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The Sugar Factor

Sugar Cubes in The Sugar Factor

Why We Love Sugar

Back when man had to hunt for food, sugar - usually in the form of honey - was a highly prized commodity. A sweet taste told a man a food was safe and edible, while bitter-tasting food signaled dangerous or poisonous substances.

In fact, our bodies are genetically programmed to like sweet foods. Scientists recently discovered a specific sweet taste receptor unique to humans and even a gene for sweets.

Infants are born with a liking for all things sweet, and despite the misconception that sugar makes kids "hyper", its effect on serotonin levels in the brain actually produces a calming effect. And apparently, that teaspoon of sugar does more than just make the medicine go down; studies now show that it also acts as a pain-reliever in infants.

Children like sweets of higher intensity than adults. As we mature into adults, how much we eat and the intensity of sweetness we like varies depending on our age, ethnic background and life experiences.

Sugar Cravings

When you crave sweets - cookies, cake, candy - could mean you are withdrawing from processed sugar and are missing that "sugar high". However, it can also mean you might be legitimately craving carbohydrates because you have under-eaten and need some glucose. In either case, try eating plenty of fresh, whole fruit when a sweet craving hits. Fresh fruit will satisfy the cravings and give your bloodstream needed glucose.

Are You a Sugar Addict?

Actually, that question is a bit misleading, because a person cannot literally become psysiologically addicted to sugar. We can get intense cravings for something sweet, but those are not physiologically based. A craving for sweets, say experts, is more the result of conditioning based on cultural, social and individual cues.

The key to managing sugary foods, like most things, is to not over do it. Monitoring when and why you eat sweets can help control your cravings and let you gradually decrease your intake. And then you just may enjoy the sweets you do eat that much more.

Taming Your Sweetness Gene

It helps to know where your sugar is coming from. Pay attention to what you eat; added sugar shouldn't contribute as much as sugar from natural sources. if it does, here's how to strike a better balance:

Sugar Canister

  • Read labels. Choose foods with the least amount of sugar (four grams of sugar is about one teaspoon).
  • Watch out for sugar in unexpected places such as peanut butter, salad dressings, condiments and deli meats.
  • Choose water or unsweetened drinks over regular soft drinks. Limit juice to one or two half-cup servings a day.
  • Scour labels for sugar aliases. Look for: Beet sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, maltodextrin, molasses, sucrose and turbinado sugar.
  • Don't eat sweets when you're hungry. Instead, enjoy them as after-dinner treats (think old-fashioned dessert) to savor and enjoy in small amounts when you're less likely to over indulge.
  • Don't deny yourself. Instead of resisting, downsize. Take half the amount you normally would so you won't feel deprived.

Add Flavor with Less Sugar

Spices Using flavor enhancers such as orange or lemon zest brings out the fruitiness in a dish and heightens the flavors of the ingredients used. Vanilla, butter flavoring, and nut flavorings produce an aroma of "fattening" sweetness and buttery nuts without the use of butter or excessive use of nuts. Sweet-enhancing spices such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger and nutmeg intensify flavors in a dish. Try combining several spices instead of using just one for a fresh, uplifting flavor. In chocolate recipes, substitute cold strong coffee for the liquid needed. This brings out the deep chocolate flavors. Topping baked goods with fruit, fruit spread or a generous amount of cinnamon mixed with some sugar substitute allows the flavors to be on top and tasted immediately.

Adding Volume

Use egg whites in place of whole eggs - two egg whites equal one egg. These may be whipped to stiff peaks with an electric mixer for slightly more volume. For optimum volume, set eggs out on counter for one-half hour before separating and whipping, or put eggs in a bowl of warm water while you assemble the other ingredients.

Cookies made using sugar substitute or very little sugar will not always spread enough while baking to cook evenly. Thus, flatten the surface of each cookie before baking with a fork coated with cooking spray. The cooking spray prevents the fork from sticking to the dough.

Bake muffins and cupcakes in small mini muffin pans rather than the standard size to provide the desired shape and allow them to rise higher. Adding one-half teaspoon baking soda to a recipe helps the product to rise in a short baking period.

Adding Sweetness

Dried Fruits Reduce fruit juices to one-third of their original volume by boiling over high heat for concentrated flavors and sweetness. The use of additional vanilla also accentuates the sweetness in a dish. Dried fruits, such as plums, raisins, apples, pears, peaches, apricots, cherries and cranberries provide bursts of sweetness. Cutting each one into very small pieces helps distribute the flavors and sweetness more evenly. (On a similar note, use mini-morsels of chocolate rather than the standard size chips helps guarantee chocolate flavors in every bite).

Over ripe fruits, such as bananas, provide a tremendous amount of sweetness, moisture and flavor. Always buy fruits - especially apples - individually, not in plastic bags. The flavors and sweetness are much more intense when the fruits have not been packaged in plastic.

Sprinkling a small amount of sugar on a piecrust coated with cooking spray will create the taste and appearance of sugar while using only fresh and dried fruits in the filling.

Did you know?

Maple sugar is about twice as sweet as refined granulated sugar.

Adding Color

A small amount of molasses not only provides color, but moisture and deep sweet flavor as well. When baking with sugar substitutes or recipes very low in sugar and low in fat, food may not brown properly. Sprinkling cinnamon or nutmeg on top of an item before baking gives the impression of browning. And using a small amount of dark brown sugar with fruits will give the dish an intense, buttery, rich color.

Adding Moisture

Fruit Puree Us mashed or pureed fruits - ripe bananas, pureed baby-food pears, runes, sweet potatoes, carrots - to increase moisture in baked goods. Applesauce may be used, but the other purees seem to provide more flavor, tenderness and moisture.

Cookies and brownies will continue to cook while cooling. Remove them before they look done and allow them to cool on a rack. When baking with sugar substitutes, in particular, the baking time is shortened considerably.

Use canola oil or olive oil in place of butter or margarine in small amounts to add moisture while reducing cholesterol intake.

Sweet Substitutions

Sugar adds sweetness, tenderness and color to foods. But if you are watching your sugar intake, you do have other options. Keep these general guidelines in mind:

  • Take advantage of the natural sweetness in fruit. Try using fruit juice, frozen juice concentrate and reduced-sugar jams and spreads in place of sugar in recipes.
  • You may be able to reduce the sugar by a third in some recipes for baked goods without significantly changing the taste and texture. Do a little experimenting and see if your family can tell the difference.
  • To enhance flavor, use spices like cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, nutmeg and mace. Also consider extracts, such as vanilla and almond, to add more flavors.

Add the following reduced sugar recipe to your existing collection! The blueberries are packed with sweetness, nutrients and antioxidants naturally.

Blueberry Turnovers Recipe

Fresh blueberries 1-1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries, slightly thawed
12 packets sugar substitute
1-1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 to 4 teaspoons apple juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Reduced fat pastry for a 9-inch single pie crust
2 tablespoons nonfat milk
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 400-degrees. Rinse blueberries; drain slightly and place in medium saucepan. Sprinkle berries with the 12 packets of sugar substitute and cornstarch; toss to coat. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until berries begin to release juice and form small amount of thickened sauce. Add apple juice, 1 teaspoon at a time, if bottom of saucepan becomes dry. Stir in lemon zest. Cool; refrigerate until chilled.

Roll pastry crust on floured surface to one-eight inch thickness; cut into eight 5-inch squares, re-rolling scraps as necessary. Place about two tablespoons blueberry mixture on each pastry square. Fold squares in half to form triangles and press edges together to seal. Crimp edges with tines of fork; pierce tops of pastries three or four times with tip of knife.

Brush tops of pastries lightly with nonfat milk and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Bake on wax paper lined or parchment-lined baking sheet 25 minutes or until pastries are lightly browned. Recipe makes eight turnovers.

Nutrition information per serving: Calories: 213; Total fat: 6g; Saturated fat: 1g; Carbohydrates: 23g; Cholesterol: 0; Fiber: 1g; Protein: 2g; Sodium: 134mg. Exchanges: 1 starch, 1/2 fruit, 1 fat.

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