Making a Better Lemonade | Restaurant Reviews | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

A nutrition seminar in January 2007 convinced Sylvia Burnett that sugar, corn syrup and aspartame were, as she said, "killers." So, she, her husband, Ralph, and sons David and Craig -- collectively, Heart and Soul Foods -- decided that the foods they made should to be healthy. That meant cutting out the three aforementioned malefactor sweeteners entirely -- from their lives, and their products.

"I lost 50 pounds and 100 points off my cholesterol," Sylvia says. "It really works -- it's fantastic."

The family had owned restaurants in Oakland and Penn Hills for years, but had switched over into full-time manufacturing, producing the from-scratch sauces and pies customers loved so much for retail sales. And after Sylvia's epiphany, they realized they had to switch out the sugar.

"Agave nectar is a natural plant extract that's low in calories, it's low on the glycemic index [a measure of how foods affect blood sugar], it's higher in dietary fiber," explains David Burnett. The company now uses only the juice of the spiny Mexican agave plant in its food products.

Currently, Heart and Soul Foods is focusing on making healthy lemonade, made simply from water, lemon juice and agave nectar. An eight-ounce serving has 80 calories, and it's delicious: The sweetness and brightness are all that come through; it doesn't taste "healthy." Plenty of takers at a recent sampling at Whole Foods Market enjoyed the summery drink.

"When you say 'healthy,' people have a negative anticipation of how it's going to taste," Sylvia says.

Craig Burnett further explains the drink's benefits. "You're digesting minerals and nutrients," he says. "Your energy will be sustained. With sugar, you get energy quick but then you crash."

Locally, the lemonade is available at the East End Food Co-op, Whole Foods, McGinnis Sisters in the South Hills, Wholey's and the Edgewood Giant Eagle. Right now, the company is only making lemonade, but keep your eyes peeled toward its Web site,, for more delicious and healthy treats that won't taste nearly as healthy as they are.

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