13 April 2008

guest blog: sugar. what, indeed, is the deal?

As a highly experienced and well-trained Sugar Buzz Pro and Holistic Health Counselor, Chef Aja asked me to share some of what I have to say about sugar. My name is Shannon McCarthy, and during the day I'm a visual artist, sometimes with paint, sometimes with whole foods. But not at the same time!

A preface: I used to work as a baker, and could pack away two pounds of cookie dough in a day. I accepted the fact (and myself for it) that I was going to eat a lot of cookies and bread everyday for the rest of my life. Whatever we resist persists, right? In college I attended Overeaters Anonymous for a year as a desperate attempt to stop eating all the time. I was told to give up all sugar and white flour, and eat a diet consisting mostly of steamed broccoli. I tried that, for like, a day. Rather than giving anything up, I started buying and eating boxes of donuts- since everyday was the last day I’d ever eat a donut! Because it was tomorrow, always tomorrow, that I would totally, completely, be a pure shining beacon of sugarless-ness. Riiiiight.

Wondering if you eat more than the 'ol pancreas actually wants? Let's talk about food in general. Every food we eat has different properties that give us a certain food experience, none of which can be classified as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. What we can say is that to continuously repeat a specific food experience is to invite imbalance. It's mathematical, nothing else. A fat like raw olive oil is important to consume because my body needs it to keep up my arteries and a green like arugula is important to consume because it keeps my blood clean. If I only eat arugula for a year, my hair will probably fall out because I've got thin blood and no fat to build with. If I only eat olive oil for a year, my skin will look pasty with all that building oil in my blood and no cleaning greens to keep it in check.

The same thing holds true with eating sweets. Too much sweet puts excess sugar in the blood. Nature provides us with lots of sweet food that comes out of the earth: squashes, berries, hanging fruit. On a continuum of sweet stuff the ground gives, those foods are on the sweetest end of the spectrum. If we were to do like the bears before they hibernate, we would eat an astounding quantity of berries, put on some good warm fat, approach a diabetic coma, and sleep for a couple of months. But let's suppose that we are not bears and are not planning to eat pillows onto our hips. How could we balance eating berries?

Well, what’s on the other end of the sweetness scale? Bitters! What's bitter? Herbs like mint, parsley, cilantro and other greens like spinach, kale, mustard greens, and cabbage. (The play between the sweet and bitters is what makes a spinach and strawberry salad so tasty…and balanced).

Speaking of sweet foods from the earth, let's get back to one of the sweetest of all: sugar cane! Despite various names and appearances, cane products are all from the same plant, but have different levels of processing. As a general rule of thumb, the darker the sugarcane product, the least processed it is. Black strap molasses would be the least processed, and white sugar the most (and the cheap brown sugar you buy at the regular grocery store is typically just white sugar with molasses added back in).

Some people stay away from any kind of cane product all together since they call it addictive. This isn't actually a categorical fact, that sugar is addictive. It only becomes fact through personal experience. Some people want sweet food when they don't want to want it, some people don't have any preference either way. Our own inclinations will tell us if sugar is something we wield, or something that wields us.

I'd like to address the folks who eat sugar when they don't want to eat sugar.
Sweetness is a flavor related to the earth mother. Think sweet pumpkins and squashes in autumn. Sometimes when we want sweetness, we want a ‘Mommy-feeling’. Since many of us haven't learned how to nurture ourselves, we get as close to what we can to what feels right-- something sweet in our mouths. There's nothing, actually, to be done about it but to notice it if it's there.

The good news is that we can supply that for our own self without anything external. Yet, to get to the internal nurturing, I found it helpful to start with external nurturing. We want to be clear that the guilt factor involved in eating doesn’t get us anywhere. It just makes us hide ourselves from ourselves even more. We perpetuate our habits by resisting them, and we heal habits by giving them attention and loving them as they are. So to celebrate what we think of as, a ‘bad thing’ to do is a big step in the direction of self-tolerance (let alone self-acceptance! Let alone self-love!). So, give a little self-love with a little bit of balance. And if there's no balance, love yourself for that too.

Recommended reading on how to eat in a kind way to ourselves: Nourishing Wisdom by Marc David

Note from Aja: For Shannon's scrumptious cookie recipe and a follow-up from Shannon, check the comment from her below!


Shannon said...

I gave up the idea of giving up sugar, ever.

Once I realized that sugar was all around me, and it was all I wanted… well, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. I began to make my own sweets of the utmost quality, way better than any store could dish out. Mine would be THE BEST. Instead of sugar I use maple syrup- it has more flavor. Instead of shite, oh sorry, white flour I use organic rolled oats (more flavor again) that I grind into flour. The eggs I get free-range from the farm down the road (their yolk is like a bright orange buttery custard. The chickens eat caterpillars and worms). I use vanilla bean instead of extract. I use coconut oil, organic butter, and organic almond butter. I made them into a meal. Cause honestly, cookies were my meals! After making my amazing cookies, and tasting some from the store, I began to not want the store quality with whatever the hell they put in there. Once I went gourmet, it was hard to go back. Since there was no cookie buying, I began to make more for myself, keeping them in the freezer. I ate them everyday. I ate them all the time. So now, even though the cookies were delicious, after eating them for 40 days everyday for breakfast and lunch… the thrill… the thrill died.

Once the thrill was gone, I could see more clearly. I could not find a better tasting treat, and still couldn’t get no satisfaction. And now I no longer had a treat to be excited about. Now what was I supposed to do? What was I trying to get? And asking those questions… that finally led me to wander, "What have I been looking for, really?"

It was about this time that I stumbled into the Presence Process. I can’t explain it, but I have to tell you about it. It’s a book that, among many things, helps resolve the root of addictive behaviors: The Presence Process, by Michael Brown.

Here's my famous gourmet oatmeal cookie recipe:

makes about 2 dozen 2.5-inch cookies

4 1/2 cups rolled oats, organic
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup coconut oil or softened unsalted b utter
1 cup turbinado sugar
3 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips
2/3 cup raw sunflower seeds, chopped almonds, or shredded coconut (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Combine oats, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in blender or food processor and pulse until consistency of coarse sand. Transfer mixture to large bowl.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk oil or butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and almond extract, if using. Stir into oats mixture.
4. Fold in chocolate chips and sunflower seeds or other nuts.
5. With wet hands, roll dough into tight cookie balls and place onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet or platter. Refrigerate dough balls for 10-15 minutes, or until firm.
6. Transfer to a lined baking sheet, allowing about 1 1/2 inches of space between the cookies. Bake 15-20 minutes

P.S. You could easily substitute raisins or dried cranberries for the chocolate chips, use white chocolate chips, or add in any other nuts or dried fruit that you like!

Janet Watkins said...

Agave is a great sweetening substitute. It is a natural organic sweetner that won't spike the glucose levels. It's sweeter than processed sugar so you use less. And it will sweeten everything from coffee to baked goods.

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