The Art Inventory

Bastyr Showcases Sweeteners, And That Oh-So-Sweet Taste

by Kirby Lindsay, posted 24 October 2012


On Oct 27th, 2012, at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health, Cynthia Lair will help with 'Choosing The Right Sweetener' Photo from Public Domain

On Saturday, October 27th, at 10:30a, the ‘Living Naturally’ lecture series continues at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health (on Stone Way.)  Bastyr Assistant Professor Cynthia Lair will talk, and answer questions, on ‘Choosing the Right Sweetener For You.’

Lair has taught on this subject for 18 years, she said, and she knows most people don’t want to hear about.  Yet, as a published cookbook author (and host of Cookus Interruptus,) Lair can give those willing to listen plenty of information on different natural sweeteners (well beyond white sugar,) and the latest research on sugar alternatives.

Cynthia Lair, Assistant Professor at Bastyr University, Cookbook Author and Co-producer/Host of 'Cookus Interruptus' Photo provided by C. Lair

Her presentation, on Oct 27th, is given to first quarter students in the Bachelor of Science program at Bastyr University, and contains all the rudiments of sweeteners – while being simple enough for even the least informed.

Sweet Like Sugar

Right up-front, Lair admitted, “The sad truth is there aren’t any healthy sweeteners.”  All sweeteners have calories and, as she acknowledged, the potential for abuse.  “If I eat five cookies a day made out of refined sugar, or five cookies made with honey,” she explained, “I’m really not doing anything better for my system.”

Honey can give foods more flavor than refined white sugar - and it is just as yummy! Photo by K. Lindsay, Oct '12

Yet, Lair does recommend the use of honey, syrup, and even molasses, in cooking and food preparation – in small quantities.  The flavors of these natural sweeteners can be more interesting than white sugar provides, and ultimately create a more complex dish.

Lair noted that, overall, 19% of our total daily calories come from sugars –Americans eat about 130 pounds per person per year.  “That means that one-fifth of our diet is sugar,” she observed.  Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist, has shown that excessive use of sugar can cause many health problems beyond obesity – including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.  (See his video on YouTube entitled, “Sugar:  The Bitter Truth.”)

Sweeteners have a dopamine-like effect on the brain, Lair observed.  Like cocaine, most users need more and more to get the same effect.  “Fructose reacts much more like a drug on the system than a food,” Lair said.  For some, cutting it out completely might be an option, but she believes it depends on the individual.  She equated it with the choice made by those who know they can drink a single glass of wine, and those who know one glass will lead to another, and another.  “I think the sugar addiction is similar,” she said.

Many of us consume pounds and pounds of sweeteners, unconsciously, through fountain drinks. Photo by Zach Klein, Sep '05

As for artificial sweeteners, “they are not the focus of the talk,” Lair explained, but she can answer questions about them.  She observed that consumers use 14 pounds of artificial sweeteners per person per year, most probably taken in through diet beverages.

“The question really is, do you want to use your body for these experiments?” she asked.  Most artificial sweeteners, she explained, “came onto the market without any long term study,” and may turn out to have side effects as yet unknown.  As for herself, “I’m not interested in being a guinea pig for those.”

Some Alternative Steps To ‘Sweet’

A home-made dessert, like baked apples, can satisfy a sweet tooth with very little added sugar (or honey.) Photo by Jessica Haysen

Lair recommended a few basic adjustments for those willing to lessen their dependence on all sweeteners:

  • Get enough sleep and exercise.  Many people, Lair observed, crave sugar for an energy boost, yet it creates just as quick a boom and crash after the brief boost.
  • Eat more fruit.  Fruit contains natural sugars that don’t cause a system crash – and can fulfill cravings for something sweet.  Consciously choose to eat fruit, and include it in your regular diet.
  • Create your own desserts.  Home-made desserts, Lair recommends, over the store-bought, high fructose corn syrup, and/or processed flour versions.  Whole fruit desserts – such as poached pears, strawberry-rhubarb crisp, baked apples, date pecan bon-bons, vanilla nut cream, etc. – require far less added sweeteners while still delivering satisfaction for a sweet tooth.  Lair also encouraged cooks to find dessert recipes that contain some protein, fiber and fat, as a balance to the sugar calories.

According to Lair, adding pureed banana, or dates, can add a sweeter flavor to a recipe. Photo from Public Domain, Aug '10

For ‘Choosing The Right Sweetener’, her lecture on Oct 27th, Lair will explain about different kinds of sweeteners – dry and wet.  Many more options exist than most people realize – date sugar, unrefined cane sugar, coconut sugar, stevia, agave, brown rice syrup, barley malt, and, of course, honey.  “In the Nutrition Kitchen [at Bastyr,]” Lair said, “we use honey, maple syrup and malt.  We also use pureed bananas or dates,” to give recipes a sweet flavor without adding a sweetener.

“The human body really likes the ‘sweet’ taste,” Lair explained, as we are conditioned to equate ‘sweet’ with love, celebration, comfort and even safety.  (“Nothing poisonous in nature has a sweet taste,” she explained.)

‘Sweet’ is a part of our diet.  Through the Bastyr Center for Natural Health, learn healthier alternatives and choices – for you and your family – with this free lecture by Cynthia Lair.  Awareness of different options – and making even the smallest change – could make a big difference…and what could be simpler, sweeter?

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©2012 Kirby Lindsay.  This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws.  Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.


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