When it was first introduced in 1689, people consumed around 20 to 30 teaspoons of sugar throughout the course of their entire lifetime. That is roughly the equivalent of one 20-ounce soda or one serving of conventional yogurt in your life. Can you believe that? Or better, can you imagine that? Drinking the equivalent of only a single bottle of Coke in your entire lifetime? Almost 400 years later, the average American consumes 130 to 158 pounds of sugar per year! This means that many of us are consuming more than our body weight in sugar annually.
—Christa Orecchio and Willow Buckley, How to Conceive Naturally: And Have a Healthy Pregnancy After 30, page 70, emphasis in original
After years of blaming dietary fat, we’ve apprehended the real villain: sugar. It’s
- expanding our waistlines
- inflaming our bodies
- hijacking our brains
- destabilizing our blood sugar
- feeding our cancers
- compromising our fertility
- sabotaging our kids…
And it’s stealthy. From baked goods and breakfast cereals to coffee and condiments to spice blends and salad dressings and more, sugar infiltrates our daily fare.
Have you checked that tomato sauce lately? Or that bacon? How about your favorite curry paste? Or hummus?
Or your baby’s food?
Sugar wreaks the most havoc on our youngest, yet manufacturers play into its addictive quality to hook the vulnerable. It lurks at every turn, so lend a savvy eye to that ingredient list—or better yet, stock your kitchen with whole foods in their natural state. Sugar is one substance for which moderation doesn’t hold: it’s best to stay away.
Does that mean you need to forgo treats entirely? With the holidays looming on the horizon, that may be a bit austere.
But it does mean ditching refined sugar at all costs and substituting natural, whole-foods sweeteners when the rare occasion dictates dessert.
So in honor of National Pumpkin Cheesecake Day—yes, there is such a thing, and, yes, today is the day!—we’ve put together a tasty alternative to the sugar-laden classic.
Check out our Creamy Pumpkin Cheesecake.
Not only is it refined-sugar-free, but it’s also dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free, grain-free…and freely approved by at least one die-hard sugar fiend!
Creamy Pumpkin Cheesecake
This recipe forgoes processed sweeteners entirely, instead favoring a whole food: the humble date. Sweet enough to satisfy even the most ferocious sweet tooth, medjool dates pack a punch of minerals, vitamins, macronutrients (amino acids and fatty acids), and gene-modulating biomolecules rivaling any superfood. Ayurveda has considered dates highly rejuvenative for thousands of years—especially for the reproductive tissue, and therefore key players in a purposeful preconception diet.
According to Ayurveda, dates are also traditionally thought to bestow pregnant mothers with vitality and immunity, particularly in the third trimester. And in fact, recent research supports just that, concluding that consuming dates in the final month improves labor metrics and birth outcomes. (See this article for more.)
Those strictly avoiding sugar, even in whole-food form, however, need not despair. In the recipe below, hold the crust and sweeten the filling with liquid stevia. Choose pure, organic stevia not cut with other sweeteners. Start with 20 drops and gradually add 5 at a time until achieving the desired sweetness. This yields a creamy custard to savor straight from the spoon, without jeopardizing your blood sugar.
What of the other ingredients? Pumpkins, for example, far from merely heralding the arrival of autumn, are nutritional superstars. They are among nature’s richest sources of the antioxidant beta carotene and provide a host of other vitamins and minerals, including more potassium than a banana with a lot less sugar. If you’re game for maximizing the whole plant, those seeds inside are a great source of zinc, manganese, phosphorous, magnesium, copper, iron, protein, and fiber, in addition to being potent antiparasitics.
And don’t forget the spices! In Ayurvedic medicine, herbs and spices are simple yet powerful medicinal healers. In fall and moving into winter, favor warming spices that support the body’s naturally augmented need for heat, improving digestion, absorption, assimilation, and circulation and thereby immune function. While recipes vary, pumpkin pie spice classically includes cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and clove—all warming spices that maintain a prized position in Ayurvedic medicine for their numerous benefits.
- Cinnamon improves digestion, eliminates toxins, enhances circulation, and thins the blood, helping prevent heart attacks. It’s also a known blood sugar regulator, effective especially in those with diabetes or diabetes risk but equally beneficial for the average person when consuming a carbohydrate- or sugar-rich meal. It has antibacterial and antifungal properties and can be used medicinally with a pinch of clove and a teaspoon of raw honey in cases of cold, congestion, and cough—the quintessential winter maladies.
- Ginger likewise rates high as a digestive aid, an anti-inflammatory, an analgesic, a decongestant, a blood thinner, a blood sugar regulator, an infection fighter, and an all-around tonic that deserves a place in your daily diet.
- Nutmeg, acting first as a stimulant and then as a sedative, is both analgesic and hypnotic, meaning it soothes pain and induces sound sleep.
- Allspice, a potent antioxidant, eases digestion and helps balance hormones, especially related to the female menstrual cycle.
- Clove, deemed the “best” natural antioxidant by researches given its superior activity against free radicals, reduces inflammation, relieves pain (especially in the oral cavity), supports wound healing, and targets unwanted bacteria and fungus.
And without further ado, onto the recipe…
- 2 cups walnuts or pumpkin seeds, raw or soaked and dried
- 2/3 cup medjool dates, pitted and soaked
- pinch unrefined sea or mineral salt
- 3 cups cashews, soaked
- 2/3 cup unrefined coconut oil
- 1 cup full-fat coconut milk, preferably the cream from the top
- 1 cup medjool dates, pitted and soaked
- 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
- 2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/4 slice organic orange, peel and juice
- 1/2 teaspoon unrefined sea or mineral salt
- Place the can of coconut milk in the refrigerator to chill for several hours or overnight.
- Select ingredients for the crust. Walnuts pair nicely with dates, but other nuts and seeds can work equally well. Pumpkin seeds, to complement the pumpkin flesh in the filling, are a good choice if you would like to reap the benefit of the whole plant.
- Optionally prepare the walnuts or pumpkin seeds in advance. Soaking and drying nuts and seeds improves their nutrient availability and digestibility. To soak, place nuts or seeds in warm filtered water for 8 hours or more, preferably overnight. Then rinse, drain, and dehydrate at 110 degrees until crispy, usually 24 hours or more. Alternatively, you can spread them on a baking sheet and place in the oven at the lowest setting or even outside in full sun, if you live in a warm, dry climate. For less effort, simply use raw nuts, or soak them overnight without drying; just make sure they are well drained or they will lend too much moisture to the crust.
- Cashews require less soaking time. Place in warm filtered water for 2 to 3 hours.
- If the dates are fresh and very soft, then soaking may not be required. Otherwise, place them in enough hot water to cover and let soften for 10 minutes or more.
- Remove the dates from the soaking water and place with nuts and a pinch or two of salt in a blender or food processor. Mix until well combined but a few pieces remain. If you are working with an older blender, you may wish to blend the nuts and dates separately, and then combine.
- Lightly grease 2 standard, 12-slot muffin tins with coconut oil or line with parchment paper to facilitate extraction. Mini muffin tins produce bite-sized cheesecakes, and 2 glass pie plates or a large baking dish can work if you prefer slices or bars.
- Scoop a tablespoon of crust into each muffin slot. Press into place with the back of a spoon. Place muffin tins or baking dish into the freezer to set.
- Remove the coconut milk from the refrigerator and scoop the solid cream off the top; it should yield about 1 cup. Reserve the remaining coconut water for another use. If your milk did not separate, simply measure out 1 cup and save the remainder.
- Prepare the filling by placing the rest of the ingredients into the clean blender or food processor. If you have a high-speed blender, then simply place the whole orange slice in; otherwise, squeeze out the juice and grate a little zest first. Puree until creamy and smooth. This may take a few minutes.
- Taste and adjust flavorings as needed.
- Remove muffin tins or baking dish from the freezer and divide filling evenly over the crust. Tap the tins or dish to remove any air bubbles. For a decorative flourish, swirl a toothpick through the filling.
- Return cheesecakes to the freezer to harden, about 4 to 6 hours.
- Use a knife to gently press on the edge of each cheesecake; it should slide right out. Or gently pull on the parchment if you lined the muffin tins.
- Let defrost about 10 minutes at room temperature before serving.
- This recipe makes 24 muffin-sized cheesecakes, and at least twice as many mini cheesecakes. It can be doubled for a larger crowd or halved for a smaller occasion.