Food / Health / Vegan

Healthy seasonings, spices, and sweeteners

There are certain seasonings, spices, and sweeteners that are not beneficial for the body. But be encouraged, there is an abundance of options to replace them with.

Nobody likes a do and don’t list, so I prefer to offer it in a different way. Think of a time when you replaced something old and worn with something new. Think of how you felt. It was a sense of relief and joy, and the effect was probably that the old thing was no longer central in your life… the new thing became the focus, probably because you liked it better or it worked better or it looked better. Well, improving the diet can be like that. If you do it right you can look at the new way as the better and happier way; the way that brings relief and joy, and makes your body feel better and function better. Then the old way can just fade from your mind. Easier said than done? Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on you.

When I was a teenager I started to get into healthy eating. I was ready to do whatever it took to eat right. I was so enthusiastic when I learned of some harmful ingredients that I just left them off altogether, even if it meant a very dull meal. For example, I read that vinegar was harmful to my body, and since I couldn’t find a salad dressing without vinegar on the grocery store shelf, I just ate my lettuce plain. It was hard but I did it. I now know that is not necessary. There are tasty substitutes and healthy alternatives. I just didn’t know about them back then.

I think the key to improving your diet and health is being able to replace the less healthy food with something good and palatable. Changing to a healthier diet requires strong resolve and sacrifice, but it isn’t good to make changes any faster than you can learn how to replace it with something appealing, otherwise the temptation to go back to unhealthy ways can be too strong.

Here are some improvements that can be considered.

Sugar
It is not bad to add some sweetener to your food. Just remember to be moderate.
If you don’t cook much for yourself it is really difficult to find manufactured food products without sugar. Sugar is a cheap filler. But if you start reading labels, you can find things without sugar. I have found salsa, pasta sauce, apple sauce, fruit juices, peanut butter, and even jelly without sugar.

The biggest problem with sugar is refinement, which takes away nutrients. I understand that cancer thrives on refined sugars. The minimum improvement is to buy less refined sugars like raw or evaporated cane juice crystals. A good replacement is molasses because it has all the nutrients and minerals still in it. I actually like to use molasses for doing sweet stir-fry dishes.
Even better options are Stevia, and Agave nectar. I like Stevia and Agave in tea. One of the best quality sweeteners is Honey. I have heard that Agave and honey do not affect your blood sugars like the others do, so your body doesn’t get that sugar-type high then let you down suddenly. I think honey is acceptable for diabetics. Honey and Agave are my favorites for making bread and desserts. Other very natural options that are likely equal to honey are date sugar, dates and raisins. Dates and raisins are naturally very sweet and are healthy. I keep a bag of date pieces in my freezer, and use them in muffins. I also use raisins to sweeten carrot salad and apple salad. A recent addition to my list of replacements for sugar is fruit concentrates. I have found some sugar-free frozen juice concentrates at the grocery store. Grape juice concentrate is good in a blueberry pie. I sometimes put a spoonful of pineapple or raspberry juice concentrate in a smoothie.

I realize I just went up the line as far as cost. Raw sugars seem to be the least expensive options, and honey and dates are probably the most expensive. But then again, how much does it cost to fight cancer once you have it, or to fight some other health problem? If you go to a doctor that can add up really quick!

Spices and seasonings
Certain spices and seasonings are irritants, are fermented, or can hinder digestion and should be avoided: (replacements options listed in parenthesis)

Causes Fermentation:
vinegar – hinders digestion which causes food to ferment in the stomach. Vinegar also is hard on your liver. (lemon juice in salad dressings)
soy sauce (non fermented soy-sauce like Braggs Aminos, or salt water)
cheese – Many of the hard cheeses are fermented, which is not good for you. It is better to choose fresh softer cheeses like cottage cheese, ricotta, and cream cheese. I’m no expert in this area, and in fact I no longer eat dairy products. But if you do, you can make better choices.

Causes irritation or stimulation:
cinnamon (cardamom or possibly cloves as a replacement… I need to confirm)
chili peppers (cayenne is medicinal, not an irritant like other peppers)
mustard (save it for a hot foot bath treatment)
chocolate (carob chips and roasted carob powder)

Dairy
If you look and listen closely there is talk about dairy and its negative affects on health. Because of diseased animals and the growth hormones fed to them, it seems that we should consider avoiding dairy products, or at least reducing it to only a tiny fraction of our diet. Dairy seems to contribute to cancer growth. For me personally, the dairy products contributed to skin eruptions and acne (which went away when I gave up dairy).

Cheese substitutes:
my weak point, unfortunately. I know some vegan cooks that make enjoyable cashew cheeses. Some stores offer soy cheeses, but I’m not sure if fermentation is an issue with soy cheese the same way as with dairy cheese. Non-dairy cream cheese is available at health food stores, but it seems expensive to me. I have discovered yeast flakes as a suitable “cheesy” topping for soups and salads. I have also used it to flavor rice. You can buy that at the health food store. My quest continues for better cheese substitutes.

Egg Substitutes for baking (cake and entrees like cornbread or roast):
I am still a bit inexperienced with replacing eggs. The biggest challenge I see is that the substitutes don’t hold together quite the same as egg when it is cooked, resulting in more crumbling, but for many things they are acceptable to me as replacements. Here are two options that I have tried:
1. Use 1 tablespoon of flax meal for each egg (mixed into recipe dry or “activated” in equal parts hot water for a few minutes before mixing in)
2. Use 1tablespoon of corn starch with 2 tablespoons of water for each egg.

Milk Substitutes:
Soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, coconut milk, hemp milk. And I keep seeing new options! It took me a while to acquire the taste for soy and rice milks. But now that my taste has adjusted I can no longer tolerate the taste of dairy milk. It just takes patience. I was only able to tolerate a certain brand of soy milk at first, even though my sister said it tasted like grass. Maybe so, but it was the only one I could stomach. But in time I have been able to branch out. Try different brands and types of milks. To me, it seems that almond milk might be an easier milk to transition to from dairy milk. It certainly is not a comparable flavor, but it seems fairly mild and less distinctive than soy or hemp. I actually like the richness of hemp milk for cooking certain entrees and roasts. It adds richness that regular milk doesn’t. You can’t use these milks to cook certain desserts, because they don’t behave the same as milk. These will not “set up” in puddings or custards unless you adapt the recipe. Coconut milk and coconut cream contribute good flavor and texture to puddings. It sets up a bit when cooled in the fridge.

I hope this has been informative but not overwhelming. For the beginner these changes might seem daunting. I want to add a word of encouragement. I know that I have only benefitted as a result of adopting these changes in my diet. I know that the most lasting changes have come as a result of reasoning from cause to effect. When I know why something is bad it is easier to let go. I know that the best results of making changes are that my mind is more clear and my body feels better and is more resistant to sickness. I encourage all who may read this to consider these substitutes and adopt one or all, depending on your situation and ability.

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