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February's Natural Sweetness! What is the best sweetener?

February is a sweet month with free‐flowing declarations of love and lots of sweet treats at every turn. But even in this sweet month, we all know that it’s best to keep the sugar intake very low, right? In case you need a reminder, like I do at times, consider a recent study published by the Center for Disease Control that reported "the risk of cardiovascular disease death increases exponentially as you increase your consumption of added sugar". Did you get that?

More sugar means a greater chance of death! We also know that processed sugars suppress the immune system making you more susceptible to other diseases including cancer and less severe maladies like the common cold.Most Americans are consuming these added sugars via sodas, teas, and sports drinks. The solution here is to drink more water. Please don’t opt for diet drinks with artificial sweeteners instead, they are just as deadly. I know most of us aren’t going to stop eating sweets altogether, but we can do better! I’m often asked what the best sweeteners are and after some research and testing several alternatives I think there are a few good alternatives.First, you want to follow the principle of eating whole foods—foods that are very close to their natural form, with the least amount of processing. That, then automatically eliminates artificial sweeteners including all of the pink, blue, and yellow packets (aspartame), and Splenda.

To sum up the dangers of artificial sweeteners: just say no to drugs! These chemicals are drug‐like neurotoxins. This also eliminates the highly refined sugars: high‐fructose corn syrup, white sugar, confectioner’s sugar, and brown sugar (brown sugar is just white sugar with added molasses).If you move things up a notch you’ll find sweeteners like Sucanant (dried cane sugar) and “raw” sugar (turbinado). These are bit less refined and don’t use animal bones in processing nor are they bleached with other chemicals like white sugar. But they are not really raw and still close to white sugar. Of the two, sucanant is better and retains more of its natural properties. Now on to the nectar s (raw agave and coconut nectars) tend be a bit better with a lower glycemic index and more micronutrients, but should still be used sparingly. Opt for raw agave nectar over plain agave; non‐raw agave is heated and processed much more. Pure maple syrup is a nutrient‐rich alternative, but again should be used sparingly.Then finally we move to the truly natural sweeteners like raw honey, date sugar, dates, raisins and stevia. Date sugar is just dried and crushed dates. It can be a bit more expensive than other sweeteners, which should dictate how much of it we really should be using, smallamounts. Dates, date sugar, raisins, and raisin paste are really the best alternative becausethey are still completely whole foods with their nutrient profiles left intact. Stevia, on the otherhand is an herb, and does not raise the blood sugar. Although it has a sweet flavor it containsno sugar. Stevia is very potent, so a very small amount is needed to sweeten a dish. Largeramounts can leave an aftertaste and over‐sweeten a dish very quickly.When you do indulge in, or make sweet treats, opt for most natural sweeteners and onlyindulge every now and then, not daily.We’ll be making some sweet and natural treats on Valentine’s Day. If you want to learn howand have a taste, join me and another vegan chef as we demonstrate how to make deliciousRAW BROWNIES, using the most natural sweetener!

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