Remember Mary Poppins? “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down….” Well, that’s just a spoonful. What happens when it becomes 22 spoonfuls, or worse, 34 spoonfuls? That’s right! Just last year, MSNBC reported
that American adults consume 22 teaspoons of sugar each day! And teens consume 34! Shocking, if you ask me! Most of the sugar consumed comes from sodas and candy, but make no mistake about it: Plenty of sugar is consumed in everything from pastries, pies and cookies to cereals, soups and pasta sauces.
Now, I know it’s probably comical that a nutritionist named Sugar (me) is writing about the excessive consumption of sugar, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. All that excess sugar can really pile on the extra calories, and that can lead to weight gain, not to mention the potential for crowding out other very important nutrients that are necessary for good health. This is especially important for children!
The statistics reported by MSNBC are referring to added sugars rather than the naturally occurring sugars found in fruits, vegetables and dairy products. What do I mean by added sugars? Take a look:
- White sugar
- Brown sugar
- Turbinado sugar
- Fructose and high fructose corn syrup
- Dehydrated cane juice
And this is not even a complete list!
Want to make a dent in your sugar consumption? Cut out — or at least back — on sodas and candy! That goes a long way. Of course, read labels and choose packaged foods with little or no sugar added. Next, look to dried fruits to provide added sweetness.
When you skip the sugar and sweeten with dried fruits, you’re getting all the good natural sweetness along with the fiber and valuable vitamins and minerals contained in the whole fruit. But remember that fruit contains a lot of sugar, natural though it is. It also contains a lot of water. So when the fruit is dried, it becomes concentrated and energy-dense, so don’t go overboard! Concentrated calories do add up. And if you are sensitive to sugars, you may need to cut back on dried fruit as well. Just because dried fruit is natural doesn’t mean that it is well tolerated by everyone.
To spare the added sugar and sweeten with dried fruit, start here:
- Add raisins or currants, chopped dates or dried, chopped apricots to hot oatmeal or any hot cereal. Here’s a Millet Breakfast Cereal with Mandarin Oranges and Dates.
- Nix the sugar on cold cereal! Top with dried blueberries, cherries, raisins or dates instead.
- Make a bowl of breakfast brown rice with added nuts, raisins, dried cherries and a splash of milk or non-dairy "milk." Don’t forget the cinnamon!
- Reduce the sugar in your cookie recipes by 1/3 or even 1/2; sweeten them with dried pineapple, papaya or apricots.
- Next time you’re making muffins or quick breads, use just a minimal amount of sugar and add chopped figs, raisins or dates.
- Here’s an idea: Don’t add that sugar at all! Soak raisins, figs or dates in hot water for ½ hour, drain and puree in a blender with the rest of the ingredients in your muffins or quick breads, then bake as instructed.
- Sweeten a smoothie with a couple of dried dates.
- Try this Chia Seed Pudding sweetened with currants, figs or dates.
- Try a fruit pie or fruit crisp with apples, pears, peaches, or whatever you desire…hold the sugar! Add raisins, currants, prunes or figs instead.
Just remember that you need to keep your eyes open. Some dried fruits are made sweeter by adding sugar during processing and many have added sulfites to protect the color. At Whole Foods Market, all of our dried fruits are 100% sulfite-free. When possible, choose dried fruit without added sugar, or with a bit of fruit juice added when the fruit is particularly sour, such as cranberries or sour cherries.
The high sugar content of dried fruits acts as a natural preservative; this means no refrigeration is necessary although keeping them cold can help them last even longer. Be sure to store dried fruit in air-tight containers to keep the fruit from absorbing moisture and attracting those pesky little insects. And remember that, on occasion, the natural sugars in dried fruit will solidify, forming crystals on the surface. This is especially true of prunes and figs. This is perfectly harmless. Enjoy!
Are you ready to spare the sugar and go au-natural? Got a favorite recipe using dried fruits? I would love to hear!