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.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Food Pyramid Facts: Part One

Here is Harvard's version of the Food Pyramid. Does it look different than the USDA Food Pyramid that you learned in school? Nutrition has come a long way since I first learned about the food pyramid. I believe this version of the pyramid to be the best, scientifically-based notion of what we should be eating.

Copyright © 2008 Harvard University. For more information about The Healthy Eating Pyramid, please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, http://www.thenutritionsource.org, and Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, by Walter C. Willett, M.D. and Patrick J. Skerrett (2005), Free Press/Simon & Schuster Inc.

Stay tuned and learn more about the history of the Food Pyramid.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Why Do You Eat THAT?

I am curious why you eat. Upon discovering that so much of our food supply is filled with non-foods, I started wondering why we eat them. Why are there non-foods in our food? Isn't the point of eating all foods, to digest and glean the nutrients from those foods so we can be healthy and stay alive? Why are there so many chemicals added to food? (Food colorings, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, etc.) None of these even claim to be a food. They are just added to food. Why? If your food is sweeter and brighter-colored than a competitor product, you will buy it. It's about money.

I have also reasoned that we no longer eat responsibly. To survive. We eat as a luxury and a form of entertainment. Food is entertaining. Because we have evolved so much (have we?) from the cave-people days, we don't look at food as a means of survival anymore. We eat for fun. There is so much food. Everywhere. Few people (I am generalizing, here. See *below.) think of food as their means to staying alive another day. Rather, people make their food choices based on an emotion, a social context, or for psychological reasons. I'm even going to postulate that most of us eat when we want to, instead of basing what and when we eat on hunger.

I am curious why people eat when and what they eat. Very recently I reread some facts about sucralose, otherwise known as Splenda. The truth about sucralose is that it is not a food. It is a powder made from sugar, but the body cannot digest it. I repeat, the body cannot and does not digest sucralose. Yes, Splenda. But we eat it. (Actually, I don't touch it, but it gets sneaked into the ingredients of some least likely items. My most recent discovery was sucralose in Airborne.)

This brings me back to why we eat. We are not eating Splenda because we are hoping to get nutrients into our bodies to help us live longer. We eat it as a luxury because we are addicted to sweetness and need our food and beverages to taste a certain way. We won't eat or drink something that isn't to our liking. Food corporations know this. Why else do all of these strange ingredients end up in our food? It is not because billion dollar food companies care about our nutrient intake. It is about selling a product that is more flavorful and colorful than its competitor. We eat chemicals disguised by the charming foods they are in.

Long ago (albeit still in some cultures), every drop of food counted. For survival. For health. For maximum nutritional caloric value. I can picture a cave person finding a yellow or green M&M laying around, and passing over it as something poisonous. Those bright colors and the crunchy outer shell with an "m" are not natural!

I am concerned because supposedly we have come so far, and yet we are using our brains and our intuition much less. We count on others doing the thinking for us. If something is sold at the grocery store, it must be okay. If a "food" is offered at a restaurant, it must be okay. After all, we are all so busy and caught up in other things, who has the time to consider whether a food is healthy or dangerous?

I believe that in an effort to survive, our cave-people ancestors used better judgment and more intuition in their hunting and gathering, than we use at the grocery store today.

What we can do:
  • Read labels.
  • Research strange words that you find on labels and ingredients lists.
  • Write to food companies.
  • Stop buying (endorsing) food products that you don't believe in.
  • Spread the word. Be an advocate.
  • Recognize advertising and marketing tactics.
  • Use your intuition. If fat-free Oreos seem too good to be true, there is a reason.
  • Eat more fresh, local, organic foods.

*Disclaimer: I acknowledge that hunger/starvation exists, both in and out of our country. I volunteer with and advocate for groups like Meals-on-Wheels who help provide needy people with nutritious meals. I generalized and stated the above for argument's sake.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Welcome Columbian Readers!

Thanks for taking a peek here at My Year Without.

I'm glad that you stopped by. Are you interested in cutting down on sugar? Are you wondering how in tarnation someone can eat sugar-free (including no corn syrups)? On this blog I've written candidly about the trials and tribulations of my sugar-free journey. I've also posted facts, latest research and tips on how to cut down on the white stuff. I hope you enjoy what you see and feel inspired!

I'd like to welcome everyone to my new-improved blog, as well. This face-lift will hopefully make it easier to peruse the information I have, including the scroll window at the top under MY YEAR WITHOUT SUGAR. The arrows will guide you to specific topics: Sugar Facts, Recipes, How to Cut Down on Sugar, and Artificial Sweeteners. Let me know what you think of the new look, including any comments and suggestions. This blog is for YOU, and I aim to make it user-friendly.

To read the Columbian article, click here.

Today I have a special guest blogger from the madfermentationist. Look below or click here to read about sugars in beers. It's a fascinating look at sugars used in the brewing process, written by homebrewer expert, Michael Tonsmeire.

Is There Sugar in My Beer? -Special Guest Post

Michael Tonsmeire is a homebrewer and fermentation nerd living in Washington, DC.

Most people love a good beer, but what really goes into making a beer anyway? Sure most people know malt and hops are important, but is that it? With the huge number of microbrews and imports available these days, walking into a well stocked beer aisle can be almost as intimidating as trying to pick out a wine. There are no ingredient lists on the bottles or six packs so how are you supposed to tell if any of them contain refined sugars?

Even though most people drink beer, few people really know how barley and hops end up as an alcoholic liquid. Whether you are brewing a 5 gallon batch of Russian Imperial Stout at home or a 500 barrel batch of Light American Lager at a mega-brewery the general process is the same, even if the equipment and scale are completely different.

Malted (sprouted then dried) barley is crushed, then mixed with hot water. The color and malt flavor of the beer are determined by the amount and type of specialty (roasted or caramelized) malts that are included. This mixture (called the mash) is held at 150 +/-8 F until the enzymes activated in the malting process break down the starches (made up of long chains of sugar molecules) contained in the endosperm. The majority of the resulting sugar is maltose, but glucose, sucrose, maltriose, and unfermentable dextrins are also created. By controlling the temperature of the mash the brewer can control the general distribution of the different types of sugar created (which in turn determines how sweet the resulting beer will be).

Next comes the sparge where more hot water is slowly added to the top of the grain to help rinse out more of the sugars as the sweet liquid is allowed to drain out the bottom. Along with the sugars, malt flavor, proteins, tannins, and nutrients are also extracted and washed into the brew kettle.

The sweet liquid (now called wort) is brought to a boil. Hops (a flower) are added at various points during the boil for their bittering and aromatic qualities. After a 60-90 minute boil the wort is run through a heat exchanger (to cool to ~65 F for an ale or ~50 F for a lager) and then into a fermenter. Yeast (a single celled fungus) and oxygen are then added to the wort. During the next 12 hours the yeast cells use the oxygen to help them to reproduce. Once the oxygen is used up the yeast switch to anaerobic mode and begin to ferment the sugars in the wort.

Fermentation creates energy for the yeast cells and produces ethanol and carbon dioxide as byproducts (the carbon dioxide is allowed to bubble out of the fermenter). Once fermentation is complete the yeast begins to clump together (flocculate) and fall to the bottom of the fermenter where it can be removed and added to a fresh batch of wort.

After 14-21 days fermentation will be complete and the beer will be pretty clear (lagers are then stored for a period of weeks or months at low temperatures to allow for the flavor to mellow further). At this point the brewery has several options on how to package the beer for sale. Many start by filtering or centrifuging the wort to remove any remaining yeast cells and haze causing proteins. To carbonate the beer the brewer has two options, force in carbon dioxide (in the same way a soda is carbonated), or introduce a small amount of fermentable sugar along with some fresh yeast to create natural carbonation.

This is how a basic beer is made. I don't have the space here to go into using fruit, herbs, spices, coffee, dry hops, honey, lactic acid bacteria, unmalted grains, or any other fun stuff. If you want to learn more about these topics check out my blog.

Since the point of this article is supposed to be how refined sugars are used in brewing, I better get to it.

The good news for anyone looking to avoid refined sugars is that most commercial brewers don't use them. Most beers get all of their sugars for fermentation from the whole grains in the mash. In addition to the malted barley this can include malted or unmalted wheat, oats, rye, rice, and corn/maize.

There are some styles of beer which do have some refined sugar added to the wort. Belgian (and Belgian Style) beers are the most notable example. Many strong Belgian beers get 15-30% of their pre-fermentation sugar in the form of refined beet sugar (sucrose), although this sugar is often caramelized before it is added to darker beers. The sugar helps to lighten the body of the beer and improve drinkability. The good news is that the yeast selectively consumes sucrose and glucose before moving on to maltose and the more complex sugars. This may be one of the most important points for some of you, so I will quote George Fix from page 99 of Principles of Brewing Science:
The elementary sugars glucose and fructose are generally the first to enter the yeast cell. They are followed by sucrose. Before entering the cell, sucrose is first inverted, or split, into glucose and fructose units by invertase.
Maltose is brought into the cell at a slower rate than glucose or sucrose. Maltose is transported intact into the cell by the maltose permease enzyme (maltase) and then split inside the cell into two glucose units by the enzyme β-glucosidase.

Some of the cheapest American lagers, malt liquors, and cream ales contain a large amount of corn syrup (up to 40% of their fermentables), but if you are the sort of person worried about consuming refined sugars I am guessing you don't drink a lot of cheap beer (I'm talking even cheaper than Bud/Miller/Coors which each contain corn or rice).

If a brewery wants to do natural carbonation (called bottle or cask conditioning if done in the serving vessel) the brewers can choose to add either a bit of unfermented wort or refined sugar (most often sucrose or glucose). If refined sugar is chosen the amount is the equivalent of just ½ tsp per bottle and effectively all of that consumed by the yeast, creating CO2 which is trapped in the beer along with a tiny bit more alcohol.

In the US many breweries are experimenting with other sugar sources which lighten the body while providing some of their own character. Some examples include honey, maple syrup, date sugar, agave nectar, gur, brown sugar, molasses, and unrefined sugars such as turbinado, muscovado, and rapadura. These are rarely used for more than 10% of the fermentables in a standard beer, but a rare style called a braggot is a combination of a strong ale with a large portion of honey.

If you want to know exactly what goes into a beer you are buying you will need to do some research because the US Government does not want ingredient lists or nutritional facts on alcoholic beverages. Apparently they feel that nutritional information would lead people to think that beer should be thought of as food. I think a whole grain beer is much better for you than an ultra-processed soda, so what if it contains alcohol? Making ingredient lists and nutritional labels mandatory would empower consumers allowing them to weigh the information for themselves.

What to remember:
An obscure Belgian style called Faro (a lambic back sweetened with candi sugar after fermentation) is the only beer that I am aware of that routinely contains unfermented refined sugar.

Virtually no other beers contain sugar molecules from refined sugar because even when they are used the yeast converts them into alcohol and carbon dioxide.

Some English and American style beers (even lower gravity ones) may have a small proportion of refined sugar added to the wort to help lighten the body.

Due to the influence of the Reinheitsgebot (Bavarian brewing purity law) no German brewers add refined sugar (or anything besides malt, hops, yeast, and water) to their beer.

When in doubt take a look at a brewery's website or email them, most will be happy to answer your questions and let you know which if any, of their beers are brewed with refined sugar.

Hopefully this article has answer many of the questions related to the use of sugar in brewing, but if you have anymore please feel free to email me at madfermentationist@gmail.com

Fix, George. 1999. Principles of Brewing Science. Boulder: Brewers Publication.
Hieronymus, Stan. 2005. Brew Like a Monk. Boulder: Brewers Publication.
Mosher, Randy. 2004. Radical Brewing. Boulder: Brewers Publication.
Palmer, John. 2006. How to Brew. Boulder: Brewers Publication.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Would You Like a McDonald's in YOUR Hospital?

For those of you who weren't horrified enough by the hospital nutritionists feeding my mom and the other 5th floor, post-surgery patients green Jell-O, I bring you Texas Children's Hospital. Maybe I'm naive. Maybe it's common for hospitals to have fast food restaurants inside, but I've never seen it until now. The Texas Children's Hospital has a McDonald's on the first floor. Here is their list of food choices inside their hospital:

"Where you can eat:
  • Breakfast - 3rd floor, Clinical Care Center
  • Cafeteria- Basement, Abercrombie Building
  • ChickFilA - 3rd floor, Clinical Care Center
  • McDonald's - 1st floor, Abercrombie Building
  • Pizza - 3rd floor, Clinical Care Center
  • Snack bar - 16th floor, West Tower
  • Starbucks - 3rd floor, Clinical Care Center
  • Subway - 3rd floor, Clinical Care Center"
They advertise this on their website and doctors are quite happy about having McDonald's in house. Some of the children who are dying of cancer will not eat anything, but when they are offered food from McDonald's, they eat it. I think this is a very unfair argument to justify fast food in a building of health and healing. I do think it's wonderful that children are eating something, even fast food, if they are dying. But why not bring in fast food from the outside and offer it to them? Why let a fast food chain set up shop in a hospital? Personally, if I had a child in this hospital and I set foot in the door for the first time and saw the Mickey D's on the main floor, I would not trust the doctors working there.


"Don't Eat This Book" by Morgan Spurlock

I just purchased a fantastically fun, easy read from Powell's books yesterday. The cover caught my attention, "DON'T EAT THIS BOOK, Fast Food and the Supersizing of America," by Morgan Spurlock who brought us the outsanding documentary, "Super-Size Me."

In quickly scanning the first chapter, I knew that I would buy the book when I read this paragraph at the end of chapter one:

"Like this book, the epidemic of overconsumption that's plaguing the nation begins with the things we put in our mouths. Since the 1960's, everyone has known that smoking kills, but it's only been in the last few years that we've become hip to a new killer, one that now rivals smoking as the leading cause of preventable deaths in America and, if current trends continue, will soon be the leading cause: overeating.
Americans are eating themselves to death."

The titles of the following chapters are hilarious. "Girth of a Nation" "McD-Day" "Sex, Fries and Videotape" "McFree at Last" "Vote with your Fork" to name a few.

The bulk of the book includes startling statistics (we rarely, if ever, exercise anymore, meanwhile our caloric intake has steadily increased) fast food, marketing, politics and consumption. "Consume. Consume. Still not happy? Then you obviously haven't consumed enough."

If you're in denial about how little you exercise and how much crap you eat, do not read this book.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Salt-Water Taffy and Pepto Bismol

Spent the last few days exploring the Olympic National Rain Forest. Visited little tiny beach towns in western Washington. I've never seen commercial crabbing boats before. I've never seen so many hardworking fishermen. At one of these tiny towns, Westport, WA, I visited a candy shoppe. Super cute. I used to buy little sacks of fresh-pulled taffy every time I visited Cannon Beach and Seaside. I got nostalgic. I found two flavors of sugar-free taffy. Not wanting to know what the secret ingredient was, I bought two pieces of watermelon taffy and four pieces of vanilla. Warm. Soft, like they had been in my pocket. I ate them right away and they were out-of-this world delicious. I savored the moment.

Two hours later my stomach began making extra-terrestrial noises. Jeff thought it was the truck. I popped two tablets of Pepto Bismol and then two more. I was fine. I felt totally irresponsible for eating something without checking the ingredients, but they were sugar-free! Oh, and then Jeff asks if I read the ingredients of the Pepto tablets. No, dang it. I looked later. The culprits for making the cherry Pepto tablets taste so good: saccharin sodium, mannitol and flavor, not to mention all of the other strange ingredients and the food coloring used to make the tablets so perfectly pink.

As well as the taffy being exceptional, my mini vacation was quite wonderful. I enjoyed the rain forest, Port Angeles, Port Townsend, the sunshine, and all of the sand dollars lying around the beach. The key to such a perfect, comfortable 3-day trip on the road was a bag of healthy food I kept in the truck and lots of fresh water. I was able to refresh my snacks at a great co-op in Port Townsend and I also visited a health food store in Port Angeles that has been in business for 34 years.

Friday, February 13, 2009

How Much Sugar is Too Much?

I have to wonder how much is too much because I've been given different answers from....everybody. As a kid, my dentist used to say, "Eat ALL of your Halloween candy right away and cut down on soda." I never drank soda, but I did used to stash my plastic pumpkin full of candy under my bed for months. You read in the news how "over-consumption" of sodas, desserts and other sugary goods may lead to obesity, type 11 diabetes and heart disease. What is "over-consumption?" To me, more than one glass of pure juice a day would be over consumption, but if I told that to anyone in line at the supermarket, I would be laughed out the door and their liters of soda on the check-out belt would explode.

I ask not only about white refined sugar, but all sweeteners, even the good ones. Even the raw honeys and maple syrups and dried fruits can be eaten in excess....so, how much is too much? How much were we meant to be eating? Does a craving ever justify what I do with a craving? Is my craving physical, like my body needing more balance, or is it a learned response to the thought of sugar, which begins producing endorphins and increasing the pleasure portion of my brain, thus rewarding me for having the thought in the first place?

In most cases, I have learned to trust my intuition when I eat. What I eat and how much is mostly obvious to me now because I have taken extreme efforts to see past what's marketed at me. Though the junk food at the grocery store sings like a siren for my attention, I have learned to trust the quiet fruits and silent vegetables. This being said, I can say now while I am not in the middle of a freak sugar craving, that yes, I should carefully limit even my natural sugar intake. However, when the sugar-craving-moment strikes, I often have no gauge as to how much is too much. I've never seen it in writing and I don't give myself a limit because I am usually in such control of things like that. It's those days when I am feeling awful and stressed beyond belief that it would be helpful to have this problem of how much is too much issue solved once and for all. It would be nice to have something in writing to fall back on when I am not sure that I can trust myself.

Here are some samples of what I found. I am sharing this because I find it interesting that there are so many different ideas roaming around out there. To me, it's obvious that we would all be better off if we didn't eat ANY sugar (well, maybe sometimes something natural like dried fruit or raw honey...) but the way for most people is to try to moderate their over-consumption of white table sugar. A great blog that I enjoy reading, A Life Less Sweet, is all about cutting out high fructose corn syrup. It is very informative and most recently someone has blogged as a guest, regarding, "How much sugar is too much for kids?" I highly recommend reading this article.

Andrew Weil, M.D. has this to say about eating sugar in moderation:
  • "Your own response to sugar is the best test of how much you can handle. In some people, sugar triggers mood swings - it brings on a rush of energy followed later by a "crash" into lethargy and depression. Others don't get the rush; they just feel logy and sleepy after consuming sugar. And, of course, some people don't notice any physical or mental effects at all.
  • I recommend cutting down or eliminating sugar if you experience mood swings, fluctuating energy levels, suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, or have frequent vaginal yeast infections. You may notice an improvement in your moods, a lessening of your arthritis symptoms and the frequency of yeast infections when you reduce or eliminate the sugar in your diet."
The American Heart Association has a great take on why to reduce our intake of sugars:

"The primary reasons to reduce the intake of beverages and foods with added sugars are to lower total calorie intake and to get enough of the nutrients your body needs. People who consume large amounts of beverages with added sugars tend to consume more calories. Some experts believe that calories consumed as liquid are not as satisfying and filling as calories consumed as food. This may have a negative effect on people who are trying to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight."

How much sugar is too much? Is there a way to justify or support your answer? I would love to hear from you on this.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Carbohydrates = Sugar

I've been doing more research on sugar. What is it, really? What foods break down into sugars? How much is too much? What do carbohydrates have to do with blood sugar? Should we cut out all carbs?

I came across a very informative article by Harvard's School of Public Health.

How are carbohydrates and sugar related?

  • "Carbohydrates are found in a wide array of foods—bread, beans, milk, popcorn, potatoes, cookies, spaghetti, soft drinks, corn, and cherry pie. They also come in a variety of forms. The most common and abundant forms are sugars, fibers, and starches.
  • The basic building block of every carbohydrate is a sugar molecule, a simple union of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Starches and fibers are essentially chains of sugar molecules. Some contain hundreds of sugars. Some chains are straight, others branch wildly.
  • Carbohydrates were once grouped into two main categories. Simple carbohydrates included sugars such as fruit sugar (fructose), corn or grape sugar (dextrose or glucose), and table sugar (sucrose). Complex carbohydrates included everything made of three or more linked sugars. Complex carbohydrates were thought to be the healthiest to eat, while simple carbohydrates weren't so great. It turns out that the picture is more complicated than that.
  • The digestive system handles all carbohydrates in much the same way—it breaks them down (or tries to break them down) into single sugar molecules, since only these are small enough to cross into the bloodstream. It also converts most digestible carbohydrates into glucose (also known as blood sugar), because cells are designed to use this as a universal energy source.
  • Fiber is an exception. It is put together in such a way that it can't be broken down into sugar molecules, and so it passes through the body undigested. Fiber comes in two varieties: soluble fiber dissolves in water, while insoluble fiber does not. Although neither type nourishes the body, they promote health in many ways. Soluble fiber binds to fatty substances in the intestines and carries them out as a waste, thus lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or bad cholesterol). It also helps regulate the body's use of sugars, helping to keep hunger and blood sugar in check. Insoluble fiber helps push food through the intestinal tract, promoting regularity and helping prevent constipation."

What is insulin, and how does it relate to sugar?

"When you eat a food containing carbohydrates, the digestive system breaks down the digestible ones into sugar, which then enters the blood. As blood sugar levels rise, special cells in the pancreas churn out more and more insulin, a hormone that signals cells to absorb blood sugar for energy or storage. As cells sponge up blood sugar, its levels in the bloodstream begin to fall. That's when other cells in the pancreas start making glucagon, a hormone that tells the liver to start releasing stored sugar. This interplay of insulin and glucagon ensure that cells throughout the body, and especially in the brain, have a steady supply of blood sugar."

What is the glycemic index? What is the glycemic load?

  • "A new system, called the glycemic index, aims to classify carbohydrates based on how quickly and how high they boost blood sugar compared to pure glucose.
  • Foods with a high glycemic index, like white bread, cause rapid spikes in blood sugar. Foods with a low glycemic index, like whole oats, are digested more slowly, causing a lower and gentler change in blood sugar.
  • One of the most important factors that determine a food's glycemic index is how much it has been processed. Milling and grinding removes the fiber-rich outer bran and the vitamin- and mineral-rich inner germ, leaving mostly the starchy endosperm.
  • That's why researchers developed a related way to classify foods that takes into account both the amount of carbohydrate in the food and the impact of that carbohydrate on blood sugar levels. This measure is called the glycemic load.
  • You can't use the glycemic index to rule your dietary choices. For example, a Snickers bar has a glycemic index of 41, marking it as a low glycemic index food. But it is far from a health food. Instead, use it as a general guide. Whenever possible, replace highly processed grains, cereals, and sugars with minimally processed whole grain products."

Lastly, the article ends with an emphasis on
"Good Carbs, not No Carbs."

  • "For optimal health, get your grains intact from foods such as whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole grain pasta, and other possibly unfamiliar grains like quinoa, whole oats, and bulgur. Not only will these foods help protect you against a range of chronic diseases, they can also please your palate and your eyes."

-"The Nutrition Source: Carbohydrates: Good Carbs Guide the Way," by Harvard School of Public Health

Monday, February 9, 2009

Goodbye, Coffee

Friday I had my last cup of coffee. I didn't know it at the time, actually. Saturday I began fighting a cold virus that my husband tried sharing with me. In the fighting it, I thought that since I was already feeling miserable, I might as well give up caffeine. It's something I've tried to do in the past, but have only been successful for a week or so before I give in to the need for speed.

This time, I know that I will be off of it for a long time. It was actually easy. It only took me two days to fight the withdrawals. Today, I am sipping green tea and will probably have one or two more cups. Then throughout this week I will progressively cut that out and just drink herbal tea.

It feels weird to give up the last of my vices, but I have been wanting to give up coffee permanently for a long time. I LOVE how it immediately makes me feel, but then I feel manic and I can feel the acid betraying my otherwise healthy stomach. Sometimes I even get shaky. I hate that. There is so much contradictory research about coffee. I am not quitting because of any reason to quit except my own. I want to feel alive and energetic without coffee. I want to wake up and jump out of bed, not slump out of bed saggy-eyed and foggy until my coffee fix. I've been coffee-free for three days now and I can't believe how wonderful I feel. The time before when I quit coffee for a week I was miserable the entire time.

Here is how I quit coffee this time:
  • The day that I quit, I took two Exederin to stave off the inevitable withdrawal headache.
  • I drank a lot of water.
  • On day two, I drank four or five cups of strong green tea. By strong, I mean I got a good green tea. You don't brew it longer than three minutes max or it's over-brewed and will taste bitter and acidic.
  • Today, I am still drinking green tea but will only have three cups.
  • By the end of the week, I will stick to herbal teas. No more caffeine.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Sugar is Dead

It sits in your cupboard, quietly. It silently lines the shelves at grocery food stores. It is not sugar's fault that you are eating it. Sugar does not care. Sugar is not a living, sentient thing. Sugar is not evil.

Marketers, advertisers, food companies, agri-business: people, are who you must focus on the next time you are blind-sided by a craving. The next time you can't stop yourself from pulling boxes of cookies and sugary cereals from the shelves of a grocery store, think of the people who have orchestrated this very experience. A lot of money, time and creativity was aimed at key variables in your decision-making.

Sorry, but your personal health is of little concern compared to the money you spend. Of utmost importance to the people responsible for providing sugary foods, is their bottom line. Gross profits. No one, and I mean absolutely no one cares what you do with a product when you bring it home. No one cares if you sit at home and eat an entire box of cookies. No one cares if you eat one or two or five Snicker's bars. Your family might be the only people who care. Those responsible for providing the product in the first place DO NOT CARE ABOUT YOU. If they did, things would be very different. Unhealthy products wouldn't be sold in the first place. Secondly, if they were sold, and people cared, you would get frequent phone calls checking up on you to see if you ate too much, or how you felt after you ate such-and-such product.

The ugly, political/money-driven truth is that if you support an industry of unhealthy products, you've made the people behind these products extremely happy. They count on you feigning ignorance. They count on you feeling peer pressure in social situations. They count on you not being able to see through their tricky advertising. They count on you to be persuaded by the pictures of fruit on a cereal box, with a catch phrase like, "Enriched with B Vitamins!" and they hope you purchase the cereal without looking into their product further. Gerber is being sued currently for these tactics.

It is our fault, as consumers, that companies have gotten away with this. We have chosen to believe the false advertising because we want it to be true. I have found this to be especially true at health food stores. There are still outrageously unhealthy products sold at health food stores. Sodas.....organic. Cookies......with organic cane juice. Non-dairy milk products.....with sugars, corn/palm oils and vitamins. Since when did food-manufacturers begin enriching our food? (In the 1940's.) If we were eating healthy foods to begin with, vitamin-enriched foods would be arbitrary. However, Wonder Bread was a big hit when it came out because it was enriched with essential vitamins. Do the enriched food products really cause us to turn a blind eye to the other ingredients in the product, like white flour, added sugars, or undisclosed "flavors"? If you are interested in enriched food products, please click on this.

So, let me repeat: Sugar is dead. You are not. You are a living, thinking, breathing organism. It is easy for me to rant about the "sugar pushers" and it is easy for you to sit and read this. The problem is, we all seem to get zealously inspired when we read something empowering, but out there in the real world we tend to go with the flow. At restaurants you convince yourself, "This is a special occasion," and at the grocery store you think, "I'll get this for ___," but you know you'll rip open the bag as soon as you get in the car.

Even some of the healthiest people I know will throw their ideals out the window in an effort to "not offend" someone else. I try my best not to offend people when it comes to politics, religion and philosophy, (in fact, I live for friendly, provocative discussions/debates) but when we are talking about something that is potentially going to go into my body, I speak up. It is always my choice and I would rather speak up right away than feel secretly resentful for eating something I didn't want to. Trust me, this is much easier to do if people know ahead of time what your dietary "restrictions" are. (For lack of a better word....)

Try soaking up the inspiring, healthy topics you read about and practice them out there when you leave your home. Ask a store clerk for a suggestion card. Special order a healthy item if it is not on the shelf. Ask your server specific questions about menu items. These questions are often relayed back to the chef/cook. If enough people speak up and demand healthier food, healthier food we will get. Write to food/beverage companies. Tell them how you feel. Tell them what you want. Right now we are demanding junk food and fast food, thus the overabundant supply.

Sugar is dead, but the people counting on you indulging in their products are very much alive and well.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Artificial Sweeteners: Mayo Clinic Perspective

I still have a lot to learn about artificial sweeteners.

I am passionate about nutrition and the safety of food products. I aim to give a fair and honest look at all of the possibilities. There is much to keep up on. Research seems to give us all kinds of information. "Coffee is good for you!" one month, then, "Warning: Coffee may cause....!" I am not talking about media hype, here. Just research.

I have entire sets of ideas that I want to be right, but, I have to remember to give each and every credible source its voice. Even if I don't want to. Otherwise I am just another biased voice pushing an agenda.

In an effort to share ALL of the credible information I find in my research, I would like to share what I found at the Mayo Clinic website: "According to the National Cancer Institute, however, there's no scientific evidence that any of the artificial sweeteners approved for use in the United States cause cancer."

The Mayo Clinic article focuses on the four low/no calorie, sugar substitutes; Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal), Saccharin (Sweet'NLow, SugarTwin), Acesulfame K (Sunett, Sweet One), and Sucralose (Splenda).

The best part of this article is where they touch upon those of us who completely gorge ourselves on sweets. They have a very classy way of saying, "You idiots! Stop eating crap!"

I love this: "Just removing sugar from cookies and chocolates doesn't make them low-calorie, low-fat foods. If you eat too many, you'll still get more calories than you may need, and you may not get enough nutritious foods."

The obvious can be so profound. This issue is exactly what I have been dealing with. Eating too much of something, even if it is "healthy and naturally sweetened." Sure, I'm sugar-free. But I am still wrestling with my inner imp on issues of moderation.

I have written a lot about the negative aspects of artificial sweeteners, because there is a LOT of hype about how dangerous they are, but even those claims, as much as we want to believe them, need to be questioned and researched just as thoroughly. It is extremely difficult to know, sometimes, which of the information out there is to be believed. Obviously, if we are already biased or just desperately wanting to believe something, it's easy to back up what you want to be true. You can find anything online. "They" don't call it the information superhighway for nothing. What makes a source credible? I am still trying to figure this out, especially in light of all of the networking, politics and incentives between giant organizations/corporations.

The cold, hard facts on artificial sweeteners? We may not know all of the facts for another 20 years. Many studies come to fruition after a certain amount of time has passed and researchers are able to talk "facts" in retrospect. In the meantime, I am considering going to school to become a clinical nutritionist or registered dietitian. Then when I get preachy to my friends and family, they'll have to listen.


Sunday, February 1, 2009

Desensitized to the Junk Food You're Eating?

My parents' garage is full of soda. Kitchen drawers hide candy bars and giant, Costco-sized bags of M&M's.

How did this come about? I grew up eating healthy and soda was off limits. Not only has soda made its way into their house, it has now become a daily way of life. I do not mean to pick on my parents. I merely use my story as an example of what has changed in society.

My main concern is that the high standards we had growing up have changed dramatically over the years.

Why is it that the standards used to raise us have become lower, instead of higher, as we get older? Over the years, beginning sometime in junior high, junk food was introduced in our home on more and more of a regular basis. By high school, we had cupboards of Oreos and other miscellaneous junk food snacks. We were no longer told to not drink soda. (Perhaps they laid off the "no soda" rhetoric in hopes that we would drink soda instead of alcohol in high school.)

During my college years, I would come home intermittently to visit, and find the garage refrigerator full of soda. Both diet and regular. What?!? Was it because my brother and I had moved out and mom and dad were free to do as they please? Or, more probable, was the fact that soda had become more prevalent in all households. A social evolution, due in part to marketing and desensitization. Being fun party hosts, my parents were sure to have all of the popular, choice sodas that people had learned from fancy television ads, would enrich their lives.

But, I did not grow up with this. We all knew back in the 70's and 80's that soda wasn't healthy. How did soda manage to infiltrate my parents' house after all this time? I guess I have always believed that as we got older, our standards would get higher, not the other way around.

I had an experience ten years ago that sparked my interest in such matters. At the time, I was working at a consulting firm and taking public transportation to get there. One morning, I grabbed my umbrella because the sky looked like it was going to rain. I got on the light rail and enjoyed a book for the 30 minutes or so it took to get to my stop. I jumped off and began walking my beat. Suddenly, I felt empty-handed. I stopped and realized that I had left my umbrella on the light rail. There was nothing I could do. Someone had surely found themselves a new umbrella by now.

Let me back up. This was no ordinary umbrella. I had a bit of an umbrella fetish back then and I had recently spent all of my Christmas money on a ridiculously expensive, wooden handled, plaid umbrella. It was gorgeous and I loved carrying it around with me.

As the realisation hit me that I would probably never see my red plaid umbrella again, my eyes filled with tears. I tried to fight the tears because I did not want to smudge my make-up and I was walking in a very busy part of town. I walked on towards work and suddenly, I had a revelation that changed my world-view.

That morning I had seen on the news how an earthquake had destroyed a city on the other side of the planet, and killed thousands of people. I didn't cry then. I cried over losing a material item, while not feeling much of anything watching the news earlier in the morning. People had lost their lives and their homes and their loved ones and I had not dropped a tear or given it much more than a subconcious, "That's too bad..." while getting ready for work.

I remember being shocked at myself and angry for crying over my umbrella but not giving a second thought to the lives lost in the earthquake. Thus began my search for why and how we have become desensitized over time and why our standards have lowered. It was in those few moments on my walk to work, that I realized I wanted to change. I did not want to be desensitized by the world around me. This eventually led me to question society's standards of health (or lack thereof) and our desensitization to the junk food we continue to buy in enormous quantities.