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Macro (Easter) Monday: A guide to all that's sweet.

Happy Easter Monday, all!

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MM: The Sweet Stuff

In Macrobiotics, sweetness falls more to the yin side of things. Sweet things can be relaxing, soothing and expanding & help us feel better when the yang side of things take over (stress, hot weather, tension, salty foods, too much work). So it makes sense that permanently denying all things sweet is not a good route to go. Sweetness is good: we need some yin to balance the yang-paced world we exist in! Plus, treats are great and fun and are often a source of social bonding --- think birthday cakes, Easter egg hunts, Christmas cookies, and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving.

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But, too much Yin throws off the Yang. Moderation is key. And some things are just simply too-strongly yin (fall to the very far side of Yin) and will always throw off the balance. You can always enjoy sweet vegetables like carrots & squash for a very balanced sweet taste. But, when you need something a little more treat-like, try making & enjoying some sweets made with some of these less-intense sweeteners.

My Favourite Sweeteners:

Pure Maple Syrup

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This is my #1 go to sweetener to use in baking. And not because I love the flavour of maple. In fact, I don't really enjoy maple flavour at all. But most store bought "maple" cookies, candies, pancake syrup etc. is full of artificial maple flavour. Real natural maple syrup is not-so-strong (don't get me wrong, if you eat it straight, you'll taste maple, but not so intense). Personally, I don't even detect the taste at all when I use it in baking. I also use it in teas, coffee, cocoas etc, and find it to add a very gentle, subtle sweet taste. You can even buy granulated maple syrup to use in baking (it makes substituting sugar a breeze, as it is dry, so it doesn't change the texture much). If I make brownies, I use granulated maple syrup.  Real maple syrup comes straight from the tree, full of vitamins & minerals. Or maybe I just like it so much because I'm Canadian?! :)

Fruit

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Of course, the simplest, purest, quickest way to get some sweet in your life is to chow down on some fruit. Stewed fruit is divine, and for a special treat try adding ginger to stewed apples. Fruit crisps are seriously wonderful. And fresh fruit kantens are wonderfully refreshing in the summer. Dried fruits are intensely sweet (dates are nature's candy), and frozen fruits are really convenient to throw into baking or smoothies. I love using apple sauce in cookies, muffins, and cakes. And of course, fresh fruit has many vitamins, minerals, and enzymes, and are recognized as powerful cleansing foods. I love fruit tarts, and will make more like the one above this summer, with recipes to post on here.

Brown Rice Syrup & Barley Malt

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These are the quintessential macrobiotic sweeteners. If you are new to natural sweeteners, these ones may take a bit of time and multiple recipes, to get used to the taste. They are more complex sweeteners, and therefore hit the bloodstream a little slower...giving you more sustained balanced energy. I quite like brown rice syrup. It's great as a replacement for honey as it has a thick caramel-like texture. I haven't used barley malt as much, as I try to avoid gluten. But as my digestion has become much stronger, and gluten isn't as big of a deal for me any more, when I see something with barley malt in it, I'm excited to try it. You can make great cookies with these two sweeteners.

Runners-up

Raw Honey

Honey as been used for centuries as medicine in many different cultures. I've seen tons of articles floating around these days toting the health benefits and healing properties of honey, often in combination with cinnamon. It tastes amazing (obviously), and is full of enzymes. It tastes sweeter than regular sugar, so you don't need to use quite as much. Also PB & Honey is a time-tested combination that no one can touch. YUM. Another amazing combination is tahini & honey.

Blackstrap Molasses

I love gingersnap cookies. Bring on the molasses, because without it you'll never get that wonderful gingersnap flavour. Blackstrap molasses is, well, black. In this case, black is a good thing, as it means that it is less processed and full of vitamins and minerals that are often taken out of regular molasses. Also, blackstrap molasses is really high in iron!

Coconut-palm Sugar

This is a newer product, and I've tried it in a few recipes over the past year. It is definitely not so sweet, which makes sense as it is supposed to be very low on the glycemic index. It is quite dark brown, and has a rough texture ---> this is good, as it shows that it is less processed. I would definitely try subbing some of this in for brown sugar or regular sugar in any recipe, if you'd like to try veering away from regular old white sugar.

Sucanat / Turbinado Sugar

These guys are basically less-processed white sugar. Some of the vitamins and minerals are still left in tact, making it slightly more nutritious, and easier to digest. These guys are easily found in all stores now, and you can make some simple & easy cookies with them, as bake just the same as regular sugar.

Not-so-sure

Stevia

Many many health professionals and healthy eaters love stevia, as it is from a plant, and doesn't impact blood sugar really at all, but tastes super sweet. I don't really have any particular nutritional complaints about it (some are more natural than others though, for sure). But, I put it in the not-so-sure category, because my stomach doesn't really like it. It is pretty potent for me personally, and is so-so-so sweet that it often puts my cravings for sweetness into overdrive. It can be delicious though, for sure. My favourite brand for taste is nunaturals alcohol free vanilla liquid stevia.

Agave

Agave has a nice mild taste, and is from a plant (if you get the real stuff), but it's not my favourite, as it has such a high fructose content. I do eat it occasionally though, as it's often the "natural, raw, low glycemic" sweetener of choice in healthier options at stores & restaurants etc., but I have never bought it myself, nor used it in any of my own cooking/baking.

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It can be really difficult to make healthy choices these days, with tons of information floating around out there, and coming at us in every direction from tweets, magazines, newspapers, facebook, news stories, etc. I think the best way to choose the foods you eat, is to simply be open & willing to try anything, and then make a note of how it makes you feel --- both physically & mentally. And then, once you eat those foods, if you're aware, you'll notice how much of them is right for you.

What is your favourite sweetener, and how do you use it?