I just broke it down on sugar for the past couple weeks (part one & part two), and the main takeaway from those two posts is: the question isn't what's the best/worst sugar to eat?", rather it's "why are we so addicted to sugar in the first place?"
Hidden sugars fill our processed foods, and marketers have figured out that diet culture (masquerading as health culture) has demonized most sugars.
You can recognize diet culture masquerading as health when you hear someone say: "oh, there's nothing bad in this cake!" What they're really saying is: "I took out all the butter, sugar, and flour, and now it's a cake made of apple sauce, black beans, and cacao powder!"
It's not really cake anymore. Rather it's a baked soup of a different kind of chemical reaction.
Listen, don't get me wrong. I have nothing against a good black bean cake recipe (my upcoming book has a kickass Dark Chocolate Fudge Cake recipe in it which boasts two dark chocolate candy bars, as well—something I refer to as Healthy Hedonism—check out the book here.)
What's a BAD food? What's a GOOD food? My point here is: food isn't GOOD or BAD. It has no moral compass. It's just food.
While I agree that we don't want to prioritize eating sugar, I also don't advocate cutting out any foods. Nothing is off limits. Instead, I'm of the school of thought that we can learn to listen to the cues from our bodies, and if we eat a straight diet of processed food and added sugar: we likely aren't going to feel great.
From the standpoint of Healthy Hedonism and prioritizing feeling good, one of my favorite sugars out there is a sweet fruit that is named by many: "nature's candy."
Medjool dates, in particular, are plump and sweet and full of fiber, and they can be easily found at your Trader Joe's or in your Whole Foods' bulk section. I've always loved dates, but it wasn't until I bought a little brown bag of 'em deep in the souks of Marrakech that they became a true love of my soul. (Have you SEEN the pictures of goats climbing up into the date trees in Morocco? It's a real thing!)
Dates are rich in certain nutrients and are popular in many countries, especially in the Islamic world, because, although their origins are unknown (they are now so widely grown) they more than likely were birthed in the lands around Iraq. Dates even appear in ancient texts (like the Qur'an, the Hadith, and the Bible). Basically, since ancient times, it's been believed that dates are more than just a sweet fruit; they also have healing properties that are just now recently beginning to be studied.
One thing is clear: dates are highly nutritious and have several health benefits.
Dates are super high in dietary fiber which helps our bodies navigate the fact that, yes, dates are high in sugar. All this fiber helps to slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, and also helps keep waste moving through your colon. The fiber also bonds with substances that are cancer causing.
IRON, POTASSIUM, & B VITAMINS
Iron helps to manage the balance of oxygen in the blood while potassium helps control your heart rate and blood pressure. The B Vitamins present in dates help to prevent macular degeneration as they absorb into the retina and help maintain optimal light filtration.
Just like your wine, tannins (read: antioxidants) fight infection and inflammation and help prevent excessive bleeding.
Along the same lines of not being one to demonize any foods, I also don't like to raise any up on a pedestal. So while all of these fine benefits of dates help your body to optimize functioning and to metabolize carbohydrates, protein, and fats, they aren't the end all be all. Eating dates in moderation can contribute to many health benefits, like protecting against damage to cells from free radicals, helping preventing a stroke, coronary heart disease, and the development of colon, prostate, breast, endometrial, lung, and pancreatic cancers.
Being that I'm such a huge fan of dates, you may want to know how I advise that you actually eat them (other than just popping the pit out and tossing one into your mouth). I throw them into smoothies, make pie crust with them, sweeten homemade nut butters and milks with them, and make one of my very favorite desserts/snacks:
Yields: 4 bars
Time to prepare: 10 minutes
8 Medjool dates, pitted
1/3 cup walnuts
1/3 cup raw almonds
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
2 heaping tbsp raw cacao
Dark chocolate drizzle
In your food processor, place coconut flakes, cacao, almonds, and walnuts. Pulse until broken down into a uniform size (not pulverized; maintain small chunks).
Add pitted dates to coconut/nut mixture. Pulse until well blended.
Transfer dough to a baking pan with at least one 9" edge, pressing the mixture along the 9" side of the pan, creating an even bar OR roll into balls.
Slice the bar into 4 equal pieces, wrap individually, and refrigerate*.
*Refrigerated, that bars will last a month, so make a bunch at once to maximize your mess, and eat off them for a good long time.
p.s. For the bars featured in the photo, I melted 100% dark chocolate in a double boiler and then drizzled it over the top of each bite, stuck a walnut or an almond into the melted deliciousness, and then sprinkled it with sea salt. Definitely levels this recipe up from potential snack to drool-worthy dessert.