Monday, September 16, 2013

How Sweet!

I have been thinking a lot about sweeteners.  We all crave something sweet from time to time.  When we banish all refined sugar from our diet, we turn to other sweet sources:  fruit, honey, agave, etc.  Alternatively, there are those who have completely and successfully removed all sweet things from their diets, and consume only meat/seafood, vegetables, nuts/seeds.

These people don't usually attend the Annual Cancer Cookie Swap.

Okay, all joking aside, what do we do about sweet things on the Paleo plan?  We all know they should be rare treats.  But judging from the amount of hits on my Paleo Zucchini Brownies recipe (currently number one in my stats list), it's clear we cavegirls are still in need of sweet and chocolate. (Speaking of sweet and chocolate, I have created a no-bake chocolate bon bon called "Nibblers", sweetened only with dates and raisins.)

There is a huge amount of controversy regarding the options for a sweetener.  We seem to all agree (mostly) that common table sugar (refined cane sugar or beet sugar) is bad.  Molasses, a byproduct of refined sugar, is also usually considered bad.  The rest of the contenders include coconut sugar (from coconut sap), agave nectar, date sugar (ground dates), stevia, xylitol, and honey.  Depending on what you read, any of these are considered "nutritious" or "a healthy alternative" or "low glycemic impact", compared to sugar.  I have listened to the agave vs. honey wars.  I have read both sides of the coconut sugar debate.  I believe most have had something smart to say on both sides of each issue. 

In my research on all these different sweeteners, it seems that everyone is asking, "is it paleo?"  Basically, we are looking for permission to have something sweet.  We want someone else to give us the go-ahead, based on "scientific research", that one of these sweet ingredients will not cause inflammation, obesity, or insulin spikes.  Or perhaps you have different reasons for asking.  We all understand that a person's nutritional choices can be as dear to them as religion.  For some, consuming grass-fed and free-range and organic are the only true options if one is completely following a paleo lifestyle.  For others, there is no tolerance for carbohydrate-rich foods --  not even bananas or dried fruits.  It becomes a question as crucial as "is it kosher?"

I get it.  Truly.

And I struggle with the question as well.  Am I derailing my own progress toward health by having sweet things in my life?  How much is "a moderate amount"?  How often is an "occasional" treat?  Birthdays and Christmas?  Or every Sunday?

There's no doubt there are far fewer sugars in my life nowadays.  As I adapt recipes, not only do I swap out something else in place of sugar, the total amount of sweet is also drastically reduced.  But when I do choose to have something sweet, perhaps the argument over honey vs. agave vs. coconut sugar vs. xylitol are secondary.  Perhaps they are meaningless.  Just like religion, each person has to examine their own doubts and the evidences of their own lives, and determine from there how to proceed.

Deep down, we know that consuming large or frequent doses of sweet things will slow our progress and affect our performance -- in the gym and in life in general.  I no longer have the desire to "treat" myself with a tub of Ben and Jerry's, or a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts.  That just sounds gross to me now.  But a small bowl of Lemonade Ice Cream?  Or a couple handfuls of Paleo Granola?  That's right up my alley.

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