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, April 30, 2010

Super Easy & Terrific Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

My mouth is saturated with the aftertaste of cinnamon, honey and molasses. I am still savoring little bits of sticky cranberries and raisins in my molars. The cookie I just baked is amazing. It is so simple and perfect. Thanks to Jamison Studio for this delicious oatmeal cookie recipe.

Rule #58 in Michael Pollan's book, Food Rules says, "Do all your eating at a table." I am breaking that rule right now as I type this post with a plate of hot cookies to my left. I pray I have the willpower to stop at two.

I am so happy with these cookies because a) I experimented by using brown rice flour b) they are so easy to make it's ridiculous c) I used less sweetener than is called for in the original recipe and they are still incredibly sweet. Not only are they sweet, they have a perfect texture. I worry a little about using applesauce in cookie recipes because sometimes the cookie ends up dense and rubbery. Not these. These little gems are perfect. If you would like to see the original recipe, click on the blog above. Otherwise, what I provide below is the exact recipe I used, with all my fudging arounds. As with any recipe, substitute to your liking. Try different flours, dried fruit, spices, sweeteners, etc. The following is what I consider the perfect oatmeal cookie.

Super Easy & Terrific Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

1/2 C. white whole wheat flour
1/2 C. brown rice flour
1 C. whole oats
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 C. raisins
1 handful dried, apple juice-sweetened cranberries
1/4 C. raw honey*
1/4 C. oil**
1/4 C. applesauce
1 Tbsp. molasses
1 egg***
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 335 degrees F. Combine dry ingredients and wet ingredients in a separate bowl and then combine. Add in nuts, dried fruits, etc. Drop spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden colored.

*I found a jar of raw Wee Bee Honey at TJ Max, of all places. It is an east coast, raw honey all completely pesticide free. I tasted it before adding it to my recipe and it is the sweetest honey I have ever tasted. Fragrant, too. I recommend this stuff.

**You can use 1/2 C. applesauce instead of any oil, but I wanted to try using both this time.

***Jamison used 1/2 a banana instead of an egg and she said it turned out great.


Now that I'm done writing this, I realized I stopped at 3 cookies. I was hoping for only two but at least I didn't get into that over-indulging state of mind that would have beckoned me to happily have more than 3.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Naturally Sweetened Biscuit for Humans and Dogs

Like I've mentioned before, I love perusing the strange gourmet food section at TJ Max and Marshall's. Sometimes I'll bring home dinner: colorful noodles, exotic mushroom marinara (doesn't checking for sugar go without saying at this point?), olives, pickled asparagus, tea, nut mix, bruschetta, olive oil, etc. Sometimes my purchase will include breakfast, as well: German whole rye bread, maple syrup, raw honey, etc. If you have not checked out this hidden gem, give it a try. It's fun to have black squid-ink noodles and exotic marinara on hand when a friend stops over for lunch.

The other day I found boxes of

at TJ Max. Always on the prowl for a naturally sweetened goody, I picked this up, scanned the ingredients,

and threw the box in my basket. Who cares that they are little "teething" cookies meant for toddlers, whatever that means. They looked simple and tasteful with the oat flour and molasses. The bright red sticker with "$1.50" really did me in. A box of naturally sweetened cookies for one dollar and 50 cents? Deal!

The next morning I stumbled out of bed, woken by the bright sun shining in my room before the 7 o'clock hour. Jeff and I take turns taking Annie-the-mutt down the 6 floors and outside every morning. It was his turn. I walked groggily to the kitchen, filled my teapot with water and swiftly prepared course coffee grounds for my french press. When the coffee was ready, I examined my pantry for something sweet to dip with. I'm a dip-a-holic, by the way. I love to dip toast, cookies, biscuits, bread or anything hard and chewy that might contrast the bitterness of coffee.

Side note: (I am not using coconut milk anymore to sweeten my coffee (I use organic whipping cream). I got sick of it really fast, even though it was delicious at first. However, coconut milk is still fantabulous for making chocolate "milk".)

I noticed my unopened box of maple "teether" biscuits sitting to the side in my pantry. Perfect, I thought. I settled in on my couch, wrapped warmly in my robe, holding my hot cup of joe and armed with two biscuits. I was obviously going to love these puppies.

Well, uh, that didn't exactly happen. For those of you who have kids, perhaps the descriptive word, "teethers" means something to you. I didn't notice the word at all when I bought the box. I was focused on the fact that they were cheap and naturally sweetened.

Well, "teethers" means very hard and dense. They are biscuits meant for toddlers to suck on while they are teething. Or for dogs. I dipped one end of the biscuit into my coffee and expected a nice, soggy bite. Instead, I had to use my molars to break off a piece into my mouth. For the next bite, I soaked the biscuit much longer in my steaming coffee but to no avail. I'm convinced this biscuit is nothing other than a dog biscuit safe for human consumption.

However, it was very tasty and the scent and taste of molasses lingered for a while after the first bite. It ended up being a great compliment to my bitter coffee.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Balcony Container Garden in its Infancy

I just moved my container garden outside to the balcony. I transferred several cherry tomato, heirloom tomato, arugula and butter crunch lettuce starts to bigger containers. The basil seems to be growing--but rather slowly, actually. The fragile starts grow a little bit each day, and hopefully they keep growing and thrive.

I swallowed my pride and bought a few little herb plants: sage, thyme and basil. I've already dried the thyme and sprinkled it on salads. It is so amazingly delicious. I can not wait for sun-ripened tomatoes!

As far as sugar goes, I'm trying to locate a tea I used to drink that was called Sugar Balance or something like that. It helped to stave off sugar cravings. Anyone know what I'm talking about? Pink box?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Haikus and Strawberry Snacks

Strawberries and nuts
Coconut and chocolate
A sweet snack for me

Rain and chilly days
Hot ginger tea with honey
Soothes my sweet tooth needs

Strawberry Snack
(Great for kids!)

Slice lots of strawberries
Lay flat and take turns decorating with one of the following nuts:
Sliced almonds
Macadamia nuts

Then add one or more of the following:
Coconut flakes
Grain-sweetened chocolate chips
Sliced bananas
Sliced pineapple

Get creative and snack responsibly!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Breaking News: Agave Allegedly Worse Than HFCS

Dr. Mercola states, "Many people interested in staying healthy have switched to agave as a safer "natural" sweetener. They want to avoid well documented dangerous sweeteners like HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) but are unaware that most agave is actually WORSE than HFCS."

Rather than copy and paste entire sections here, read the article on Huffington Post yourself. It's long but worth the read, and current. Published yesterday, 4-15-10.

Dr. Mercola must have read my previous post about agave....

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"How did I turn off the part of me that knew better?"

Interview with Special Guest: Michelle
Self-proclaimed Soda Addict

The other day at a local coffee shop, I had the privilege to interview this bright, witty, fun woman. Like many of you reading this blog, she has an interesting history with sugar.

Michelle was 19 years old when she first began getting the headaches. They got so bad she threw up. Repeated doctor visits, scans and tests showed nothing other than a possible sinus infection. She was given prescription drugs and steroids and took them...because she was desperate. The pain was unbearable. She dealt with this for 4 years, feeling like the diagnosis and treatment wasn't right, but not sure what to do.

A friend mentioned that diet could have something to do with the headaches. So Michelle visited her doctor and asked if diet could be the culprit. The doctor said no. A different doctor finally correctly diagnosed her headaches as migraines, but also told her that sugar had nothing to do with them. Despite this, she decided to change her diet according to her friend's advice and testament. For the first time in four and a half years, she no longer had migraines. So Michelle gave up sugar completely for one year.

During that year her migraines were nonexistent. She felt healthy and happy. When I asked Michelle when and why she began eating sugar again, she shrugged her shoulders and said, "It sort of just happened."

A student brought in her favorite kind of mints (those buttery yellow, green and pink ones shaped like large Hershey kisses), and she figured one wouldn't hurt. She kept them in a jar on her desk and within a week they were gone.

She was back on sugar. She told herself, "Maybe I can handle a little bit here and a little bit there..." Her logic was that most of her food choices were so healthy that a little bit of candy once in a while would be okay. At first she didn't feel bad at all. Then she became pregnant so she quit sugar for good, again. She felt wonderful. Within a year her family moved to Japan and that's when sugar found itself back in her life.

"I started eating sugar again, not knowing it, because I couldn't read any of the food labels in Japan. Then we started eating out a lot and it brought old habits back, like drinking a lot of soda."

With her husband away traveling often and raising two kids at home, it was a treat to drink soda. Her justification was, "Everyone else is drinking soda and it's not bothering them." Her migraines had not returned so she tested the limits by overindulging in soda.

She says the behavior started when she was a child--drinking soda when she was sick, and drinking Slurpee's at 7 eleven. Back then little was known about the adverse affects of sugar. But Michelle says that even recently, her doctor recommended that she give her daughter "jello, gatorade, and popcicles to ward off dehydration." What is a parent supposed to do when these sugary items are recommended by pediatricians, and have been for decades?

Michelle told friends that she kept accidentally shrinking her clothes in the dryer. About a year later she realized she was bigger, her clothes were not smaller. It took a while to admit that her favorite form of sweet might be the cause of the extra weight, but eventually Michelle couldn't ignore that her weight gain was due to her out-of-control soda indulgence.

After two or three times quitting soda and then falling off the wagon, "I realized I had an addiction. It was like I was an alcoholic, except with soda. It was a vice. How did I turn off the part of me that knew better?"

When she began drinking soda and eating a lot of other sweets, the migraines came back. When she was diagnosed with a chemical sensitivity (chronic sensitivity to low levels of chemicals, including scents, food addtitives, etc.), it led to an excuse to eat sugar because she could blame the migraines on chemicals like perfumes, instead of sugar.

Michelle says, "What I firmly and strongly believe, no one would know based on what I feed my family."

So, what is Michelle doing now?

"My goal is to get myself and my kids off of processed foods totally. I'm not going to get my husband to eat this way, and even on the weekends if we go out to eat, that's okay. But during the week I'm going to buy and prepare whole foods, grind my own flour, and keep junk out of the house." In an effort to keep the migraines at bay and encourage her kids to enjoy healthier food, she is preparing her family for some big changes.

On New Year's Day 2010, she took out all of the junk food in the house and spread it on a table. She let her kids (ages 10 and 4) eat as much as they wanted. Then she threw away everything that was left. Now the family eats mostly healthy (her husband isn't buying into this health-streak just yet, however!).

Michelle now brings home delicious naturally-sweetened snacks that she and both her kids enjoy. Soda is a special treat instead of a daily ritual. She has the ability to consume sugar (soda) in moderation, something many of us only dream of having the willpower to do.

She admits that one of the greatest difficulties in eating healthy is viewing foods differently than her spouse. In her desire to avoid conflict, it's been easiest to go with the flow instead of putting her foot down about certain foods. That's all about to change this next year, but she is making small changes and baby steps forward instead of forcing everyone to quit cold turkey.

I applaud her for being a caring, loving wife and mom of two as she seeks balance in her family relationships and at the same time strives to provide healthy food for her household.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mickey D's is on Their Knees

Begging me to please, please come in and take some free, government subsidized food products off their hands. What the?!

At least that's what the giant sheet of coupons implies. Two days after reviewing two outrageous food pyramids that are going to blow your mind, I received McDonald's coupons in the mail. Addressed to "Resident," obviously because they don't know that I am not a customer. Like I've mentioned before, on long road trips I love Mickey D's. I love that we can pull up, park, and I can run in a side entrance, use the loo, and then run back out again. Their bathrooms are usually clean, well-stocked and convenient. One summer I used their bathrooms so many times during a long road trip that I half expected to start seeing WANTED signs. "WANTED: Woman using bathrooms but not a paying food or beverage customer. REWARD."

The first two coupons on the sheet are "No purchase necessary." One for a free small Frappe, and the other one for a free 32 oz. beverage, "excluding orange juice, shakes, McCafe and iced coffee." The other coupons are buy-one-get-one or free this with purchase of that. For some reason I was insulted when I got this in the mail. I can't explain why, but maybe the pyramids I recently looked at had something to do with it.

Get ready to feel very, very angry:

The biggest revelation I got from this is that truly no one but myself has my best interest in mind when it comes to food.

(pyramids courtesy of PCRM. http://www.pcrm.org/magazine/gm07autumn/health_pork.html)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sugar Cane and Nevella: Unrelated Stories

Jeff and I enjoyed a 3-day weekend in small-town Virginia. In the little community we stayed in, there was a grocery store called Bloom. Underneath the store name was the phrase, "A different kind of grocery store". I didn't need anything there, but I was intrigued. What was so different?

Upon entering, we took a hard right into the produce section. Nothing looked too extraordinary, in fact I didn't even see an organic section, but I didn't look too hard because I immediately became distracted by a big brown barrel.....of giant stalks of sugar cane!

What?! Where did these come from and why would anyone want to buy a 7 or 8 foot stalk of sugar cane? I've seen short pieces of sugar cane packaged for sale before, but never sugar cane taller than me. Each stalk was for sale for $2.99. Jeff and I laughed and planned on stopping in to buy some (pure humor factor) on our way out of town, but forgot.

Bloom had a "natural foods" section, basically the same products you'd find at a Whole Foods, so I wandered around there for a minute before perusing the rest of the aisles of the grocery store. On an end cap I noticed a giant yellow bag of sweetener. I'd never heard of it before. "Nevella. No Calorie Sweetener." Hmmm. Of course I was skeptical. I picked up a bag (which weighed as much as a helium balloon) and looked at the ingredients, expecting sucralose, because so far, Splenda and its generic product sucralose, are the only sweeteners that don't weigh a thing.

As you can see, the ingredients are as follows: maltodextrin, sucralose, bacillus coagulans GBI-30-6086

I wouldn't touch this stuff. Why? All above ingredients are manufactured.

MALTODEXTRIN: Let's revisit maltodextrin. It's a product of corn (or wheat, in Europe). It's a food additive produced from corn starch by hydrolysis, into a white powder and is absorbed as quickly as glucose. Basically, it's a sugar you won't find anywhere in nature, and considered a "hidden" sugar. When you look for sugar in an ingredients label, it's easy to pass over this ingredient. (1)

SUCRALOSE: It's 600 times as sweet as table sugar. It is made by chlorinating sugar, and is made up of 50% phenylalanine, 40% aspartic acid, and 10% methyl alcohol. In 1998 it was approved by the US FDA. Then in 2000 safety concerns were raised, including lack of long-term studies. However, according to Wikipedia, "Sucralose is one of two artificial sweeteners ranked as 'safe' by the consumer advocacy group CSPI," not to mention other groups like the USDA, WHO, etc. Personally, I can do without anything artificial. (2)

bacillus coagulans GBI-30-6086: This ingredient was developed by Ganeden Biotech, Inc., who are focused on their probiotic technology. This patented bacteria strain can withstand high temperatures from baking and boiling.

It's interesting how many new sweetener products are on the shelves these days. I can't keep up with them all. However, it seems that most of them contain either sucralose or some product of stevia. Since consumers are demanding "sweet", but "no calories", the market (companies) is supplying that demand. I think artificial sweeteners will be around for a long time....

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maltodextrin
Get The Sugar Out, p. 56-57