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Dr. Amy Doherty

Let us seek health for ourselves, our community, and our world.

Healthy Sugar Replacements

Sorry this post ended up being finished later than I expected!  I thought I would finish it two weeks ago but it just got finished today.  Oh well it’s here now.

Although sugar-based foods and meals continue to hold a nostalgic place in my heart regarding treats at holidays with family, I am not excited about actual sugar, as it is the basis of a lot of disease, weight gain and heartache.  “All of our biological systems for regulating energy, hunger and satiety get thrown off by eating foods that are high in sugar, low in fiber and injected with additives. And which now, shockingly, make up 60 percent of the calories we eat,” Michael Hobbes noted in a Huffington post article titled “Everything You Know About Obesity is Wrong.” I don’t really like fake sugar, either, like aspartame…. It had a super sketchy introduction to the food marketplace, and long-term studies done since that time have not been reassuring.  Aspartame breaks down into formaldehyde in the body, and has been linked to increased risk of leukemia in men in the longest term study (22 years) performed on this question, although in shorter studies (8 weeks or 5 years) this link has not been found.  Aspartame has also been linked to various neurological issues like depression, headaches, and even

So what to do?  Use natural sources of sweetness that are good for you.  It’s not a myth; see below.

Healthy sources of sweetness

Stevia

img_5977

Stevia promotes gut microbiome health (good gut bacteria which has a host of other downstream health effects that are positive) and has been shown to lower blood pressure through metanalyses (a collection of studies that gives a better idea of the outcome of a question rather than a single study alone) and through single studies.

I like to grow a plant outside during the summer and bring it inside, chopping off leaves as I need them.  This ends up being less sweet than using the extract, and using fresh green leaves to sweeten my coffee or whatever just sounds healthy.  The last recipe I made with fresh stevia leaves was chopping up local apples, adding stevia and a pumpkin spice blend, and sauteeing in coconut oil with a fire-finish with rum.

Sugar alcohols like Erythritol, xylitol and sorbitol – these are all sweeteners that originate from plants but do not have the calories or blood sugar raising capacities of sugar like fructose or glucose. In fact they REDUCE tooth decay instead of encouraging it like sugar does. They stimulate sugar receptors on the tongue, but are not associated with the detrimental health affects ascribed to aspartame or saccharine. However, in very large doses they can have a laxative effect and cause diarrhea. What dose is too large? This effect is noticed in smokers who quit smoking and chew sugar free gum all day to relieve the oral fixation from smoking. So having it in a single meal or serving size shouldn’t caused the laxative effect, but having it in everything you eat that day will be uncomfortable.

Erythritol is found naturally in pears and grapes. This low-calorie sweetener can be made industrially by having yeast produce it. It has been shown to have antioxidant effects (anti-aging effects associated with compounds in fruits and vegetables that protect them from the sun), and seems to be a prebiotic, or food source for good gut bacteria.

Xylitol was a molecule originally found in hardwoods and corn cobs, but can be produced industrially by yeast as well. It doesn’t have the same health benefits as erythritol from what research I found, but it is not as harmful as sugar.

Monk Fruit Extract– this is a sweetener from China and it has been extolled in Chinese medicine for various benefits, but there hasn’t been large research studies I know of proving these benefits. It has similar delayed effects on blood sugar- but not direct effects on blood sugar- like the sugar alcohols described above. Better than sugar, but not as good as berries, dried fruit, or other whole plants as a sweetener. No ill effects noted, though.

Maca Powder– Maca has a slight coconut flavor and tastes amazing as a sweetener in macaroons. I prefer it for baking or smoothies rather than as a mix-in sweetener for drinks because unless it is mixed well in a blender or baked- good recipe, it doesn’t tend to combine. If I try to mix it in to coffee, for example, it just won’t unless I am blending my coffee drink for some reason. But again, works well in baked goods and smoothies. There are a lot of health benefits ascribed to Maca and it even has “superfood” designation… but a good portion of the health claims of Maca are not supportable by current scientific evidence. So maybe it is an “adaptogen” (a term used for “whatever your body needs, this product gives it to you!” that I am wary of in health food circles), but I don’t have a lot of evidence to support this. What I do know is that it is high in protein, fiber, calcium and magnesium, all important nutrients. It is also a part of the Cruciferous Vegetable family, which has been shown to reduce cancer risk in vivo because of an active ingredient called sulfurophane. It also doesn’t raise blood sugar anywhere close to what sugar does.

Summer Ratatouille

… aka do not let perfect be the enemy of good, and oh its so gooood….

Ratatouille is a Mediterranean recipe from the south of France. Despite the fact it is French cuisine, it is more of a throw-the-gloriousness-of-summer-produce-into-a-pot type of recipe than an haute couture follow-it-to-a-T recipe like you might expect of French cuisine.I am often making iterations of this recipe throughout the summer. The one thing that happens in each of those recipes is a combination of lemon juice, fresh dill and basil from the garden, freshly ground black pepper, and balsamic vinegar (or white wine vinegar instead of balsamic or an 18 year aged balsamic if you need to avoid sugar). As long as all those ingredients are present in sufficient amounts, put whatever you need to get rid of along with onions and garlic, and you are set. For us, we had a plethora of zucchini, tomatoes, and yellow squash this year. We would mix that with some canned beans to give it more of a stick-to-your-Ribs quality, and never got tired of it.

Chia Seed Pudding for dessert… or Breakfast…

Chia seed pudding is a tapioca-like pudding that gets its consistency from a type of soluble fiber in the chia seed called mucilage.  What a weird sounding name!  But! I am always talking about the benefits of getting soluble fiber into the diet, and here’s a tasty way to do that that could be considered dessert OR something for the breakfast meal that will set you up feeling full all day rather than setting you up for sugar highs and lows the way most sugary breakfast cereals and yogurts will.  Also, you can make this at the beginning of the week and have healthy breakfasts all week with little to no effort.

The chia seed absorbs water readily because of this fiber, so the OTHER thing to remember is that chia seeds aren’t supposed to be eaten raw.  It is better to put them in a recipe where they can absorb water BEFORE you eat them, otherwise it may be uncomfortable for them to be absorbing water/expanding in your stomach and GI tract.  Haven’t ever eaten them raw, but I’ve heard it’s pretty uncomfortable.

Health benefits of soluble fiber

  • Promotes release of leptin, the hormone that makes you feel satiated/full
  • Promotes healthy gut bacteria
  • Other than that… honestly it’s hard to pin down exactly, but it’s probably good.  Let me explain: people who eat high-fiber diets tend to have lower rates of most diseases I can think of (cancer, diabetes, heart disease, cholesterol to name a few).  But often times if they test out the health benefits of taking a fiber supplement alone, and not getting fiber through healthy food, people don’t achieve the same benefits.  Foods that contain fiber, like chia seeds, fruits, and vegetables are healthy and show reduced rates of disease, whereas fiber supplements may lower cholesterol a bit but really don’t really have the same effects as eating the whole foods.

Health benefits of chia seeds

  • Contain cancer-fighting compounds like lignans
  • High in anti inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids; high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals
  • Vitamins and minerals it is rich in: calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, iron and niacin.
  • Also high in the macronutrient protein

So let’s get to this easy, healthy recipe!

 

Chia Seed Pudding

Prep time: <10 min of actually doing things, but will need to sit for at least 4 hours to create pudding consistency.

Serves: 4 generous servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of almond or coconut milk (lowfat dairy milk could also be used, but then may need to add almond flavoring)
  • 1/2 cup of chia seeds (found in most grocery stores including Wal-Mart, Aldi)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • If you have problems with processing sugar (sugar addiction, diabetes), use: 2 tsp sugar replacement containing stevia or monk fruit extract.  If no issues with this, then 2 tsp honey or maple syrup.
    • The link above goes to my favorite sugar replacement- it can be used in the same quantities you would use sugar, tastes sweet, and is relatively non-processed, but doesn’t spike blood sugar like sugar does or cause reactions the way some people get to saccharine/aspartame/etc.
    • If you are using actual Stevia, this is incredibly sweet, and only 1/4-1/2 tsp would be necessary.  Stevia is a South American plant that has very sweet-tasting leaves but doesn’t raise blood sugar the way real sugar does.

Directions

  1. Combined almond milk, chia seeds, been no and sweetener in a ball.  Mix well until combined in the mixture begins to thicken.  Store covered in the refrigerator overnight or for 4 hours.
  2. Stir well, then serve topped with fresh or frozen/thawed fruit and whatever else sounds yummy and is healthy… roasted pecans, toasted coconut, etc. 

  3.  

My new fave ingredient… shirataki noodles

I discovered a form of pasta with almost no carbs and plenty of fiber that tastes like glass noodles. Also, it’s easy to find- in the produce section at Wal-Mart or the health food refrigerated section of Festival Foods. AND it’s only about $3 per package.  AND if you are diabetic, you don’t have to give yourself insulin correction for it since it has no carbs your body can use (it’s all fiber).  This food is shirataki noodles.

So, what is shirataki? It’s a Japanese tuber or yam. It is purported to have health benefits like helping with weight loss/making you feel full because of it’s large amount of soluble fiber.  As far as the validity of these studies, the studies that show benefit were done with supplements that had the active ingredient in the shirataki pasta… so it would make sense LOGICALLY that the same benefits of the main ingredient in the pasta would have the same benefit in the food… but I don’t know of any studies done on the pasta by itself.  There is also a higher protein version of the noodle that includes tofu in the recipe.

The fact that it takes the place of pasta in recipes, but has nowhere near the amount of calories pasta has, and is high in fiber, is a great thing.  As far as taste, if you just open the package and start eating it, it doesn’t taste good.  However, it will take on the taste of whatever recipe you use it in, so it tastes good once you actually use it as an ingredient.

Other tips: the strands of noodles are long, so you may want to cut the noodles into halves or thirds before using it to avoid having a big bunch of noodles that doesn’t mix well with the rest of your ingredients. So here are some recipe ideas:

1.)  Drain and use instead of spaghetti in any recipe that calls for spaghetti.  You don’t have to cook it, though, you just need to warm it.  So drain it, rinse it, and add it to the cooked sauce to warm it for a few minutes before serving, but don’t boil it for 5-10 minutes like you would pasta.

2.)  At the end of a stir-fry, after sauteeing together the ingredients of your choice (leeks or onions, carrot, celery, beans of your choice, whatever veggies you have lying around in your fridge that need to be used up along with garlic, Chinese five-spice powder and sriracha to taste), add drained, rinsed shiritake noodles instead of cooked rice.

3.) Make a simple one-pot pasta, adding the shiritake noodles at the end instead of the beginning since they don’t need to be cooked: https://www.marthastewart.com/978784/one-pan-pasta.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Spicy Hummus dip

Coat halved, fresh Brussels sprouts in a high smoke-point oil like avocado oil, fresh ground black pepper, and three cloves of minced garlic. Roast until they look like this … 10-15 min? Dip in hummus mixed with sriracha and lime juice.

This is full of every important nutrient ever, fills you up, and is relatively easy.

Pumpkin Spice Pudding… aka healthy and delicious seasonal food instead of sugar-laden seasonal food.

img_3934 pie-pumpkins

Pumpkin is one of the best things you can put in your body; it’s full of fiber (3-5 grams per 1/2 cup serving!  That’s huge!), carotenoids, other fancy veggie phytonutrients that fight aging and disease.  It fills you up without using up all your calories for the day- about 7 net carbs per 1/2 cup serving and 50 calories.  The typical spice used with pumpkin, cinnamon, is also amazing for you, with anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antitumor, pro-cardiovascular, and cholesterol-lowering effects… So then WHY do we typically screw up all those health benefits by processing pumpkin into a sugary pump to put in a coffee drink or making a dessert that’s basically sugar instead of enhancing the natural deliciousness of this incredibly healthy vegetable??? 😦  Fall should be a time of increased health from the rich variety of colorful produce we have, not a time to start packing on the processed, sugary food.  But anyways.

 

Here is an easy recipe using canned pumpkin (fresh pumpkin DOES taste more fresh but takes 1-2 hours longer to produce once you cut and bake it) and toasted nuts instead of butter.  Butter = increased cardiovascular disease risk.1, 2, 3  Nuts, although they still contain fat, contain the good kind of fat and actually DECREASES cardiovascular disease risk when eaten in proper portion size.4  You don’t have to toast the nuts but it really adds a caramel-y fall goodness to the dish.

 

Pumpkin Pudding– Serves 5-6

img_3931Ingredients: 

1 X 29 oz can pumpkin

1/4 cup real maple syrup or honey

1 cup roasted pecans, plus more for plating if desired

2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp ground ginger

Recipe:

Put all the above ingredients in a blender, blend until it’s well-mixed while scraping down the sides, and you may need to add water or milk of some variety for it to mix fully if it gets too thick.  Split into ramekin dishes to serve as pudding or add more water or milk of whatever variety you choose to turn it into a smoothie.  If served as pudding, may sprinkle with roasted pecans and cinnamon to change up texture.

SUPER EASY snack/main course from Japan: Edamame

Aldi has a bag of Edamame for a few bucks. Boil it for 3 minutes, put some salt an/or whatever else you want on it… lemon, pepper, soy sauce… and you have an anti-inflammatory, cholesterol-busting meal in a few minutes.  Way easier than popping chicken nuggets or a pizza in the oven.

Other super-easy Aldi finds… they typically have some type of veggie burger with a base of quinoa, kale or beans instead of meat.  This means your burger could have fiber instead of fat and reduced calories for the same volume, but be just as easy to prepare.  There are also bags of grains, beans, and veggies that make a meal in minutes.  If beans, grains, and veggies do NOT sound appetizing to you right now, do not despair.  It may take a few weeks to get your palate more used to veggies and less used to junk food.  In fact, it normally takes about two weeks.  img_3780

Berries are in season!

Berries are one of the best things you can put in your body, AND they are in season right now!  Flyte Family Farms has had berry picking open since June 16th, they are in most Farmer’s Markets around the area, and they are cheap and delicious in the store.  Although strawberry season is almost over, we are in the middle of cherry season, blueberries/rasberries/strawberries should be here soon, and I’ve been picking mulberries off trees in the street when I go on walks with the dog (they aren’t as sweet or as expensive as the other varieties but I think they are still good…).

So why are berries so good for you?  Let’s start with the anti-inflammatory compounds like anti-oxidants and anthocyanins.  The short way to say this: higher consumption of berries has been linked to slowing cognitive degeneration, reducing risk of cancer, improving glaucoma, improving immune function, decreasing arthritis… it would almost be easier to ask what berries DON’T help rather than what they DO help as that list would be shorter.  Oxidation is how the body rusts or ages, and berries contain compounds that prevent or reverse this from happening.   All fruits and veggies have these compounds to some degree, but berries are especially rich in them.

Next, let’s talk about glycemic index.  Glycemic index is a measure of how fast a food raises your blood sugar.  The faster your sugar rises, the harder it is for your body to deal with the sugar you just consumed and respond appropriately.  High glycemic index foods, like those containing sugar and white, processed flour, will skyrocket your blood sugar, then make you crash a few hours after eating them.  High glycemic index foods can increase risk for diabetes or make diabetes harder to control.  Temperate fruits, or fruits that are grown in areas like Wisconsin like apples and berries, are relatively low glycemic-index fruits.  This is in contrast to high-glycemic index fruits that are grown in tropical regions, like mango, banana or pineapple.  This means that although temperate fruits are sweet, the balance of sweetness, fiber, and other ingredients helps it to be absorbed by your body in a way to not put too much strain on the system to digest.  Any fruit is typically going to have a lower glycemic index than typical processed, sugary desserts or treats though like doughnuts or cake… so even though temperate is best, fruit is best in general as a sweet treat.

As far as a quick recipe with berries, one way I will add cream to berries for a quick and healthy dessert is by making cream from a can of Coconut Milk instead of using whipping cream.  Although coconut oil still contains saturated fat, which is the fat you are supposed to avoid because it can wreak havoc on your vascular system causing plaques, it has a short-chain saturated fat instead of a long-chain saturated fat like animal-based fats do. Eating less fat is best, but if you are going to indulge might as well do it with an oil that is associated with lower rates of heart disease instead of higher rates of heart disease.

Recipe

To make coconut milk cream, take a can of CHILLED coconut milk… like put it in the fridge.  This is important because coconut oil is more likely to be liquid at room temperature/temperatures above 72 degrees, partly because of those short-chain saturated fats I talked about. Take out the top, white, creamy part of the coconut milk, and about half of the clear liquid underneath.  Blend it together using any type of blending tool- a Kitchen-Aid, immersion blender, classic blender, whisk, egg beater, something like that- and blend for several minutes until the coconut becomes light and creamy like whipped cream.  Add to berries for a summer-y dessert perfect for the 4th of July (especially if you have red and blue berries to go with the white cream!) or any summer get together where taste and health should be the forefront.

Quick, Easy Breakfast

To get right to the point, this is a quick, easy breakfast idea that takes about as much time to make as a pop-tart, but will make you feel good the whole morning instead of giving you a high-then-low sugar roller-coaster without nutrients.

Ingredients

  • 2 slices whole-grain bread
  • 2 Tablespoons nut butter of choice
  • Enough fresh, frozen or dried fruit to cover top of each slice of bread

Directions: Take some type of high-quality whole-grain bread, spread it with a nut butter like peanut butter, almond butter or cashew butter, and add a fresh fruit on top.

High-quality bread includes Ezekiel bread or bread that says “100% whole wheat” (not just “multi-grain” as that’s often code for “mostly processed white flour”).  Ezekiel bread is so healthy because it contains a variety of whole grains without added sugar, but it can be twice as expensive as normal bread ($4.99/loaf) because it is so rich in nutrients.  Processed white bread can sit on the shelf forever and not go bad because, if it’s mostly sugar, salt and processed white flour, not even bacteria and mold want to eat it, and longer shelf-life= less cost.  Ezekiel bread is often sold in the freezer section, and I will store it that way at home, too, until I use it.  Then I will warm it up in the toaster oven to defrost it.

Breakfast seems like the meal that seems to fool people the most.  There are many breakfast cereals that purport being healthy, however the first ingredient on the ingredients list is sugar.  With names like “Blueberry Morning,” “Apple Jacks,” and “Quaker Oats Oh’s!”, or “Cap’n Crunch All Berries,” I mean, they sound healthy.  They look healthy.  But they’re not, and it’s super frustrating when you are trying to make a healthy decision but the packaging thwarts your efforts.  As a rule, most breakfast cereals are just junk :-(.  Yogurt is also very rich in sugar, typically.

Breakfast options that normally aren’t junk include steel-cut oatmeal flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, and fruit; plain yogurt that you flavor yourself with fruit, maca powder, or stevia instead of sugar.  Maca and stevia are just sweet-tasting things that don’t ramp up your blood sugar like white sugar does, and often have important nutrients sugar doesn’t have.  Firm tofu can be made into a scrambled-egg like dish if you add smoked paprika and turmeric for color and flavor, along with garlic, onion, soy sauce, black pepper, and nutritional yeast if you have it on hand.  Other good breakfast options include any type of non processed fruit, veggie, bean or grain product.

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