Welcome to My Year Without

On January 1, 2008, I made a New Year's resolution to cut out refined sugar for one year. I cut out white refined sugar and corn syrups. My quest to be sugar-free evolved into political interest, public health, and letter writing to food manufacturers. Join me in sugar sleuthing, and learn more about the psychological aspects of sugar addiction, and those who push sugar on us.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Fresh Sugar Cane

I've been in Washington DC for the past several days now, visiting my brother and some friends I made in Mexico, who are from here, as well. Last night a few of us went out to my brother's favorite bar and steak house, the Carlyle. After eating crab and shrimp appetizers we were each served large plates of our meat of choice and sides of veggies. I had a large seared ahi tuna salad that was to die for. For dessert, everyone ordered and shared a vanilla cookie bread pudding that released a river of caramel from the center when cut into. I patiently passed the dish back and forth and noticed how perfectly the edges of the pudding were cooked, watching the pretty swirls of raspberry and vanilla cream disappear from underneath the bread pudding. It looked like the "bread" was made with crushed vanilla cookies. It looked so good and came a la mode. I could see the ground vanilla beans in the ice cream and it almost sent me over the edge. Almost around the time they had finished off the dessert, I noticed a couple of sticks sitting in a glass of water just across the bar from where we were perched. The sticks were fibrous and cream colored, with hard-looking green backs. Our friend had one in her mixed drink and we realized it was sugar cane! As soon as I had that realization, I snatched the cane out of her drink and began sucking on the top portion it, where her drink hadn't touched. It was incredible. I couldn't help but chew the fibers and suck out as much of the plant's juices as I possibly could. It was so sweet and tasted just like sugar in my mouth! But of course the sugar cane is far different from it's product, sugar. It has many fibers, is very chewy, and eventually you are just chewing on the stick after getting out all of the sweetness from its pulp. As we were leaving the Carlyle, I was handed another fresh stick of sugar cane which I have waiting for me in my brother's refrigerator. What an excellent treat after passing up on margaritas, mixed drinks, and dessert!

I recommend trying it. It was a refreshing version of sweetness that was entirely unprocessed. I am going to look for it back home at a couple of large asian markets. Let me know if you find a good source to purchase this from..

Sunday, July 20, 2008

High-Fructose Corn Syrup

"The Process:

1. Cornstarch is treated with bacteria to produce shorter chains of sugar. It is purified then shipped to HFCS manufacturers.
2. It is then treated with a fungus and put in a fermentation vat where one would likely see balls of the fungus floating on the top. The sugar has now turned into glucose.
3. The next process chemically changes the sugars once again to create a high percent of fructose. An enzyme is packed into columns and the sugar mixture passes over it. The enzyme is very expensive so it is reused until it loses most of its activity.
4. It then goes through two more processes to bring it to a fructose level of 90 percent, then back down to the final concentration of 55 percent fructose.

Inside the Body:

High Fructose Corn Syrup is a processed food that wreaks havoc on our bodies.

It goes directly to the liver and releases enzymes that tell the body to store fat. Because HFCS is in the form of a liquid (most commonly soda), the body absorbs it quickly. It slows fat-burning and causes weight gain. It inhibits the production of insulin, which creates a sense of being full. Therefore, people may eat more than they should.

Dangers to the Body:

1. Obesity
2. Heart attack
3. Restlessness in infants
4. see “Counting the Many Ways Sugar Harms Your Health” for a more complete list.

*If you are going to make only one change in your family’s eating habits, eliminate soda!!!"

(Thanks to Krista for contributing this information!)

For more information about high fructose corn syrup: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_fructose_corn_syrup

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sugar and Your Teeth

Who enjoys going to the dentist? Who looks forward to having their teeth drilled on?
Here are some reminders of how sugar affects our oral health. What I find most interesting is not how much sugar we consume but how often we consume it. So I imagined eating 20 candy bars all at once, versus little bites of one throughout the day!

"For dental health, the frequency of sugar intake is more important than the amount of sugar consumed.[54] In the presence of sugar and other carbohydrates, bacteria in the mouth produce acids which can demineralize enamel, dentin, and cementum. The more frequently teeth are exposed to this environment, the more likely dental caries are to occur. Therefore, minimizing snacking is recommended, since snacking creates a continual supply of nutrition for acid-creating bacteria in the mouth. Also, chewy and sticky foods (such as dried fruit or candy) tend to adhere to teeth longer, and consequently are best eaten as part of a meal. Brushing the teeth after meals is recommended. For children, the American Dental Association and the European Academy of Paediatric Dentistry recommend limiting the frequency of consumption of drinks with sugar, and not giving baby bottles to infants during sleep.[82][83] Mothers are also recommended to avoid sharing utensils and cups with their infants to prevent transferring bacteria from the mother's mouth.[84]

It has been found that milk and certain kinds of cheese like cheddar can help counter tooth decay if eaten soon after the consumption of foods potentially harmful to teeth.[54] Also, chewing gum containing xylitol (wood sugar) is widely used to protect teeth in some countries, being especially popular in the Finnish candy industry.[85] Xylitol's effect on reducing plaque is probably due to bacteria's inability to utilize it like other sugars.[86] Chewing and stimulation of flavour receptors on the tongue are also known to increase the production and release of saliva, which contains natural buffers to prevent the lowering of pH in the mouth to the point where enamel may become demineralised."


And the Winner is: Sugar-Free!

In preparation for our morning ping pong tournament, my husband loaded up on chocolate chip cookies and carnation chocolate instant breakfast, I loaded up on fruit (half banana, blueberries, and raspberries) and a hard boiled egg.

Then the games began. Normally, we are pretty evenly matched. We played two out of three and I won. I was hoping to play another two out of three, but he said he felt really tired and kind of "icky". He was done playing. We agreed that he probably didn't need to eat all those extra cookies, but it just goes to show you how sugar can bring you up but then smash you to the ground!

After our game was over, he went in to take a nap, and I decided to exercise and jog 2 miles.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sugar VS. Sugar-Free Ping Pong

I have been challenged to play ping-pong in my current sugar-free state. This person is going to eat nothing but cookies for breakfast, and I will only eat fruit, and we are going to see who has the stamina, the speed and the skill for a mid-morning ping-pong tournament. Stay tuned for the results of:

SUGAR Takes On SUGAR-FREE in a Ping-Pong tournament. Who will win? Who will endure?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Fresh Pie at the Farmer's Market

"Oh my gosh, Nicole! These pies are sugar-free!" my mom screamed at me through the thick crowd at the farmer's market. It was nearly noon and the sun was bearing down on the back of my neck and causing my spine to sweat. It was bearable because I was so distracted by all the people and activities and dogs on leashes weaving their way through the packed sidewalks. My mom's words were music to my ears. I was busy staring at the baseball-sized radishes at the next booth when I heard her yell. I back-tracked and immediately feasted my eyes on the pies spread out over the table. "Pear sweetened," the ingredients label said. I asked the guy behind the table if that was correct. "We don't use any refined sugar. We use a natural sweetener that comes from our pears." There were so many flavors but I was obsessed with two in particular: rhubarb and rhubarb-strawberry. It didn't take me long to pick up the rhubarb strawberry pie. It felt like it weighed about 10 pounds. I carried my pie all throughout the market and after a while my arm started aching under the weight of it. Once we returned home, I dove into that pie...right into the belly of it. The crust just melted in my mouth and the strawberries tasted very fresh. It was almost too sweet, though. I didn't get the satisfaction that the tartness of rhubarb usually gives. But it was loaded with both strawberries and rhubarb and very tasty. Next time I visit the market, I am going to find out if they sell the sweetener. The farm is called, "Packer Orchards". They had a great selection of fresh-picked cherries and also miscellaneous baked goods (not all sugar-free!).

On a side note, at a different booth at the market, I saw giant cucumbers and even larger carrots. I bought a carrot that was bigger around than my arm. Organic? I don't think so!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sugar-Free Cookie Recipes, and Whipped Cream Too

I have had a lot of people tell me recently that they are going to give up eating sugar. Each person seems to have a different reason for doing it, too, which is interesting. One person was recently diagnosed with diabetes, someone else wants her child to be sugar-free so she wants to be a good example, and another person has already lost weight giving up sugar so he will continue to be sugar-free because of the benefits.

Here are some recipes that I hope will help in making the transition for those of you just getting started:

Brown Rice Cookies

1 cup brown rice flour

2 tablespoons butter (use coconut oil for dairy-free)

¼ cup maple syrup

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg, beaten

1 cup nuts

1 cup raisins

Mix all ingredients together thoroughly and then chill overnight. Next day, roll into one inch balls and arrange on greased baking sheet then press flat with bottom of glass. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes, or until golden brown.

Light & Crunchy Oatmeal Cookies

3 cups quick oats

3 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup coconut oil or butter (use coconut oil for dairy-free)

¾ cup honey

¼ cup maple syrup

1 cup warm water

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

½ teaspoon almond extract

1 ½ cup unsweetened coconut

  • Preheat oven to 350. Mix oats, flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk together butter, honey, syrup, water, vanilla and almond extract until well combined.
  • Combine wet ingredients into dry until well blended, then fold in coconuts and any additional ingredients that would be yummy! (nuts, raisins, etc.) Drop by spoonfuls onto greased baking sheet, leaving about an inch between cookies. Flatten with a floured fork.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes. Cool on rack and enjoy!

Sugar-Free Whipped Cream

Whip desired amount of cream. Add honey, syrup, cinnamon and vanilla extract to suit your taste. The cream will become creamier after adding the sweetener, so I usually whip it up a little stiff to begin. You can even add softened cream cheese as a yummy frosting alternative.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tecate, Mexico

My experience in Tecate, Mexico proved to be an easy, sugar-free week. The food provided at Rancho La Paloma was plentiful, and there was always something sugar-free, though here is what I was tempted with daily:

Breakfast: donuts, sugary cereals, cake muffins, Mexican yogurts
(I ate hard boiled eggs and fruit)
Snack Time: packaged cookies, crackers with cheese, fruit snacks, Gatorade
(I ate some sugar-free Odwalla bars that I brought from home)
Lunch: Oreos!, chocolate chip cookies
(I ate tuna sandwiches and fruit)
Dinner: for dessert every night there were a variety of Mexican ice creams, and one night a local restaurant came to cook dinner and they brought home made churros which they fried right there for us! All I could do was enjoy everyone else eating them.
(I ate extra portions of beans, rice, radishes and salsa at dinner.)

Building houses in the heat of the day led me to drink excess amounts of water and never did I crave sugar. It was strange to go through the lunch food line and look at all the melting Oreos. Overall, there was no time for food cravings. We were there with a team of great people to build homes for the poor and that's what we did. Our group built 5 houses in 3 days! The houses were donated to 5 poor families and they were given keys to their house on the third day. It was such an amazing experience. The "houses" they had been living in were shacks built with pieces of garbage and broken doors and hanging sheets. They lived on dirt floors. Garbage was everywhere, all over the hillside, coming out of their house, and scattered about by scavenger dogs who live off of the garbage. We were forbidden to feed the dogs there for some reason, but I fell in love with a red dog who looked EXACTLY like Santa's-Little-Helper from the Simpson's. He was red, and all ribs and hip bones. Every time he slowly lowered himself to the ground to lay down, his back legs and hips would clink against the jagged rock. He was flea bitten, scabbed over everywhere, and had runny, sad, but deep eyes. I fed him protein bars and tried desperately to figure out how to argue with the US border patrol to let me take him with me.