Guest Post – Cara sweet talks us

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Posted by Amy | Posted in Food, Guest Post | Posted on 19-01-2012

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I’ve been all over the diet world in my life — from Atkins to Vegan. One of the ideas that I’m playing with right now is the concept of “Clean Eating”. Well, what the heck is that? Instead of me filling your head with nonsense and half formed ideas, I thought I’d bring in an expert. Cara, of Cara’s Cravings, is a recipe contributer to Clean Eating Magazine. If you’re not following her, you’re missing out on some tasty treats. Make sure you’re getting her pins on Pinterest! One of the things I love about Cara’s Craving’s are some of the sweet treats she develops and shares. I’m constantly in this battle with myself over sugar — Do I take the calorie hit for natural sugar or do I go the chemical route to get artificial sweetness for zero calories. It’s a tough call sometimes and I feel limited because I really don’t know what natural sweetening options are out there.

Cara to the rescue!

Cara graciously agreed to a little guest post on clean eating and the sweet stuff!

No Sugar, No Problem

So I hear your favorite Fit/FatGirl is in the process of a little detox. Are you following along too? Well, good! I don’t mean that in a “Yay for you! You’re going to be drinking nothing but lemon and chili pepper spiked water for three days!” (I’m no detox expert but I really hope that’s not the one you’re referring to.) I mean that in a “Awesome! We could all stand to clean up our diets” sort of way.

Who am I and why do I want to talk about clean eating? My name is Cara and I write a food blog called Cara’s Cravings.  So what? Everyone and their mother has a food blog these days. I’ll tell you what. Cara’s Cravings is healthy living food blog where I share delicious recipes perfect for any food lover trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I do this because I *love* food and my weight used to show it. Losing weight didn’t make me lose my love of food and eating; rather, it made me realize there was even more food to love. Now my meals are chock full of good-for-you-stuff yet I still feel like I’m indulging every day because the food is that good. I have found that there is so much more food in this world that I *can* eat freely than those I try to avoid.

What exactly is clean eating? One might consider it a detox for life. Cleaning up your diet from processed, unhealthy foods to heal your body and your mind. Focusing on colorful veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats to satisfy your cravings and fuel your daily activities. Trying to eat more ingredients instead of things that have ingredients.

Clean eating is not eating sugar. Specifically, refined sugar (common granulated white sugar and brown sugar) is a big no-no. The problem is that these are often hidden everywhere – even in foods we might think are healthier choices, such as bottled sauces and dressings, “healthy” granola bars and crackers, and flavored yogurts. Of course, you’re probably aware of many “sugar free” varieties of these foods, but the problem with these is that they pretty much all contain artificial sweeteners (think: the stuff commonly known as the yellow packets, pink packets, and blue packets.) Clean eating is also not eating artificial ingredients. So what’s a gal with a sweet tooth on a clean eating diet to do?

I already alluded to the fact that there are tons more foods we can eat than the number of foods we cannot. Easy-to-find, more nutritious and all-natural sweeteners include honey, maple syrup, and molasses. Other options becoming increasingly more mainstream are succanat (also referred to as evaporated cane juice) and coconut palm sugar. These sweeteners all have caloric value comparable to “regular” sugar but are less processed and retain higher nutritional value.

Each has its pros and cons, including flavor and ease of use, which will help determine which one should be used in place of sugar in a specific recipe. Also becoming increasingly popular is stevia, a zero-calorie all-natural sweetener derived from the stevia plant. In it’s pure form stevia is many times sweeter than sugar (1 teaspoon is equivalent to 1 cup of sugar in terms of sweetness) which makes it difficult to use a direct replacement in baking. One would need to make up the bulk that sugar would comprise with another ingredient. However, stevia is sold in various forms, including concentrated liquid drops (great for sweetening coffee and tea) and bulkier mixes (easier to use in baking or for measuring small amounts.)

Over the past year I’ve been experimenting with these various sweeteners and put them to use in many recipes. I’ve found that I rarely use just one kind of sweetener.

Dairy-Free, Refined Sugar-Free Gingerbread Ice Cream

Dairy-Free, Refined Sugar-Free Gingerbread Ice Cream

In this Gingerbread Ice Cream, I started with molasses to provide the rich color and characteristic dark gingerbread flavor. I could have used all molasses to sweeten the ice cream, but to shave some calories, I opted to use about half of what I would have needed to create an adequately sweet ice cream, and added liquid vanilla stevia to provide the rest. (If you just clicked that link and dropped your jaw at the price of a 2oz bottle, relax. It seems like a lot of money but I promise it lasts forever. This stuff is highly concentrated and you only need a few drops to sweeten a cup of coffee or tea.)

cookie dough truffles, vegan, chia seeds, guten-free, cacao nibs

cookie dough truffles, vegan, chia seeds, guten-free, cacao nibs

Similarly, in these Mint-Cacao Cookie Dough Truffles, I used a combination of powdered stevia along with maple syrup. In no-bake recipe, the maple syrup is desirable because it helps to bind the dry ingredients. But just like with the gingerbread ice cream recipe, I opted to lighten the caloric load by using some stevia in addition. (The additional liquid needed to hold the cookie dough truffles together was provided from unsweetened almond milk.)

Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake Swirl Brownies

Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake Swirl Brownies

Now take a look at my Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake Swirl Brownies (that are not only refined sugar-free, but vegan and gluten-free too!) Here I used a combination of maple syrup and another sweetener I didn’t even mention above: dates! Date puree (made from soaking dates in hot water and then pureeing in a food processor) provide not only sweetness and obvious nutrition, but contribute to the soft, chewy texture desirable in brownies and cookies. Also note that instead of oil, I used a combination of applesauce and pumpkin to provide the necessary moisture. These natural fruit and vegetable options provide some sweetness too. Decadently rich and fudgey, these brownies are some of my favorite baked goods to date (no pun intended.)

Chocolate Raspberry Macaroon Tart For Clean Eating Magazine by Cara Lyons

Chocolate Raspberry Macaroon Tart For Clean Eating Magazine by Cara Lyons

Lastly, here is an example where stevia did work perfectly well on its own. That chocolate-covered dream you see is a a  Chocolate Raspberry Macaroon Tart I created for Clean Eating Magazine. There you have it. Another resource to support your new clean eating lifestyle, and one I’m proud to be a regular contributor to. I served this tart at a big family party last spring, and the only complaint was that I didn’t bring a second one as well.

I hope that with these ideas, you’re even more excited to kick your healthy lifestyle into gear. But please remember, even though these are all better choices, it’s important to note that one should still try to exercise the principal of moderation and maintain a balanced diet. Lastly, don’t stress about excursions from the “rules” here and there. Remember that your good habits over the course of time will ultimately determine your progress. And once you realize all the quality, wholesome food out there, you’ll want to get right back to it after that once-in-a-while “cheat.”

Cara Lyons is the author of Cara’s Cravings, a food blog dedicated to delicious recipes for healthy living and a regular contributor to Clean Eating Magazine. A self-taught photographer, she will be teaching a beginners’ seminar on food photography at Nourished, a conference geared towards special diet food bloggers, on April 13th, 2012.

Comments (4)

That tart is totally calling my name! Thanks for the great tips Cara. I’m just beginning to use stevia in my recipes so I’m soaking up all the stevia tidbits I can right now. Thank you.

Oh my gosh. Every one of those recipes looks better than the rest! I love this article. I love all of the refined sugar -free alternatives you mention here! Thanks for sharing all of your tips, Cara!

Wow, all of those desserts look fabulous. I love stevia, but I’m finding I like it better in combination with other sweeteners (it’s a bit too much on its own), like you’ve done here. Gotta make that tart. Wow.

i have been clean eating for almost 2 months and completely swear by it.. like you i have done every diet possible and since i stopped “dieting” and started eating clean, i have lost 10LBS so far and i feel great.. thanks for this post

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