When too much of a good thing is bad

If you have ever been on any type of regimen to lose weight or to become healthier (which btw. are not always synonymous) you’ve probably come across the notion that as long as you eat healthily you can eat a lot and it won’t matter. I hear it all the time. I make a sugar-free cake and all of a sudden my brain thinks it’s a free for all, eat-the-whole-cake kind of a deal. But whether you use healthy sugar-free ingredients or not it’s still a cake  – if you have one too many slices it will go right into your thighs and buttocks. Why is it so hard to remember?

Food is energy and it doesn’t matter what type of food it is (perceived to be healthy or unhealthy), if you eat more than you can use, it will most certainly be stored in your body especially when you’re already carrying too much weight on your frame. If you are already super lean, then it might be a different story (more about that in a future post), but for now, let’s assume that we all have some padding we could spare.

A common misconception that fuels the if-it’s-healthy-there-is-no-limits mantra is the idea that there are healthy and unhealthy versions of sugar. Let me explain: there’s been quite a bit of stirring news in recent years about the dangers of consuming too much white sugar that now almost everybody agrees that white refined sugar is bad and should be avoided or its consumption be minimized. You’d think that this is a positive outcome, but you’d be wrong. We still crave the sweet taste so we arbitrarily decided that we will find sugar replacements or “healthy versions” of sugar. We’ve been taught that because honey is made by bees it is somehow different than white sugar and it’s even considered a healthy sweetener – how many times have you heard somebody say to have some hot water with honey when you’re sick? Honey will not only not cure your cold, but it will make you sicker by spiking your blood glucose, the same way that white sugar will.

Another fraud that we have have fallen victims of at least once in our lives is being perpetrated by the the organic food industry : think organic molasses, organic coconut sugar, even simple white sugar parades as a healthy alternative because the label reads it’s organic. This is the biggest and most successful food scam that I have ever seen – not only are you still eating sugar, you are also paying through the roof for it. A 4.4lbs pound of non-organic white sugar sells for $1.99 and 2lbs of the organic variety is $5!

Does it change your purchasing habits if you see a label that reads “Wholesome”? It must be good, right?

The list goes on… if you think you are somehow doing yourself a favour by switching from sugar to Maple Syrup, Agave Syrup, Coconut Palm Sugar, Brown Rice Syrup etc. you are fooling yourself. They are all metabolised by the body the same way  as sugar – in the liver – and have a glycemic index around that of white sugar – anywhere between 50 and 70. Sure, you could be harming yourself even more by consuming maltodextrin whose GI is 100, but you could also be doing much better by not fooling yourself with “healthier” versions of sugar.

Pure Canada Maple has a great little spin on their website about the benefits of consuming Maple Syrup that touts its antioxidant, mineral and vitamin content. It looks impressive enough to make me want to chug on some straight from the bottle… until I remember that it is a sugar and it will make my body go bonkers trying to deal with a surge of blood glucose, my insulin will try to lower it and redirect it into liver and muscle as glycogen and when that’s full and it will be full very quickly, it will deposit the rest on my thighs. I also looked at their little comparison table trying to convince us that the nutritional information of Maple Syrup is so much more superior to that of other sugars… until you look at the calorie and sugar content that is on par with its neighbors:

Source: Pure Canada Maple

What counts the most is the damaging sugar content in all those sweeteners – this is the deciding factor of how much these sugars are going to harm your body and in effect negate the other micronutrient content. You can get your vitamins, minerals and antioxidants from other sources that will not spike your blood glucose and make you fat.

This idea that there are better options of white sugar paired with the first notion that if something is healthy we can eat unlimited amounts of it, followed by the revelation that there is no such thing as healthy sugar alternatives creates an atomic bomb kind of problem. If the sugar alternatives are just as bad as white sugar (and they are) but we perceive them as better, less harmful and as a result eat more of them then we might as well have  been eating the white stuff in fear and moderation all that time and be better off for it. Now, we’re eating more of the sweet stuff and the results is we are harming ourselves more than before!

So what’s the solution? – you ask. When I first started being aware of the damaging effects of sugar on my body in 2005 what really did it for me was to get rid off all sugar altogether. I went cold turkey to heal my body and it worked like a charm. Unfortunately, most people don’t want to do that, most of us want to have the cake and eat it too. Damned be all the social media food porn that teases us with the picture perfect images of various treats! Yes, I blame the social media – when I first started using IG, I swear to my food processor, I did get dummer! I bought in to all those pretty pictures of supposedly healthy sweet alternatives and started experimenting with substitutes myself. Mind you, my substitutes were never the above mentioned sweeteners, because by then I knew better. I picked my sweeteners of choice based on their blood glucose effect, forgetting completely that it’s still the sweet taste that mattered
and whether a sweetener has calories and high GI rating or not, it is still telling our brain that sweet stuff is coming. So my vices were and still are: Pure 100% Stevia, Pure 100% Erythritol (or a blend of those two) and to a lesser extent 100% Xylitol. When I say 100% pure I mean without any bulking agents – remember you have to look at the ingredient list – if your Stevia, Erythritol or Xylitol contain bulking agents like Maltodextrin or even Sugar, you might as well just be eating straight white sugar. Those 3 sweeteners have no or very little effect on blood glucose which is good, but consuming them daily does mess with my brain. I never thought I would say this out loud – because prior to my use of these sweeteners I consumed sugar based foods only once a month – but I now believe that the sweet taste (regardless what sweetener it comes from) consumed on a daily basis makes me want to eat more than I would normally eat. And it’s not even the idea of them being calorie free, I simply get a feeling of dissatisfaction and disappointment when the treat is gone that I reach for another piece and another and another, until the feeling turns into a disappointment with myself…

All this to say that the sweet stuff is here to stay and as much as I can make sure that packaged stuff doesn’t
contain any added sugar, I can’t in my right mind say that I will never consume any sweet treats. I’d be lying to myself and you. Our weekly grocery shopping includes many items that are high carb and high sugar because other members of my family do consume them. So I am surrounded by the carbage that taunts me on a daily basis. Do I like the taste of carbs? Yes! Do I have weak
moments? Yes! And I try to deal with them by creating my own “better” recipes that don’t contain sugar. Does it work? Most times it doesn’t, because I, like everybody else, have learned to believe that the sugar replacers are somehow better and my inhibitions get lowered and self control goes out the window and before I knew it, my latest low carb creation – The Poppy Seed Cakes – was gone!

If you read this far, you probably gathered that my New Year’s Resolution is not doing as well as I would have hopped and you would be correct. Granted, I’m not having my sweet treat every
day, but when I do my sweet tooth kicks in with triple the strength and I want to eat a horse made out of chocolate 😉

So I decided to try something new – this is probably an old wives tale, but I don’t care – they say it takes 21 days to form a new habit, so starting today until March 18th I’m quitting Stevia, Erythritol and Xylitol (the only sweeteners I’ve been using for years now) to see if my sweet cravings subside. So, no treats, no pancakes, not even once a week. I’m fed up! You should join me too and let me know how you’re doing in the comments section.

In the meantime, I leave you with the creation that became the source of inspiration for this long rant – Poppy Seed Cakes. It is, of course an all time childhood favorite turned low-carb, but I momentarily forgot that it was still a sweet treat and inhaled them quicker than the speed of light – I am not even kidding. By now, they are all gone, of course. If you think you can apply self control better than me, I highly encourage you to try them, because they were truly off the hook delicious – I guess that’s partly to blame for their disappearance 😉

I was not quite as successful as I would have liked with the icing on top, but it did add a nice sweet component, if just a bit too crunchy…

Poppy Seed Cakes
 
Author: 
Nutrition Information
  • Serves: 43
  • Serving size: 30g
  • Calories: 158
  • Fat: 47
  • Saturated fat: 21
  • Unsaturated fat: 8.4
  • Carbohydrates: 16
  • Sugar: 2.2
  • Sodium: 70
  • Fiber: 9.8
  • Protein: 12
  • Cholesterol: 95
Recipe type: Sweet Treat
Cuisine: Low carb
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Be warned - these are to die for!
Ingredients
  • 250g Poppy Seeds
  • 4 Eggs
  • 125g Coconut oil
  • 125g Butter
  • 300g Almond Flour
  • 130g Coconut Flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened Almond milk
  • 1tsp Almond extract
  • Liquid Stevia to taste
  • 4tbs Truvia (spoonable)
  • 1tsp Baking powder
Instructions
  1. Poppy Seed Mixture:
  2. Bring 1 cup of Almond Milk to a boil and add your Poppy Seeds, 1tbs Truvia, Stevia and 1tsp of Almond extract.
  3. Reduce the heat and let stand for 15 minutes.
  4. When cooled off process Poppy Seeds through a grinder to break down the seeds - repeat 4-5 times.
  5. Add 2 Egg Yolks, mix well.
  6. Gently fold in 2 whipped Egg Whites into the poppy seed mixture.
  7. Set aside.
  8. Dough:
  9. Mix together in a bowl: Coconut Flour, Almond Flour, 2tbs Truvia and Baking Powder.
  10. Add 2 Eggs, melted Coconut oil and Butter and mix well.
  11. Assembly:
  12. Using silicone muffin cups line the bottom of the cup with a tablespoon of the dough, pressing with your fingers line the bottom completely.
  13. Add a tablespoon of the Poppy Seed mix.
  14. Cover the Poppy Seed mixture with another layer of the dough.
  15. Repeat until all your dough and Poppy Seed mixture is used up.
  16. Preheat the oven to 350F and bake 45 minutes or until your cups turn brown on the tops.
Notes
This recipe was originally supposed to be in a shape of a roulade called Poppy Seed Roll, but having very little experience baking with these ingredients I had to improvise quickly. When I realized that rolling this closed would pose a problem I turned the recipe into individual cakes by using silicone muffin cups. The dough would just not stick and hold together the same way traditional flour does.

Traditionally, since this recipe calls for potato starch and regular white flour it does come out being fairly dry, so my mom would make an icing to drizzle on top. She would use icing sugar with hot water to create it, but of course that's a no-no in my books. So I used a bit of Erythritol with hot water, but as you can see it did not produce a good looking icing. My recipe tester also disapproved by scraping it off. He found it too sweet. Next time I might grind Erythritol into a powder to imitate the icing sugar texture.

 

They turned out amazingly well, given the fact that it was supposed to be a roll rather than a muffin 🙂
The filling was very dense but at the same time retained a lot of moisture from Almond Milk. Traditionally, though, the recipe would call for some dry fruit such as raisins – but those are not allowed in any keto recipes. You can also add chopped nuts into the Poppy Seed mix like walnuts, but I found that I did not need to increase the fat content in this recipe due to all the Coconut oil and Butter already used, so I skipped the nuts. Maybe next time I’ll play with different versions.

 

The bottom line is : whatever you decide to be your sweetener of choice for your treats make sure you use it as a treat, not as a constant, daily component of your meals – that’s why we call them treats, because they are supposed to be infrequent.

Sweetener resolution update

My birthday marked exactly two weeks into my New Year’s Resolution to remove my dependency on sweeteners, which for a long time has been limited to SweetLeaf Liquid Stevia only. However, I started noticing that daily use of this sweetener caused me to want to eat more in general, regardless of my hunger cues – you can read about my reasons behind the need to scale down in my initial post. So if you are wondering how I’ve been doing with this, read on….

The day I committed to scale down on the treats and the following workweek was spot on, 100% void of sweet treats. Everybody I know has a hard time resisting treats in social gatherings, at work, at parties etc. and for me that setting is the easiest one to say NO to treats. Why? Because I come prepared : I know exactly what I am going to eat and how much – it’s in my lunch box. I’ve already calculated all the nutrition of my packed meals because I made them, so I know what went into them. However, if somebody brings in a dip and crackers to work or other sweet treats, I have no way of knowing how to calculate that into my day – even if I wanted to have some. That’s a bit extreme for some, I realise that, but if that’s what keeps me from indulging then I’m willing to make that work for me. During the workweek I behaved and did not indulge in any sweet treats during the day or at night. My challenges lie in the inactivity…

Think a relaxing evening with a loved one on a couch watching your favorite show or a Saturday afternoon lounging around the house or a lazy Sunday morning in pyjamas – those times are very taxing on my little brain. For some reason my hands keep wanting to bring treats into my mouth 😉 And that’s what happened the past two weekends – subconsciously I’ve planned out my meals for Saturday and Sunday that included my regular sweet treat – a big ass pancake for each night. So out of 14 days 4 of them I did include my sweetener 4 times to make a pancake, which I think is a pretty good start on my way to sweetness freedom. I know I can do better and in order to do better I need to remove the inactivity trigger from my life during evenings and on the weekends….

The fact that the last day happened to be my birthday and I became overcome with an urge to develop a new sweet recipe did not help at all! In fact, I may have overdone it on the sampling of the new recipe just a tad – but then again, birthdays only come once a year, right? Well, I think that mentality is what gets us in trouble in the first place – how many times have you heard your internal voice say: “This is going to be the last time I’m going to have some, because it’s *fill-in-the-blank-special-occasion*” ? I dare say a lot – I know I have justified an indulgence more than once in my life just because it was a holiday. So, I’m putting that mentality on trial along side the sweetener.

Having said that and having recommitted myself to get rid of my sweet tooth for good, I did end up with a bowlful of Coconut Chocolate Cups on my birthday, so I think it’s only fair that I share the recipe with you 🙂

Coconut Chocolate Cups
 
Author: 
Nutrition Information
  • Serves: 16
  • Serving size: 30g
  • Calories: 231
  • Fat: 23.5
  • Saturated fat: 21.1
  • Unsaturated fat: 0.4
  • Carbohydrates: 4.1
  • Sugar: 1.8
  • Sodium: 8.1
  • Fiber: 2.1
  • Protein: 1.9
  • Cholesterol: 2.5
Recipe type: Snack
Cuisine: Sweet Treat LCHF
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Watch out because you might get addicted to these - they are one of a kind.
Ingredients
  • 3 packages of Pure Creamed Coconut
  • 2tbs of Heavy Whipping Cream
  • 2tbs Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 15g Unsweetened Coconut Flakes
  • 3tbs Coconut Oil
  • 10 drops of SweetLeaf Stevia drops
  • Extract of choice
Instructions
  1. Put the Pure Creamed Coconut in a double boiler and start mixing until you get a pretty runny consistency.
  2. Add 1tbs of Whipping Cream and mix - your mixture with harden a bit but as you keep mixing on the double boiler it will soften up again.
  3. Add Cocoa Powder, Coconut Oil and Stevia as well as extract if you're using any. Mix well.
  4. Add the second tablespoon of Whipping Cream and mix well.
  5. At the very end add the Coconut Flakes and integrate them well into the mix.
  6. Pour out about 30g of the mix into a silicone muffin form and repeat until all the batter is used up.
  7. Place the muffin forms into the freezer to help set.
  8. When Cups are set gently take them out of their molds and place them in a container to store. I would keep them either in the fridge or even the freezer.
Notes
Note 1 : If you can't find The Pure Creamed Coconut by Grace at your local grocery store there is an alternative but it is somewhat more expensive. Nutiva has a product called Coconut Manna, which is a puréed coconut meat. A 425g jar will run you about 12-13$. The packets that I buy are 1.69$ for 141g. So when you do the math you're saving yourself a bit of change. My packets look a bit less fancy and you have to get your creamed coconut from a plastic bag, but at that price difference I'm willing to do some work.

Note 2 : I see people spending an extraordinary amount of money on cocoa powder and I just can't justify it when I know I'm going through so much of it - it is not an occasional ingredient for me. And to be perfectly honest I cannot tell the difference between the fancy cocoa powder packaged beautifully and enticingly and the regular store brand cocoa powder. And there should not be any difference because the ingredient lists the exact same thing. So I always opt for the store brand cocoa powder, but to each their own - any will do.

Note 3 : I found a nice section of very potent extracts at Bulk Barn and for this one I used a few drops of cherry extract. Mint would go well with these and maybe some heat in the form of chili powder. You could also sprinkle these with chipotle himalayan salt before you put them in the freezer to set.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These were very tasty – not too sweet, as I tried to hold myself back on the Stevia and they had a very mild coconut undertone. I enjoyed the shaved coconut flakes in them as well – nice texture addition. You could swap the coconut flakes and instead add nuts – I think whole hazelnuts would be great in these.

Hope you enjoy these little cups, don’t do what I did, though, because too much of the good thing isn’t that good.

I’ve put together a short instructional video to show how I usually deal with Pure Creamed Coconut – it took me a while to figure it out, but once I did I understood the ways in which I can use this product much better. Forgive the amateurish feel of my first real attempt at video making, hope you’ll enjoy it anyway 🙂

 

 

My New Year’s Resolution this year

Disclaimer warning: If you start reading this post only to ask yourself why the heck am I putting this out here, please know that one of the purposes of this blog is to keep myself accountable. If it’s out there and I fail you will be my judge. 

I’m not sure what it is that prompts people to commit to a New Year’s Resolution around this time of year, but the sudden desire to better myself at something come January 1st has overcome me as well this morning. You could say that we are being bombarded by the media telling us from every corner of the house that a new year is beginning and hence we should work on our resolution lists. However, my TV is never on – I hate the constant blaring of TV so unless there is something specific I want to watch it stays off, I only listen to the radio on the way to work in the car – and it’s the public radio for that. In fact, the only way I know what time of year it is is because I am not waking up every morning to go to work, and even then I need to look it up in the calendar to see how many days left til we’re all back to reality. So, what is it that makes me want to hop on the New Year’s Resolution bandwagon? Maybe I’m just sick and tired of this lala land without any schedule whatsoever, getting up whenever I  feel like, skipping gym or washing my hair, maybe I just want back into the real world…. Now, this makes me think: Is this what retirement is like?

Whatever the reason, I’ve decided that I too should show my allegiance to the millions of people trying to make their lives better this coming year and change something about mine. Given my last post,  it only makes sense for my resolution to revolve around food. Yes, there is one thing that I am still working on improving as far as food choices are concerned – sweeteners.

If I was to pick one vice, one weakness that still plagues my life it would be my sweet tooth… well maybe also not wanting to leave the house after dark, but that’s not food related ;-)…. I’ve been known to skip supper and instead make myself a sweet treat – lately I’ve been on a coconut pancake kick. But I go through phases of different treats – a long time ago it used to be protein ice-cream…

 

then I couldn’t stop making mug cakes….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was even a time when I’d eat this delicious store bought no-sugar added So Delicious coconut ice-cream. Notice that these were from an era of IIFYM when sugar was an accepted ingredients of my deserts as long as it fit my macros – the ice-cream was sugar free, but the toppings were certainly not. Hard to believe I these were my nightly treats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and for the past little while it’s been my beloved big ass pancake….

Every night, like in a Swiss clock, I’d be at my stove going through the motions of preparing for yet another pancake. I now have it down path: whip the eggwhites in the food processor until stiff peaks form while I measure out the coconut flour and my various toppings (nut butters, nuts, coconut flakes, cocoa powder with stevia and few drops of water to make it into a paste – you name it I can whip it up). It’s become a type of a tradition now, but I’m getting sick of it. A tradition that makes you feel like a slave to your urges is not a good tradition. Sure, I make it by myself – the pancake is not store-bought, there is no sugar in it – I use pure Stevia extract drops to sweeten my pancake batter, it has minimal ingredients that I weigh out, I also track every gram of every ingredient in my food tracking app – MFP. Granted, I feel better about my pancake than I would if I was sitting down to a bag of Doritos, that’s true, but is it really that much better?

I’ve come to the conclusion that it is not that much better after all.  I have become enslaved to my little tradition and I seem to be unable to stop. That one night treat will go down every single night regardless of whether I’m hungry or not – I just simply have to have it or I will feel deprived. And that feeling of deprivation right there has nothing to do with food or hunger – it has to do with the hold that sweeteners have had on my life for quite some time. I’ve gone through an array of safe to consume, better sweeteners :

Erythritol,
Xylitol,
Truvia (I was careful enough not to buy the big bags as those are blends that often time contain sugar as a bulk agent),
Monk fruit,
VitaFiber IMO (Isomaltooligosaccharide),
Just Like Sugar,
Swerve, …

You name them, I’ve probably used them. There is a chapter of my life that I recently managed to close permanently in which  I craved the sweet stuff so much that you’d be hard pressed to see me without a huge piece of aspartame sweetened chewing gum in my mouth – hardly able to speak. I thought since my gum had no sugar in it, I was safe to chew it to my heart’s content. Same happens to an artificially sweetened nightly treat – it does not contain sugar in it, so what’s the harm in it, right? That’s exactly what the manufacturers of all these sugar replacements will have you believe – they are better than the obvious white poison, but are they really?

Even after reducing my sweetener of choice to the one and only, better-than-all-the-rest-of-them – SweetLeaf Liquid Stevia – I still find myself strangely drawn to the sweet taste, like an addict to her poison. In the morning I might actually resolve myself to not making a sweet night treat, but as the day goes on my resolve weakens and I find myself planning for the pancake anyway. I hear myself saying : “Just this last time and then I’ll be done with it forever”. And by the time the evening comes and we are quietly awaiting some TV viewing I start going through my well known steps to make yet another sweet treat.

I now believe that it’s the case with all sweeteners (good, bad, natural, artificial etc.) that there is much more at play than just their caloric value. Sure, when you look at the package, most sugar replacers will claim 0 calories and 0 carbs or very close to 0 – this is supposed to make them better than sugar – but calories and carbs are only part of the equation of the relationship with sweeteners that we have developed. In fact, I’ve learned to believe (based on my own experience) that those calories and carb claims on the packages make us more likely to overindulge. We have come to think that if the package says there is no dietary repercussions to consuming a given food we can gorge on it and there will be no consequences for us. Finally, we can have the cake and eat it too! And I’ve been eating it way too much.

It might not be a physical consequence – even though that’s a point of debate – but there certainly is a mental consequence. When you can’t go a day without your favorite aspartame sweetened soda or gum – or as is now the case for me, a Stevia sweetened nightly treat – there is a problem : you have got yourself hooked on the sweet taste. If addiction doesn’t scare you, because supposedly you are not consuming calories let me remind you that the research on all these sweeteners is still in its infancy and we know very little as to how they affect our bodies. It matters very little that you are not consuming calories when you sweeten your coffee with Sweet ‘n Low if your blood glucose might still be going up as a response to the sweet taste? If your blood glucose is up, the insulin is released to deal with it, couple that with a pasta dish and a fat storing process begins without you even realising.

So this time is good as any – my New Year’s Resolution this year is to say no to the sweet stuff and learn to live without even the good sweet stuff.