Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pure, White and Deadly, Part II


I just want to say that this subject is very controversial, and there are a wide range of opinions on it. When it comes to desserts, there are really three components/ingredients that pose the problems--sweeteners, flours and oils. For the most part, I believe we can get away with healthy substitutions for white flour (whole wheat and many, many other whole grain flours as well as oats) and for oil (apple sauce, pumpkin). Where the sweetener is concerned, however, things get more complicated.

When it comes to the question of "Is there such a thing as a healthy sweetener" you will get a wide range of complex answers. But is this really so complex? Might it be that the answer is really all very simple and that we (humans) are making it such a complex issue because we want to justify eating sweet food? I know that is the case for me personally. I try to make it okay in my own head because it's what I love, that sweet taste. Some say that the term "healthy sweetener" is an oxymoron. And I'm not even talking about the artificial sweeteners here, just the "natural" ones.

I decided to go to the vegan baking/raw dessert experts for some input and healthy debate. Here's what a few of them had to say:

Chef Aj (

Me: "Chef Aj, I am loving your book! I am very interested in your thoughts on a blog posting that I did. I know that you only make desserts with dates, and I am wondering about the healthfulness of them and also how often should a person struggling to be healthy "indulge" in one of your treats? Daily? A few times a week? Once a week? Once a month? Please contribute your opinions and experiences to this discussion.'

Chef Aj:  "I can't really say how often a person SHOULD eat dessert. In reality, probably never or only on their birthday. But that probably ain't gonna happen for most people. I stopped eating dessert, even the date sweetened ones (which at least are made with a WHOLE FOOD that contains fiber, etc.). I am now bananas for bananas!

 I think my desserts are like the meat substitutes, a great transition food. And for people who eat dessert, the best choice out there. I don't know if you read my book, but I have been a sugar addict most of my life. And I have found the only thing that really works for addiction is TOTAL ABSTINENCE. I have eaten many lifetimes of desserts for the first 50 years of my life. I'm gonna try something different for the next 50 years. What I like about my date/nut desserts is that the are actually made of FOOD, whole food. Sugar, oil, flour - NOT FOOD! (Dr. Campbell says 'That's a donout'. Would you like to blog the recipes in my book?"

Fran Costigan (

Me: "Fran, I am very interested in your thoughts on a blog posting that I did. I would love your input on how often a person struggling to be healthy can "indulge" in one of your treats? Daily? A few times a week? Once a week? Once a month? Please contribute your opinions and experiences to this discussion."

Fran: "Hello! . . . In my former life, days (this was days) like these, would ...have had me running to the fridge or freezer or pantry for a slice of cake, a pint of ice cream, a 3 ounce piece of chocolate. These days are different. While I am constantly testing and writing about one kind of sweet or another, and tasting bites, since I must, I tend to run more for a veg juice, a smoothie made with greens and berries, a piece of fruit. In the days before I became a vegan (over 20 years ago), I ate sweets like everyone else in my family did-which meant, full= no more left. I tell the real story in both of my cookbooks, Great Good Dairy Free Desserts and More Great Good Dairy Free Desserts Naturally.

Wendy, your original question: how many times a week, a month, a whatever, can a person struggling to be healthy indulge in sweets has no one answer. It is personal.

Desserts are discretionary. We do not need to eat them to be healthy. BUT,... we do need them in other ways. I made a no fat added (that's no oil) chocolate cake with a low fat cocoa glaze for Dr. McDougall's Celebrity Chef Weekend. I prefer to steer people to some of the naturally wheat free, sugar free recipes in my books, when fat or wheat is an issue.

For VIP reception for Forks Over Knives, I served mandarin orange segments dipped in bittersweet chocolate and The Peanut Butter Chocolate Mousse in small cups (all Engine 2 approved).

I know what you all mean. I was not fat, but I struggled with too much weight and yo-yo - you know up, down, eat a lot, eat nothing until I started eating whole foods-plant based. Organic, delicious. At some point, when my son was about 14, he said, mom, don't think you can put a candle in a sweet potato and call it my bday cake. And so I began to look into vegan desserts made with wholesome real ingredients that taste great. I had worked for many years as a traditional pastry chef. It took a long time, but I cracked the code.

I do not believe in the holy grail of sweeteners. But some are better than others.

My criteria: real, not processed, or processed less and w.out chemicals, organic, fair-traded. And used historically as sweeteners. I don't use fake sugars.

I don't believe in agave as low glycemic. It is fructose, metabolized in the liver, can be harmful, and it is not fruit. I like maple and organic whole cane sugars, sorghum, coconut sugar, rice syrup and a few more, but-in moderation, what ever that means to you. My whole foods diet is what keeps my cravings at bay so I do not binge. If I did, it would be a disaster, with 25-30 lbs of chocolate in my apt meant to taste. For work.

Use your heads and be a smart consumer. Too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing. And remember, marketers love to market.

Today and for many years, I have been satisfied with a smaller piece of dessert, vegan, often chocolate made from a recipe in my book. My cupcakes are smaller, my cake slices are thinner, my gels and creams are loaded up with fruit.

And that's my take. I hope it helps! Deprivation does not work, but eating healthy whole foods plant strong does create a balance. So if you are healthy, eat green and save room for a healthy vegan desserts, sometimes, and in moderate size. If that sets up a bad situation for you, drink water, take a walk, don't eat any sweets. I'm happy that I can indulge many days of the week. But again, it might be 1-2 cookies, a chocolate truffle, a small slice of cake."

Kathleen at Kats Health Corner (

"Hey girlie! I got your comment, and I just "explored" the post.

Hehe, I love that Lecture: Sugar-The Bitter Truth (I think there is a link on my blog to it already)! I watched it last year (one of my health-mother-friends sent me the link). I when I watched it, I took so many notes! I think I need to watch it again when I get the chance. When I watched it, I hadn't had Chemistry yet, but since I am taking Chemistry right now, I'll be able to understand more the the Chemistry that he talks about. Have you watched it?

I personally don't drink anything but water. Fruit Juice is just sugar. If I do drink juice, I want it whole, like homemade orange juice with the pulp! :) That lecture has changed my life! :)

That's why I use fruits (apples, bananas, dates) in my baking instead of sugar. I don't use date sugar -- I use the dates-the whole fruit. I use stevia too when I can. If I have to have some sweetener, I use maple syrup or molasses because they actually come with nutrients. I also use honey because it has anti-oxidants. :) I avoid HFCS, "corn sugar," and I myself don't eat cookies and cakes that have sugar in them. Since I have cut out sugar from my life, everything tastes better, and thing with sugar in them are too sweet for me. I also check the ingredient list on foods and avoid as much added sugar as possible."

Nutritional data on maple syrup:

The truth about Agave syrup: A must read!

For a comprehensive guide to ALL sweeteners:

I guess I'm not ready to give up on dessert just yet, 'cause here's what's going on in my kitchen these past few days:

An amazing, creamy, chocolaty dessert if you are looking for something that has no sweetener other than the real fruit.

Healthy Girl's Double Chocolate Raw Banana Soft Serve
serves 1, if you would like more than one serving, just multiply the ingredients

1 1/2 ripe frozen bananas, broken into chunks
4 walnuts
1 tsp cocoa
splash of almond milk (or soy milk)
1 tsp cacao nibs

Place first 4 ingredients into a high powered blender or food processor and blend until mixture becomes the consistency of soft serve ice cream, tamping down/scraping down the sides of the container as needed. Add cacao nibs and blend for a few more seconds. Serve immediately.

Kat's Pumpkin Pecan Pie Oat Squares

Kat's Pumpkin Pie Oat Squares are my first real attempt at uber-healthy vegan baking. Want to see how to make these? Take a peek at that recipe here. I'm not sure if they would qualify as a dessert. They have the slightest hint of sweetness and are extremely moist, but might leave many people looking for that sweet desserty quality. They would make a great breakfast on the go if you don't have time to make a green smoothie. Kat's Squares are full of really healthy ingredients, like apples, pumpkin and loads of oats, but do call for a little maple syrup (the jury is still out on that one!).

What are you using as healthy substitutions for oil and processed wheat flour in desserts? So far, I know of applesauce and pumpkin for the oil and whole wheat and other whole grain flours for the white flour. Can you contribute more suggestions?

Or are you able to eat dessert in moderation and just go for either a standard vegan dessert or a standard nonvegan dessert?

Do you not give a damn because sweet food holds no interest for you?


The Healthy Librarian said...

Great post, Wendy. Love, that you asked the vegan dessert experts for advice!

I was at a conference with Chef AJ in November & she made a date syrup German Chocolate Cake filled with chocolate mousse, frosted with a caramel date frosting & coconut & pecans.

It tasted amazing--but it was over-the-top in calories & "healthy" sugar. It was the only food at the conference dinner that gave me that way-too-full-uncomfortable feeling.

So, interesting that she's sworn off sugar. Good for her!

Turns out maple syrup is probably the best of the lot--not much fructose & at least it has some minerals.

I think Kat's Pumpkin Pecan Oat Squares sounds fantastic!

Danielle said...

Hi Wendy,
Great post!

I am having whole fruit or blended frozen fruit soft serve (like yours) every night after dinner. For the blended fruit, I am putting it in popsicle molds that way I eat less and it still feels like dessert. Once a month or so I might make a dessert using dates (my sugar of choice) and nuts like Dr. F's brownies, pies, or cakes. I am trying a 90-10 rule so that I can eat in restaurants and not have to stress if some recipes add sugar but I don't seek out foods that do.

On a totally separate note, I just got Chef AJ's cook book and made Kung Pao Tofu tonight (added veggies) and her Unfried Pineapple Rice. OMG, YUM!!!! I am making this for my next dinner party and you know what, I think I'll make some Dr. F cupcakes too!

Anonymous said...

Where do you find your cacao nibs and are they totally vegan and wheat free (and gluten-free?)? I have been looking for a source for the above online and in health food stores and so far am coming up short.

Wendy said...

I get cacao nibs at Whole Foods and as far as I know, they are vegan and wheat free.

Chris said...

I do not really struggle with weight so much (although I always have that 5# I'd like to lose). I am interested in the food I eat because I have no longevity on either side of my family. All of my grandparents died in their 60's of diabetes and/or heart disease. My mother's two brothers died, one in his late 50's and one in his early 60's.

I have never let myself think that less processed = good for you, just maybe a little less bad.

I have known for years that consuming sugar makes you want more, so I have somehow been able to keep myself away from that vicious cycle.

In my head, sugar kind of looks like a devil....eeww....I need to stay away from that.

Luckily the Sirens are not so loud on this one, they save it for the salt with me.

Kathleen @ KatsHealthCorner said...

Hey girl!!! Just to let you know, my website is with wordpress (, not @ blogspot. :)

Also, when I make my Pumpkin Oat Bars, I don't add the maple syrup because for me, it makes it too sweet, but I added it for normal-people taste buds. :)


Kathleen @ KatsHealthCorner said...

Awwws, thanks for linking to me girlie! :D

Sometimes I use banana, tofu, and even peanut butter to replace the oil in recipes. :) For the flour, I like to use WHITE Whole Wheat. It's softer than the RED Whole Wheat, so it's less dense, fluffier, etc. :)


Alan Roettinger said...

Hey--thanks for linking to my post on agave!

btw: you can order cacao nibs (and TONS of nuts, seeds, dried fruits, etc.)at
Really good prices on everything (like organic chia seeds for under $10/pound). Check out their dried fruit powders.

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