Bees & Trees: Real Sugar The Way God Made It!
Sweeteners are a hot topic in today’s healthy living community. With the popularity of keto and very low carb diets, natural sugar sources have largely been vilified. I feel differently. As long as it’s Real food, the way God made it, it can fit into your diet.
Read on to learn more about the health benefits of raw honey & real maple syrup- and find out how they can fit into your healthy eating plan!
I refer to raw honey and maple syrup as Bees and Trees: Real Sugar, the Way God Made It. Why? Because they are real, natural foods- just look for a beehive or maple tree, and you’ve found them! When eaten in moderation, they provide helpful nutrients that allow you to metabolize the sugar they contain. They even have bonus beneficial properties, like the allergy-relieving benefits of raw honey or the mineral boost of molasses. Out of all the natural sweetener options out there, these are my picks.
What is raw honey?
Honey is a sweetener that is created by honey bees. The bees travel from flower to flower, picking up the nectar. They combine this nectar with their own enzymes and deposit it into honeycombs, where it becomes concentrated and sweet. Raw honey, by definition, is pure, unheated, and unpasteurized. It contains enzymes and phytonutrients. If it looks opaque, that’s a good thing- it means it’s less filtered, leaving more of the beneficial properties intact! As far as sugar sources go, raw honey is a very nutrient-dense option.
Raw honey is completely different from the processed honey you’ll find in the bear-shaped bottle (which is sometimes cut with corn syrup, and can contain chemical additives and even traces of antibiotics!). There’s a reason why it looks so clear and perfect- it’s processed!
I think it’s important to remember the lengths we must go to in order to harvest honey. For beekeepers, it requires heavy-duty protective gear and lots of planning. Our ancestors would even risk getting stung by a whole swarm of bees just to get honey! With that in mind, honey is not an all day, every day type of food. But it is real food, the way God made it- enjoy it as a treat!
“It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it honorable to search out matters that are too deep.” Proverbs 25:27
The benefits of raw honey include…
Consuming raw honey encourages release of satiety hormones, when compared with a breakfast containing sugar.
Natural allergy relief
Raw honey actually contains some of the local pollen you react to; this small exposure helps reduce your immune system’s reactivity against it!
Easily absorbed natural energy source
Honey is great pre or post-workout. It will easily replenish liver and muscle glycogen, especially when doing anaerobic activities like sprints or heavy lifts.
More restorative sleep
Honey at night- ex: with a snack or tea- encourages the release of melatonin in your brain because it slightly spikes insulin levels)
BUY THE BEST raw honey
Try to buy local raw honey whenever possible- this is the best way to get that anti-allergy effect. Honey from halfway across the country won’t be able to help you on that front.
If you don’t have a local source, I’ve linked my favorite HERE through Amazon. You can also find raw honey in most grocery stores, Target, and even Trader Joe’s!
What is maple syrup?
Rest assured, I’m not talking about Aunt Jemima’s syrup here! Unfortunately, the vast majority of “maple syrups” on the market are actually not maple syrup at all. Look closely at the label and you’ll see it says “maple-flavored” syrup. Most are basically high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, caramel color, and preservatives. Talk about the opposite of real food!
Real maple syrup is the purified sap from maple trees. We access it by drilling into the trunks of the tree and extracting the sap carefully. When we eat pancakes in my house, I ask the kids to pick whether they want real maple syrup or chocolate chips on their pancakes. It’s important to remember that our ancestors didn’t have 24/7 access to maple syrup, and we shouldn’t either. Unless you want to drill a maple tree every Saturday morning ;)
The benefits of real maple syrup include . . .
Less glycemic impact than sugar
Unlike table sugar, your body recognizes maple syrup and can process it more effectively. The glycemic index of maple syrup is 54 compared to 80 for table sugar.
Rich source of trace minerals
Maple syrup, especially the darker varieties, is high in zinc and manganese (also, potassium and calcium in smaller amounts)
Maple syrup is also high in antioxidants such as benzoic acid, gallic acid, cinnamic acid (which protect cells from damage when consuming sugar!)
High in flavonoids
Flavonols (plant nutrients) like catechin, epicatechin, rutin and quercetin are found in maple syrup. Quercetin helps to fight allergies naturally!
SELECTING THE BEST MAPLE SYRUP
First things first, make sure the maple syrup you choose says “real maple syrup” on the label- NOT pancake syrup, table syrup, maple-flavored syrup, or anything like that. It should be just one ingredient- pure maple syrup.
In the real food community, we’ve always referred to the lighter variety as Grade A and the darker as Grade B. Just so you’re aware- the maple syrup grading system has changed, so now it’s all Grade A. But with different color descriptions- from Golden to Very Dark. To simplify things, select the darkest “real maple syrup” you can find. The darker it is, the higher the trace mineral content. Look for Grade A- Dark or Very Dark.
One downside of real maple syrup is the cost. It is much more expensive than the fake stuff. But if you use it in moderation, one bottle will last you for months. Purchasing on Amazon is best, to make sure you’re getting the best price. I’ve linked a great maple syrup option HERE.
WHAT IS MOLASSES?
Molasses is arguably the most nutrient-dense natural sweetener there is. It is the byproduct of making white sugar (ever wonder where the brown part of the sugar went?). As such, it is extremely rich in minerals and other nutrients, while still being sweet. You’ll want to purchase Blackstrap Molasses (as it contains the most minerals). One downside? It has a pretty rich taste, which takes some getting used to. It’s good for adding flavor to a homemade barbecue sauce or adding a small amount to cookies. But you won’t want to replace all your natural sweeteners with it.
BENEFITS OF MOLASSES
Via the Paleo Mom, here is the nutrient breakdown for 1 tablespoon of blackstrap molasses. For only 47 calories you receive…
Iron (3.6 mg, or 20% of the RDA)
Calcium (176 mg, or 17.6% of the RDA)
Copper (0.42 mg, or 21% of the RDA)
Manganese (0.54 mg, or 27% of the RDA)
Magnesium (44 mg, or 11% of the RDA)
Potassium (510 mg, or 9.7% of the RDA)
B vitamins, including B6 (0.15 mg, or 7.5% of the RDA) and smaller amounts of B2 and B3
Selenium (3.6 mg, or 5.2% of the RDA)
BUY THE BEST MOLASSES
Look for organic blackstrap molasses. Sulfur dioxide is sometimes used to preserve the molasses and gives it a chemical taste- so it’s best to avoid it by choosing unsulfured varieties. You can find organic, unsulfured blackstrap molasses at health food stores or on Amazon. I’ve linked my favorite HERE.
Thanks for reading!
What’s your favorite natural sweetener? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment!