ColumnReasons to consider striving for a sugar free diet.
There has been an excess of apples from our local farmer lately, which means every Monday I find myself stuffing a kilo or two into my backpack. They’re small, crisp and full of flavor; what a real apple should taste like. They’re a gorgeous blend of red, yellow, orange and green, a few brown spots here and there; what a real apple should look like.
With this overabundance of fruit on hand, I made a batch of apple compote for morning granola and yogurt. Simple: chop apples, put them in a saucepan with a little lemon juice and lemon zest, throw in a cinnamon stick and a few cardamom pots and cook until stewed down to a chunky consistency.
My mother used to make applesauce when I was little. I have memories of her having with a huge saucepan going on the back burner. She would freeze the batches in quart-size Ziploc bags and we would eat it throughout the winter, warming it up to put on oatmeal. Sometimes she would add in blackberries from our property which made for a beautiful golden yellow puree dotted with purple. The queen of cooking with whole ingredients, I don’t know if she added sugar when she made applesauce, but if she did, it was a tiny amount. I knew the apple sauce I ate was different than the stuff my elementary school friends were eating out of a glass jar. Their’s was a glassy puree with a thin consistency. Mine was chunky with an aftertaste of summer.
I thought about this memory as I stood making my apple compote. I sprinkled a tiny bit of raw sugar for good measure (it’s so raw and unrefined it looks like the color of earth), not because it needed it, but because I wanted a bit of a caramelized flavor.
This got me thinking about all the classic ingredients with which people have been cooking and baking sweet things for centuries; the ingredients that you used when you couldn’t just run down to the market and snag a 5-pound bag of refined, granulated white sugar.
There was a time when sugar was equated with a luxury spice, a “white gold” that was really only available to the European elite. And in the era of World War II, sugar was one of the main ingredients that were rationed, 3/4 lb for one week. Whatever did people do? Well, they functioned just fine, managing to concoct dishes that played on the inherent tastes of natural ingredients, instead of augmented and processed ones. And while it seems crazy, people used to eat fruits as a sweet treat. Shocking, I know.
But nowadays, we’re so used to sugar in our diets that fruit doesn’t cut it, and if we’re overdosing on sugar, part of it’s because we’ve forgotten how to use ingredients that are naturally sweet. Even if we do use them, we hide their flavors in a thick saccharine layer.
Sweet potatoes don’t need to be drenched in 18 cups of brown sugar (I’m looking at you Thanksgiving table). They’re delicious on their own. Grapefruit? Doesn’t need to be covered in white sugar to be a tasty breakfast treat. Apple pie? Bite into an apple and explain to me why when put into a pastry it needs an additional pound of sugar added to it. Drowning your pancakes in maple syrup? What’s wrong with some stewed fruit with a few spices? There’s no need to be Paula Deen.
According to one study, “In 1822, the average American ate [per year] the amount of sugar found in one of today’s 12-ounce sodas every 5 days. Now, we eat that much every 7 hours.” Um, every 7 hours? Anyone else see a problem here? That spike in consumption isn’t just because of sugary pies, a lot of it comes from “added sugars” – all the sweeteners that are added to processed foods – but if we aimed for a sugar free diet when we’re in charge of the cooking, we would all be doing a lot better. And if we started eating real fruits instead of the watered down GMO versions that practically beg to have sugar added. Eat real food and you don’t need the rest.
I’m not advocating for a completely sugar free diet – hello, the Swedish cookie baking of the holidays is coming up soon – but as with all things, go in moderation. Use whole ingredients, and take advantage of all the good things that nature has to offer. As much as your sugar-addicted brain might tell you differently, you don’t need that refined sweetener. You might find that a sugar free diet isn’t so hard after all.
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This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at www.foodieunderground.com.
Image: Adelle & Justin