Food Focus: Natural Sweeteners

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If you’re like me, sweets are something that are hard to avoid. However, if you indulge in the right way, you do not have to avoid them totally. One healthy way to get that sweet taste without all the harmful additives we find in most processed foods, is through natural sweeteners.  But what exactly are natural sweeteners and why are they better than plain sugar? Natural sweeteners are better than refined sugar because their nutrient content is not destroyed. Refined sugar loses the vitamins, minerals, and fiber and can tend to spike blood sugar and actually cause cravings. Natural sweeteners are made in a way that keeps their nutrient content intact. Some good natural sweeteners to use include raw honey, maple syrup, and stevia. When looking for a good honey, try to opt for raw honey because this is the most pure form and contains the most vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. Maple syrup is also a good substitute for refined sugar, however make sure you get 100% pure maple syrup with no added flavors. Finally, stevia is also a great substitute for sugar especially in cooking and baking. One thing to take note of when purchasing stevia is to make sure you get the green or brown liquids or powders because the white can be very refined. These natural sweeteners are great alternatives to refined sugar however, just like anything they should be consumed in moderation.

Eating Our Emotions

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One of the reasons we eat is because our culture promotes dining in conjunction with emotionally charged events – Thanksgiving, Christmas/Hanukkah and Valentine’s Day. We eat when people are born, when people die, when we get an “A” on an exam, when we don’t get an “A” on the exam —we use food as reward and a punishment. Food is tied to our successes and failures, our joy and sadness, our excitement and anxiety.

Our emotions calm down as we anesthetize ourselves with salty, fatty or sugary foods. Our neurotransmitters increase production of serotonin, dopamine and other “feel-good” chemicals. Once we stop eating, we start the emotional descent again and eat more to temporarily feel better. After the cycle repeats a bit longer, we usually find ourselves physically full and feeling badly about our food choices.

In the cases of emotional eating, I work with my clients to be more mindful when eating and to build a reserve of what I call “soul-nourishing” activities – things that feed you but don’t come on a plate.

With the practice of mindfulness, we learn to cultivate the possibility of releasing ourselves from reactive, habitual patterns of thinking, feeling and acting. Eating mindfully teaches us to be aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide decisions to begin eating and to cease eating.

My goal is to assist clients in learning how to mindfully eat and improve nutrition without deprivation, guilt, fear or shame. I am happy to report Kate* is eating more mindfully and engaging in self-nurturing activities and is no longer beholden to eating her emotions.

List of 10 soul-nourishing ideas

  1. Give compliments and praise to those around you.
  2. Practice relaxation techniques.
  3. Keep a journal to write out your emotions and gratitude.
  4. Visualize what life will be like after the emotion passes.
  5. Surround yourself with friends and positive people.
  6. Exercise (choose something you enjoy or that has a mind/body component like yoga or tai chi).
  7. Learn proper self-care (get enough sleep, have a nutritious diet, & plenty of water).
  8. Get outside and into nature (try a walking meditation, spend time near the water, watch the sky change colors as it sets).
  9. Listen to music — and dance!
  10. Use your passion and creativity in a hobby or career.