Do you have a sweet tooth? We all do every now and then. If you are like most people, you've wondered how to satisfy this urge mindfully -- to eat and savor sweets without going overboard. For many years, artificial sweeteners may have seemed like the answer to your prayers.
However, a 2011 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association concerning chemically engineered sugars may have you thinking twice. In this study, artificial sweeteners were linked to an increased risk for heart attacks, stroke and diabetes. While the design of the study is controversial, it does beg the larger question. What are some other options besides artificial sweeteners? Because realistically, every now and then, you will crave something sweet.
At the moment, there are some "natural" options. Natural often means that it is derived from an herb, plant or tree. Health food stores generally will not sell products that are chemically engineered, like many products made from all those little packets on restaurant tables.
Here are a few basic tips to get you started.
Investigate: No matter which option you choose, do your homework and learn more about the sweetener's safety level and how it impacts your body chemistry. Some sweeteners cause more dramatic spikes in your blood sugar than others. Keep in mind that it may take time to discover how to get just the right amount of sweet into your life. Too much (or too little) of anything is a problem.
If you feel that you can't stick with sugar, honey, fruit or maple syrup, there are some "natural sweeteners" that may help you out. For people with blood sugar issues, investigating these options may be critical.
Susta: Susta is described as an all-natural sweetener that has the added benefit of fiber, nutrients and minerals. Susta can be found in products like a Yogurt Smoothie and used for baking. Click here for a brownie recipe.
Stevia: Stevia is an herb that has been used as a sweetener for hundreds of years. It can be 30 times sweeter than sugar and is used in many products.
Xylitol: Xylitol is found widely in nature. In addition to a variety of fruits and vegetables, Xylitol is also commonly extracted from birch bark.
Beware of the 'halo effect': The halo effect is eating more of the foods you perceive as healthier. Subconsciously you think you can eat more because you know it has less calories. Thus, even when you choose a healthier option you still have to be mindful of your portion sizes.
Appreciating sweets: Artificial Sweeteners are sometimes 300-600 times sweeter than regular sugar. Consider how this may skew your taste buds in the long run. It can get you hooked on wanting things very, very sweet. You may lose the appreciation for the level of sweetness that comes from natural sources and it ultimately makes it difficult to eat foods mindfully.
Be alert: Sometimes people overeat sugary products and aren't even aware of it. Manufacturers hide sugar by changing the name (high fructose corn syrup doesn't sound the same as sugar). Take a close look at the ingredients.
Savor: Mindfully eating sweets means intentionally choosing and savoring treats instead of eating them robotically. When you do find a sweet foods you love, take mindful bites.
At the end of the day, eliminating sweets from your life is often not the answer. Cutting out sweets completely is likely to create a rebound effect -- to make you crave treats and desserts even more. So do some research on all your sweet options. Answering cravings for sweets in a thoughtful, educated, informed way is key to eating sweets mindfully.
Susan Albers, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, specializing in eating issues, weight loss, body image concerns, and mindfulness. She is the author of 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, Eating Mindfully, Eat, Drink, and Be Mindful, and Mindful Eating 101 and is a Huffington Post blogger. Her books have been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, O, the Oprah Magazine, Natural Health, Self Magazine and on the Dr. Oz TV show. Visit Albers online at http://www.eatingmindfully.com