Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Ladies First.

I often find myself thinking of that verse that says that we should put others ahead of ourselves. For many years, I thought of it mostly in how we respond to others behaving badly. You know, to react in a way that helps them to heal or change or be better at whatever might be causing the issue.

Of late, I have been thinking about this quite a bit. How can I truly put others before myself? I heard one person use modesty as a way to put others ahead of ourselves. We don't dress to get attention. We dress so that others are comfortable around you or not stumbling over you. That made so much sense to me. What a simple way to honor others.

Another way we can do this is through manners. We can act in such a way as to bring dignity and honor to all of the hearers. Let your speech be seasoned with salt and all.

One big way we can put others before ourselves is by not being offended when they don't meet our needs the way we want them met. I had a real desire to have an intimate relationship with someone I loved and I prayed fervently about it. I asked God to open up some thing for us to have in common. He did. I started sending her books. Then I started talking to her about them. All the while, we were developing a friendship, I silenced my internal needs being met or my childhood being apologized for. I wanted to love her. I wanted her to be healed by Jesus. That meant I had to lay aside my own desires and just find common ground to plant in. It worked. It worked beautifully. To God be the glory.

Keep your eyes open to how you can put others ahead of yourself in the simplest of ways. God's kindness leads to repentance. That leads to life. 
Just so I don't get any email, I don't condone smoking. They used to tell people that it cleared out the lungs.  

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Talk to me, Abba.

There are always hundreds of things to be done here. You really can't fathom the lists of things that need to be accomplished around here. It's intense. Add in three children five and under, church, friends, and work. It is intense. I hardly ever hit my target of things I would like to accomplish today list. Sometimes, in the midst of all of the necessities of what is going on here, we can lose sight of our true purpose. We forget that we are here to serve and simply love The Lord Jesus. It's those days that I remind myself or my husband of why we are here that I will hear this sweet inner voice tell me that we did the real work that day or in that moment.

I love journaling and I very rarely get to finish what I would like to pour out to The Lord before I am bombarded with tiny people. It's easy to get frustrated and want that time for myself. Each day I start out by writing "thank you for my children." Many days, that is all I get written down. As I told Jesus I would like to spend a little more time with Him, He brought a passage to my mind that has been echoing in my head ever since.

"You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." 
2 Corinthians 2:2-3

The real work is writing on the tablet of the human heart available in our children, our neighbors, and those we are called to love.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Blood Sugar Solution

Out of the health and fitness books I have read, this has been one I got quite a bit out of. Most things make outlandish claims or take you down some treacherous paths. Of course, there are things that I don't totally agree with or that I am not sure about. The Dr tells the difference between soy and frankensoy, but I'm not totally sold on the idea of soy. The hormonal factor there scares me a bit.

Basically, this is a common sense lifestyle. Eat how people ate before they ate junk. Get rid of the junk. Fat doesn't make you fat. Cholesterol doesn't give you high cholesterol. There is even evidence that its good for you. With the complex chemical reactions in the human body, you can see how something wouldn't be able to go in and stay the same.

The problem most of us are facing, as outlined in the book is inflammation. This is caused by food that isn't really food. It should say "unsafe for consumption." Sugar is a huge problem. Refined white sugar wreaks havoc in the human body. It causes so many of the things we are trying to medicate today. You can get rid of the problem. This new onslaught of IBS being seen is caused by our addiction to sugar and fake sweeteners. Splenda is not your friend.

The thing that I came to understand through the dietician|nutritionist was about how our bodies sluggishly process bad carbs and sugars. If we send a deluge of not real food into our guts, guess what is going to happen. Rebellion. Inflammation. Sickness. The liver hordes excess sugar it can't process as fat. Then we suffer the repercussions of the added weight.

Dr. Hyman tells us to examine each of the foods we eat by taking them out and adding them in to see how we feel. Wheat is a big issue for a lot of people and they don't know it. It inflames the guts of people who do not suffer from celiac as well.Take it away and see if you might benefit from being grain free.

I'm no doctor, but the wisdom in this is good. Dump the junk. Find out what all is considered junk. Cut back on meat. Throw out the bad carbs.Find out what works for you. Feel alive.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Finally Loving Yourself

I told you about how Gomer refuses to be tidy. The place just can't bring herself to commensurate with my desires. I try to keep this 5,500 sq foot tidy with three girls. The hardest part is attempting to maintain a routine when we are on the road five to six months out of the year. I found Flylady many moons ago. She has a website that helps get your house in order. Let me tell you, I do not do her routines flawlessly, but her daily emails encourage me to try every day. There are several things I have learned from Flylady that translate into all areas of life.

FLY stands for Finally Loving Yourself. Now, I know all about all the things that we should know about being beautiful and made in the image of Creator God, but for some reason, one day as I read that phrase on the Flylady site, it hit me that I had never really done that. I kind of did the bare minimum of care for myself and I let ugly comments from others keep me from pursuing my dreams and the discouragement kept me from trying. You know, I have learned that critical words from others are truly much more about the pain they have going on inside of them. Coming to terms with all of these things, I decided to take care of me too. When we take care of us, we give a better version of ourselves to others. We give life instead of needing it.

I learned that we procrastinate because of a tendency toward perfection. If we can't do it at all, why bother doing it. What a thief that is. It's like that Mark Twain quote about throwing off the bow lines. Seize this day.

I had a smack in the face moment with a Flylady quote one day.
Don't let your perfectionism make you a bully.
Oh, boy. I have thought about that and thought about that. I mean, we all think we have cornered the market on religious thought, nutrition, parenting, and anything else we can be right about. Perfectionism puts up walls between us and those we love.

You know, I was a Vegetarian for five years and I always had a problem with my blood work. My dr suggested adding in a bit of different types of fat. It worked. It really is an individual thing. Be wary of all the latest studies and movies out. When you start digging around, you see who was behind them. Don't think food isn't big business. Even vegetables. Potatoes have lobbyist. They all want our money. The truth is, you have to really address your individual concerns. For example, people with autoimmune deficiencies should stay away from beans and diabetics should eat more fat. Mostly, be thankful. As I have been researching, I keep thinking about that little prayer that says, "Thank you for the food we eat." We are blessed with so many choices and options. We can buy organic. We can feast most any time we want. Be thankful and don't let your personal convictions make you a food bully. Savor this life.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

We'll Put On the Dog.

I've been blogging about losing my brother Mike this week. I thought I'd also let you in on what came out of it. I've lost two of my brothers and God really used that pain to get me to heal in every other area of my life. I truly came out of my shy shell as God applied His healing balm to my wounds. Just know that healing is often quite painful and the journey to health is riddled with personal deaths of all sorts.

God gave me a knowing that my brother was going to pass away and that it was going to be okay. He was going to redeem and use it. At the time Mike passed away, I felt God assure my spirit that it was okay. I was driving in the car when I felt that He was with Jesus. At this same season of the year, we felt directed to sell our first home in the cute white picket neighborhood we lived in. We didn't know exactly where we were going, and, in fact, we ended up being homeless for nine months. Just long enough to give birth to something.

God was directing our steps toward a healing and hospitality ministry. I really wanted to do this to honor my brothers and their gift of warmth and hospitality. I don't think I would have been willing to take on such a huge undertaking unless I had recently been confronted with the brevity of our existence and the importance of the time God gives us. We looked at several places that never worked out. Then, we stumbled on Gomer. Talk about out of your comfort zone.

Y'all, I like Tidy. Gomer has never ever, even on her best day, been tidy. I dust and in an hour it's dusty. We waded through no sinks, no pipes, old pipes, no oven, no insulation, and dirt by the buckets. We are still wading. People keep coming however. Lots of people. Hundreds of people.

The thing that is so gut wrenching about people who struggle with alcohol and drug abuse is that you really lose them long before they die. They are not even versions of themselves you recognize. I think I grieved this more than my brothers' deaths. The street we live on is abnormally full of people who struggle with substance abuse. We try to love on each person as if they were one of my brothers and grieve their condition the same. Please pray for healing here.

Since moving in here, I have prayed every day for the gift of warmth and hospitality. The Holy Spirit truly can direct the heart to genuine love and care even in a society with deadened emotions.

If you need some love or healing, come on down. We'll put on the dog. I have no idea why we Southerners say such odd things. I even had to look up the meaning of that one. Basically, we'll put on a feast for you that will rival the prodigal returning home and, hopefully, you'll feel as much of the Father's love.

Support Gomer's House.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Chuck and Cindy: the Jesus version

Like I said before, grief is a funny thing. When my brother, Mike, died, I watched all of these quirky movies he loved. They brought this comfort to me. I also came across the movie Elizabethtown. The movie is about a man who is on a journey to the place where his father had died to prepare for his burial. Of course, he had lost his job and his woman left him all at the same time. All this losing that is remnant of a country song reminded me of one of my favorite verses in scripture. "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord." It is such a powerful reminder that pain, if we let it, very often induces intimacy with Jesus.

This movie is sad and silly. One of the things that took the edge off of the deep grief was that in the hotel where this man was staying there was a wedding party. There were posters of "Chuck and Cindy: the Wedding" all over the place. Chuck was always hugging him and hi jinks ensued. Now, I probably watched this movie once a month for a year. It made me laugh when I really needed to. I kept laughing and telling Denbigh that I wanted my own Chuck and Cindy.

After being led by the Lord away from spiritual abuse in our last church, I really didn't ever want to work in another church again. We turned down several opportunities to do so. Then God started pointing in a very surprising direction.

The day before my husband was to go meet with a man about coming on staff at his church, he was walking around our house looking for this missing piece of his drill that changes out the bits. That thing is called a "chuck." After he said he was looking for his "chuck" for the third or fourth time, I said, "Isn't that the name of the guy you are meeting tomorrow?" Denbigh never found his chuck, but he found Chuck. Jesus led us into a safe place under the shadow of His wings. I know you are wondering what Chuck's wife is named. Sandy. Chuck and Sandy. They're our Jesus version of Chuck and Cindy.

If you come across a chuck, however, please send it to our P.O. Box.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Talk to me, Abba.

Grief sneaks up on you. I was out celebrating some friends' (who are sisters) birthdays on Friday and all of a sudden the weight of this thing just bore down on me. I struggled to maintain my composure. My brother's birthday is today. I'm never going to celebrate his day with him again. For some reason, these last few weeks have been full of memories. I think part of the reason I am having them surface is because I am in a safe place to grieve.

Honestly, after my fun girl's night out, I came home, sat in a hot bath, and wept. I wept and grieved for several unspoken reasons. When grief is so heavy, I find that words become superfluous. I recalled in James where it tells me that if I draw near to the Lord, He will draw near to me. In that moment, I handed my grief to Jesus. A picture flooded my mind. It was of John, the beloved disciple, laying his head on Jesus' chest at a meal they shared. My soul rested in that peace.

On Sunday morning, I was listening to my beloved husband sing a song. "I want to sit at your feet, drink from the cup in your hand, lay back against you and breathe." The song of the beloved disciple. There, Jesus reminded me that He was with me and He simply wanted me to lean in and trust Him.

I often feel that the things that are too great for me to bear are a silent invitation to sit at His feet. He speaks to me in silence.
Then we closed our service with this prayer.

I have sat at your feet and I have eaten at your table, Abba. My cup overflows.
Thank you.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sent by Hilary Alan

I was not immediately attracted to this book, but I was asked to review it and as I read the context, I was immediately drawn to it. God called them to leave a high profile career and go to help rebuild homes in Southeast Asia after the tsunami there. I wanted to know what God had done and how He led them on this journey. I wanted to know what He had shown them there.

This is Hilary's first book. It can be choppy in places. I imagine she was trying to condense the most powerful story of her life for this book. The story told itself however. It is gripping and convicting and challenging. This family slowly walked out of their lives to embrace the Muslim culture and serve them. 

I have never seen the inside of this kind of story before. The length of time and all that was involved to even get over there was a little shocking to me. First the man prepared to leave his job. Then they went to classes, sold their home and belongings, and then entered into a period of preparing for immersion. Then, there was culture shock and loneliness. 

I honestly cannot imagine being submerged into a culture so foreign to my own. Ours may not be perfect, but we are accustomed to it. Hilary wrote of how the people around them told them how much they appreciated the way that they dressed like the culture and how they were kind to them. Kindness was completely out of the norm to them.

This family lived among power outages and filth and continuing panic every time a wave rolled in. The thing I loved about this is that they were trying to love and encourage people around them right where they were. This wasnt some mission of getting people to do or say the right things. They were the hands and feet of Christ to a people that did not know Him.

One of the stories she told was of a friend there that had a miscarriage. In this culture, you have to be hospitable in this situation. So, immediaitely after this woman had lost here baby, a buffet was set up in her house. People were coming by all day eating food, but barely speaking to her. The most they asked was if she was in pain. Hilary stayed with her and compassionately cared for her. That community found this remarkable. It spoke volumes to them. 

I thought the book as a whole was a remarkable story of love. I recommend it to you. This is the kind of thing that makes you want to be fully alive, to love. May we no longer live in fear of the journey.

This book was graciously provided by Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers for review.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Me and the Dietician

People keep asking me what I have been doing nutritionally and I thought I would share. You know, nutrition is one of those things that people are very opinionated about. It's right up there with worship music and politics. We watch a documentary or read a few articles and think we are experts. One says eat no meat and the next says we must eat liver if we want to be healthy. For every study that "absolutely proves" we should be Vegan, there are 5 more that "prove" we shouldn't. One study blamed cancer in a particular region on animal products while another linked it to the salt that was introduced as a preservative in the region. I spent 2 hours a day over the past year reading about nutrition. That's 700 hours of reading and I still don't have the answers. Only Jesus knows. We could all do The Maker's Diet, but then some guy tells us to definitely not eat fish because of the Mercury. We are told to eat 6 meals a day and then we hear that that will make us get a diseased colon. I only know one thing. I know what is working for me right now. One thing I like about The Blood Sugar Solution is the doctors advice to take out different foods and see how you feel. We aren't all the same and our sensitivities and reactions aren't the same. Find what works for you.

There were some things that had dramatic effects for me.

Dump the processed food, but don't stress over every single thing.
Drink warm water with lemon every morning.
Eat within 1 hour of waking.
No white sugar. No artificial sweeteners. No High Fructose.
No white salt.
No white flour.
Eat the fat. ( no low fat)
All all the vegetables and herbs you can to your meals.
Get lots of real fiber.
Get lots of real vitamins.
Don't skip meals.
Make sure to get 100% vitamin C every day for liver function.

I eat six times a day. Some say this is bad because your liver can't relax, but if you have low blood sugar, it's a must.

I use My Fitness Pal to monitor my nutrition and calories. I just got a Fitbit to make sure that I get in my 10,000 steps each day.

So, I divided my daily calories before exercise. For what I exercise I add in the calories. The Fitbit calculates this for you.

Breakfast - 15-30 grams carb, 250 calories
Snack - 15 grams carb, 100 calories
Lunch - 45 grams carb, 350 calories
Snack - 15-30 grams carb, 100 calories
Supper - 45-60 grams carb, 300 calories
Snack - 15-30 grams carb, 100 calories

This is based on a 1,200 calorie diet. Adjust the calories as you add exercise. The carbs you get from a carrot are obviously better for you than the ones you get from a chip. Glycemic index has a big impact on your health. I try to stay out of the boxed and packaged stuff. I make things from scratch in bulk. There are times I end up in a drive through window or eating chips or throwing a dollop of ice cream in my coffee and I don't stress about it. So much of our problem is that we overindulge in junk to the point of sickness. Lets just be thoughtful about what we eat without being obsessive. Keep your stress low. Enjoy your life.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Talk to me, Abba.

Sometimes I find myself shocked and overwhelmed by the behavior of those I love. Honestly, I find that I can be shocked at my on behavior. The anger, hurt, bitterness, and guilt that can ensue from those things can be a tidal wave that we feel like we need to panic in response to. I'll hear this whisper deep within that resonates a need to wait. Don't respond. I should sit in the mercy I have been given and ruminate on it. Sometimes I hear scripture pour into my head, but just as often, when the pain is too acute, there is silence. All I can say is Your grace is enough. YOUR grace is there when everyone else refuses to extend it. Your grace is rampant when I cannot even grant grace to myself. Jesus reminds me that we are not here to be in the business of doing things right. Our humility reveals the greatness of our God. There is mercy to cover every sin we walk into on our journey. Sit in silence until you sense God's grace.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Hebrews 4:16

Thursday, February 07, 2013

We're High Falootin'

Living in the constant chaos of a restoration is quite the emotional roller coaster for a woman who craves tidy and warm. I want to nest something fierce. I grow tired of not being able to just sit down among a finished room and enjoy the company of others. It really hit me at Christmas as I was sitting next to the fire in my dad's house. I miss normal. 

Through all of this, I have had my entitlement stripped from me. Each step has been so celebrated because Jesus did it all on His own. We didn't hire some contractor. We asked God and waited. He has personally paid for every single item in our kitchen. At Christmas, we were given some money and I thought that I would rush out and buy a dishwasher. I felt like the Lord was telling me to wait because He was going to pay for it. A few weeks later, I received a love offering for the amount we needed. Glory be. The good Lord had done it again. He paid for the cabinets and brought the cabinet maker. He bought the floor. He bought the ceiling and the sink. He bought the dishwasher. To me, He even did the dishes. He is to be celebrated.
Still, sometimes, it gets hard. I don't live in a third world country or go without running water. I just want a home. I want to place things and have the bright light of the sun bounce of my drywall. I would like insulation and central air downstairs. Is it all too much to ask? No. I have just found that the Holy Spirit is nesting here. He's bringing His own decorators. He is teaching me to appreciate the many graces I have in the waiting. Still, He sees my need to nest and to have the warmth here. So God has lent me some beautiful people.

God lent me Stephen, husband of Molly. He has done something magnificent for me. Let me give you a little background to it. As you may know, I have lost two of my brothers. When I met Stephen several years ago, he reminded me so much of my brother. Since, I have made him my honorary sibling. I have a huge heart for his whole family. Now, you can see why the gift he gave me was so precious. He made me the most beautiful of tables. It looks like some I yearned for in Anthropologie or Restoration Hardware. It was made specifically for our house though. It is the table I see when I think of people laughing and enjoying feasting together around a table. I have had this table in my head for years. There it is. It's in my dining room. It makes it feel like home. Thank you, Stephen. God uses you to heal my heart.

Jesus also sent me some coffee right when I ran out from my friend Jackie. I had the strongest sense that the Lord was trying to let me know He saw me.
He also put sub-floor in the butler pantry so that we can bring the fabulous cork on in to this room.
Look at that, ya'll. It's the first dishwasher I have owned in 5 years. My main desire was that the buttons be on the top instead of the front. My two year old is a button pushing machine.
There is our dear friend Andy who came just a few days after we got the washer because GOD is good. This man can put in and do anything. He also comes to our house every Groundhog day for our traditional feast.
Andy climbed into my cabinet to check the lines. He's 58 years old. He was able to get out without the jaws of life. I'm impressed.
There is my dear sweet pseudo sister-in-law Molly holding our third born. I love Molly. She is a gift to me.

Our first meal at the table. I love all the faces. It says, "Hey, we'll take in anybody."
Our first meal was homemade Black Bean Soup...on the Anthropologie dishes Molly got me the hookup on!
That, friends, is the Cadillac of garbage disposals. My dear husband might be having some sort of emotional attachment to this thing. He had been having to scrape out the food in the sink and throw it away. Now he is living the high life.
Yasha sustained an injury from the dishwasher box on her nose.
You can buy my black bean soup. I'll also give it to you if you come over. I sent this one to my dear, sweet friend, Synda!
Our first load of dishes, y'all. You go ahead, Jesus.
Look at that table top. It is made from salvaged maple flooring. People are going to sit around it and feel loved!
Just in case you forgot the hideous state of our kitchen and the three years we lived with it looking like this. I'm in awe. I love that dishwasher. It's funny how filling a hole in the room made it seem much more like a home and less like a project. I pray you all feel the sweetness of the Lord today. Love y'all.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Les Misérables: Focus on the Family Audio Drama

I think I have become addicted to this radio theatre. This is my second drama to review. I put it in on a trip home from my parents house and before I knew it, I was home. It was entertaining and engaging that I lost myself in the story. The story was recorded by talented actors in the city of London. 

The story of redemption and laying ones life down for another person is such a poignant tale for our day in time. As our culture tells us to meet our own needs and blatantly encourages our selfishness, we see this timely reminder to put others ahead of ourselves. 

It is easy to embrace Jean Valjean after he has been changed from an embittered convict by one single act of kindness. It begs us to question what we could do to change the course of the life of someone around us. How can we be kind and welcoming to someone who is less than desirable? What could we sacrifice today?

Everyone I know is flocking to see the movie right now. Take a look at this as well. It would be an excellent homeschool or family resource to discuss redemption. I have richly enjoyed it. I hope you do as well.

This 3 cd set was graciously provided by Tyndale Publishers for review.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Talk to me, Abba.

I was reading Tim Challies' review of Jesus Calling the other day and I am just not sure how I felt about it. He was basically calling this woman a misguided mystic. He went on and on about her capitalizing the word presence as though she was adding to the Bible by listening for the Lord. As I read through her devotional, almost everything I read brought a verse of scripture to my mind. I sometimes have a hard time reading his reviews because there is no grace. I guess people enjoy reading him because he is opinionated. I like him for the most part as well. His review of Ann Voskamp's book took me aback. He dwelled on certain words which I don't think she meant in the way he took them at all.

All of that to say, as I write this each week and dialogue with the Lord, He isn't telling me anything He hasn't told me before. His salve to our wounds and His hope to our grief are all catalogued in Scripture. I find that when I sit and journal, I feel Jesus sing these words of His word over me. The Holy Spirit will remind me of specific scripture I need right then and He will apply it to my sear or to heal. 

As you press on through your day today, remember that Christ loves you with a lavish love. He has already spoken to your every need. Listen.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Happy Groundhog Day!

We never thought there was a winter in Texas until we moved into this house with no insulation. Since then, we check the weather every day. It became our joke to see what the groundhog said each year since. I actually have no idea if we have actually ever seen any difference due to what he says because I forget by the next day. It's fun to celebrate and to make light of ourselves. Thank God for the insulation we have and the more to come. 

Friday, February 01, 2013

Dirty Sugar

I thought I would share some more of the things I have discovered over the last few years of desperately seeking out nutrition. If you remember my post about Dirty Salt, you can see why I called this dirty sugar.

Here is something I learned. People who make food for profit lie. They lie alot. They come up with flowery ways to make you think things about their products that simply are not true. We must be informed if we want to reclaim our health. One of the biggest things we can do is to ditch High Fructose Corn Syrup and processed sugar. Dump the stuff that tells you it's raw. It's really just a little bit less processed sugar. When you consume regular sugar, you might as well be shooting up. They say it is more addictive than cocaine and America has the waistline to prove it. We don't have to wear their lies around though. There are alternatives to sugar and there are choices to be made.

Regular sugar surges into the bloodstream because it has no nutrient to slow down it's absorption. This makes your blood sugar skyrocket. Then begins the ugly highs and lows of a junkie. We crave bad carbs and anything else that will get us our fix. Even chemical alternatives like Splenda are incredibly bad for you. They also make you fat. So, does highly processed Agave.

Here's the down low on sugar from Spark People:

Sugarcane Sweeteners
Sugarcane is a tropical grass that has been cultivated by humans for thousands of years. Making what we know as table sugar from sugarcane can range from a relatively simple to a multistep process, and the final result varies depending on the specific steps in the process. Light and dark brown, powdered, and granulated white sugars are all highly refined, while others, like those listed below, are made with fewer steps on the processing chain. Fewer steps benefit the environment, because less processing means less environmental impact. It also means that more of the vitamins and minerals that naturally occur in sugarcane remain in the end product. All of these sugarcane sweeteners can be found in the baking aisle and/or bulk bins of natural foods stores.
  • Blackstrap molasses, unlike other sugarcane sweeteners, contains significant amounts of vitamins and minerals. “First” molasses is left over when sugarcane juice is boiled, cooled, and removed of its crystals. If this product is boiled again, the result is called second molasses. Blackstrap molasses is made from thethird boiling of the sugar syrup and is the most nutritious molasses, containing substantial amounts of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron. When buying, consider choosing organic blackstrap molasses, as pesticides are more likely to be concentrated due to the production of molasses. Cooking notes:Blackstrap molasses has a very strong flavor, so it is best to just replace a small portion of sugar with molasses.
  • Rapadura is the Portuguese name for unrefined dried sugarcane juice. Probably the least refined of all sugarcane products, rapadura is made simply by cooking juice that has been pressed from sugarcane until it is very concentrated, and then drying and granulating it or, traditionally, pouring it into a mold to dry in brick form, which is then shaved. Because the only thing that has been removed from the original sugarcane juice is the water, rapadura contains all of the vitamins and minerals that are normally found in sugarcane juice, namely iron. A German company called Rapunzel is the main company that markets pure, organic rapadura in the U.S. Cooking notes: Rapadura replaces sugar 1:1 and adds a molasses flavor and dark color, so it’s great in baked goods like brownies, coffee and black tea, but it may not be desirable in something like lemonade.
  • Sucanat stands for sugar-cane-natural, and is very similar to rapadura. It is made by mechanically extracting sugarcane juice, which is then heated and cooled until tiny brown (thanks to the molasses content) crystals form. It contains less sucrose than table sugar (88 percent and 99 percent, respectively).Cooking notes: Sucanat replaces sugar 1:1 and is also an accepted substitute for traditional brown sugar. Use it as you would rapadura (see above).
  • Turbinado sugar is often confused with sucanat, but the two are different. After the sugarcane is pressed to extract the juice, the juice is then boiled, cooled, and allowed to crystallize into granules (like sucanat, above). Next, these granules are refined to a light tan color by washing them in a centrifuge to remove impurities and surface molasses. Turbinado is lighter in color and contains less molasses than both rapadura and sucanat. A popular brand-name of turbinado sugar is Sugar in the Raw, which can be found in most natural food stores, and even in single-serve packets at coffee shops. Cooking notes: Replaces sugar 1:1.
  • Evaporated cane juice is essentially a finer, lighter-colored version of turbinado sugar. Still less refined than table sugar, it also contains some trace nutrients (that regular sugar does not), including vitamin B2. In Europe, it’s known as “unrefined sugar.” Cooking notes: Replaces sugar 1:1. Can be used in a wide variety of foods and recipes without adversely affecting color or flavor. 
Non-Sugarcane Sweeteners
Natural sweeteners are flooding the market these days. Here’s a rundown of some of the most common ones that are not made from sugarcane.
  • Agave nectar is produced from the juice of the core of the agave, a succulent plant native to Mexico. Far from a whole food, agave juice is extracted, filtered, heated and hydrolyzed into agave syrup. Vegans often use agave as a honey substitute, although it’s even sweeter and a little thinner than honey. It contains trace amounts of iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium. Agave nectar syrup is available in the baking aisle at most natural foods stores. The fructose content of agave syrup is much higher than that of high fructose corn syrup, which is of concern since some research has linked high fructose intake to weight gain (especially around the abdominal area), high triglycerides, heart disease and insulin resistance. High fructose corn syrup contains 55% fructose while agave nectar syrup contains 90%. Despite this, it has a low glycemic index because of its low glucose content. Cooking notes: To replace 1 cup of sugar, use 2/3 cup of agave nectar, reduce the quantity of liquids slightly, and reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees Fahrenheit. It also makes a good sweetener in cold liquids, such as iced tea.
  • Brown rice syrup is made when cooked rice is cultured with enzymes, which break down the starch in the rice. The resulting liquid is cooked down to a thick syrup, which is about half as sweet as white sugar and has a mild butterscotch flavor. It is composed of about 50% complex carbohydrates, which break down more slowly in the bloodstream than simple carbohydrates, resulting in a less dramatic spike in blood glucose levels. It’s worth noting that the name “brown rice syrup” describes the color of the syrup, not the rice it’s made from, which is white. Cooking notes: To replace one cup of sugar, use 1-1/3 cups brown rice syrup, and for each cup of rice syrup added, reduce liquid by 1/4 cup and add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda. Brown rice syrup has the tendency to make food harder and crispier, so it’s great in crisps, granolas, and cookies. You may want to combine it with another sweetener for cakes and sweet breads.
  • Honey, made by bees from the nectar of flowers, is a ready-made sweetener that contains traces of nutrients. Cooking notes: To replace 1 cup sugar in baked goods, use about 3/4 cup of honey and lower the oven temperature 25 degrees Fahrenheit and reduce liquids by about 2 Tablespoons for each cup of honey.
  • Maple syrup comes from the sap of maple trees, which is collected, filtered, and boiled down to an extremely sweet syrup with a distinctive flavor. It contains fewer calories and a higher concentration of minerals (like manganese and zinc) than honey. You can find it in bulk in some natural foods stores, but don’t be fooled by fake maple syrups, which are cheaper and more readily available at the grocery store. "Maple-flavored syrups" are imitations of real maple syrup. To easily tell the difference, read the ingredients list on the nutrition label. True maple syrup contains nothing but “maple syrup.” Imitation syrups are primarily made of high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and/or artificial sweeteners, and contain 3 percent maple syrup (or less). Cooking notes: To replace 1 cup sugar in baking, use about 3/4 cup of maple syrup and lower the oven temperature 25 degrees Fahrenheit. For each cup of maple syrup, reduce liquids by about 2 tablespoons.
Here’s a chart of how these sweeteners compare with one another and with regular table sugar:

SweetenerServing sizeCaloriesCarbsOther nutrients of note
White (table) sugar2 tsp338 gNone*
Blackstrap molasses2 tsp328 gManganese (18% DV), copper (14% DV), iron (13% DV), calcium (12% DV), potassium (10% DV), magnesium (7%DV), vitamin B6 (5% DV), selenium (4% DV)
Rapadura2 tsp308 gNone*
Sucanat2 tsp308 gNone*
Turbinado sugar2 tsp308 gNone*
Evaporated cane juice2 tsp308 gRiboflavin (3% DV), potassium (1% DV), manganese (1% DV), copper (1% DV), iron (1% DV)
Agave nectar syrup2 tsp408 gNone*
Brown rice syrup2 tsp4010 gNone*
Honey2 tsp4311 gNone*
Maple syrup2 tsp459 gManganese (22% DV), zinc (4% DV)

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