Ahhh, the sweetness of summer.
The warm sun waking us up to frolic outside in the early morning warmth, the expansiveness we find in our hearts as we enjoy the outdoors, the community and fun in the sun. I am just returning from my summer vacation and it was just that. I am coming home with a warm heart and a big smile.
There are many ways to sweeten things up both in our lives and on our plates. Sweetness is the flavor of the heart and summertime, and reminds us of the beauties in life.
This mid-summer, the sweeter fruits are ripening; it’s time to take care of our bodies and minds while keeping our sweeteners in balance, keeping ahead of our blood sugar while still expanding into the delicious flavor of summer.
Here are five health tips for sweetening things up:
1. Avoid artificial sweeteners
Due to the many health risks associated with consuming too much sugar, many folks have tried to take short cuts using artificial sweeteners in place of the sweet flavors found in nature.
The media has enforced that artificial sweeteners give the taste buds and the body the message that we are enjoying the sweetness without the cost. Unfortunately this is a short cut not worth taking. Many artificial sweeteners create addictive patterns, cravings and serious withdrawal symptoms.
Avoid artificial sweeteners like the plague. While the mechanisms of harm may differ, they’re all harmful in one way or another. This includes aspartame (NutraSweet and Equal), sucralose (Splenda) and any other artificial sweeteners. Here is a brief summary of how some of these artificial sweeteners are harmful to us:
- Aspartame (NutraSweet and Equal) contains high amounts of phenylalanine and aspartic acid. While these amino acids are found naturally in the body, when they are combined out of their natural ratio, they can cause many side effects such as headaches, mental confusion, dizziness and seizures. As these amino acids break down in this unnatural ratio, they can literally break down into a particular form of formaldehyde which is toxic to the body.
- Splenda is the artificial sweetener also known as sucralose. This sweetener has received a ton of press in the past few years, leading us not only to discover that this sweetener is made up of a high percentage of chlorine, but recent studies also show that sucralose may raise blood sugar insulin levels, kill off good bacteria in the GI tract, and with long term exposure, damage DNA permanently.
2. Get back to basics
Eat a whole-food diet to reset the taste buds. The body thrives when we eat our foods close to nature—whole, simple, clean and alive. These ancient principles of eating are great guidelines for how to grocery shop, cook and feed our bodies nourishing foods. The palate can transform back to its original and intended tasting organ as we purify our diets.
When we are competing with really strongly enhanced flavors found in mainstream processed foods, such as super salty foods or overly sweet sodas, we become so over stimulated by our taste buds that something like an apple or a carrot loses its appeal.
Coming back to the basics with whole-food eating will recalibrate our taste buds and a lot of those strong flavors (especially sugar) will vanish from our cravings.
3. Use natural sweeteners
Sweetening our food is something many of us seek in our day-to-day meals, healthy deserts and snacks. With the whole-food eating in mind, you will notice that your palate adjusts and what used to taste pleasantly sweet (like a soda) may now be too sweet to drink.
Finding natural sweeteners to use in your baking, sauces and creations in the kitchen is a great option to enhance flavors while still keeping the flavors in balance. Here are some of my favorites:
- Raw honey is known for its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. It is a pure source of sweetness and even though it is fairly high on the glycemic index scale, a very little goes a very long way. The health benefits of local raw honey include naturally suppressing the common cough, aiding in a good night’s sleep (by facilitating tryptophan) and boosting immunity, to name a few.
- Coconut sugar, made from the sap of the coconut palm, doesn’t put stress on our blood sugar levels the same way that white sugar does. Because coconut sugar is unrefined, it retains all of its natural minerals and vitamins so it has a higher nutrient density. Coconut sugar is easy to cook with and can be substituted 1:1 in recipes.
- Maple syrup, made by boiling sap from the maple tree, contains compounds that could help manage Type 2 diabetes as well as act as anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory agents. Maple is full of many anti-oxidants and a wide range of vitamins and minerals especially zinc and manganese. Many health experts are now calling pure maple syrup a champion superfood.
- Xylitol is pure and natural with essentially no blood sugar response. Xylitol also comes with some benefits such as fighting tooth decay. Xylitol is safe and a beneficial sweetener, even if you struggle with blood sugar issues such as diabetes.
4. Eat a low glycemic diet.
If we can stick to a low glycemic diet we will not only see benefits in almost every area of our health, energy, sleep and metabolism, but we will also see our sugar cravings diminish before our eyes.
The glycemic index of a particular food rates the food on how quickly it turns to sugar in our bloodstreams. Processed carbohydrates and refined sugars are always going to rate very high on the spectrum whereas proteins, fats, whole grains and some fruits will be low or moderate.
There are some added tricks to lowering the glycemic index of your meal:
- First, you can add more protein—have some nuts with a snack of dried fruit.
- Second, you can add high quality fat—put a little olive oil on that piece of bread.
- Third, you can add fiber or choose a high fiber version of the food—cook brown rice instead of white.
Eating a low glycemic diet is one of the quickest ways to see our health and vitality turn around. It is fairly simple and incredibly effective.
5. Sweeten Up Your Life
The sweet flavor has often been linked to love, pleasure, comfort and many other soothing qualities we all yearn for in our humanness. Often, when we are not getting enough of these in our lives, we crave more sugar and overly self-soothe with the sweetness in food.
Try enhancing your life with the sweetness you can find in your daily down time—in the way that you exercise, the practices you do that activate your senses in a positive way, and especially in the way you love yourself. This is where the true sweetness is found.
There shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart.
~ Celia Thaxter
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Jamie Khoo/Editor: Travis May
Photo: Author’s own