This the last part in January’s series on sweeteners. Next month, the Traditional Foods Primer will focus on bone broth – its nutritive value, preparing it and using it. This month we’ve examined modern sweeteners, traditional sweeteners and their uses and now we’re onto looking at the role sweeteners can play in the diet.
Sweeteners can greatly enhance meals – a little sugar can do wonders in balancing the acidity of tomato sauce or tempering a fiery curry. And we all suffer cravings for sweet comfort foods like cookies and milk, or chocolate or a luscious pound cake.
Sweeteners, however, are relatively new to the human diet and we certainly didn’t evolve eating the amount of sugar that we currently do. Ten thousand years ago, humans rarely ate any sweeteners except for the occasional bounty of perilously gathered honey. Three hundred years ago, the consumption of sugar averaged 6 lbs per person per year and now we’re eating 44 lbs of sugar per year and 40 lbs of high fructose corn syrup. In effect, the consumption of refined sweeteners as risen by 1,300% over the course of 300 years.
So now, we’re at an impasse. We’re accustomed to drinking a sweetened beverage with meals or grabbing a sweetened snack or topping off supper with ice cream. Researchers are now analyzing sugar’s very real, addictive nature. Never mind that, traditionally used sugars like the ones I touched on last week, often don’t translate well to modern recipes. They’re too deeply flavored, or don’t dissolve well.
After you overcome the culinary challenges of using traditional sweeteners in your foods, you’re still presented with the difficulties of moderating sugar intake and limiting sweet foods. A truly traditional diet – a diet that we evolved on – would not include the frequent use of sweeteners as a rule; rather, sweet treats were traditionally used for truly special occasions if they were eaten at all.
Sweets are my downfall, and I enjoy making sweet cakes and cookies (using natural sugars and sprouted grains, of course), but even those when consumed too frequently can still pose problems to your health and metabolism.
To make it simple: eliminate modern sweeteners from your cupboards, add a few natural sweeteners and use those natural sweeteners only rarely, if at all.
Some naturally-sweetened recipes for those super-special and rare occasions: