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, July 31, 2009

Dark Chocolate Tart and Temptation

I have to say if you like chocolate, check out this Deep Dark Chocolate Tart recipe. I discovered it today visiting one of my favorite recipe blogs, The Nourishing Gourmet. The ingredients are mostly crushed almonds, unsweetened chocolate, honey, coconut oil and vanilla. Some others, too, but in all, this appears to be a very easy recipe.

As I read the ingredients, I have to admit a little anxiety set in. Why was I feeling so anxious? Lack of the necessary ingredients? Then all of a sudden, it hit me. All my husband wanted for his birthday in June was Chocolate Espresso Cheesecake and I didn't come through. I won't blame it on moving or not having any of my cooking supplies near me. I also won't blame it on not knowing where the nearest grocery stores were at the time, AND being on foot only. I wished I had a better scapegoat, but the truth was, I just didn't do it.

Sometimes it is extremely difficult to make a time-intensive, sugar-laden dessert when I know I can't even lick my fingers in the process. When I'm crushing Oreos for the crust, I want to be eating them, too. I always have in the past, and even though I've gone this long (1 year and 7 months!) without sugar, sometimes certain things make me feel resentful. It's not that I feel this towards anyone, but that I got off sugar in the first place. I actually think there may be a little sugar fairy living in my psyche stimulating the pleasure center of my brain just enough to make me feel tempted to eat sugar. The pleasure juices of my brain start flowing and I can easily anticipate how pleasurable it would be to indulge. Knowing there are a floodgate of opiates just around the corner, ready to release in my brain if I indulge, I have to admit is pretty tempting.

So, sometimes I just don't want to struggle with the temptation. I KNOW I'm not going to give in, but having the choice at my fingertips, ON my fingertips, is sometimes very frustrating.

All this to say that I am very pleased to find a chocolate tart recipe that I know my husband will enjoy very much, and I will enjoy preparing because I can lick my fingers.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Organic Food No Healthier...

What a load of *$!@*! Someone shared THIS article with me and I froze.

What angers me about this article is that it is written by somebody who obviously has a problem with organics (who could this possibly be, except a giant corporation that shall remain unnamed, trying to patent, genetically modify and control our food system?) in the first place.

Excuse me for being naive, but aren't there a million OTHER reasons we are eating organically? I almost have the nerve to say (okay, I have the nerve) that if for some very strange reason organic food was LESS healthy, I would still support the organic industry. Why?

Health is certainly a very good reason to eat organically, but how about the ethics of treating our environment with integrity so that we can continue to have a symbiotic relationship with the earth? I'm not a tree-hugging hippie (okay, I hugged a tree once, but it was the most beautiful Redwood Tree I've ever seen in my life) but I am concerned about farming being done RIGHT and with integrity. We only get so much land.

The reason "they" started using pesticides in the first place was to amp up production, which equals amping up sales. I'm pretty sure nobody was thinking about our health. I'm also sure that long-term studies were NOT done on the chemicals long before they were used.

How about cleaner air, water and soil? How about not fudging chemically with our plants so we don't scare off the bees? (Whoops, might be too late on this one. Bees are now shipped to farms...)

I'm not sure how anyone can claim at this point that eating organically is no healthier, especially just using common sense. Organic produce frees me from being exposed to harsh chemicals. What if the chemicals don't harm us? The point is that I don't want to be exposed to chemicals in the first place....not on my FOOD! (My great grandfather, a mighty farmer, would sit up in his grave if he knew what was going on).

Check out this "Why Buy Organic" article to read more reasons to choose organic produce over conventional.

I'm aware that organic food costs more, but actually, food SHOULD cost this much. Cheap food is typically unhealthy food. Again, to refer to Food, Inc., someone complained that organic eggs were "$3.00!!" and yet they were drinking a 75 cent soda.

Is anyone else outraged by this article? It's basically going to help people justify buying conventional food because they may be inclined to miss the entire point of organics. It's not JUST about human health, it's about the health of our land, air and water.

Don't forget integrity.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sugar Addiction: Biology, Evolution and the Food Industry

If you are here reading my blog, chances are, you struggle with sugar addiction or perhaps may be seeking alternatives to white refined sugars.

I don't know about you, but at times I've felt absolutely powerless against the ragings of my sweet tooth. It's as if all of the delicious, fattening goodies out there sing out to my sweet tooth like a siren. Sometimes I give in and eat honey or fruit or whip up a batch of naturally sweetened this or that. Other times I try to focus on the project at hand and overpower the lustings of my mouth.....or perhaps, my brain.

I've stumbled across some interesting facts about sugar addiction and hopefully the information will shed some light onto why, at times, you must have something sweet. And then a bit more. And more.

From Food Addicts Anonymous website:

"The FAA program is based on the belief that food addiction is a bio-chemical disease. By following a food plan devoid of all addictive substances, we can recover. These substances include sugar, flour, and wheat in all their forms. They also include fats and any other high-carbohydrate, refined, processed foods that cause us problems individually."

From Michael Pollan in Food, Inc. (which I saw again, yesterday):

"We are eating 100's of pounds of [sugars] a year. The food industry is pushing our evolutionary buttons."

From Neal Barnard, M.D. book, Breaking the Food Seduction: "But banishing those cravings for chocolate, cookies, cheese, or burgers isn't a question of willpower, it's a matter of biochemistry."

From Marion Nestle's What To Eat: "If you cannot help liking sweet foods, it is for a good reason. Humans are born with a predilection for sweetness to stimulate sucking reflexes. Breast milk is sweet because it contains lactose, a double sugar of glucose and galactose. So it is normal to like sweet foods."

From David Kessler's The End of Overeating: "The combination of sugar and fat is what people prefer, and it's what they'll eat most."

"Many of us have what's called a 'bliss point'--the point at which we get the greatest pleasure from sugar, fat, or salt. Scientists depict this as an inverted U-shaped curve: As more sugar is added, food becomes more pleasurable until we reach the bliss point at the top of the curve, and then the pleasure experience drops off."

"Eating foods high in sugar, fat, and salt makes us eat more foods high in sugar, fat, and salt."

Evolution, the food industry and willpower seem to have a lot to do with our food cravings and choices. Imagine if all of the grocery stores and restaurants shut down, the packaged foods and beverages disappeared and all we had left were gardens...

Friday, July 24, 2009

What Exactly is Organic?

A news snippet that I stumbled upon this morning:

"'What is the difference between '100 percent organic' and 'organic'?

Organic has a precise meaning under the USDA's organic program. Certified 100 Percent Organic means that all the ingredients in a product have been grown or raised according to the USDA's organic standards, which are the rules for producing foods labeled organic. Certified Organic requires that 95 to 99 percent of the ingredients follow the rules.

What, exactly, are those rules? Summarizing what's in hundreds of pages in the Federal Register:

Plants cannot be grown with synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, genetic modification, irradiation or sewage sludge.

Animals must be raised exclusively on organic feed, have access to the outdoors, and cannot be given antimicrobial drugs or hormones.

Producers are inspected to make sure these practices are being followed to the letter."
— Marion Nestle, San Francisco Chronicle

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sugar Cane and My Cool Whip Story

I did a double-take. There in front of me on a random little black shelf in the produce section, strewn haphazardly below the shelf of big fat New Zealand kiwis, lay vacuum-packed single sticks of sugar cane! The cool thing about this:
  • We are talking seriously mediocre grocery store where I would bet a lot of money they would never carry something like single sticks of sugar cane.
  • Where can you buy relatively fresh sugar cane sticks?
  • I felt my salivary glands awaken at the idea of sucking on the sweet cane juices.
Promptly my husband walks over and says, "Oh, you found the hippie sticks!"

On a darker note, I am mad at Kraft. I should be writing them a letter, but first I'll share what I discovered in the frozen dessert case yesterday. I was supposed to be picking up a pint of B&J's for Jeff, but I was distracted by all of the bright colors in the Cool Whip section. Then, from a distance I see, "Cool Whip -- Sugar Free". Okay, so I suspected the usual maltitol or Splenda that I seem to see in sugar-free ingredients lists but I decided to take a look. As I read the ingredients through the frozen glass door, I became surprised.

The first ingredient was water, if I'm remembering correctly, but the second ingredient, even before milk or oil, was corn syrup! Just "corn syrup" with a tiny asterisk. Okay so I followed the asterisk down to the bottom edge of the container and read something like, "Contains a trivial amount of sugar." My question is, isn't a trivial amount of sugar still sugar? Also, why would you print ingredients in the tiniest font in the world? I have excellent eyesight, yet the font made my eyes hurt.

It was a reminder to not believe everything you read on a label. I guess food industry geniuses figure most people will just look at the front label and not bother to check the list of ingredients. Little did Kraft know that I would discover their dirty little secret and share it on the world wide web! It infuriates me how labeling laws allow for this inconsistancy. To me, sugar-free means no sugar at all, otherwise, where do you draw the line and WHO draws the line? A "trivial" amount of sugar is quite subjective in my opinion! Also, if one were to eat the entire tub of cool whip, could it be considered sugar-free then, or did that person eat so many servings of "trivial" amounts of sugar that the total amount consumed wasn't trivial anymore?

I don't respect tricky marketing tactics like this, and I think if enough people complain, Kraft may own up to their misleading label.

It reminds me of the big argument a while back about the "fat free" butter spray that people would basically drown their toast with, "because they could." But come to find out, "fat-free" only pertained to one serving size and after so many serving sizes the butter was definitely no longer fat-free!

Anyway, I have provided a link to the Cool Whip I am talking about because I think it's so interesting. Do they count on their customers being so naive?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sweeteners Equivalent to One Cup Sugar

Amount to Replace 1 cup Sugar:

Barley Malt 1 - 1 and 1/4 C, reduce liquid by 1/4 C
Brown Rice Syrup 1 - 1 and 1/4 C, reduce liquid by 1/4 C
Date Sugar 2/3 C, reduce liquid by none
Fruit Sweeteners 1 C, reduce liquid by 1/4 C
Honey 1/2 C, reduce liquid by 1/4 C
Maple Syrup 1/2 - 1/3 C, reduce liquid by 1/4 C
Molasses 1/2 C, reduce liquid by none
Stevia 1 tsp, reduce liquid by none

-Courtesy of All About Sweeteners, by National Cooperative Grocers Association

I have had the best luck baking with honey, maple syrup and date sugar. The only thing I don't like about maple syrup is that often the end product tastes too mapley. If I make carrot muffins or a banana cake, I want them to taste like carrots or bananas, not maple. Honey seems to be the most well-rounded natural sweetener and changes my recipes the least. Honey is also excellent for making candy. However, keep in mind that as sugar has approximately 750 calories per cup, honey contains about 990 calories per cup. That's 240 more calories per cup, and for those looking for sugar alternatives AND reduced calorie cooking, don't count on honey helping you out!

Has anyone had any luck baking with Stevia? I have not. I sometimes sprinkle some in my tea but that is the extent of my Stevia usage. There are many variations of Stevia out on the market today. I've always used the powdered, dried leaf. It's green and not processed. Some of the new Stevia products out there are white powders which look just as processed as white sugar. Any thoughts on this before I do my own investigating?

-Sugar/Honey calories information provided by: Sweet & Sugarfree, by Karen E. Barkie pg. 144

By the way, Sweet & Sugarfree is an older book, published in 1982, but a great one for naturally sweetened recipes--mostly baked goods, desserts and sauces. The author is a big fan of using fresh fruits as a sweetener.

On a strange side note, one of the books in the Suggested Reading section at the back of Sweet & Sugarfree includes a book titled Sweet & Dangerous: The New Facts about the Sugar You Eat as a Cause of Heart Disease, Diabetes, and Other Killers. This book was published in 1972!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Beat The White Flour Blues

If you need a jack for your eyelids in the morning or at any other time of the day, perhaps you have the sugar blues! No? Ever heard of the white flour blues?

If you are sleepy and able, catch a quick snore (10-20 minutes should do the trick) and then when the munchies hit, have a healthy snack ready and waiting: fruit, trail mix, carrot sticks, water with lemon, nuts, or chomp on some gum if it's the oral fixation you're after. I couldn't resist posting this incredible painting. It resonated a little too well with me--being that white flour makes me sleepy. It is rare that I eat it, but when I do, my eyelids get heavy and my mind gets mushy. For me, there is no good reason to eat white flour, not even convenience. I HATE being tired!!

An FYI about wheat: "Today, though, most wheat is processed and refined. The milling process first cracks the wheat grains, then pulverizes them with a series of rollers. In this way the starchy carbohydrate-rich center, called the endosperm, is separated from both the dark fibrous bran and the wheat embryo, called the wheat germ. At each stage of milling, something is lost. Removing the wheat germ pulls out vitamins and unsaturated fats. Whacking away the branny outer layer removes fiber, magnesium, and more vitamins. By the time whole-wheat grains have been turned into white flour, the final product is a pale shadow of the original, literally and nutritionally.

Even if whole-grain and high-fiber foods have no effect on cancer, their impact on heart disease and diabetes is reason enough to eat grains in this form instead of their stripped-down counterparts.....The fiber in whole grains delays absorption of glucose and eases the workload for the insulin-making cells in the pancreas. Fiber helps lower cholesterol levels in the blood......The bran layer of many grains contains essential minerals such as magnesium, selenium, copper, and manganese that may be important in reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes." -Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating by Walter C. Willett, M.D. pgs. 110, 113

Having a hard time switching from white flour to whole grains? Here are some suggestions from Eat, Drink and Be Healthy:

"Start slowly and add new grains or products as your appetite grows for these tasty foods:
  • Eat whole grains for breakfast
  • Discover whole-grain breads
  • Forget the French fries-Instead of potatoes or white rice, cook up some brown rice to accompany a meal. Or get really adventurous and try some "newer" grains like kasha, bulgur, oat groats, wheat berries or cracked wheat, millet, quinoa, or hulled barley.
  • Whole-wheat pasta can be a delicious alternative (I have to agree! It's my new favorite!)
  • Bake with whole-wheat flour (Beware, sometimes if you switch out whole wheat for white entirely, the results can be devastating. Apparently, making pasta from scratch requires you to follow the recipe exactly. My whole wheat ravioli were as hard as rocks. Find a tried and true recipe or you may end up wasting ingredients like I do!)
  • Pester your grocery store's manager or the chefs of your favorite restaurants" -(pgs.115-116)
For those of you who aren't familiar with Bob's Red Mill, check out the website and order virtually any grain in existance. This has to be one of my favorite things about Portland.

Have a wonderful day and please share with me any and all whole grain recipes you might have.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Honey Toffee Walnuts and Lollipops

I've been eating whole oats every morning for breakfast. In the past I've taken the time to make hot oatmeal, but now that it's summer I crave cold morning eats. I just throw together oats, raspberries, nuts and sometimes a milk of some kind or yogurt. This morning, after seeing a recipe for Honey Toffee Lollipops on the Straight Into Bed Cakefree blog I ran to my kitchen immediately inspired. Well, my husband has been reorganizing our kitchen cupboards this morning and I found a warning sign addressed to me:

Totally worth it, as look what he did to my spices and tea cupboard:

But anyway, he acquiesced to my presence in "his" kitchen only when I promised to be quick. No time for lollipops but I had a minute to throw some walnuts in a pot with a dash of vanilla bourbon extract, a pinch of cinnamon and a small spoonful of honey. It candied the walnuts very quickly, which I threw onto my oatmeal and ran out of the kitchen with! The walnuts are so good I am going to make them again tonight for a green salad. My only problem with walnuts is that they make my mouth sore. Does anyone else have this problem? I can only eat a few at a time, which is good because the candied walnuts are a little too good. I highly recommend them with fresh fruit for your cereal or with any kind of salad.

Looking forward to trying out the lollipop recipe, especially for when friends and their children visit. "Auntie" Nicole will have something for them, just secretly sugar-free!

Honey Toffee Lollipops:

1/4 cup water
1 cup runny honey (or melt set honey and measure it when soft)
1/2 tsp cider vinegar
1 tsp bourbon vanilla extract (or a couple of drops of peppermint or lemon essential oil)
1 dessert spoon butter

Grease a large tray or chopping board (that does not smell of onions) and lay out lolly sticks about 3 inches apart. I used chopped up wooden skewers but you can buy the real thing in cook shops. I think this amount of mixture will make about 20 lollies, maybe...roughly...

Heat water, vinegar and honey in a deep sided saucepan as the mixture will froth up when it boils. Allow it to boil gently, not a rolling boil or you will scorch the honey - until a firm ball forms when you drop some into cold water. To do this, just have a glass by the pan and drip a little in. You should be able to roll the ball between your thumb and forefinger.

Plunge the bottom of the pan into some cold water to stop the mixture from continuing to cook and add the butter and vanilla extract stirring until smooth.

Then spoon one or two spoonfulls of the mixture over each stick, covering the top by about an inch. You want your lollies to be about 2 inches diameter. Any that is left over can be rolled into balls and wrapped in cellophane or you could stir in some chopped nuts first and roll into little logs. I made balls by dropping a small spoonful onto a greased tray and then rolling when it had started to set a little. Or you can pour the rest into a small tray, freeze till hard and break with a hammer and sharp object (not a small persons teeth).

These toffees go soft if you don't keep them cold and they must be in an airtight container or they will pick up the taste of the fridge or freezer.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Pineapple Orange Juice Cures the Sugar Blues

....Or encourages the sugar blues. One way or another, I can't get around how absolutely delicious this juice is. I bought it willy-nilly the other day when I was thirsty, over-heated and dealing with a very pesty sweet tooth at the grocery store. I know many of you wouldn't dream of drinking juice (what with those extra calories, high glycemic index, spikes in blood sugar, etc.) but I figure since I am not eating donuts or Ben & Jerry's or candy bars, juice once in a while can't be the end of the world.

I happened to pause longer than usual at the refrigerated juice section of the grocery store and found myself salivating at the pictures of tropical fruits and orange juice. I'm not a huge juice fan. I love a good grape juice and once in a while an ice cold apple juice, but I do not keep juice on hand at home. It's more like a treat. I admit, a very sugary, high calorie treat, but for someone steering clear of white refined sugar and corn syrups, this can be extremely satisfying!

I had a nip tonight with dinner, and in this heat it was incredibly refreshing. I highly recommend (for taste, texture and overall satiating factor) Dole Pineapple and Orange juice.

I realize this isn't the healthiest recommendation, but it's what's going on right now in my life. Juice. Amazing.

(Unfortunately, after testing a theory of mine tonight, I learned that nothing really covers up raw garlic breath...)