“Eat less sugar. You’re sweet enough already.”
About a year ago, I finally started listening to my Functional Health Specialist and cut sugar from my diet. It was probably one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make. After all, I started Good Food Dear Friends out of my own desire to find gluten and dairy free snacks that actually tasted good, and sugar was, and is still is, a main component in those recipes. In this post I will describe my journey toward gluten free, dairy free, and now sugar free deliciousness.
I had finally decided that I was tired of hurting all the time, and Dr. Owens assured me that sugar was probably a large contributor to my pain. I went on what’s known as an AIP (auto-immune protocol) elimination diet, which meant I wasn’t just gluten free, dairy free, and sugar free. I was also going to be grain free, corn free, chocolate free (I know, right???), potato free, tomato free, and soy free. This last one was particularly hard, which you will know if you’ve read my blog,”In Search of Protein”, and I’m still mourning the loss of my wonderful homemade soy yogurt. Of course, many of these meant that I couldn’t eat any of the items I was now selling and making for others.
I have since been able to add grains (yes!) back into my diet, including corn. I think I’m ok with chocolate and maybe tomatoes on a limited basis, but it hasn’t been easy to figure these out. These foods, and others, can cause inflammation in the body, which can lead to pain. Sounds easy, right? Well, not for me. You see, even though I eliminated all these foods from my diet, I never completely stopped hurting. Auto immune disorders are the gift that keep on giving, right?. You can’t have just one! Haha! So it’s taken this past year, and then some, to get just to this point. I have noticed a marked decrease in pain, as well as other factors, since starting this journey, and I hope to have a definitive list of what I can and can’t eat in a few months, but it is definitely slow going. What I do know is that sugar is a problem for me
When I first started selling my sweets and treats at our local farmer’s market, I noticed how many people asked for sugar free items, something I hadn’t anticipated. I remembered the energy balls I had made for myself when looking for safe sweet treats soon after going gluten and dairy free and made several up for the next Saturday morning. “Yes, these are refined sugar free,”, I would say, “sweetened with dates or honey, lots of protein and fiber, very low on the glycemic index”. They were an immediate hit. I have several customers that order them a batch at a time and keep them in the freezer. I will continue to offer these wonderful little treats any time of year. Just give me a call or find Good Food Dear Friends on Facebook and message me.
Over the past 2 years, I continue to have people request sugar free items. Some are trying to lose weight, but many others have inflammatory problems with sugar just like me. I have promised these customers that I am working on sugar free recipes, but hadn’t had a lot of luck with those experiments. Sugar free baking has been a common thing for many, many years, but I will only use natural sweeteners, and that complicated my efforts. I can get a good flavor, but lose the texture. Or vice versa. I tried using cup to cup sugar replacements like coconut and date sugar, which provides the moisture content of sugar and creates cookies and muffins that look and feel very similar to their regular sugar counterparts, but the taste was not, well, should we say, not marketable. Liquid sweeteners were not going to work, despite my best efforts.
I’m a big fan of stevia. I grow it, dry it, and use it to sweeten my tea in the morning, steeping it just like my herbal teas. It’s natural and even the powder forms are not overly expensive, especially considering how little is used. Adding yogurt provides moisture, and works pretty well in muffins, but completely changes the texture of cookies. This and the inherent bitterness found in stevia, made it an unacceptable replacement.
Many sugar replacements, including stevia, monk fruit, and others, come as a blend with erythritol. This makes the hyper concentrated sweeteners, like stevia and monk fruit, more recipe friendly, providing a replacement ratio of ½ to 1 instead of 1 tsp equaling 1 cup. It also eliminates most of the bitterness found in stevia. However, much of erythritol is processed from corn, so I was unable to use it before I eliminated corn as a problem for me. Now I am able to use it for myself, but a lot of health conscious people are leary of it, also because of the corn factor. So much of the corn grown in this country is genetically modified, and people are, rightfully so, concerned about this fact. Allulose is another sweetener that I investigated, but it is now being made from corn as well, so I’m hesitant to go much further with that as an ingredient.
I knew it would take some free time to experiment to come up with the right sweeteners, but I rarely have that amount of time. Not that I’m complaining. I have been very gratified with the support and business so many people have brought to me and I truly enjoy making delicious treats and sharing them with those that have dietary needs. But I have been very happy to have a few days this week with no orders and no pressing needs. I believe I have spent the time wisely.
I am very pleased to say that I think I have solved the problem of achieving both taste and texture in several gluten, dairy, and sugar free recipes. As I mentioned, coconut sugar was a disappointment, but after talking to other people who praised coconut sugar, I decided to give it another try. I was amazed to find that it did a much better job than I’d remembered. The texture is definitely there, and I believe I can make not only muffins, but breads with it as well. The cookies are not as crispy/chewy as my original recipes, but they are definitely acceptable. However, the sweetness was not quite there. Close, but I knew I could do better. Back to my old friend stevia. Also completely natural (I only use the powder form that is 100% stevia), and it takes so little to bring the sweetness up to optimum, that there is no bitterness.
Now some may be concerned with the number of carbs found in coconut sugar. At 4 grams per teaspoon, it is almost identical to actual sugar. I understand the concern, but my items are not going to be Keto-friendly since I use oat flour as my main ingredient. These sugar free items are designed for people who have adverse effects to sugar, like inflammation.
There are also people who can’t have tree nuts, and sometimes coconuts are a problem for them as well. If that is the case, I have many other options I can try (see picture at top of post), on a per order basis. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you need an adjustment to any of my mixes or baked goods.
I also discovered that, since coconut sugar has basically the same chemical makeup as regular sugar, it is not an option for people with diabetes. For that reason, I will be labeling my baking mixes as (Refined) Sugar Free, and the ingredients are always available on my store. More information about this below.
So, how will this work? For baked goods, sugar free items will be made on a pre-order basis, with a required order of at least 1 dozen for cookies or muffins, or one full size bread or coffee cake. I will post sugar free prices on my new menu, which will be posted on my Facebook page the first week of March.
A note on chocolate chip cookies and coffee cake: Both of these items use brown sugar. While coconut sugar can be used as a replacement for brown sugar in some recipes, these two recipes really need the added sweetness of brown sugar. The only sugar free brown sugar I can find (or make) contains erythritol as a main ingredient, so those two items will have erythritol listed in the ingredients list. The same is true for the glaze on the coffee cake – all natural powdered sugar substitutes contain erythritol, even powdered monk fruit. I will keep searching for acceptable substitutes, but right now I can only use what’s available. So if erythritol is an issue for you, then you may want to pass on the sugar free chocolate chip cookies and coffee cake.
As stated above, I will also be adding (refined) sugar free mixes to my online store. I’ll be limiting it to banana bread, double chocolate brownies (yes, using sugar free chocolate chips), chocolate chip cookies (again sugar free and dairy free chips), and coffee cake. I may add more at some time in the future, but I want to keep it simple for now. If the natural sugar replacements I use in those mixes won’t work for you, please contact me and I will do what I can to find a way to help you out. That’s one of the great things of having a small business. This sugar free thing is definitely NOT a One-Size-Fits-All, and I will work with you to find something tasty and safe for you to eat!!
And, I will be posting recipes for ways to use those 4 mixes in other ways. It’s easy to use a banana bread mix and make zucchini or pumpkin bread, for instance. Be on the lookout for those and others in the future.
I hope you are as excited as I am about this addition to my gluten and dairy free sweets and treats. It’s so great to be able to eat some of the tasty treats that I make for other people again! I look forward to hearing from you soon. As always, if there are other dietary needs that you have, I will do what I can to meet those for you. After all, we all need some food joy in our lives.
Sharing Good Food with my Dear (Sugar Free) Friends,