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, March 26, 2009

Some Nerdy Definitions To Help Your Conversations

Here are some handy definitions for nerds like me:

Sucrose: a pure crystalline disaccharide extracted from sugar cane or sugar beets and consisting of glucose and fructose joined together in the molecule.

Fructose: a crystalline monosaccharide found in sweet fruits and in honey; fruit sugar.

Dextrose: a right-handed form of glucose found in plants and animals and in the human blood, and made by the hydrolysis of starch with acids or enzymes.

Nutrition: nutritious, nourishing; a nutritious ingredient or substance in food.

Nourish: to feed or sustain (any plant or animal) with substances necessary to life and growth; to foster, develop, promote.

Essential: of or constituting the intrinsic, fundamental nature of something. Basic, inherent; aboslute, complete, perfect.

Natural: of or arising from nature; in accordance with what is found or expected in nature; produced or existing in nature; not artificial or manufactured.

Corn Syrup: a syrup made from cornstarch; it is a mixture of dextrose, maltose and dextrins.

Honey: a thick, sweet, syrupy substance that bees make as food from the nectar of flowers and store in honeycombs.

-Webster's New World: College Dictionary, 2002

Bonus items directly from the FDA website:

"What is meant by sugars on the Nutrition Facts label?

Answer: To calculate sugars for the Nutrition Facts label, determine the weight in grams of all free monosaccharides and disaccharides in the sample of food. The other nutrients declared on the nutrition label are defined in 21 CFR 101.9(c). 21 CFR 101.9(c)(6)(ii)

What are the requirements to use the word 'Healthy'?

Answer: You may use the term "healthy'' or related terms as an implied nutrient content claim on the label or in labeling of a food that is useful in creating a diet that is consistent with dietary recommendations if the food meets the conditions for total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and other nutrients


What is the difference between natural and artificial ingredients?

Answer: Natural ingredients are derived from natural sources (e.g., soybeans and corn provide lecithin to maintain product consistency; beets provide beet powder used as food coloring). Other ingredients are not found in nature and therefore must be synthetically produced as artificial ingredients. Also, some ingredients found in nature can be manufactured artificially and produced more economically, with greater purity and more consistent quality, than their natural counterparts. For example, vitamin C or ascorbic acid may be derived from an orange or produced in a laboratory."


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sugar Versus Corn Syrup

It's funny to read an article about how sugar is making a major comeback into our food products. And how that is a good thing. People are excited about this. Really? Things of this nature truly depend on which way the wind blows. Today it's blowing in favor of sugar. Almost 30 years ago corn syrup was the more favorable of the sugary choices. To researchers and doctors, there is not much difference between the two when it comes to how it affects the body.

(Though there are many health-related problems arising from our consumption of sugars, I am going to focus on obesity for this article because it is a particularly alarming national epidemic.) 

Obviously, sugar has been studied longer than high fructose corn syrup, but so far, the research shows that both have a lot to do with obesity. Obesity has a lot to do with diabetes and heart disease. And we are supposed to be excited about our old friend sugar? 

Thank you to a reader who forwarded me this article from the New York Times. "Sugar, the nutritional pariah that dentists and dietitians have long reviled, is enjoying a second act, dressed up as a natural, healthful ingredient."

It made me giggle and cringe at the same time. I feel like the point is lost on people. There are those who have a vendetta against corn syrup, and those who have a vendetta against sugar. I started my blog because I had a vendetta against sugar. But, as I wrote about earlier, I realized that sugar is not evil. Read more about that here. Corn syrup is not evil. It is the food corporations and media and advertisers and people who push for sugar in our food products who are screwing with our minds and best intentions. Best case scenario is that no matter what is in our foods, we would eat in moderation. 

The problem is Americans have a very hard time with moderation. Moderation is not a motto we live by. (I just deleted an entire paragraph about restaurant buffets...)

Sugars are found in more food products today, I will speculate, than 50 years ago. I'm guessing because it is now so cheap to add to our food, why wouldn't a company add this simple, cheap sweetness, which will make a product stand apart from another. We like things that are sweet. We love a perfect balance between sweetness and saltiness. They know this and are preying upon our senses. The sugar industry folks and corn syrup folks have something in common. Neither of them care about our health individually, or the health of our nation as a whole. Rates of obesity are at an alarming, all time high. Not only are more people considered obese, but those once considered obese are now being considered morbidly obese. The money the United States spends on obesity and overweight issues is estimated to be about $90 billion annually. Billion.

The sugar industries: cane, beet and corn continue to market and sell their products because somehow we have been convinced that "in moderation" is okay. Really? I am an expert on one thing. Going without sugar for one year. It was one of the most challenging things I have ever done. Sugar/Corn syrup was in practically everything. How do those industries propose that we eat it in moderation, when they serve a disproportionate amount of sugar in their "suggested serving size?" 

Though the pendulum swings back towards an increase in sugar consumption instead of corn syrup, I believe that we still have the same problem on our hands. That is, our addiction to sweet things and our "need" for sweets in greater and greater amounts. Since going without sugar, I've come to realize that eating too much sugar and corn syrup is a problem, but so is eating too much honey and agave and brown rice syrup and dried fruit. They are all carbohydrates which our bodies turn into glucose and if we eat more calories than we burn in a day, our glucose is stored as fat. Our bodies don't care what the source of the carbohydrate is. If it's a carb, it turns into glucose (with the exception of some fiber). Obviously, if a type of natural sweetener is less likely to spike our blood sugar, it is probably better for us for that reason, but when it comes to carbs, calories and weight, we are pretty much comparing apples to apples. 

I don't typically make generalizations like this. However, I have to make the distinction between choosing something based on morals versus choosing something based on health. When it comes to white sugar and corn syrup, I don't eat either one because of health and moral reasons. Morally, I won't eat corn syrup because most corn is grown using GMO's and pesticides. I just don't support that kind of farming. Morally, I don't eat white refined sugar because I don't support the organizations selling it. It has no place in our food supply. It is empty calories, which means that it offers no essential nutrients but is extra calories in our diet that most of us don't need. I can't support the sugar and corn industries that are fattening us to death. 

Morally and for health reasons I don't eat artificial sweeteners or the new stevia products (I eat pure stevia, but not the new products of processed stevia.) Most of these products have not been around long enough to have long-term research studies done to determine their safety. I feel good about eating natural sweeteners, but I have to be careful not to overindulge. Yes, honey is natural, but to be completely grass roots and organic about it, if I were living out in nature, the fact is that I would probably only be able to swipe a finger full of honey from a bee hive before getting chased out of the area by a swarm of territorial bees. It would not be possible to eat a large amount of honey at one time. Yet, because of the industrialization of food, I can go buy a jar of honey and sit with a spoon and eat to my heart's content. But I have not evolved to eat honey in those kinds of proportions. 

I would not have the facilities to make agave or brown rice syrup or molasses in nature. I am currently questioning my consumption of these products, as well, in an effort to be eating how I was meant to be eating, not what the media or latest fad would have me believe. In my perfect world, I would dry my own fruit, squeeze my own juice by hand and collect honey in moderate amounts before the bees got to me. These sweet items would satisfy my sweet tooth, and because of all the whole foods I would be eating, only, I wouldn't have insane cravings. In my perfect world. I am working on making this a reality, but to participate in society, I am faced with difficult food choices--eating with friends, family and going out to eat. So, in my perfect world, everyone else figures out that eating healthy is the secret to happiness and longevity and we all thrive happily. One must dream...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Eating Healthy is Cheaper than Eating Junk

Despite what you might be inclined to believe, it's cheaper to eat healthful foods than junk foods.

Take McDonald's. Okay, so a burger is $1, let's say, and the fries $1.50 and a drink for $1. (I have no idea what these items cost. I am just guessing and being conservative.) That's a total of $3.50. What nutrients will your body derive from these foods? You have a little slab of beef, (lettuce, tomato, pickle, cheese?) the bun, greasy, deep-fried french fries (sauce?) and who-knows-what to drink. Soda? Milkshake? I'll just call those unnecessary sugar/beverage calories.

The nutrients your body gets from ingesting the above are questionable. You get some protein, a lot of empty calories and carbohydrates from the bun, possibly trans fat with your french fries and a lot of starch from those fries and empty calories from that soda that your body's insulin will have to deal with to regulate your blood sugar. The hamburger bun, as I talked about in an earlier post, offers nothing but sugar to the body. Its carbohydrates are almost immediately digested in the stomach, leaving you feeling hungry.

For $3.50 I could buy kale or red chard on sale, and a loaf of tempeh or some bulk quinoa to boil, and maybe an apple or orange for dessert. The nutrients I get from this healthy variety of colorful foods greatly outweighs the poor nutrients offered in the McDonald's scenario above. Nutrient per cent spent on food equals this: you get more nutrients from a few healthy foods than you do from 10 hamburgers or 30 french fries.

If we were to compare the contents of two different grocery carts at a grocery store, it may reveal something like this:

Cart A: Bottles of soda, frozen pizzas/meals, bags of chips, crackers, ice cream, boxed cereals, white rice, etc.

Cart B: Cabbage, blueberries, apples, cherries, turnips, carrots, beets, spinach, kale, chard, bulk quinoa and steel-cut oats, olive oil, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, almond milk, etc.

It would take you a tremendous amount of calories from the foods in Cart A to get nutrients for your body. Even then, you are not eating foods that your doctor would ever recommend. (If you do have a doctor recommending these items, you may want to consider switching doctors.) However, if you ate from Cart B's list of foods, you would get more nutrients, and quicker so that you feel full and are apt to eat less.

I can almost hear some of you ho-hum right now--preparing foods like those in Cart B can be so overwhelming and time-consuming. I'll just mention priorities this once. It comes down to not wanting to prepare all of these fruits and vegetables. It is not convenient and we are living in a culture of "convenience is best." We want more time at our computer, or being on the phone, in the car, working, etc. We spend more time doing the very things that end up being very stressful to us and eventually killing us.

Have you tried telling yourself that it is okay to spend more than 15 minutes in the kitchen? Have you told your partner/family member that it is a priority to eat healthy and might require more time in the kitchen? Don't forget to tell them that you also saved money on your groceries because you bought healthy foods instead of expensive cereals, crackers, chips and drinks. Everyone can still munch on snacks, but they will be different. Out goes the Cheetos and Oreos and Ben & Jerry's (admittedly, some of my old favorites) and in comes the fresh, crispy carrot sticks and slices of cucumber and tomato and trail mix, to name a few.

Eating healthy is tough these days. There are so many options and gimmicks that we fall prey to, especially when our stomach begins to get hungry.

Think of it this way: 15 extra minutes in the kitchen (simply to wash and slice and store veggies/fruits in the fridge as snacks) may save you 15 days in the hospital down the road if you don't watch what you eat. Heart disease, obesity and diabetes are leading health concerns in our country. People are not having these problems because they ate their vegetables. Although these health issues have many variables and can have complicated relationships with lifestyles, no one ever regrets eating more fruits and vegetables than junk foods. No doctor is going to point his/her finger at you and say, "The problem here is that you just eat too damn healthy."


Just in case you did not know, and in case you were wondering if there is some sort of conspiracy to get us to eat junk food, there is. It's called the.....no, wait. You are not going to believe this. I was shocked that there was such an organization. Why haven't I heard of this before? Why didn't we ever talk about it in school? It's called the Snack Food Assocation. No kidding.

Here is a brief introduction: "The Snack Food Association (SFA) is the international trade association of the snack food industry representing snack manufacturers and suppliers. SFA represents over 400 companies worldwide....SFA business membership includes, but is not limited to, manufacturers of potato chips, tortilla chips, cereal snacks, pretzels, popcorn, cheese snacks, snack crackers, meat snacks, pork rinds,snack nuts,party mix, corn snacks, pellet snacks, fruit snacks, snack bars, granola, snack cakes, cookies and various other snacks."

I'm surprised they don't just come out and call themselves the Junk Food Assocation. "Snack" bars? Oh, and we're just in time to participate in SNAXPO, which "will draw thousands of industry professionals from more than 60 countries around the world looking for the latest products and developments, face-to-face meetings with suppliers, networking, outstanding speakers and educational seminars."

I have this little fantasy that I dress in sharp, career-woman clothes and join in the SNAXPO event, talking to people and hearing what goes on in such an event. I can't imagine. Bottom line, though, is that even the Snack Food Association isn't trying to make us fat. All they care about is making money. The demand (for junk food OR for organics and healthier foods) helps initiate what companies will supply. They do not do it for conspiracy reasons or out of the kindness of their hearts. A corporation's goal first and foremost is to make their shareholders happy. They are about money.

The bottom line is what I love to say most: EAT HEALTHY. Make those tough decisions to just "SAY NO" to the bright cereal boxes that beckon, the chips that call your name and to the ice cream that does not have your name written all over it. Try your best to see past fancy packaging (think of multi-millionares mingling at the snack expo and talking about how they can get someone just like you to buy their junk-food product to increase their wealth.) and make the effort to break bad habits. It's worth the time, it's less expensive and it is something in life you won't regret. Be a leader in your family, your social network and your community.

Small steps towards this goal work great!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Night of Decadent Abandon

I am currently under the spell of a pear tart. Sweet pear brandy combined with honey is lingering on my breath. It's a holiday for my mouth and a romantic interlude between the senses. Brief sips of wine cleansed my palate between each morsel. Each bite of tart was delivered on a magic carpet ride of fresh, home-made whipped cream. I'm thirsty but I don't dare wash away the flavors dancing in my mouth right now.

My evening began with a drive into town for pizza. I had to pick up Jeff's favorite. (Consequently I parked too close to a car in the parking lot and hit the side of it with my car door. I pretended to not notice the small scratch/dent it made when all of a sudden I noticed activity inside the car. Somebody was inside! I played dumb and walked away. No integrity there!) He would not be joining me in my vegetable experimentations. As he satiated himself on cheese, sauce and thick doughy crust, I conjured up a recipe for my left-over quinoa from the day before. I began by chopping up fresh kale, red chard and turnips and throwing them in a little stir-fry pan with coconut oil and some water. I let that steam for about 10 minutes and then set that aside.

I got out the loaf of tempeh that I have been saving and cut several thin slices. I threw them in the stir-fry pan and let them sizzle a bit before I realized that I would do anything to add BBQ sauce. Well, everyone knows that there is no such thing as sugar-free BBQ sauce, so I decided to try making my own. I got out my agave-sweetened ketchup and then grabbed a bottle of Jeff's BBQ sauce to look at the ingredients. Then, I put some ketchup in a little bowl and added red wine vinegar and molasses. Those seemed to be the most prominent ingredients on the label of the BBQ sauce. I mixed it all together and tasted. Wow. Very.....strong. Spicy. It was delicious. I ladled it atop of my tempeh and let it sizzle for a few minutes. It didn't take long to carmelize on the pan and cover the tempeh. I was ready to chow.

I added the finished BBQ tempeh to my plate of vegetable quinoa and just sat staring at it. It looked so good and I didn't want it to go away. I knew even before I took a bite that this was going to be one of the best dinners I've ever made. And it was so quick to make. I tried experimenting a little with different types of vinegars to make the BBQ sauce, but nothing tasted as good as the red wine vinegar.

The result was that I ate my entire dinner with my eyes closed. It was heavenly. Instead of having any thoughts during dinner, I experienced a kind of nirvana. A zen of nothingness but one of my senses. My tongue was pleased and I felt quite satisfied. I did not get a sweet tooth attack after dinner. I felt perfectly satiated without feeling overfull.

That was just the beginning of several culinary experiences tonight. After dinner I joined my husband outside in the freezing cold to observe a new favorite past time: making giant soap bubbles. They are particularly neat in the dark with a flashlight shining directly on the bubble. We had fun practicing making those for a while and then brought our chilly bodies inside.

I was still nice and full from dinner but wanted to sample a new chocolate bar I found a few days ago at a little local co-op. The chocolate bar was made with raw ingredients: cocoa, vanilla, himalayan salt crystals and amber agave nectar. I broke off a small piece and popped it in my mouth. Not expecting heaven (sugar-free afterall!) I was pleasantly surprised at the mild flavor. It was very dark chocolate but sweet. There was a nice balance of sweet to salty. For being sugar-free and only having four ingredients, it was wonderful. I broke off another tiny piece and savored the cocoa as it melted slowly on my tongue. What a perfect ending to a delicious evening of vittles.

Then the doorbell rang. Audrey our neighbor was standing in the dark on the front porch carrying a basket of something and a bottle of wine. We invited her in and she set out the pear tart that she had made earlier today in preparation for her dinner party this evening. She had an uneaten tart leftover. She also brought a little dish of sliced pears floating in pear brandy, made locally here in Oregon at Clear Water Creek distillery. The last dish contained her home-made, honey sweeted whipped cream. I pulled out the wine and poured a small glass.

Horse Heaven Hills is a local Washington winery. Audrey's dinner party tonight was themed "Local Ingredients." She spent all day yesterday searching for local ingredients and came back with a plethora of food items and information about farms, co-ops and locally milled flours. As I sipped the cab, she told me about her dinner party. Everyone brought homemade food made with local ingredients. The farthest location of an ingredient was a cream cheese made in Sierra Nevada. It helped form the perfect crust for the pear tart.

Audrey's pear tart was so beautiful I hated to cut into it. Two seconds later I was slicing a piece for myself. I added a few dollups of whipped cream and the rest is history. I sat on cloud nine savoring the delicate flavors of pear, cinnamon, brandy and a resonating honey after-taste. She had substituted whole wheat flour for white, and the results were perfect. The crust is indescribable. Pear brandy mixed with a bit of honey had crystalized on top of the thinly sliced pears and it tasted like caramel.

I was not expecting to indulge in decadence like this tonight. My plan was to sip herbal tea until I began to feel tired. Instead, I got surprised with an evening of delectable flavors and great conversation.

Here are the recipes from tonight:

My Homemade BBQ Sauce (really good, but you could probably do better)

Mix these together and enjoy: About 1/4 C. agave sweetened ketchup, less than 1 tablespoon molasses and less than 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar.

Quinoa & Vegetables Lightly Steamed with Coconut Oil

Cook quinoa normally. Chop red chard, kale, turnips and throw in stir-fry pan. Add about 1 tablespoon of virgin coconut oil and add about 1/2 C. of water.

Cover and steam for about 10 minutes or so. Add pre-cooked quinoa for the last few minutes. Remove from pan and add sea salt. Enjoy!

BBQ Tempeh

Slice thin pieces of tempeh from tempeh loaf. Throw into stir-fry pan and sizzle on medium-high. Flip them once while sizzling. Throw on BBQ sauce until it bubbles. Remove from pan and enjoy!

Audrey's Pear Tart

Whip heavy cream with honey and a little pear brandy to accompany tart.

2 ounces cream cheese
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 C. whole wheat flour, plus extra for your hands
1/2 C. plus 1 1/2 tablespoon honey
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons pear brandy
1 Bosc or Red Bartless pear
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees with rack in center. Line an air-cushioned baking sheet with parchment. Combine cream cheese and butter in a food processor. Add flour, 1/4 C. honey and the salt and process until combined. Dough will be sticky. Turn dough out onto prepared baking sheet. With lightly floured fingers, pat dough out into a flat 8-inch circle.

2. In medium bowl, combine 1/4 C. honey with lemon juice and brandy. Halve pear lengthwise; core; leave skin on. Cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices; transfer to lemon-juice mixture; coat well. Place slices in strainer to drain liquid. Arrange lengthwise around border of dough, overlapping slightly. Arrange remaining slices in center. Drizzle tart with a little pear brandy-honey mixture. Dust pears with cinnamon. Bake until golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Enjoy!

(recipe alterations courtesy of Audrey of course; original recipe: Martha Stewart Living, Oct 97)

Alas, as I write this the last of the sweet flavors have dissipated into enzymatic digestive juices. I sip herbal tea and prepare for a night of dreams about more dessert. It was a most fun evening. Thank you Audrey!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Mindful Eating Means Mindful Living

"mindful: 1. Tending toward awareness and appreciation 2. Cautiously attentive"

Do you eat mindfully? Do you live mindfully? What the heck do I mean, you ask. By eating mindfully, I am implying that there is a difference between eating because you see it, and eating because it will nourish your body. By living mindfully I am implying that you are making every minute count, and being considerate of other people/animals on the planet. (I'm not about to give a lecture on vegetarianism or organics.)

I recently visited an old neighborhood where I lived out my twenties. It was incredibly nostalgic to drive around the familiar neighborhoods and see so many houses and giant trees that I used to walk past regularly. What struck me most, however, was how changed I am since my twenties. Nothing magical or superior to my younger years, just older and more concerned for bigger-scale things in life. For example, in my twenties I spent most of my time figuring out what to do based on what would make me happiest. Though not necessarily a bad thing, one can get obsessive in search of Mr/Mrs. Right. I didn't always take other people's concerns seriously. I spent a lot of time on myself. This might be indicative of many people in their twenties--for sure mine. I did not live very mindfully in my twenties.

I realize now that I am in my thirties I have done a lot more for others than I ever did in my twenties. I was discussing this with someone last night and she asked, "Is it because you are in your thirties now, or do you do more for others because you're married and not always looking for Prince Charming?" I couldn't answer that because I only know my thirties as being married. Whichever reason it is, I live much more mindfully now than I ever used to. In part, I think, because at one point I decided to eat mindfully.

My first exposure to eating mindfully was in an environmental science class at a community college. Up until then I had been aware of eating healthy, but had no idea that food choices affect others-both people and animals. It was one of the biggest turning points in my life (besides when I was 10 and found out that Whoppers malted milk balls came in a 5-pound tub). I learned that I could make a difference in the environment based on specific food choices. It was the hottest topic in my life for many years following. I became a militant food cop. Luckily I chilled out when I realized that no one appreciated my bible-thumping style of sharing. I would have to lead by example, not by my bumper stickers and self-made posters.

Years later, I finally found middle ground in my eating habits. What occurred to me at some point is that all of my food choices led me to begin thinking more mindfully about others and life in general. In my thirties now, I sincerely care about that. I care about others just as much as I care about myself. I don't spend two hours primping in front of the mirror and I don't spend all of my money on new clothes. Instead, I find great joy in contributing money to those in need. I contribute my time and energy to my loved ones, my neighbors, my community and people all across the globe.

I hope this is not sounding preachy in any way. It's not my intention. If you want preachy, rent a time machine and go back to the year 2000 and find me. I was at the height of preaching to the world and telling everyone what they should do. Fire and brimstone upon you if you didn't listen. Or at least a sticker slapped on your bumper.

Why all the chatter about mindful this and that? I was inspired by a post I read this morning called "30 Days of Mindful Eating," written by "A Content Life." It really stirred up my sensibilities. Take a look at the above post and learn the seven different types of hunger. It's very interesting. The information comes from the book, "Mindful Eating."

Do you have a story about mindful eating or mindful living? There are probably very few of us who were raised this way. It seems like the following generations were graced with these concepts, but not mine!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Real Food Revolution Begins with Fight Back Fridays

The goal is to promote real food. Not Twinkies, Splenda, hot dogs or soda. Real food that our grandparents used to eat. What a concept, eh? It's one of my favorite concepts in the book, "The Omnivore's Dilemma."

"I'm a Food Renegade," blogger is starting a new online revolution. The goal is to influence and "change the way America (and the industrialized world) eats!"

If you click on her blog above, you will find a list of healthy bloggers and links to their sites about various topics. You'll find ingredients, information about losing weight, recipes and other healthful tidbits that will influence this food revolution. I added information about Tips on How to Cut Out Sugar. I like the idea of getting together and sharing all different kinds of information.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Think Outside the Box: Set Down Yer Buns!

Sure hamburger buns make a fantastic delivery system for the juicy goodness inside, but what else do those buns provide? They provide calories, sugar and a guarantee to spike your blood sugar. That's it. Let me put it to you this way: If you asked for your burger with no bun, would you order the bun later and eat it? Of course not! So why not order your burger with no bun? Don't let someone else decide what you will eat. Traditionally burgers are eaten with a bun but when has tradition ever trumped sound nutritional judgment? (Most of the time, I know.) It's time to think outside of the box and set those buns down.

I had to learn the hard way. About a month or so into my first year without sugar I had a hankering for a juicy Gardenburger. I could almost taste the tomato slices and crunchy lettuce that I would pile on top of the melted cheese, complete with mustard drizzled all over the.....bun? That had to be full of sugar! Dang! I realized I would have to find out but I was sick of looking at ingredients. I was pretty sure I knew what I would find. I had recently discovered that the original Gardenburger is sugar-free, but now I was faced with checking into the ingredients of a hamburger bun. I was still so new to being without sugar that all of this researching every little thing seemed so tedious. Was I being obsessive-compulsive with this label-reading business? Why couldn't I just sit down and enjoy my food?

It was most annoying to other people who were waiting to eat while I dug through the pantry looking for bun ingredients. "Aaaaack!" What a joy-kill to read sugar in the ingredients on that plastic bag. How was I going to enjoy my Gardenburger? One of the reasons I love eating them is because you eat them like a sandwich. I didn't want to use utensils! I wanted the satisfaction of that messy, hand-to-mouth delivery.

Not wanting to feel defeated, I wrapped the Gardenburger in a huge piece of lettuce and stuffed the tomato and cheese inside. Then I added more lettuce and a lot of mustard. I love mustard.

Okay, how do I describe the insanely wonderful sensation of eating that burger?! I had never eaten a burger without a bun before. The lettuce held the burger perfectly and added more of the crunch that I love. I didn't mind that mustard juice was dripping down my arm. I didn't set down that burger once. I ate it faster than I've eaten anything before. Then, I wanted another. I didn't have that bloated, full feeling I got when eating a burger complete with bun. It was incredible. From then on I've enjoyed my burgers wrapped in lettuce and I think I've started a trend. My husband, who eats meaty burgers, now sometimes orders his without the bun. We laugh and joke that maybe when we finish our lettuce-wrapped burgers we'll order buns for dessert.

I'm curious, why do you eat your burger with a bun?

Where did the beef and bun idea coincide to make the "hamburger?" Here are some claims about that moment in history:

  • "According to one claim, Charlie Nagreen served the world's first hamburger at the Seymour Fair (Outagamie County Fair) of 1885. 'Hamburger' Charlie decided to flatten a meatball and place it between slices of bread to increase portability.
  • [Claim 2]: Western New York history recorded that Frank and Charles Menches ran out of pork for their sausage patty sandwiches at the 1885 Erie County Fair. Their supplier, reluctant to butcher more hogs in the summer heat, suggested they use beef instead. The brothers fried some up, but found it bland. They added coffee, brown sugar, and other ingredients to create a taste which stands distinct without condiments. They christened their creation the 'Hamburg Sandwich' after Hamburg, New York where the fair has been held since 1868; the name was probably later condensed by common use to the shorter contraction 'hamburger' (and so explaining why a beef sandwich--which never contained any pork--bears this name). The original recipe is featured at Menches Brothers Restaurants in Akron, Ohio.
  • [Claim 3]: In 1974, The New York Times ran a story about Louis' Lunch having a serious challenger to the title of inventing the hamburger. According to the McDonald's hamburger chain the inventor was an unknown food vendor at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. Newspaper columnist, Texas historian, and restaurateur Frank X. Tolbert said that this food vendor was Fletcher Davis who operated a café at 115 Tyler Street on the north side of the courthouse square in Athens, Texas, in the late 1880s. Local lore holds that Davis was selling an unnamed sandwich of ground beef at his lunch counter at that time. During the 1980s Dairy Queen ran a commercial filmed in Athens, calling the town the birthplace of the hamburger.
  • [Claim 4]: Louis' Lunch has been selling steak and hamburger since 1895 when Louis Lassen opened his lunch wagon. This small establishment, which advertises itself as the oldest hamburger restaurant in the U.S., is credited by some with having invented the classic American hamburger when Louis sandwiched a pattie between two pieces of white toast for a busy office worker in 1900. Louis' Lunch flame broils the hamburgers in the original 1898 Bridge & Beach vertical cast iron gas stoves using locally patented steel wire gridirons to hold the hamburgers in place while they cook. The U.S. Library of Congress American Folklife Center Local Legacies Project web site credits Louis' Lunch as the maker of America's first hamburger and steak sandwich."
For more information about the history of the hamburger and the hamburger bun, click here.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamburger

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Naturally Sweetened Chocolate Lover's Recipe

I found a new recipe. It looks incredibly rich and creamy and makes me think of mousse. I haven't made it yet because I am one ingredient short, but here it is anyway, the Decadent Chocolate Pâté, brought to you by the Avoiding Milk Protein blog. The origin of the recipe comes from the Sweet Freedom blog, which is putting out a recipe book in May. I peeked around the recipe book's website and the concoctions are mouth-watering. The author/recipe-builder presents pictures of thick buttercream frosting atop a cupcake, glazed almond bars, butter tarts, berry crumble cake and chocolate pudding to name a few. What I'm most excited about is that all of her recipes are sweet but "free of wheat, eggs, dairy and refined sweeteners." I can't believe it! Although I use wheat, eggs and dairy sometimes, I am excited to find a healthful, naturally sweetened perspective on goodies. I'm not sure if she uses any artificial sweeteners, but as far as I could tell, she doesn't. Look for her recipe book, Sweet Freedom, in May.

Decadent Chocolate Pâté

1-1/4 cups (7 oz. or 210 g.) nondairy dark chocolate (70% cocoa is best), chopped

1/4 cup freshly squeezed (essential!) orange juice (remove larger pieces of pulp)

1 small ripe (but not squishy) Haas avocado, peeled, pitted and cut into chunks (about 110-120 g. flesh)

2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) pure maple syrup

1 tsp. (5 ml.) pure vanilla extract, optional

Line three individual-serving loaf pans or a single small loaf pan with plastic wrap. Set aside.

Place chocolate in a heatproof glass or metal bowl and set over a pan of simmering water. Melt together with the orange juice and maple syrup, stirring frequently, until perfectly smooth.

Meanwhile, in a food processor, purée the avocado, making sure to scrape down the sides so there are no lumps. Add the chocolate mixture and vanilla and purée until perfectly smooth, creamy, and glossy. It will have the texture of an old-fashioned cooked pudding–thick and almost glutinous. Turn the mixture into the pan(s) and smooth the top(s). Refrigerate about an hour until the top is just firm, then cover the top with more plastic and refrigerate overnight.

To unmold, remove the top piece of plastic. Place a serving plate upside down onto the loaf pan, then, holding the plate against the pan, turn the whole thing over so the pan is on top and the plate is on the bottom. Remove the loaf pan, then carefully peel off the plastic. To cut into slices, use a long, sharp knife that has been dipped in hot water and wiped clean between slices. A little goes a long way–one individual-serving loaf will serve 3-4 people (or 9-12 servings for the entire batch of pâté). Serve with fresh berries, cream, or other fruits.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Childhood Obesity with Subway's Jared

I was tooting around looking at some healthy blogs this morning and came across the "Super Healthy Kids" blog. What a hoot. The second post I scrolled to was a fun surprise...an interview with Jared from Subway. The Jared. So, in honor of that man's hard work and dedication to be a healthier person and pass it on, here is the interview. Here is my favorite quote by Jared in that interview:

"If you eat out, know you control the menu! Don’t let the menu control you. Ask for things prepared your way, or things that aren’t even on the menu."

Definitely click over to the Super Healthy Kids blog to read the interview. It's short and sweet. Also, Jared has his own blog and has started his own foundation with a mission to eliminate childhood obesity. I love when people turn a negative experience (being 400 lbs) into something great! Thank you Jared!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Peanut Butter Rice Crispie Treats

After looking through a million different sugar-free rice crispie recipes, I decided to venture out on my own and use ingredients I already had in the pantry.

These treats are delicious. They are nice and chewy with a balanced blend of sweet and salt.

Peanut Butter Rice Crispie Treats

1/2 C. peanut butter
1/2 C. brown rice syrup
1/2 C. honey
1/4 C. organic, non-hydrogenated shortening (or butter)
a couple dashes of finely ground sea salt
5-8 C. brown rice sweetened rice crispies (the brand I found is called "Erewhon")

Melt first four ingredients in large pot. Stir until bubbly. Add salt. Take off stove and add as many rice crispies as you want. For chewier consistency, don't add as much. For a little drier treat, add more crispies. I eyeballed it, but used almost an entire, 10oz. box of rice crispies. Press into a greased 9x13 pan. They are tasty right away, but even better the next day after they've set.

These are perfect for your sweet tooth, and easy to cut into small pieces for travel.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Photographs Taken in 2008 During My Sugar-Free Year

Totally unrelated to sugar, these pictures represent some of how I spent my time during 2008. Jeff and I had a lot of time on our hands, having sold our house and quit our jobs in the spring. We spent the rest of the year volunteering and traveling, photographing people, animals and places.

I made friends with a peacock at the "World's Largest Petting Zoo" that we visited during a road trip through the state of Oregon.
I knew nothing about the personality of an Emu until I met this one. It was roaming the grassy fields with its flock when it noticed us stopped in our car with the window down, photographing it. I guess we should have asked him/her permission first. It came right up to the window and stuck its head in the car. I was flattered! It was the most personable bird I have ever met, besides my childhood parakeet, Sunshine.
On a separate trip, we took three weeks to drive from Washington D.C. to the West Coast. On our way, we meandered through beautiful, old-fashioned towns like this one in Red Lodge, Montana.

After visiting friends and exploring amazing towns and little friendly, quaint, farmer's markets in Montana, we decided to visit Glacier National Park. The tiny, steep, dangerous "Road to the Sun" that you drive on was like an amusement park ride. It was so scary and narrow it seemed unreal. On our way back down the road from the summit, we were lucky enough to have a herd of mountain goats cross our path. Believe it or not, this little guy was the baby.

This handsome fella lives just up the street from where I currently reside. His buddies didn't make it into the picture, but they, too, are afraid of visiting the barbershop.

I met these kids in Tecate, Mexico during a week-long house-building trip. I was supposed to be helping build a home, but I was truly enamored with the kids. They would wander around the construction site with bright eyes and huge smiles. I started following them around and taking pictures. They loved the attention and I fell in love with them. Every time I told them to "smile" in Spanish, they would get really excited and start screaming. Once I followed them to their "home," a tin shanty with dirt floors and nothing more than a bed, a table and a dresser. It's amazing how little some people have and yet how happy they are.

Cranium Question

We played Cranium the other night and I got asked this question, "Who is credited with creating the first frozen dessert?"

Eskimos, I wondered immediately?

Here were the multiple choice answers:

a) Emperor Nero
b) Arthur Sorbet
c) Napoleon
d) the Eskimos

Believe it or not, Eskimos is not the correct answer, according to Cranium. Personally, I think they were making igloo pops long before anyone else came close to inventing frozen dessert.

Cranium's answer is Emperor Nero. Nero's dessert was a mixture of fruit pulp, nectar, honey and snow. His Roman slaves retrieved the snow from the mountains.

Silly, I know, but hey this is sugarless dessert history. Gotta know this stuff.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Nutrition-Related Fertility Busters

Imagine my surprise when my husband approaches me at the book store with a book titled, "What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Getting Pregnant." Whoa, charlie! What's going on?!

"Uhhh..." I said, looking at him to crack a smile or something. I feel my cheeks redden. He is deadpan.

"I was looking in the nutrition and health section and for some reason this book jumped out at me. Have you thought about looking into how nutrition relates to fertility, for, uh, your blog?" he says quickly, noting my looking around.

Okay, so that's it? A new topic related to nutrition? I can breathe now.

I sat down with a pile of books to look at and started by looking through this one. I know we're all adults, here, but I couldn't help but feel embarrassed by the book topic. I made sure the book cover was firmly pressed against my lap.

I flipped through and immediately found a lot of great information. I dug through my bag for my little black notepad. I would have to take notes. I already had a "to buy" pile of books that was falling off the arm of my chair, so I would have to take some notes from this book instead of buying it.

If you or your partner are interested in getting pregnant, and wonder what nutritional factors are related to being successful or not in this endeavor, read on. Personally, I have not given this topic much thought, but once I learned that refined sugars may have something to do with fertility, I couldn't help but be interested. I know too many people who are having fertility issues.

I hope the following helps inspire you to eat healthier and do more research of your own:

"Simple sugars and refined starches deteriorate health and create the following negative effects:

  • Hormone imbalance. That energy 'rush' from a candy bar or glazed doughnut lasts all of 15 minutes to half an hour. It comes from a sharp rise in your blood sugar levels, but that 'high' soon switches direction and plummets downward, leaving you drained and exhausted....You are in a state of emergency because your adrenal glands are secreting extra cortisol--the so-called flight or fight hormone--in an attempt to replenish your system's sugar levels because sugar is essential fuel for every body system. Over time, too much cortisol stimulated by chronic low blood sugar levels weakens your adrenal glands to the point where they produce lower levels of sex hormones. This can lead to hormone imbalance that impacts fertility.
  • B vitamin deficiency. Manufacturing excess cortisol eventually uses up nutrients needed for proper hormone balance and fertility. These include the B vitamins, especially B6 and magnesium. Vitamin B deficiency may make you vulnerable to some harmful affects of stress, another fertility buster.
  • Overly high insulin levels. In order to get all this sugar out of the blood and into cells, where it's converted into energy, the pancreas has to keep secreting insulin. Excess insulin secretion eventually causes insulin resistance, which is known to be associated with infertility.
  • Compromised immune response. Some research shows that just a single teaspoon of sugar can reduce immunity for up to four hours.
Your best bet is to avoid sugar.... altogether. Satisfy your sweet tooth with plenty of fruits. For example, treat yourself to a fruit smoothie by blending fresh fruit and ice cubes. Maple syrup in small amounts is okay, especially in cooking. Stevia, a South American plant with even more concentrated sweetening power than sugar, does not affect your blood sugar levels."

Source: "What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Getting Pregnant," by Raymond Chang, M.D. & Elena Oumano, PhD., pgs. 167-169

Other resources for additional information/medical advice on fertility:
American Board of Holistic Medicine
National Infertility Association
National Institutes of Health

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Food Pyramid Facts: Part Three

The following is the rest of the story about how the USDA Food Pyramid came about. I do not refer to this pyramid, however, for my own dietary guidelines. Instead, I use Harvard's Food Pyramid.

I think it's important to stop and consider where our dietary guidelines have evolved from. When you are going through school at a young age, you learn the basics, but from then on out, you must rely upon your common sense, your intuition and your body to tell you what to eat. I mention this because it seems particularly difficult to use common sense when we are bombarded with sexy advertisements and attractive marketing in grocery stores.

In an effort to celebrate that new pyramid, here is a last look at the history of the USDA Food Pyramid:

  1. ...."We left off with the 'Food Wheel,' which was created in 1984 in cooperation between the USDA and the American National Red Cross.
  2. The USDA developed the Food Guide Pyramid with some explicit goals in mind. Since the Department of Agriculture spends about 60% of its budget on food assistance, it felt the obligation to teach proper diet and its relationship to good health to those at risk. The Dietary Guidelines were the guiding premise for the new visual. But the promotion of overall health and well-being was a prime concern. If the new guide was to be consistent with the Dietary Guidelines it would have to establish the principles of a diet for healthy Americans over two years of age that might improve and maintain overall health. The guide had to be understood by a wide range of audiences, especially children and low-income, low-literacy adults.
  3. To be useful to consumers, foods were grouped in ways that were familiar, either from other food guides or from common knowledge. For instance, though tomatoes are technically a fruit, most people call them a vegetable; so they were kept on the vegetable list. It's worth noting that food groups in the Food Guide Pyramid were arranged with foods of similar nutrient content. The foods in the milk group are meant to provide calcium primarily while the foods in the meat group are primarily supplying protein. (This grouping differs from other plans, like the Diabetic Food Exchanges, where some cheeses count as protein, or some starchy vegetables count as a bread exchange.)
  4. The USDA did not want to prohibit the selection of any particular food; they wanted the guide to accommodate all types of foods. It is what many dietitians espouse as the "no 'good' foods or 'bad' foods" concept. The USDA reasoned that any guide that rigidly forbids certain foods is not likely to be followed, so it's better to let consumers decide for themselves which foods they prefer as sources of fat and added sugars, instead of rigorously forbidding them.
  5. The food guide also had to account for needs that vary according to age, sex, and activity level. It was a tough challenge to create a guide that would allow varying individual nutritional needs to be met by different amounts of foods from the same groups or the same menus. That's why there are ranges in the number of servings from each food group. As an individual, you can determine how much of the various foods to eat based on your own age, activity level, and so forth.
  6. Once the basic goals were established, the actual development of the new food guide began, much of it based on research that took about three years to generate and document."
Here is an excerpt from an article that helps to summarize:

"The Dairy Council is lobbying for an increase in the daily recommendations for dairy products while the American Millers’ Association and the U.S. Potato Board are defending their economic interests against the low-carbohydrate craze. Similarly, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the Chocolate Manufacturer’s Association, the Snack Food Association, the California Walnut Board, the Malaysian Palm Oil Board, and many more are busily twisting arms and applying pressure for their members‘ financial advantage.

Atkins Nutritionals, Inc. met with USDA officials to propose an alternative “Atkins Lifestyle” pyramid. The Atkins web site urges dieters to contact the USDA telling it to reduce the recommended carbs in the new Dietary Guidelines. This, in spite of inadequate scientific research on the long-term health consequences of low carbohydrate consumption. Again, it’s self-interest and ideology ahead of science and the best interests of the American public.

....Perhaps the USDA should simply adopt the Harvard pyramid and leave politics to the politicians. Doing so would contribute to the health and longevity of the American public."

Though a little out of date, this book and this article have some important information for us.

-The Pyramid Cookbook, by Pat Baird


-Zamiska, Nicholas. Food-pyramid frenzy: Lobbyists fight to defend sugar, potatoes and bread in recommended U.S. diet. Wall Street Journal (Marketplace section), July 29, 2004, B1; Willett, Walter C., with the assistance of others. Eat, Drink, and be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Food Pyramid Facts: Part Two

Did you know that for over a hundred years the USDA has given Americans advice about what to eat?
  1. "The USDA issued the first tables of food composition and dietary standards for the United States' population in 1894. They represented what was believed to be the average protein and calorie needs of man. Specifications were not given for vitamins and minerals, since these needs were unknown.
  2. A few years later W.O. Atwater, a pioneer nutrition investigator with the USDA, expressed concern in a Farmers Bulletin about obesity and the "evils of overeating." He emphasized the same themes of variety, balance and moderation that are important to us today.
  3. The first Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) from the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) listed specific recommendations for calories and nine essential nutrients--protein, iron, calcium, vitamins A and D, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and ascorbic acid (vitamin C)--at a time when this country was at the brink of war and coping with rationing.
  4. In 1946, the USDA illustrated its food guide with a segmented circle that identified the basic seven food groups.
  5. In the years following the war, the "Basic Seven" was revised and a new publication was issued: the National Food Guide. Later, in 1956, yet another new food guide, describing the "Basic Four"--was released as a booklet called Food for Fitness--A Daily Food Guide.
  6. When the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs issued the Dietary Goals for the United States in 1977, a new direction was taken. This time the committee set quantitative goals for intakes of protein, carbohydrates, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, sugars, and sodium. There were some basic disagreements, however, regarding the usual food patterns in the country. The 1977 guidelines, therefore, were not adopted by the USDA as a foundation for new food plans and food guides. In 1979, the USDA published The Hassle-Free Guide to a Better Diet in a colorful booklet called Food. The focal point of the guide was the addition of a fifth food group--fat, sugars, and alcohol--and the need to control the intake of these foods, which contribute mostly calories but few other nutrients. The guide also gave distinctive attention to calories and dietary fiber.
  7. Though there was strong interest in health and nutrition in the late 1970's, The Hassle-Free Guide went unnoticed by a good many people. In 1980, the first edition of Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans was issued by the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). These guidelines were meant for healthy Americans, not for individuals with medical problems or who required special diets.
  8. In 1984, the USDA, in cooperation with the American National Red Cross, developed the "Food Wheel" as part of a consumer nutrition education course. The Food Wheel emphasized the importance of eating different amounts of food from each of the food groups. Later, in 1988, when participants in focus groups were asked to comment on the Food Wheel, they perceived it as unimaginative and old-fashioned or as providing information they already knew. Even many professionals were still under the impression that the USDA was still using the "Basic Four." Many of them didn't feel that the Food Wheel clearly addressed nutritional concerns like the intake of too much food or the connections between diet and health. A new graphic to illustrate those messages was definitely in order."
To Be Continued....

-source: The Pyramid Cookbook, by Pat Baird
(This book was published in 1993, one year after the USDA released the "Food Guide Pyramid". The book is dated, but contains important historical information about how/when food guides came about.)