Let’s talk about sugar, and then let’s bake some cookies.
Your physical health would be better if you never ate another sweet again (excluding raw and preserved fruit). Sugar (meaning refined) is not good for you. And let’s face it; few of us are using the type of energy that sugar gives us, unless you are secretly skipping out on the day job to bow-hunt small game and whittle canoes. However, I am under the impression that most of us are never going to get to the point in our lives when we completely swear off confections. And really, why would we? It would be a complete pain, not to mention nearly impossible. Someone’s done it, I’m sure, and I’m also sure that they can justify it and even try to get you on board (and guilt you, too). But on a communal, cultural, and even emotional level… well, I don’t know.
Some sugars are better than others for various reasons. Some sugars are better for the environment, some for the cultures where they are sourced, some because they are less refined or travel less to get to you, some because they mess less with your blood sugar, and some because they have more vitamins and nutrients or fiber. Different nutritionists and experts will list the best and worst sugar sources in different orders. This is my best approximation of the best to worst: fruit, honey, fruit juice, stevia, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, sacanat, agave nectar, evaporated cane sugar, demerara-turbinado-raw sugar, palm sugar, brown sugar, white sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners (aspartame, etc.). There will be arguments with it, but there are reasons for moving any of them up and down the scale, even while shopping, depending on if you can get them local, fair trade, or without preservatives, for example. And they have a tendency to be either vilified or celebrated to extremes. (Sugars, and fats, too.) Then there is the whole issue of which sugars to use for which situations (such as baking or stirring into a cold beverage) and how to make substitutions (oh, that is a royal pain). We’ll put that off for another night.
And then there is the issue of cost. For organic berries or a good, raw, local honey, you have to really loosen those purse strings. Therefore, I try to use the best sweeteners feasible, and I use every sugar listed except for the last two, which are completely banned from my kitchen (because they can pretty easily lead to a host of diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer). We’re also not downing the cookies every day, nor are we wading in a sea of calories every time we take a drink… we stick to mostly water (large emphasis on the mostly), followed by (unsweetened) tea and milk, juice (carbonated or not), followed by yogurt and fruit drinks, like lassi. If we could afford it, that list would include kombucha.
You can also save yourself a lot of sugar intake by sweetening things yourself. (This principle also applies to sodium and salt.) The less you consume restaurant and packaged foods, the less sugar in your diet, in general. A great way to start? Buy plain yogurt, then add fresh fruit or fruit puree and a small amount of honey or maple syrup, to taste. Or flavor your own milk with a shot of purple grape juice or vanilla/cocoa powder and maple syrup. Another tip: you need stronger tastes to do the same thing at a lower temperature. Ice cream has to be sweeter than a warm cookie to satisfy that same sweet tooth. Worth thinking about.
Here is a recipe for a cookie that sort of meets in the middle between conventional ingredients and more healthy ingredients. I promise that you will love the result. I call them bomb cookies because it’s like a bomb went off in the pantry and a little bit of everything landed in the bowl. (As a point of interest, they are also the only baked good that I have completely concocted from scratch, no help from recipes.)
- In a large mixing bowl, cream together 1/2 cup butter (no hormones, no antibiotics), 1/2 cup extra virgin coconut oil, 1 cup brown sugar, and one cup dry sugar of choice.
- Add 2 eggs, one at a time, until completely incorporated, then stir in 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, and optional 1/2 teaspoon orange OR rum extract.
- On top of the batter, dump in 1 1/2 cup (whole) spelt flour, 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup wheat or oat germ or nutritional yeast, 1/2 cup flake coconut, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1 teaspoon salt. First, gently stir ONLY the dry ingredients until baking powder and soda are evenly distributed, and then fold into the wet ingredients until everything has just been moistened. If needed, add milk or orange juice by the tablespoon to make a nice cookie dough consistency.
- Stir in 1 1/2 cups rolled oats, 2 cups dark chocolate, white chocolate, or butterscotch chips (or combination) and 1 cup (raw) slivered almonds or chopped walnuts, pecans, or peanuts (or combination).
- Oil a baking sheet or two (I love Airbakes) and preheat the oven to 350F. Roll dough into 1-2 inch balls and place on the sheet a few inches apart.
- Bake for 13 minutes, until flattened and beginning to brown. Let sit on pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. Store, once cooled, in a sealed container for a few days, if they last that long.