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.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Peanut Butter Pudding: Sugar-Free of Course!

I have a gigantic stack of books on my bedroom floor. More than half of them are recipe or health-related. Yesterday I sat down and grabbed all of the recipe books, most of which are sugar-free specific. I happened upon some incredible recipes, one of which I tried out last night. It sounded so good and so strange. I had never thought about peanut butter pudding before. I am not a huge pudding fan-I like chewy or crunchy foods-but my interest was piqued. After letting the finished product chill, I tried it. Delicious! It was incredibly smooth and rich, and sweet, too! Keeping in mind that my palate has evolved over the past year and a half, it may not be to par with everyone's fancy, but it sure satiated my sweet tooth.

Speaking of my old arch enemy, my sweet tooth, it has been dormant for the past several weeks. If I eat something sweet it's because I'm enjoying the moment. I haven't had a killer sugar craving in quite some time. I spent 8 days in Washington, D.C. and never had a craving. I admit that sometimes after a large dinner meal I will think about ice cream or fresh cookies. But my tendency to do this is waning. Big time.

As strange as it sounds, this pudding recipe is actually really good. The thickness and creaminess of it is my favorite part:

Peanut Butter Pudding
1 small ripe banana
1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt (I use Nancy's, which is sugar-free, vanilla and delicious)
1/2 cup natural creamy peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Process first on low speed, then on high until smooth. Pour into four individual serving dishes and refrigerate. Serve cold. Serves 4.

Suggestions or alterations to this recipe? I can imagine it in between layers of dark chocolate....


Recipe source: Get The Sugar Out by Ann Louise Gittleman, pg. 212

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The WSU Dilemma and An Attorney Who Cares

One person can make a difference.

I have been following a fascinating series of events in a true story about a lawyer, a university and a book.

In a nutshell, Washington State University in Pullman, WA canceled a program requiring all freshman to read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma.

"Earlier this month, the university announced that it was canceling a program requiring all incoming freshmen to read Mr. Pollan’s book, which links the agriculture industry to obesity, food poisoning and environmental damage." -The New York Times, May 28, 2009

Administrators said one thing about why they canceled the program-but students and faculty said another. An interesting aspect of the story is that "...others said the book was dropped because it attacks one of the university’s bases, Big Agriculture..."

The question is whether or not WSU dropped the program for political reasons or financial reasons.

Read more about the story in the New York Times article, linked above, or by looking at the Marler Blog where I learned the most about this issue because the man writing about it is the lawyer who offered to pay the difference to his alma mater for the program that would otherwise have been cut:

"Meanwhile, Mr. Marler posted a message on his blog about the episode, offering to underwrite the program’s cost: 'I have my checkbook ready.'" (NYTimes)

Why I care is because The Omnivore's Dilemma is a powerful, well-documented/researched educational tool for anyone who has the slightest interest in food, politics and agribusiness. Pollan discusses, researches, travels and uncovers truths behind the otherwise little-known world of agribusiness and how it relates to the food on our plate.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Nutrients vs. Calories: The Debate Goes On

The debate continues. So far, I have not heard any support for high calories and low nutrients, except in the case of starvation (see below). Instead, people seem willing to sacrifice a few calories in the name of healthier food, which can be looked at as preventative medicine. This decision seems heavily based on nutrition education.

Earlier this week, I shared the debate with Dr. Marion Nestle in an email. Here is what I said:

"I ask my readers to choose what they would prefer: less nutrients and more calories (i.e. cheap junk food) or more nutrients and less calories (assuming there is a cap on the amount of money spent on food). What I find to be a fascinating argument is that junk food (fast foods, packaged food, frozen food, etc.) is argued to be cheaper so it has been concluded that lower income people are more overweight due to higher calories at lower prices. I'm not quite in agreement with this argument because those same lower-income people could (assuming they are educated about nutrition in this case) choose to eat healthier foods, albeit less calories for more money, but it seems like most of us could use less calories anyway.

What are your thoughts on this? If you had to choose between less calories/more nutrients or more calories/less nutrients, which would you choose?"

Dr. Nestle responded: "The choice you pose depends on the circumstances. For people who are starving, calories with some nutrients is better than not enough calories. For typical Americans who are largely overfed, cutting down on calories is a good idea."

Emma's comment about junk food is another good argument:
"...1200 calories of potato chips is almost a day's calories for someone trying to lose weight but I bet those chips are eaten as a snack in one sitting. You then have to buy food for lunch, dinner, breakfast and afternoon tea."

I enjoyed reading everyone's comments and I hope to fuel the debate by sharing a story about school lunches:

I learned recently that one of the biggest problems with school lunches is that there are USDA guidelines that require a certain amount of calories per meal (1/3 of a child's daily caloric requirement must be served at each meal). The following story describes why this guideline needs to be changed to adopt a more nutrient-based requirement, and not just calorie-based:

Once, a dietitian decided to try and make school lunches healthier by taking cookies off the trays and substituting apple slices. The apple slices did not provide the required amount of calories, though, and so the apple slices were taken away and replaced with the high-fat, high-sugar cookies--all because of a caloric requirement, not a nutrient requirement. It seems that as long as the minimum number of calories are met, the quality of food doesn't matter. Fried, sugary and fattening foods seem to fly as long as the calorie requirement is met. I understand that some children get one or two meals at school and this might be the best form of nourishment they get all day. However, if the USDA guidelines would take into account nutrients, those same kids might also be participating in preventative health care, which in turn lowers annual health care costs.

Take a look at PCRM's (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) school lunch program nutrition advocacy here.

Also, there is a Childhood Obesity National Conference coming up next month, June 18-19 in Washington, D.C. where I am currently visiting and learning a lot about nutrition and politics. The issues being addressed at this conference are particularly interesting to me, including:
  • PANEL: Are government and industry responsible for childhood obesity?
  • The fattening of America: How the economy makes us fat, if it matters, and what to do about it.
  • Global dynamics of diet and obesity
  • Can a vegetarian diet protect children from obesity?
  • PANEL: Should every school offer vegetarian options?
  • The developmental origins of obesity in childhood and chronic disease in later life
To name a few. To find out more, go to ChildhoodObesityConference.org

Also, this just in: Dr. Nestle's post, "Strong Opinions About Obesity"

And, lastly, an article in the Washington Post giving us insight into the decision-making of the poor.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Poor an Indicator of Overweight-But You Might Be Surprised Why

One of my favorite authors is Michael Pollan. He has a direct, yet eloquent style of stating facts. He makes reading about government issues interesting and relevant. I discovered an article of his from April 2007, which is still very interesting and relevant today.

Thanks to Michael Pollan and The New York Times:

"A few years ago, an obesity researcher at the University of Washington named Adam Drewnowski ventured into the supermarket to solve a mystery. He wanted to figure out why it is that the most reliable predictor of obesity in America today is a person’s wealth. For most of history, after all, the poor have typically suffered from a shortage of calories, not a surfeit. So how is it that today the people with the least amount of money to spend on food are the ones most likely to be overweight?

Drewnowski gave himself a hypothetical dollar to spend, using it to purchase as many calories as he possibly could. He discovered that he could buy the most calories per dollar in the middle aisles of the supermarket, among the towering canyons of processed food and soft drink. (In the typical American supermarket, the fresh foods — dairy, meat, fish and produce — line the perimeter walls, while the imperishable packaged goods dominate the center.) Drewnowski found that a dollar could buy 1,200 calories of cookies or potato chips but only 250 calories of carrots. Looking for something to wash down those chips, he discovered that his dollar bought 875 calories of soda but only 170 calories of orange juice.

As a rule, processed foods are more “energy dense” than fresh foods: they contain less water and fiber but more added fat and sugar, which makes them both less filling and more fattening. These particular calories also happen to be the least healthful ones in the marketplace, which is why we call the foods that contain them “junk.” Drewnowski concluded that the rules of the food game in America are organized in such a way that if you are eating on a budget, the most rational economic strategy is to eat badly — and get fat."

Read the entire article, here.

Though the article directs its attention to agriculture, politics and the farm bill, I got focused on the issue of junk calories being less expensive than healthy calories.

Do you think it's expensive to eat healthy? In a previous post I argued that it costs less to eat healthy, nutrient per nutrient. My example is that even if someone spent $5 on a hamburger and french fries they would not be getting the nutrients needed that an apple, some nuts and some veggies could provide at the same price. Though one can get calories cheaper by buying junk food, they are not getting nutrients. Yes, nutrients may be more expensive (I realize that healthy foods like fresh produce and organic nuts are expensive) but if one were to cut out junk foods entirely, one could spend that $5 and at least get the nutrients needed, even if one ran shy on calories. The argument then becomes, is it better to get cheap, fattening, disease-inducing calories or is it better to get less calories and more nutrients?

If I had to decide between the two choices above, based on a limited amount of money to be spent on food for, say, myself and a family of four, it would be a tough choice. I would consider that my family needed a certain amount of calories, but I would hesitate on providing calories in any shape or form, especially the calories that raise blood sugar, cause obesity, clog arteries and are likely to be nutrient-deficient. It seems like providing the healthiest foods available, even at the expense of providing less calories, might be healthiest.

I am not an expert. The conundrum seems to be a question for a dietitian, a nutrition professor or a public health advocate. On the other hand, I do recall being a poor, 3rd-year college student in Seattle and living on cartons of Top Ramen. I chose cheap calories instead of nutrients, but I was also not focused on nutrition back then. In order of things I was concerned about, studying, getting good grades, and having a social life trumped nutritional planning, which I never gave much thought to.

I believe there are many families experiencing the same need to feed, calories being the number one reason to buy a food product, not nutrient value. And in their cases, there are a million other things trumping nutrition as a priority, as well.

Please share your feedback. Everyone's insight is extremely valuable to me, as I believe this subject matter to be of utmost importance. Comments and criticisms are equally welcome.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Federal Tax on Soda Being Considered

What do you think about a tax being imposed on sodas, diet sodas excluded?

On May 12, 2009, CBS News reported as follows:

"The Senate Finance Committee today is hearing proposals on how to pay for President Obama's proposed universal health care plan, which is expected to cost more than $1 trillion. Among the proposals, as Consumer Affairs reports: A three-cent tax on sodas as well as other sugary drinks, including energy and sports drinks like Gatorade. Diet sodas would be exempt.

'While many factors promote weight gain, soft drinks are the only food or beverage that has been shown to increase the risk of overweight and obesity, which, in turn, increase the risk of diabetes, stroke, and many other health problems,' Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which is pushing the idea, said in his testimony. 'Soft drinks are nutritionally worthless…[and] are directly related to weight gain, partly because beverages are more conducive to weight gain than solid foods.'"

The link below to Michael Jacobson's testimony is important. He is advocating for nutritional change across the board, which in turn is proposed to help finance health care reform. In order to address the logistics of health care reform, he believes prevention is the key, and I couldn't agree with him more.

Jacobson's testimony can be read here (PDF). I highly recommend reading it. In it, he states:

"To promote health and reduce health-care costs, health-reform legislation should include strong, specific prevention measures. This testimony focuses on employing five long-neglected, high- leverage, diet-related means of preventing chronic diseases; treating serious diseases in a more economical, yet still effective, manner; and levying taxes that would both promote health and generate revenues that could help fund expanded health-care coverage."

His five proposed preventative measures include:
  1. Raising taxes on alcoholic beverages
  2. Taxing soft drinks
  3. Taking trans fats out of foods
  4. Reducing sodium in packaged foods and restaurant foods
  5. "Reducing medical costs through lifestyle treatment of heart disease"

"The proposed measures would generate total savings or income to the federal government
of $38 billion to $61 billion per year."

This could help generate a portion of the money needed to finance President Obama's universal health care plan.

Check out the Center for Science in the Public Interest, CSPI if you haven't already. They are a non-profit advocating for nutrition, food safety and increased consumer-awareness.


Coincidentally, I just discovered a video of Dr. Walter Willett, of Harvard's School of Public Health, stating the direct correlations between drinking sugary drinks and serious health problems like diabetes, overweight and heart disease. Hear it from the leading nutrition researcher of our time, here.

More about the taxation on soda, here in Dr. Nestle's post.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Cold, Rainy Garden: Will the Sun Ever Shine on the NW?

I helped my dad plant a garden this year.

It was really chilly two weeks ago when we planted, but we felt like we couldn't put it off any longer. Maybe warm spring days will come, maybe we will continue to get buckets of rain. In an effort to protect the tomato starts, we filled gallon plastic jugs with water and set them near each tomato plant. The water retains solar heat from the day and keeps the fragile roots warmer at night. Even in the absence of direct sunlight, the jugs manage to get warm everyday.

It was a lot of fun, being that two years ago, my brother built the garden boxes. They had to be dug up and weeded this year, but the soil underneath is amazing. I've helped level any and all mole hills in the yard, by bringing that perfectly sifted dirt by wheelbarrow loads to the garden to add to the soil. Now let's hope the moles find greener pastures somewhere else and leave our garden alone!

We planted tomato, pepper and cilantro starts. Everything else we planted seeds for: English cucumber, yellow squash, zucchini, green beans...

...radishes, beets, sunflowers, red onions and more squash. Lots of little mounds of squash. I kept some seeds from the squashes that I received from the CSA last year. I've been excited to watch them grow. The strawberries have proliferated some from two years ago when my brother began the gardening project for my dad.

The other day as I was walking out to the garden, I discovered a tiny brown creature moving slowly through the wet blades of grass. I leaned down and looked closely and discovered a small newt. His (0r her!) tail had recently been torn off, so he was a little under the weather and not feeling too good. I picked him up and he crawled slowly around my hand. I fell in love immediately. He was such a handsome, sweet, vulnerable little thing. His belly was bright orange, which was amazingly beautiful. I decided to save him from the inevitable lawn mower and placed him in my garden. The little fellow and I seemed to have communication problems so I had to project what I would want if I were a newt.

If I find him again (the garden is apparently not his style-I can't find him!) I will try to photograph him, though he appears rather shy.

Happy gardening and let's hope for a fruitful season!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sugar Highs & Sugar Lows: Understanding the Body's Response to Sugar

I recently picked up a great little book that a friend lent me a few months back. It's called The All-Natural Sugar-Free Dessert Cookbook and it was published in 1992, even though the cover art is very 70's vintage-esque. It is written by Linda Romanelli Leahy. It's full of sugarless recipes sweetened with some form of fruit. No artificial sweeteners in this book! I knew I had come into a real winner of a recipe book when I found a recipe for Baklava, sugar-free, that made my mouth water.

I want to re-print an important section which happens to be in the Intro of the book. The science is solid and doesn't seem to have changed much over the years, regarding sugar highs. If anything, modern science further validates the information below.

Sugar Consumption Can Give You a "High"--and Low

The term sugar high generally refers to the quick burst of energy you experience when you eat a concentrated simple sugar--a candy bar or other snack made primarily of table sugar--on an empty stomach. What you're really feeling is a rapid, dramatic rise in blood glucose (the digested form of sugar). Your pancreas responds (in the nondiabetic person) to this rise in glucose with a similar outpouring of insulin that brings your glucose level back to the normal range.

This rapid rise and subsequent fall of glucose in the blood has consequences. The energy "high" you experienced in the minutes following ingestion of simple sugar is followed by an energy "low" (this effect can be very pronounced in children, who react quickly and dramatically to biochemical changes in the body).

For some people, the low is accompanied by feelings of irritability, sluggishness, and overall malaise. To counteract these effects, you may decide to help yourself to yet another serving of sugar--which can lock you into a vicious cycle characterized by mood swings and alternating energy peaks and valleys.

A better strategy for maintaining energy is to eat complex carbohydrate foods, which include fruits, [whole] grain products, and vegetables. It takes time for the body to digest these foods and break them down into simpler sugars that can be absorbed into the bloodstream (a simple sugar food is
already broken down, so its sugar rushes into the bloodstream almost instantaneously) and from there, into the cells for use as fuel. This relatively slow process permits a steady, more measured flow of sugar into the blood; you avoid energy highs and lows, keep your blood glucose level steady, and generally feel better.

page xvi Introduction, written by Elliot J. Rayfield, M.D., The All-Natural Sugar-Free Dessert Cookbook

This pretty much confirms my own past with sugar. No wonder it's a volatile relationship--it begins in the body! It seems like the only way to stay high is to not begin eating sugar at all and instead, get high on life. I'm finding in my own exercise routine that I feel exhilarated afterward but I don't "crash" like with sugar. I naturally slow down to a normal pace but my endorphins accompany me throughout the day. I prefer this kind of a high to a closed-loop sugar high. It's easy for me to say, though, since it's been one year and 5 months since I've experienced a sugar high!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Map of Organic Farms in the US

Click here to see a map of organic farms.

The New York Times article shows the most recent agricultural data, which is from 2007. As of 2007, there were 10,159 organic farms. Personally, I know this number to be much, much higher now that it's 2009, namely because of the recent growth of CSA's. I realize that one must take into consideration small farms that are going out of business due to big industrialized farms, but many of them were not organic to begin with. The growth of CSA farms has taken on an unusual momentum. I love it.

The map showing organic farms is great because it is broken down into three specific categories:
  • vegetable farms
  • milk farms
  • orchards
Anyway, to many of you this may not be news, but I thought it to be interesting, especially with gardening season right around the corner.

I plan to post a series of pictures of my little garden soon. My neighbor purchased a Stevia plant and I tasted a leaf--it is incredibly delicious and sweet. Looking forward to using it with mint tea, which is also growing right outside.

What are you growing this year?

PS. What in tarnation does this post have to do with sugar? If you are going without sugar or are cutting down on the amount you eat, it's activities like gardening and eating fresh produce that make it easier to live without sugar. Trust me, it can be the dickens some days, but when I wander around my garden and sample leaves and dig in the dirt, sugar is the furthest thing from my mind. It's when I'm wandering around the house that I get my sweet tooth anxieties. There is nothing like the fragrance of fresh dirt or the feel of an earthworm that satiates my senses.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Poem For Your Sweeter Side

I found a little note on my desk the other day. It was folded up with the words TOP SECRET written in red. It was so cute, in light of my anti-sugar fanaticism, I have decided to print it here for your enjoyment.

The note was not signed, so it was either written in disguised handwriting by my husband or by a little elf living in our walls. Either way, it's pretty adorable. I am living with a poet, whoever you may be. Here is the unedited note I received, word for word:

It's the weirdest thing.
I KNOW it's bad

my tongue wants it


my throat aches for it.

The emotion is just like
when I was a kid


had a Reese's Peanut Butter cup.

Pure, sweet badness.

I admit

I drink it because it's there.

I don't miss it when
it's not here.

The cool can in my hand as I sip
(trying not to chug)
my candied beverage.

Is it wrong to enjoy it?

Isn't this part
of modern life...

Is it bad to consume 12 oz of sweetness?

Coke is my vice...
is that bad?