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.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Refined Sugar: A Scary Discovery

Just when you thought all your herbs and spices were free of hidden sugars, look again.

I'm livid. I just found sugar where I never would have dreamed it would be: in pepper. Garlic pepper, to be exact. My husband buys our spices and experiments with them nightly. Our homemade pasta sauces are spicy and exquisite. Garlic pepper just happens to be one of the organic, high quality spices he brought home months ago. I've been using it regularly on my homemade sweet potato fries. I learned a long time ago to check the ingredients of salt, but it never occurred to me to look at the ingredients of pepper.

Last night I doctored up my batch of sweet potato fries with garlic pepper and noticed strange clumps of pepper. I wondered if this "fresh" brand of garlic pepper goes bad quickly. Then I noticed a tiny dried, green herb that I had not noticed before. That was a surprise. I had never looked closely at the bottle of garlic pepper before, but when I did I noticed a lot of the dried green herb. Funny, the bottle was just labled, "Garlic Pepper". When I examined the bottle for an ingredients list, I discovered this:

Ingredients: organic garlic, spices (organic black pepper and organic parsley), sea salt, organic onion, organic cane sugar, silicon dioxide (an anti-caking agent).

The product brand is called "Simply Organic" and the company is one of my favorite organic spice suppliers, Frontier. This company supplies many health food stores with their supply of bulk herbs and spices.

As has happened before over the last two years, my heart sank. Not only have I been eating it, it is a sad reminder that nothing is exempt from the possibility of having sugar added to it. Now when Jeff and I look for spices, we will have to bring a magnifying glass to read the tiny ingredients on each bottle.

Not only is this a tedious task (reading the labels on every grocery purchase can literally take hours) but this indicates a scary trend. It seems like every company recognizes the "value" of adding sugar to its products--it will taste better than its competitor's product. Organic, "high quality", expensive brands are apparently not exempt from lowering their standards to include sugar. If someone wants to add a sweetener to their food, it should be their choice. We should not have to strain our eyes for hidden sugars where they might be sneaked in.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Marketing 101

My husband walks through a mall to catch the subway to work and yesterday he paused to take a photograph for me:

I feel like plastering current obesity and heart disease statistics all over this sign....

(Oh, and these are no ordinary pretzels. Most of them are covered in butter and cinnamon sugar, gooey pizza toppings, etc.)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Are You Reading Packaged Food Labels?

This girl is!

If it won't play for you, go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nlLZO2w9xLA

Why You Should Eat Candy

  • "A cup of candy corn has fewer calories than a cup of raisins.
  • Some candies, such as lollipops, candy canes, gummi bears, gum drops, licorice twists and sour balls do not contain fat or cholesterol. What's more, many of these candies are relatively low in calories."

"Want more specific help on how candy can fit into your lifestyle?"

These are exact words from the National Confectioners Association (NCA) website. I am deeply moved that someone cares enough about my sweet tooth to offer help on how to fit candy back into my life. It's exactly what I need.

After reading and scrutinizing the links and information on the NCA website, I decided to share with all of you:

Click here for the Science and Nutrition web page (This page has pictures of vegetables and candy. How nice.)

Click here for the Health Professionals web page

For a really hilarious read, go the the Food Insight web page and click on "The Truth About Sugars" PDF. I found this link through the NCA website.

It absolutely blows my mind that the sugar people are getting away with trying to make a real case for sugar. That they say sugar is not linked to obesity, heart disease or cavities is truly the icing on the cake.

One last thing.....apparently candy is not associated with ill health. Oh goody gumdrops!
"New Study Finds Candy Consumption Not Associated with Negative Health Outcomes As part of a balanced diet and active lifestyle, moderate amounts of candy and confections provide enjoyment." Read more, sweet things!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Moderate Sweets: Research Finds Sugar Guilty of Drug-Like Activity

Since it's the holiday season and candy, sweets and junk food are everywhere, I thought I would share the article below with you in hopes of inspiring moderation and caution. Although many people give up their diets this time of year because apparently it's the one time of year that group binging is socially acceptable, I would encourage you to stay on track! It is possible with a little planning and foresight. Visit an old post of mine from exactly one year ago on some tips for how to have holiday willpower. Looking back on it, it's pretty hilarious.

Thanks to Stop Being Sweet, I read an article in Psychology Today that presents new disturbing findings about sugar. Disturbing, yes, but not necessarily totally new information to those of us who are familiar with the affects of sugar and junk food on our brains, bodies and desires. Of course the more sugar I eat, the more sugar I need. Of course if I have cake for breakfast I'm going to want sweets the rest of the day. Of course I can justify sweets and junk foods because of their ability to comfort......

But here is the hard evidence:

"Bit by bit, experimenters, along with their sacrificial mice and rats, have built up a strong case for equating the effects of gorging on sweet, fatty fare with the effects of hard drugs.

In controlled experiments, the animals that binged on fast foods like Ho-Hos and sausages:

(1) wanted more and more (showing habituation)
(2) needed more and more to feel "normal" levels of pleasure (showing acclimatization)
(3) held out for the hard stuff, refusing nutritionally balanced rat chow even if hungry (showing distorted priorities)
(4) kept gorging on treats while receiving electric shocks to their naked little feet (showing the self-destructive over-motivation drug addicts experience)
(5) took a long time to recover their dietary equilibrium, some never making it all the way back (indicating that their neural networks -- like hard-drug addicts' -- had been radically rewired).

If loading up on sweet, rich food was merely addictive, we'd be fine, but, alas, excessive sugar intake also facilitates the onset of Alzheimer's, diabetes and not only heart-taxing weight-gain itself but, especially when combined with fat, the metabolic propensity to pack on extra pounds.

(I find this next piece most fascinating:)

Jeffrey I Gordon, M.D. director of the Center for Genome Sciences at Washington University recently recreated a human environment in the guts of "clean" (germ-free) mice, and found that switching half the mice from a plant-based diet to a fat-and-sweet "Western" one changed the animals' intestinal flora within days. Mice with the changed intestinal mix gained weight faster, even back on a low-fat diet."

The Psychology Today article is laced with references and research published in peer-reviewed journals. There are several links throughout the article, which if you have the time, take a look. They are very interesting.

Click here: (Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake) for a fascinating article with more information about sugar addiction.

According to the research, "gorging" and "excessive" intakes of sugar are the problem. I don't think too many people are concerned with a few grams of sugar here and there--but who eats this little sugar? I wish I could eat tiny amounts of sugar in moderation so I could enjoy a dark chocolate bar or a bite of ice cream but I guess I am much like a rat or a mouse. A little leads to a lot, and the craving for more.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Agave Nectar: The Verdict......Is Still Out

(picture courtesy of blueagavenectar.com)

I've been avoiding researching and writing about agave nectar.

Why? Well, one reason is because it seems increasingly difficult to find solid, unbiased research.

Following is some information I've gathered about agave nectar with sources included. If you have verifiable information about this sweetener, please forward it to me. Perhaps this will be an on-going blog-community effort.

WHAT IT IS: Agave nectar (also called agave syrup) is a sweetener commercially produced in Mexico from several species of agave, including the Blue Agave (Agave tequilana), Salmiana Agave (Agave salmiana), Green Agave, Grey Agave, Thorny Agave, and Rainbow Agave.

Agave nectar consists primarily of fructose and glucose. One source gives 92% fructose and 8% glucose; another gives 56% fructose and 20% glucose. These differences presumably reflect variation from one vendor of agave nectar to another. Due to its fructose content and the fact that the glycemic index only measures glucose levels, agave nectar is notable in that its glycemic index and glycemic load are lower than many other natural sweeteners on the market. 1

HOW IT IS PRODUCED: To produce agave nectar, juice is expressed from the core of the agave, called the piña. The juice is filtered, then heated, to hydrolyze carbohydrates into sugars. The main carbohydrate is a complex form of fructose called inulin or fructosan. The filtered, hydrolyzed juice is concentrated to a syrup-like liquid a little thinner than honey and ranges in color from light to dark depending on the degree of processing. The syrup naturally contains quantities of iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium, which contribute to the resulting color. 2

GLYCEMIC INDEX/LOAD: The glycemic index categorizes agave nectar between 11-19, and the glycemic load between 1-2. 3

DR. WEIL ON AGAVE NECTAR: Agave nectar is a natural sweetener that ranks relatively low on the glycemic load scale. It is sold in health food stores and online and has been growing in popularity in recent years. Although it provides as many calories as sucrose (table sugar), it is sweeter, so you can use less of it - say one-quarter of a cup to substitute for one cup of sugar in recipes. I like the taste of agave nectar and have started using it in my kitchen, as well as trying products that contain it.

A 2006 review of the scientific literature on agave published in HerbClip™, on the Web site of the American Botanical Council, concluded that it is safe to use agave in the amounts usually found in foods and beverages, but the reviewers cautioned that pregnant women should avoid it because some species (more than 200 have been identified) contain anordin and dinordin, steroids with contraceptive effects that could lead to miscarriage. I think this is a very low risk. I am more concerned about the sustainability of agave as a food source, because demand may soon exceed supply. 4


Recipe with agave: PCRM.org is a wonderful organization committed to nutrition, education and responsible medicine. President of PCRM and medical doctor, Dr. Neal Barnard, published Program for Reversing Diabetes that includes a recipe containing agave nectar. 5

Metabolizing Fructose: It seems like a recurring health-related issue with agave is its high levels of fructose. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states: "Most of the metabolic effects of fructose are due to its rapid utilization by the liver and it by-passing the phosphofructokinase regulatory step in glycolysis, leading to far reaching consequences to carbohydrate and lipid metabolism." Click on the link to AJCN below for more information. 6

Diabetic-Related Information Regarding Agave: Glycemic Research Institute stated that clinical trials were stopped due to severe side effects in diabetics. 7

Wall Street Journal Information about Agave: Very vague information about agave, but includes the organization that issued the warning about agave. 8


1, 2: Wikipedia
3: The Glycemic Index
4: Dr. Weil
6: Am J Clin Nutr.
7: Glycemic Research Institute
8: WSJ

White Whole Wheat Agave Sweetened Sugar Cookies

I tampered with Nourishing Apron's sugar cookie recipe. I was out of white flour and I tried agave instead of honey.

I also substituted vanilla extract for almond extract. Basically, I completely changed the sugar cookie recipe and used different ingredients except butter. I didn't measure, which I realized I should have so I could share those amounts with you, however, they were fairly close to the amounts used in Nourishing Apron's recipe.

Here is an estimate of what I used:
One and a half cups white whole wheat flour
3/4 cup cold, salted, organic butter
1+ tsp vanilla extract (I rarely measure--I just pour)
1/4 cup agave

I combined the butter and flour first, then slowly added the agave and vanilla. It is a pretty hard dough after you refrigerate it, which makes it nice and easy to roll out later.

I don't have a food processor, which probably would have made combining the cold butter and flour much easier. I used a hand held mixer at first but ultimately a fork to combine the butter and flour, much like you would do for pie crust. Slowly adding the agave helped combine the last remaining stubborn pieces of butter with the flour for a nice, thick dough.

After a few hours of refrigeration (or days in my case) roll out and use a cookie cutter. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 6-8 minutes at 300 degrees F.

If you try these and use different amounts or ingredients, let me know!

IMPORTANT NOTE: There is a problem with this cookie dough. It is out of this world delicious. It is so sweet and chewy and moist with just the right amount of vanilla.....It is the ultimate comfort food. Not hard to believe when you think about it: butter and sweetly aromatic, with flour for fill, for that intoxicating fragrance and heavenly sensory experience.

Cookie dough has always been my favorite sweet snack. With the little dough I had leftover after days of snacking, I was able to make a small tray of cookies. They were delicious, too, but didn't even make it beyond the day they came out of the oven. I have to admit that even though I used a white sugar substitute, (agave) my problem with eating too much of something good still exists. I have to work on my moderation skills before I dare make these again.


One of my readers, Shanti, baked Nourishing Apron's cookies and they look beautiful. She sent me this picture:

(Shanti says no, the sprinkles are not sugar-free! Dang!)