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.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Excellent Books Written By and For People Who Eat: Nestle, Pollan, Wansink and Kessler

I have been reading a lot lately. I read books from three different stacks, depending on the type of mood I'm in. Because I'm an early-morning person, I like to read the heavier, more detailed nutritionally-inclined books first thing in the morning with my breakfast while my brain is fresh and able to take in new information. Later in the day while I'm on a break, I'll pick up a book about world religions or micro-loans, both of which intrigue me greatly. By the end of the day, when I want to kick up my heels and relax, I'll pick up an entertaining fiction novel, or if I have the energy, I'll go back to something I read earlier in the day. I know there are reader types that have to stick to one book at a time and I've tried that, in an effort to start and finish one thing at a time. It never works out for me, because I end up not reading at all, especially if the book is full of a lot of factual details and I'm in a "quick read" kind of mood or place. I've tried taking books like Omnivore's Dilemma on vacation with me and it never gets read--and it's a wonderful book full of well-researched information. Perhaps a plane isn't the best place to test out my theory, because I've tried and usually end up falling asleep to the pleasant monotony of the plane engines.

All this to say that I have been reading a lot of excellent, important books lately. Below are books having to do with nutrition:

What To Eat, Marion Nestle (still reading)
All I have to say is INCREDIBLE! If you eat and care at all about what you eat, this is a must read. Would make an incredible book club read.

Food Politics, Marion Nestle (still reading)
The answer is in the title. Get an idea of how the food and beverage industries operate and how consumers are often left in the dark. It may raise your blood pressure, as the truth sometimes does.

The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan (almost finished)
Amazing insight into our food industry, the history of our food (think corn!) and where our food comes from, to say the least. It's an important book of our time.

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, Michael Pollan (have not started yet)

Mindless Eating, Brian Wansink (finished)
"In this illuminating and groundbreaking new book, food psychologist Brian Wansink shows why you may not realize how much you’re eating, what you’re eating–or why you’re even eating at all." -amazon While reading this and munching on popcorn, I could not help but chuckle every time Wansink described someone and it basically described me!

The End of Overeating, David Kessler (haven't started yet) (if you click the link, scroll down and watch the video of Kessler)

Eat, Drink and Be Healthy, Walter Willett (finished)
Interesting book comparing the political USDA pyramid with Willett's own healthy eating pyramid, based on 40 years of research and science and accepted by Harvard's School of Nutrition. It's a fun, easy read and the more you read about food, the more common sense seems to play a major role in our food choices. An important book exposing why the USDA will not accept Willett's science-based pyramid.

I not only recommend picking up these books (library, amazon or book store) but I highly recommend that you research and read about the authors. Each author has an interesting story that might inspire you--I can't help but be inspired by these chamption nutrition advocates of our time. They may very well go down in history as the ones who changed the American food system for the better.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tabouli Recipe! Also, Advice From Michael Pollan

"Eat food, not too much, mostly plants," says author and healthy food champion, Michael Pollan.

I came across an interesting article in the Vancouver Sun. It is full of reminders of what to eat, why and what is currently going on in the American food system. Much, if not all, is covered in the documentary, Food, Inc.

"The thing is, the big profits are made in cheap, easy, processed food. 'It’s easier to slap a health claim on a box of sugary cereal than on a raw potato or carrot.'

Pollan is optimistic. 'There’s a revolution going on and I’m very encouraged. The fastest growing segment [in the food sector] are farmers’ markets and organics. It’s important on the health level because there are no processed foods at farmers’ markets. Anything that gets people to cook more tends towards a healthier diet.'

I have a suggestion for a healthy, summer salad (see below). First, visit your local farmer's market and buy the ingredients there. Make a date out of it or bring a friend or go yourself and mosey by the produce, flowers, herbs, homemade goods, fresh pastries, etc. Once in a while I will not know whether something is grown organically--I have to ask. Sometimes, even at farmer's markets, people will be selling their produce but it will have been grown with pesticides. I have a hard time deciding sometimes if I should pass and buy organics that have been shipped, thus leaving a larger carbon footprint, or support my local farmer even if pesticides were used. It's a tough choice when you have to choose the lesser of two evils! Personally, I like to support my local farmer and comment that I would pay more for organically grown produce in the future. I think with the industrialization of our food, it's important to support and encourage local growers. Some may just need encouragement to begin growing organically.

Last summer I lived a few miles away from a little old man who posted a hand-painted sign at the entrance to his driveway: "Apples-25 cents a pound." I stopped. His front yard was an apple orchard and smelled deliciously sweet. He had boxes of hand-picked green apples in this garage and gave me a bag to fill. I asked if they were organic.

"Noooo, I tried doing that once but they spoiled quickly. I don't use harsh chemicals now but I do use some agents to help my apples."

I was hesitant to buy any apples until I realized that even if these were not grown 100% optimally, he was doing something right. He was providing his community with delicious, green apples. I decided to buy some.

Most recently, I have been making tabouli (tabouleh) at least once a week. It is delicious, filling, refreshing and my husband will eat it! He prefers the meat and potatoes types of meals but for some reason, he can not get enough tabouleh. To a vegetarian cook, it feels like I've hit the jackpot!

Here is the simple recipe I use. I've heard all sorts of suggestions, but the latest is from my Lebanese friend. He suggested to add sumac, which is the prime ingredient in philo spinach wraps. Sumac makes my tabouleh very tart, and with lemon to add sour, there are many taste sensations that highlight our ability to taste.

1 bunch curly parsley
1 bunch green onions
1 tomato
1 or two lemons
1/2 cup bulgar, 1/2 cup water
1/2-1 tablespoon sumac
pinch of mint, crushed and diced
1/4-1/2 cup olive oil, to taste

Soak the bulgar in 1/2 cup water for at least one hour. Wash and cut parsley as small as you can (or use food processor to chop). Slice green onions and dice tomatoes into tiny pieces. Throw in a bowl with the bulgar and add mint, sumac, and drizzle with olive oil. Squeeze lemons over the top, careful to catch any seeds that may pop up. Mix well and refrigerate. Goes great with toasted pita bread, especially to soak up the lemon juice/olive oil mix. It can be difficult to find sumac (international markets) and it is not a typical ingredient in tabouleh.


*Parsley is one of nature's internal deodrants. It is great for bad breath, especially.

Remember to "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants!"

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Food, Inc.--If You Eat, Watch This Documentary!

What's the truth about the food we eat?

It's sad to think that my family has to even ask this question, but most of the food on our plate does not come from our garden. Most of the food on any given plate in the US has traveled at least 1500 miles. According to Food, Inc., the documentary, that is. The movie opens with the statement that our food has changed more in the last 50 years than the last several thousand years. Eek.

In Food, Inc. filmmaker Robert Kenner "exposes America's industrialized food system and its effect on our environment, health, economy and workers' rights," Food, Inc. official website.

Not only does the film expose the American food system, but its website offers suggestions for how we can make a difference. Learn about:

  • "Healthy Eating: 30 million Americans are obese. High calorie, sugar laden processed foods coupled with our sedentary lifestyles is growing our waistlines and contributing to serious health issues like diabetes, heart ailments and cancers.
  • Pesticides: Cancers, autism and neurological disorders are associated with the use of pesticides especially amongst farm workers and their communities. Learn about what pesticides are in your food and their effects.
  • Foodbourne Illness: In Food, Inc. we meet Barbara Kowalcyk, whose 4 year old son died from E.coli poisoning after eating a hamburger. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 76 million Americans are sickened, 325,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 die each year from foodborne illnesses.
  • Factory Farming: Approximately 10 billion animals (chickens, cattle, hogs, ducks, turkeys, lambs and sheep) are raised and killed in the US annually. Nearly all of them are raised on factory farms under inhumane conditions. These industrial farms are also dangerous for their workers, pollute surrounding communities, are unsafe to our food system and contribute significantly to global warming.
  • Farm Worker Protection: Workers are fighting for social justice in labor laws, access to drinking water, health care, housing and economic development.
  • Environmental Impact: Did you know that the average food product travels about 1,500 miles to get to your grocery store? And that transporting food accounts for 30,800 tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year?
  • Cloning: In January 2008, the FDA approved the sale of meat and milk from cloned livestock, despite the fact that Congress voted twice in 2007 to delay FDA's decision on cloned animals until additional safety and economic studies could be completed.
  • Genetic Engineering: Some of our most important staple foods have been fundamentally altered, and genetically engineered meat and produce have already invaded our grocery stores and our kitchen pantries.
  • Nutritional Labels: Ever wondered how many calories are in your restaurant food? Most restaurants don’t list the actual nutritional value of their food. Listing calories on menus in chain restaurants is an easy way to educate consumers about calorie content to help them make the healthiest choice.
To see the movie on time yesterday, my husband and I skipped lunch. As we walked out of the theater, hungry but full of new information, we wondered where to go and what to eat. We stepped outside into the hustle and bustle of D.C. and threw up our arms. As we walked, we happened to pass a little storefront called Organic To Go. We peeked inside and found a small selection of packaged, organic food and a medium-sized, fresh salad bar.

As we talked over quinoa, chips and pumpkin seeds, I asked Jeff if Food, Inc. inspired him. He gave me an answer I was not expecting. Not only did it inspire him to think about making better food choices, it inspired him to think about campaign finance. How does that have anything to do with food, you ask?

What you watch for an hour and a half is a little about everything involved in our food system, including how politics and capitalism have influenced the food being produced and sold.

I highly recommend this film to everybody. I learned a lot from it--from singular facts to the big picture. I consider myself a fairly educated consumer, and I still learned a lot from watching Food, Inc. and I hope you do, too.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Warning: Cookie Dough E. coli Illnesses

I grew up eating cookie dough.

When I was little, I asked Mom to put cookie dough in my lunch box instead of cookies, and she did. I've eaten homemade cookie dough and store-bought cookie dough most of my life. It's always been this crazy favorite food of mine. It's strange to think back on my little lunch box and all of the unrefrigerated cookie dough I used to eat.

Since I gave up sugar in 2008, I still make cookies and taste the cookie dough, but sugar-free cookie dough has not been as exciting as the actual sugar-free cookie resulting. It's been a while since I've enjoyed cookie dough...

Last night on a late-night walk around the city, my husband got a hankerin' for ice cream. We stopped in at a little market and he bought a pint of B&J's cookie dough ice cream and ate most of the cookie dough right off the bat.

This morning we learned of the E. coli illnesses related to the ingestion of Nestle cookie dough. There are far-reaching implications, but simply put, it made me really sad and nostalgic.

Here are some links reporting on the problem:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "As of Thursday, June 18, 2009, 65 persons infected with a strain of E. coli O157:H7 with a particular DNA fingerprint have been reported from 29 states."

KGW News/Associated Press "Food maker Nestle USA on Friday voluntarily recalled its Toll House refrigerated cookie dough products after a number of illnesses were reported by those who ate the dough raw."

Food Politics
"If cookie dough is the culprit, how on earth did this nasty form of E. coli, usually excreted by farm animals, get into it? The endless mantra is that we need prevention: HACCP, pathogen testing, and independent third-party verification."

Center for Science in the Public Interest
We urge the House to pass the Food Safety Enhancement Act now."

Marler Blog "Nestle should step up now and pay E. coli 0157:H7 culture-positive victims’ medical bills and lost wages."

Be sure to dispose of this product, and pass this information along!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sugar & The Body

Here is a picture showing the relationship between insulin and glucagon. Both are hormones that are responsible for regulating our blood sugar. Insulin is secreted in higher amounts based on high blood sugar levels, and glucagon is secreted in high amounts in response to low blood sugar. Check out this website for more details on how the pancreas and liver play a role in keeping our blood sugar within a normal range.

When I think about the intricacy of my body and its many functions I feel the need to treat it properly. But how often am I thinking about my pancreas? Almost never.

It's easy to ignore my body and react to food situations on autopilot. This morning I had to have French toast. When I wandered sleepily into the pantry and noticed a brand new loaf of sprouted wheat bread, French toast was the first thing that came to mind. I eat French toast very seldom, so when I do, it's a special treat. I put my uber-expensive jar of pure maple syrup in a glass of hot water to heat it up. To the eggy, milky mix I always add black pepper and cinnamon. It's an old habit. This morning I devoured three perfectly crisp (I don't do soggy French toast!) pieces smothered in Earth Balance and syrup.

Okay, so it's eight hours later and I'm actually thinking about my pancreas. Why? Probably because shortly after my delicious breakfast I went back to bed and slept another two hours. Blood sugar crash? It's possible, but perhaps I was still just tired from waking up. I did a little research and found that maple sugar is generally considered to have a low GI.

According to GI News, maple syrup has a glycemic index of 54. According to the Maple Syrup Federation, the GI can vary quite a bit, but averages lower than agave and corn syrup.

According to the Official Glycemic Index Database, high GI is considered 70+, medium 56-69 and low GI is 55 and under. This site also lists pure Canadian maple syrup to have a GI of 54.

To add my own two bits about maple syrup in general, I love the pure stuff because it is sweet and subtle, but it baffles me how the pure syrup tastes less maple-y than artificially-flavored syrups that I used to eat when I was a kid. May Mrs. Butterworth's rest in peace!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Candy Man

I was going to write about a new recipe I used to make a strawberry banana cake, or post the most recent pictures of my dad's garden that I helped cultivate (complete with ripe strawberries!), but then I came across something so interesting, I decided to put everything else on hold.

I was reading ABDPBT's blog and was instantly intrigued by the writer's former candy habit. Not only is she a witty, candid writer, she has struggled with much of what I used to wrestle with on a daily basis-sugar, of course!

Then, she shares a video she watched with Lamar Odom, of the Lakers. Rather than repeat everything here, please click on this to read her post and then click on this video to see for yourself a real life sugar confessional from the mouth of a star athlete.