critic. I’d had enough.
There was another important factor that helped me get to the point of saying — I’m done and I’m changing. It was the fact that I was a mom. You see, my mothering instinct knew that I had to show my kids the difference between nutritional food cooked in the home and fast, easy, on-the-go food.
I wanted my kids to get the best of my food ethics; I didn’t want them to take on any of the patterns that had caused me so much pain and ill health. Being a protective mama also helped me to take the job of unraveling my emotionally driven eating habits more seriously.
Today my boys are 18: they cook a lot of their own food and they’re considerably conscious about the way sugar makes them feel crappy and causes break outs. Myself, I’m pretty relaxed about food and occasional treats. Once and awhile I still over do it but I never like how my body and mind feel afterwards.
However, I did make a couple strict promises that I aim to keep: I refuse to struggle with guilt and shame because of the way I eat and I refuse to be a relentlessly harsh critic of my body. Period.
The truth is sometimes I don’t want to say no to sugar and treats but what’s also true is the times I actually want to say yes to sweets — have become less and less. More and more frequently I’m truly not interested. The times where I’m torn between yes and no, more often become no.
FOOD AS MEDICINE
If you struggle with food, feel burdened by food, if you feel stressed about food, if you feel deprived, if you have food related guilt, or if you have physical dis-ease because of food sensitivities: I want you to know, all of those things are changeable.
Food routines can be easeful, playful and free from emotional discourse. Food routines can be rewarding and pleasurable in and of themselves. We’re talking about self-nurturance here; food can be sweet in more ways than one.
One strategy that can aid you in letting go of struggles with refined sugar is a technique I call “trading bad for better”.
Keeping some healthy sweets on hand — simple foods or treats you’ve made with love — can be helpful if you’re wanting to wean yourself off of refined sugars. Plus, you’ll be getting the sweetness alongside nutrients that your body needs. I call this switch from unhealthy “added sugars” to whole food sweets — “trading bad for better”. I use this technique myself, I teach it to my kids and I share it with clients.
It’s easiest to avoid added sugars if you stick with real food and drink you can imagine in the natural world in it’s unprocessed or minimally processed state: fruits, vegetables, sprouts, roots, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, dairy, pure fats, whole grains, legumes, water, simple infusions of plants (like unsweetened tea and coffee).
Below is a list of healthful foods that I keep in my pantry all the time; they assist me in staying away from the sweets I consider to be “bad” saboteurs when it comes to me feeling and thinking the way that I want to:
Cacao: Sometimes, in the grocery store, I really want one of those high priced, organic chocolate bars (once and awhile I’ll get it and eat the whole thing) but other times the craving isn’t that strong; I’m able remember that I have cacao powder at home. I know that I can make a super quick treat with cacao powder, a little bit of pure maple syrup and some coconut oil if I still have the craving for chocolate when I get home. Cacao is the plant that chocolate comes from. Cacao powder is less processed than cocoa powder which means it has more of the powerful antioxidant effects and health benefits; it’s been shown to boost cognitive performance, lower blood pressure, contribute to heart health and regulate glucose levels. This stuff is healthy!
Coconut: I probably overeat unsweetened coconut flakes. Someday I won’t turn to them as much as I do these days but for now I often eat them at the end of my meal, a dessert of sorts, they help with satisfaction and fullness; to me they’re a little sweet. Coconut has a lot of vitamins and minerals and a substance called lauric acid, which is a medium chained triglyceride, it’s not found in many other foods. It’s the lauric acid that gives coconut many of the health benefits it’s acclaimed for, such as raising HDL cholesterol (the good stuff) while lowering LDL (the bad stuff). In Ayurveda coconut’s qualities are cooling and building.
Fat: Fats help me feel full and, here’s that word again: satisfied. Meals with fat are converted to sugar at a slower rate. If I have the right amount of healthy fat in my daily food intake I’m not too interested in refined carbohydrates or sugars. My favorite healthy fats, the ones I use the most when cooking are: coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil and ghee.
Collagen peptides: Collagen supplementation has been show to have multiple health benefits; one being that it’s soothing for the digestive tract; it helps repair the mucousal lining of the stomach and gut. I’ve had gut issues in the past and this product has been helpful for healing while also offering added protein. If I get the right amount of high quality protein I am able to maintain stable blood sugar; again, this leads to less cravings for the quick rush of energy sugar and starch provide.
Raw honey: Raw honey contains glucose and fructose, but it also contains vitamins: A, B, C, D, E, and K. Then there’s minerals and trace elements: magnesium, sulfur, phosphorus, iron, calcium, chlorine, potassium, iodine, sodium, copper, and manganese. Raw honey has a live enzyme content that is one of the highest of all single food sources. Honey also contains antimicrobial and antibacterial factors. Ayurveda tells us that honey has a heating quality in the body so it’s good for some body types but not others. Also, we shouldn’t cook with honey or heat it; this would kill the enzymes and denature the honey, making it harder to digest.
Dates: In Ayurveda dates are said to promote peace in the mind and directly nourish the immune system. They’re also considered heavy so no more than 1 or 2 a day. Dates are often used as medicine for depleted plasma tissue conditions and a tonic for certain lung problems. These sweet gooey jewels assist in reversing low libido and infertility, helping to nourish and invigorate sexual reproductive tissues. Dates are incredibly sweet, in fact 1 Medjool date has 16 grams of (naturally occurring) sugar. Take note y’all — dates have a medicinal purpose and they’re super sweet BUT since they’re packed with fiber they’re low on the glycemic index, meaning they’re a wonderful substitute for processed sugar. That being said, over doing it on dates will certainly cause some body types to gain weight (eh-hem… me! So I only eat them once in awhile).
OVER TO YOU
Full disclosure: learn about the symptoms of imbalance your body is communicating to you, learn which foods and ways of eating help you feel the most awesome and which ones make you feel shitty, nail down enjoyable routines that allow you to cook your own food most of the time — once you do these things you will have created a part time job for yourself.
I know this may sound daunting and impossible given your already full life. But. Are there many jobs more important? And if you’re a mama or a parent this job isn’t just about you, it’s also about the impressionable little people who are watching and learning what to do from your examples.
Personally, when it comes to eating sweets I’m not aiming for perfection because well, I’m not perfect — plus — perfection is stressful. What I am aiming for is clarity; I want to realize both the benefits and the pitfalls of the food and drink I’m putting in my mouth. Choosing sweets from time to time is one thing – being ruled by cravings is a very different story.
If you cook our own meals with whole food ingredients, if you choose nutrition over convenience and if you disobey the marketing that says “added sugar” is normal you are defying the social norm. I want to encourage you; be this kind of rebel! Chances are you’ll feel better in your body, mind and emotions as a result!
When it comes to utilizing the technique of “trading bad for better” the first step is to realize the current habits and challenges you have with sugar; from there, devise a plan for creating incremental change in the direction you want to go. Where all or nothing approaches often fail, the trading bad for better approach is more of a sideways step. Have the sugar but make it more nutritional. Huge transformation can be achieved when small, progressive steps are taken over time; truly there’s no end game. How far do you want to go? Dream big!
The two recipes below contain just a bit of raw honey in one, and zero added sugar in the other. They are both packed full of nutrient dense, real food ingredients.
* I’ve included links to some of the products at Thrive Market – which is an online health food store that I shop at all the time. This is affiliate link – if you decide you want to try out their membership offer I will get some store credit. You can probably get these items at your local health food store and you can also find them on Amazon.
** I use one of these scoopers, the middle size, for making these treats. Scoopers like these are awesome kitchen tools to have around.
Orange-Cream Fatty Macaroons
Gather Your Ingredients:
- 1/4 Cup Coconut Oil
- 1/4 Cup Coconut Manna
- 1 teaspoon Finely Grated Orange Peel (from a washed organic orange)
- 1 Cup Fine Ground Coconut Flakes (or use large flakes and pulse them in the food processor)
- 1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
- 1 – 2 Tablespoons Raw Honey
- 1/4 teaspoon Salt
- 3 Tablespoons Collagen Peptides or Your Fave Plant Based Protein Powder
- 1 Tablespoon Cacao Nibs
Assemble Your Creation:
Measure the coconut oil into a small pan and put on low heat to melt, then scoop in the coconut manna; stir until it’s melted too; set this mixture aside. Grate the orange peel and set it aside. Measure the coconut flakes into the food processor; if you’re using large flakes pulse them until they are a fine grain. (If you’re using finely grated coconut and you don’t have a food processor you can simply use a bowl and a spoon to whip these up). Measure the vanilla extract, salt and collagen peptides right into the food processor or bowl. Mix or pulse to combine the ingredients. Pour in the melted coconut mixture and mix it all together. Stir in the cacao nibs. Use a metal scooper with a trigger, use your opposite hand to “pack” the ingredients into the scooper a bit. Place them on a plate or baking sheet. The mixture might be a bit crumbly so take care to work gently so that you can keep your ball shapes intact. Once you have all of your scoops laid out, place them in the refrigerator for 20 mins or so, then you can put them into a container or a Ziploc bag. Keep them in the fridge; they’ll stay fresh for a couple of weeks.
Mexican Chocolate Truffles
Gather Your Ingredients:
- 1 cup raw almonds
- ⅔ cup packed Medjool dates, pits removed
- 3 T water
- 3 T cacao powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 T vanilla
- 1 T coconut oil, room temp
- 1 t cinnamon
- Optional: 1/4 cup extra cacao powder for dusting
Assemble Your Creation:
Place ⅓ cup cacao powder in a medium sized bowl and set aside. Place the dates, hazelnuts in the food processor and pulse until you reach a crumb texture. Add the cacao powder, coconut Manna and vanilla and process until a soft dough is formed. If you have one, use a metal scoop with a trigger to shape your balls; if you don’t have one you can scoop the dough with a serving spoon and roll between your hands to make the shape.
If you’d like to dust your date balls, scoop 1/4 cup cacao powder into a small bowl. Place 2 or 3 balls in the dish and use your fingers to move them around until they are thoroughly coated, dust off the excess cacao powder. Lay each ball in a shallow dish to chill in the fridge. When you’re finished coating all the yummies you can put what’s left of the cacao powder back to be used later; sift out any chunks of the dough that may remain.
After the balls have chilled for 30 minutes or more you can place them in a Ziploc bag or a container with a lid and store them in the fridge for at least a couple weeks (if they last that long). Or you can store them in the freezer for months.