Some of you may recall I gave up added sugar last April. That means I avoid added sucrose and fructose as much as possible, and usually keep added sugars below 5 grams a day. There have been some obvious benefits, including much less water retention, getting rid of the gout in my right foot (!), getting my blood pressure back to normal, and there’s also been some visceral fat loss around my mid-section. In the long run, I’m hoping this will help me avoid or postpone Type 2 diabetes, liver & heart problems, maybe even some cancers and who knows what-all else. So, yeah, I’m sticking with it. And, yes, I think we still have a lot to learn about how added sucrose & fructose impact us. Eating the stuff at the levels most of us are now is a very young human experiment.
When I first started avoiding added sugars, I kept open the option of having a traditional sweet on my birthday (which is also Christmas, because I’m all about the multitasking.) Instead, however, I’ve found that there are plenty of sugar-free alternatives around to make me feel pampered. Since they’re less likely to cause cravings or mood swings, I’m much happier out here in sugar-free land and don’t particularly want to leave. Sure, one conventional cupcake ain’t gonna kill anybody (who isn’t managing diabetes), but why ingest something I have evidence isn’t in my best interest?
Instead of going for a traditional treat, I decided to buy some “Neat-O-Keto” cupcakes from a bakery in town, Bear and the Honey*, that specializes in vegan, gluten-free, paleo or low carb/sugar items as well as traditional goodies. (They base the low-carb/sugar stuff on almond, cashew & coconut flour and use a monkfruit sweetener.)
I very much like supporting the creation and sale of sugar-free alternatives. I think there’s much unrealized potential for the use of whole grains, alternative flours and natural sugar substitutes. Pillsbury does have a selection of no-added-sugar baking mixes. I’ve tried the cinnamon coffee cake. It’s not bad, but it’s very crumbly, made with white flour, is almost too sweet (that’s saying something, coming from me.) And, yes, the ingredient list reads like science fiction. We can do better.
It can be pretty surreal, this whole sugar-alternative lifestyle. Just try this some time — pretend you’re someone who doesn’t eat sugar (if you’re not already) and then figure out how many things in the store you don’t/can’t buy. (Don’t forget the conventional versions of ketchup, pickles, coffee creamer… Sugar is everywhere.) And, then, notice how many well-sugared products are brightly colored, advertised like crazy, and spoken about in the sames terms we use for addictive drugs. Blows my mind, pals & gals. Who needs LSD when you have the cereal aisle?
You’d think all these alternatives would be good news, especially since more natural sugar alternatives may well have less negative impact on gut flora than either sucrose or older artificial sweeteners (Splenda, etc.) and may even have intrinsic positive impact on blood pressure. Unfortunately, however, a compulsive, irrational set of anxieties permeates any reportage on sugar alternatives. Do a web search, and you’ll find most of the discussions of stevia or monkfruit or sugar alcohols (which are neither alcohol nor sugar) contain warnings of some vague possible harm. There are unproven claims that sugar alternatives result in sugar cravings, for instance (hasn’t been my experience) or condescending advice about not spoiling one’s supper. The writer will bend over backwards looking for an excuse for this Puritanical finger-wagging, because, of course, we’re all too dumb to know the difference between a cupcake and a brussels sprout. It’s as if alternative sweeteners threaten some ideal of spartan, monastic virtue, as if only those foods (or actions, or ideas) that we don’t enjoy can be good for us. This compulsive condemnation is especially tricky for me, since I know how to cook a wicked (ahem…) bowl of brussels. (It’s all about roasting and garlic.) Do the little green gems somehow turn into junk food if I make them taste good?
Anyway, just for ducks, I decided to compare the Neat-O-Keto numbers with those for a similar fancy-schmancy cupcake made with traditional ingredients. I used the data for a vanilla buttercream cupcake from Starbucks. (I ordered Vanilla Bomb Neat-O-Keto cupcakes, because it’s my birthday and I’ll eat what I want to.) As you can see, the low-carb version doesn’t have much more fat than the usual one, and it has more protein, Vitamin D and fiber. And, you know, they’re cupcakes, people. Works for me.
I hear you. I know what you’re muttering. Fiber. Grams. Who cares? What we wanna know is what do the keto things taste like? First, the cream cheese vanilla frosting is fresh and obviously all-natural and scrumptious. The cake itself is much lighter than I thought it would be. If you gave it to me with no prior info and asked me to tell you the ingredients, I would have guessed white whole wheat flour and marzipan. It’s a marvelous combination, comparable to a moist spice cake in texture. Anyone could be happy with this flour combo no matter what their metabolism is up to. It’s a good thing the minimum order was for a half dozen, because I have plenty to share.
And, about an hour after my “taste test,” I do not feel especially noshy or antsy. Sometimes you can have your peace of mind along with your piece of cake.
*Keep an eye out for the Harry Potter Unicorn cake in the opening animation!