We are biologically hardwired to like sweet things. Give a baby something sweet and they smile. Sour or bitter? Not so much.
One of the reasons sweet things taste so good to us is that sweetness is a sign that a food is calorically dense. In our caveman days, this was crucial to our survival. Hunter/gathers needed to get as many calories as efficiently as possible in order to live. Today, we still have our caveman physiology but we live in an entirely different world. Food, especially sweet food, is far from scarce but our bodies haven’t realized that getting as many calories as possible is no longer optimal.
A little bit of sweetness is delicious and wonderful but in excess, it can be awful for our bodies. We metabolize sugar differently than other foods and turn the majority of the calories from sugar into fat. Since sweet foods tend to be calorically dense, too much sugar can easily lead to obesity. Sugar can also cause Type 2 Diabetes which, along with obesity, is becoming more and more prevalent in our society.
With all the hype about sugar, it can be tempting to try to cut it out completely but I don’t think that is the answer, especially for college students. There is nothing wrong with enjoying sweets in moderation and feeling deprived can backfire, leading to binges.
Furthermore, I don’t believe in labeling any food as “bad” or feeling guilt and shame about consuming it. I think Dan Savage put it best when he said:
“Our bodies are our own…they’re ours to use, abuse, and, since we’re all going to die one day, they’re ours to use up. Sane adults strike a balance between taking care of our bodies—eating right, drinking in moderation, getting exercise—while still allowing for pleasures that require us to eat poorly, drink in excess, and lie motionless for days at a time while we recover. The better care you take of yourself—the more time you spend eating right, drinking in moderation, and exercising—the longer you’ll live, of course, and the more pleasures you’ll get to enjoy before you inevitably croak.”
For me, that means eat the cupcake. Enjoy it. It’s awesome. But maybe stop at one, and make sure to get those veggies in too.
When it comes to sweets, moderation can be hard. What works best for me is to keep my “everyday sweets” on the healthier side and save sweets that are higher in sugar for special occasions. For my normal baking, I try to rely on natural sweeteners, like fruit, instead of added sugar. Fruit does have sugar in it but is also high in fiber, which slows down the absorption of sugar and keeps you full longer. In addition, fruit is full of beneficial vitamins and minerals. Bananas and dates are two of my favorite fruits to replace sugar with.
I’m not a fan of most commercial energy bars, as they tend to be extremely high in sugar while masquerading as healthy. When you read an ingredient list, the ingredients are listed in order of proportion. The first ingredient is the greatest amount and they get progressively lower as you go down the list. Take a look at your energy bars – most of them start out with brown rice syrup or glucose syrup, which are alternative names for sugar. The following peanut butter date cookies are one of my favorite energy bar alternatives. The taste amazing, the fat from the nuts keeps me full, and all the sweetness comes from dates.
Peanut Butter Date Cookies
A food processor would probably work best for this recipe. I don’t have one so I use my blender and it takes a little more coaxing but works fine. It’s easiest with soft dates so if yours are too hard, soak them in hot water for a few minutes to soften them up.
Adapted from Sprouted Kitchen (http://www.sproutedkitchen.com/home/2013/1/16/peanut-butter-bites.html)
Time: 10 minutes
Yield: about 15 cookies
- 1/2 cup oats
- 1/2 cup almonds
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 cup pitted dates
- 1/2 cup peanut butter
- pinch of salt (if using unsalted peanut butter)
- 1/4 cup chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chips (optional, but highly recommended because everything is better with chocolate)
- Pulse the oats in a food processor or blender until you get a fine meal.
- Add the almonds and pulse until they are coarsely ground.
- Add vanilla, cinnamon, dates, peanut butter, and salt and pulse together until everything is blended together. If it seems too dry to hold its shape when pressed together, add more peanut butter.
- Use a tablespoon to scoop the mixture and roll them into balls. If you want to get fancy, you can use a fork to make a cross-hatch pattern by pressing them down with the fork, turning the fork 90 degrees, and pressing them down again.
- Store covered in the fridge if you’re going to eat them quickly or freezer if you want them to last longer.