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Raw (unrefined, unbleached) sugar, bought at t...


Over the years I have learned that the amount of sugar we eat in North America is not normal, nor is it helping us.  To change this and scale back on the sweet stuff will require a good amount of determination and some experimentation.

Gary Taubes states in his book, Good Calories Bad Calories, that sugar consumption for the typical American was less than 15 pounds a year in the 1830’s.  That is 10 times less than North Americans typically consume today.  The amount of sugar consumed by North Americans grew to 100 pounds in the 1920’s and to 150 pounds (including high-fructose corn syrup) by the end of the century.  Obesity and diabetes rates go up as the amount of sugar available to people increased.  Deaths due to diabetes also went down in times when people were rationing sugar consumption, such as during World Wars I and II.

When I first read this, I really began to question the foods I think are normal.  It was one of the first times I thought that the abundance of ready made, extra sugary delights is not normal.  And I finally understood that if I eat the same amount that North Americans typically eat, then I will be subjecting myself to the same risks for obesity and diabetes.

How might someone “survive” on the amount of sugar that was available to people in the 1830’s?  How much is this per day anyways?  It is around 18 grams a day, a little over a tablespoon.  That includes what is in jams, breads, cereals, preserves, sauces, seasonings, drinks and the usual sugary deliciousnesses of cookies, cakes, etc.! Perhaps this even included medications, since these used to be preserved with sugar.  And if you consider that on special days such as birthdays and holidays, there might have been highly sweetened celebratory treats to be enjoyed. This would mean that the daily amounts would be even less to compensate for these sweet special days.  Perhaps on some days people consumed no sugar.  Imagine!

I have yet to be able to consume less than 15 pounds of sugar a year.  At some point, I would like to try this and see what happens.  I know it is a good idea and it would be good for me.  At this point, I keep the less than one tablespoon per day idea in mind.  I know this is not an easy thing to do.

What if I were to grab my pen and paper, walk through a typical grocery store, map it out and then colour all the aisles with products containing sugar? My hunch is that I would end up colouring every isle except for parts of the produce and meat section.  My point is that it is not likely an easy thing to stay away from products containing sugar.  In the end, I find that it is important to try.

And, that leads me here.  My wacky, very low sugar hot chocolate.  This is a drink that is somewhat like a latté.  Creamy, flavourful and fun.  It is not sugary, but it is still really special and it will make a nice treat.

Hot chocolate, my way

(makes 2 servings)

2 cups of almond breeze unsweetened chocolate non-dairy beverage

1/4 cup organic coconut milk

1 heaping tablespoon fair trade cocoa powder

1 stick of cinnamon

3 cardamom pods, cracked open

1 tsp licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

1/4 tsp cayenne

Carefully bring to a gentle boil and then simmer the above ingredients, in a covered pot, over the lowest heat for 20 minutes.

Strain and add 20 g of  fair trade 85% cocoa chocolate bar.  Stir until it is completely mixed and pour a cup for yourself and a friend.

* I usually leave the spices in the pan and strain the hot chocolate as I pour a cup.  This way, the spices infuse for a good long while.  Yum.

** I can make this the fast way substituting the whole spices with powders of 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp cardamom, 1/4 tsp licorice and 1/4 tsp cayenne.  This leaves out the simmering and infusing.  Just heat and serve.

ingredients for a great cuppa hot chocolate

Some of the reasoning behind the recipe.

Cinnamon adds a sweet taste and some have shown that it helps regulate blood sugar.  Cardamom gives me joy!  Licorice is very sweet tasting and it is also an adaptogen that helps normalize adrenal function.  It is often used as a formula harmonizer.  Cayenne acts as a neuro-stimulant and it is also an anti-inflammatory.  All of the spices used will aid in digestion.  The combination of chocolate and spices in this drink energizes me.

Tammy Schmidt, Montreal



One day a guy tried to sell me a supplement made from the red colour that is naturally occurring in raspberries.  At the time, I laughed and laughed. Raspberries are one of my favourite fruits, why would I start taking them in a capsules and miss out on the full experience of tasting them?

Many people take supplements of particular parts of plants.  Research has helped state the benefits of these plant constituents in a precise manner and people can supplement with high doses of these constituents.  And in the case of raspberries, research tells us that the colour in raspberries are anthocyanin pigments.  Found in blue-red fruits, such as blueberries, blackberries, grapes, hawthorn, cherries, and raspberries, anthocyanin pigments are one of the 5 families of flavonoids.  Flavonoids function as plant pigments in colourful fruits and flowers and they are abundant in plants.  They are known for anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, anti-carcinogenic and antiviral properties.  Anthocyanidins are also important anti-inflammatories that aid in wound healing by reinforcing the natural cross link of collagen that forms the matrix of connective tissue.  And as I type this, I wish I was enjoying these little blue-red bundles of beneficial constituents.

In some cases, it makes sense to supplement the diet with therapeutic doses of particular plant constituents.  For the most part, I prefer to get these beneficial plant constituents from the plants themselves.  I enjoy eating and drinking; it is as simple as that.  I also see a spiritual aspect to it all.

Water is a universal solvent.  We get this because most of us at some point have witnessed someone making tea and coffee.  Alcohol is a fine preservative and solvent.  Sugar is another fine preservative.  What do you get when you put the three together and add a few botanicals?  A stable liquid that can taste good and it can even be good for you.

St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur

Delice de Sureau Image by TheDeliciousLife

If you enter the liquor store you will see many bottles that were originally tonics.  In fact, many of our modern sodas were once used as tonics.  These fermented beverages were important because they were stable drinks that people could rely upon.  Not only in terms of safety, but also as a product that would strengthen and sustain.  The people making drinks knew the benefits of the botanicals they were using and made drinks to nourish others.  These days though, I feel that beverages are often a mere shell of what they once were.  We don’t know what is in the bottle, it is often much too sweet and it is sweetened with highly controversial sweeteners such as GMO high-fructose corn syrup.  It might be coloured with a dye that is not nutritional in any way (there go my anthocyanins!)  The flavours are to mimic tastes in particular ways.  It may be generally regarded as safe, but it has nothing to do with nutrition!  It is the experience, the flavour sensation that is important.  It is assumed that you are not looking to these drinks for any benefit other than pleasure.   From this herbalist’s perspective, there is room for growth in our understanding of what we are ingesting.  Rather than being pleased by a flavour that imitates something good, I would rather look for foods and drinks that taste good, because they are good for me.  (And, this is not to be confused with the trend in functional foods.  Good food is functional, pointe finale.)

I don’t want a world where all the pleasures of eating and drinking are gone.  I am not going to start a drab way of living that involves taking supplements as a means of sustenance.  At the same time, it can be tricky as I shop for food and drink because I so often fall for something that looks good, but has little benefit to me, other than a taste experience!

So, this is how I do it: I make things I might want to enjoy in the months ahead.  These are two simple examples.  There are many ways to keep the fun in functional.

Raspberry Liqueur

Making a stable liqueur is easy.  Use quality ingredients that are clean and mould free.  Use clean vessels.  Ensure that at least 25% of the volume weight is either sugar or pure alcohol or a combination of the two.


300 grams raspberries (fresh or frozen)

200 grams sugar

700 ml vodka, cognac or brandy

And for a little more inspiration: add some other flavourings: vanilla bean, organic orange peel (avoiding the white pith) and honey.

Pour the above ingredients into a mason jar.  Agitate a little bit daily and let it sit for two weeks in a dark corner of your countertop.  Using a cheese cloth and a sieve, strain the raspberries from the liquid.  Decant the liquid into a nice (clean) bottle with a good (and clean) stopper.  Use your creativity to make a charming label with the name of your product, ingredients and date that it was made.  Serve as you wish, perhaps with sparkling water and a twist of lemon.

*after you are finished with the fruit, you can add it to a trifle pudding or you can bake it in a cake.

**Don’t use honey, unless you include a large amount of alcohol.  Honey and water will ferment turning your product into mead.  This is not a bad thing, but it does require a little more knowledge and care.

Raspberry Vodka

200 g raspberries

800 ml vodka (40%)

This is the exact same method as the above recipe.  Pour the above ingredients into a mason jar.  Agitate a little bit daily and let it sit for two weeks in a dark corner of your countertop.  Using a cheese cloth and a sieve, strain the raspberries from the liquid.  Decant the liquid into a nice (clean) bottle with a good (and clean) stopper.  Use your creativity to make a charming label with the name of your product, ingredients and date that it was made.

Studies prove that consuming excessive amounts of sugar and alcohol is detrimental to the body.  Moderation is key in fully enjoying the benefits of these beverages.

By: Tammy Schmidt, Montreal

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