What counts as refined sweeteners? Artificial sweeteners is first on the list and an easy one to guess. This includes, saccharine, aspartame and splenda. But sugar in it’s various forms is natural, right? Yep, but still not close to how it comes from nature, i.e. it is refined. That includes white sugar , brown sugar, turbinado, sucanat, cane juice, et al. This also includes sugars from other plants such as stevia, agave, corn syrup and brown rice syrup. So, what can I use as a sweetener? Honey and pure maple syrup. These are limited in their processing. Maple syrup is made by boiling most of the water from the sap of the sugar maple — taking it from 2-3% sugar to 66% sugar concentration. Honey, well, if you buy raw honey, most of the processing is done by the bees. Pasteurized honey is heated to kill off most of the botulism bacteria contained in honey. Honey is better for your blood sugar level and contains many antioxidants and enzymes that are good for our health. We managed this challenge with little difficulty, since it is our usual MO these days anyhow. Because we went to the Ohio State Fair that week, we did allow the kids one junk food item. They chose, of course, cotton candy. Why not? Sugar, artificial color and artificial flavors. They shared the bag and we came home with leftovers (that went into the trash). This week I made a batch of whole grain, double dark chocolate brownies with honey instead of sugar. My kids loved them. Hubby, not so much. I’m going to try to rework the recipe a bit before I post it.
Unrefined oils contain many times the health benefits of refined oils. This is the main theme of our challenges and our switch to real foods — less processing/refining = much tastier & healthier food for our bodies. Heat processing, while it makes a more attractive and shelf stable product, destroys the health benefits of the fats we eat, taking them from healthy oils that reduce cholesterol and help our bodies absorb the fat soluble vitamins our bodies need into unhealthy fats that make our bodies fat and unhealthy. What counts as unrefined oils? Look for these key words: organic, unrefined, cold pressed, first pressed, extra virgin, non-hydrogenated
Butter: That is probably the easiest to find and use. Good for baking, frying, etc.
Coconut oil: Extra virgin, centrifuged coconut oil is good for medium high heat cooking applications.
Olive oil: In Europe, extra virgin means first pressed and unrefined. Not necessarily so in the US. It’s best to look for the words “first pressed” and “unrefined” on the packaging. This oil is great for salad dressings or drizzling over cooked foods.
Sesame oil: Good for medium high heat cooking such as sauteing or stir frying. Also good in sauces or dressings.
Red palm: Good for high heat cooking.
Flaxseed oil: add to cold foods, such as smoothies, to retain the health benefits.
Avocado oil: another good oil for higher heat.
Some of these oils can be a bit more difficult to find, though my personal shopper (Hubby) did a fine job finding some options at Jungle Jim’s. We also have the added inconvenience of a peanut allergy in our family, which limits our choices a bit as well. Many oils are packaged on equipment or in facilities where nut oils are packaged. Anyhow, we ended up with new sesame, olive and coconut oils in our pantry. We have tried them all. The coconut smells wonderfully sweet, like fresh coconut. Though the smell isn’t excessively strong, I still had difficulty mentally getting over the coconut smell while cooking fish I intended to top with pesto. The olive oil made much tastier dressings than the processed olive oils and worked well for slow roasting veggies. The sesame helped make a delicious veggie stir fry. I will continue to work these into my daily cooking.
Watch for refined sweeteners & oils: read labels and think about what you choose at restaurants. Sugar is added to most breads that need to rise. Honey will work as well, but sugar is what you will likely find when purchasing from a store or restaurant. Many products that are low-fat will add sugar for flavor and low calorie or “lite” products use artificial sweeteners. Think about condiments, beverages, breads, crackers, pre-made pasta sauces. If you can find a packaged food or a restaurant that uses unrefined oils, you have found a rare thing! Read labels and call or email companies when you want to know more.