C’mon, Really?

So one of the things Big Sis and I talk about a lot (at least to each other when everyone else has tuned out) is the various forms that sugar takes and how much of it hides in unexpected places.  Having eliminated most processed foods from our diet, the whole question of hidden sugar is not something I pay that much attention to anymore.  And it is at that moment, isn’t it, when we realize our vulnerability.

I’ve mentioned (once or twice only, I’m sure) that my daughter is a pretty picky eater.  We struggle to find foods that she enjoys that are also healthful and that I am willing to provide her with.  Recently we discovered that she truly enjoys pickles.  She is CRAZY for pickles.  Now, she will try any pickle, but (no shocker here) she is particularly fond of bread and butter pickles.  I know, I know.  They are sweeter pickles, Little Sis, duh.  Did you really think they didn’t have any sugar?  No, I just didn’t check to see how MUCH sugar.  Nor did I read the list of ingredients…. Shame on me.  Buyer be-freaking-ware all the time.  After I watched my daughter scooping handfuls of these pickles into her mouth, I became quite suspicious….  Turned the jar to read the label, and promptly put the lid back on the jar, moving it to the far end of the table.  With just 8 of these delicious little pickle chips my sweetie pie had eaten the equivalent of half a snicker’s bar worth of sugar, or in this case, high fructose corn syrup.  Swell.  The real kicker was the discovery of Yellow 5 in the ingredient list.  What’s that you say?  Yellow 5?  You mean the one on the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s list of foods everyone should avoid?  Yes, that Yellow 5 (which is found in countless other processed foods, by the way).  Super Swell.

So I put on my detective cap…  Next trip to Wegman’s (where I purchased the relatively affordable and inedible in my home pickles) and discovered that in the “regular” food aisle they only carry their own bread and butter pickles.  No choice.  There are bread and butter pickles that use regular sugar in place of HFCS, and also those who use turmeric in place of Yellow 5 (all of this to keep the pickles from being bluish instead of creepy greenish).  None of these options were available to me.  Bummer.   On my next trip, I remembered to look at pickles in the “natural foods” section – the weird store within a store that Wegman’s has (that I think is really annoying and confusing, but maybe that’s just me).  In this section, Wegman’s offered it’s store brand organic bread and butter pickles which contain sugar (rather than HFCS), and were noticeably less creepy green because of the lack of Yellow 5, or any other coloring agent, in the jar.  These pickles were significantly more expensive, and the sugar count (albeit a sugar I preferred) was still shockingly high.  My children were with me for this investigation and I allowed them to bully me into buying these organic wonder pickles on the condition that we would also buy dills and they would give them a shot and that their bread and butter intake would be limited at my discretion with no complaining (yes, I had them sign a contract).

I was kind of stunned by this whole thing, which may be silly.  It reminded me of a few simple rules that I tend to get lazy about since I make most of my own food.

1) Most food manufacturers produce the food that profits them the most.  Period.  That means high fructose corn syrup and toxic dye so the pickles don’t look blue.

2) With processed foods if it doesn’t taste sweet or salty, it only has some sugars and salts; if it does taste sweet or salty, it has an enormous amount of sugars and or salts.

3) There are prices that are too high when it comes to getting a vegetable into picky daughter’s  (or anyone else’s) belly.  Yellow 5 and HFCS are on that list for me.

4) While Wegman’s has gone to great lengths to label their store brand foods as being gluten-free, vegan, food allergy problem, whatever when appropriate (and I applaud them for this, really) none of these things mean a food is good for you.  Potato chips should be the big tip-off.  What?  They’re vegan, right?  I bought them the fancy grocery store – they must be good for you….

5) More often than not, the processed food that I’m buying (with guilt and trepidation) is only a shadowy substitute for a real food that I could make in my own kitchen without an enormous amount of time or energy expended.

On that note, I am taking up the great pickle research project.  I have canned pickles before and frankly, I wasn’t thrilled with the result.  I will look for recipes for this again, but will only undertake that task if my cucumber plants go INSANE.  Instead, I believe I will opt for fresh pickles.  I’ve found a few recipes, but most of them go something like this: cucumbers, onions, salt, celery seed, white vinegar, and sugar.  Dissolve dry into wet, pour over veggies.  Let sit overnight in fridge – done.  But will they last?  Doesn’t matter over here.  What about the sugar?  See that’s the beauty of doing it at home; I can cut it and then reduce it more over time to fool the little stinker into liking them that way.  What if they’re blue?  Frankly my dear…..

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39 responses

  1. Yep…it is a dirty thing and most people don’t know it. Bubbies is one brand that is good, as are Trader Joe’s! The whole dye thing is very, very frustrating for me. If it is organic you can at least know it’ll be dye free.

    • I guess I’ve never been enough of a pickle fan to educate myself, but I feel a little silly for not realizing. It’s really the same lesson over and over, isn’t it. Sheesh.

      • I often find shopping depressing now…which is a bummer! In a blink much of the cheese I used to buy has wood pulp in it now. Blech!!!! Every trip something is changed now it seems.

  2. Pingback: But it is suppose to be healthy… | Food & Stuff

  3. No secret that corporations will do ANYTHING including kill us (thanks Phillip Morris) for a buck… I like crispy/crunchy pickles, and many home canned recipes turn out too mushy for my taste. A friend gave me her ‘kosher dill’ recipe and those come out nice and crisp. Not sweet though. May your cukes bear plentiful and your pickle jars multiply :)
    *anna

  4. I admire your tenacity! I recently bought a jar of organic bread and butter pickles at my usual health food store, (I’m spoiled having one and rarely read labels), and you got me curious. This jar of Woodstock Organic Bread & Butter Pickles uses organic dried cane syrup. I had to look that up. “Evaporated cane juice is a healthy alternative to refined sugar. While both sweetners are made from sugar cane, evaporated cane juice does not undergo the same degree of processing that refined sugar does. Therefore, unlike refined sugar, it retains more of the nutrients found in sugar cane.” A serving is considered 4 slices (who can just eat 4?) which is 30 calories with 180mg sodium or 8% of daily, total carb 8g or 3% (sugars is 7g of that), no fat. Actually doesn’t seem bad if you can manage to just eat 4! They are so good, I usually have closer to 8.

    • Bread and Butter pickles are a tradition that I believe started in the Southern U.S. and they are quite sweet, so I shouldn’t be shocked by the sweetness, but it always startling when you get it in the form of a “serving size.” I was really disheartened by the chemicals, but now that I’ve gotten all these suggestions, I’m really sort of invigorated by the whole thing.

  5. I loved bread and butter pickles, I haven’t had any in my fridge or pantry in a really long time and it looks like it will have to stay that way! Thanks for your sugar busting and reminding us that yes, we really do have to read EVERY label. Tiresome :/

  6. I am very surprised to learn that they use dye in pickles from the store, I knew about the sugar amounts in bread and butter, because I make them homemade each year and know how many cups I put in per how much water/vinager/spices for the brine, what I don’t know is how you would figure out how much is in fact on the pickle slice, vs in the brine, that I am not drinking.

    I am not at home at the moment, but I know Aunt Hertha’s Fridge Pickle recipe by heart..

    Slice onion into gallon jar, fill with sliced cucumbers, Make a cold brine of 4 cups sugar, 4 cups vinager, 1/c cup of salt, 1 tsp of turmic and 1 and half tsp of pickling spice. Pour over the cukes, Put in fridge, stir once a day for five days, (make sure you use a very clean spoon) Will keep for one year in the fridge (but I always use mine up by Christmas)

    Now when I get home, give me a poke, I have a great English style bread and butter, that I make, it makes a brown brine and a dark pickle but its nice and crisp for me.. I use a grape leaf to help with the crisp in a natural way..

  7. This was a great bit of investigative research! We also have a situation where our mainstream grocery store has an ‘organic/all natural’ store-within-a-store, which I also think is stupid and annoying. It’s a great way to ghetto-ize the healhier choices and waste time for those of us who do want those options. We don’t buy a lot of pickles, so I hadn’t looked into this before. My husband made freezer pickles a few years ago and they were easy and tasty; we aren’t so hot at actually growing cucumbers, so we must revisit this! Way to go for so diligently avoiding the HFCS (our boys hear all about the evils of corn too!) and Yellow 5!!!

  8. It is so very cool that this discussion took place at all!!! It is really grand to be in this community and I too appreciate all of these pickle ideas. I usually make my Mom’s ‘German Cucumbers” which is mostly water with a bit of white vinegar, some sugar and pepper. I just keep adding cucumbers to the jar in the frig and occasionally add more sugar and vinegar to taste. I’ll have to measure next time. It’s so easy and yummy.

  9. There is a great company called “Bubbies” that makes old fashioned REAL pickles with NO vinegar and NO sugar. They are fermented, the way pickles are supposed to be made, and they contain loads of probiotics which are soooo important for gut health. If you can find them, they are amazing. Bubbies does make a “Bread and Butter” variety which does contain some vinegar but no added sugar. If you can’t find Bubbies brand you can always learn how to ferment your own, they are really easy to do!!!

  10. Learning so much from you ladies! These posts help so much when I’m reading the back of boxes in the grocery–it’s amazing how differently you look at food after a little research :)

    • It really does change things, doesn’t it? Sometimes it’s a little disheartening, but there are so many great foods out there just waiting for discovery. Glad we’re helping and so glad to have you and all your awesome ideas out there in the blogosphere!

  11. I too check all labels. Shopping can be time consuming and the bad thing is, I’m in a rural, small town setting with a depressed economy. The Walmart and one other grocery store tend to cater to the low-income crowd. I do a lot of research and often order online to get what I desire. It’s sad, but eating unhealthy is so available and affordable. We can only count on ourselves to be sure what we are getting is healthy. We must better educate ourselves and be informed about what is truly good for us! So proud of you for making great choices for yourself and your kids!

    • It just gets to me sometimes. I know we’re doing the right thing, but how much time should I have to spend on the internet to avoid some of these chemicals. It’s sad and disheartening. On the other hand… I’m now experimenting with fresh pickles, and that is a fun place to be. :-)

  12. So creepy! We stopped buying most processed foods a while back, and I remember pickles being one of the grocery store items that surprised me the most. It had never occurred to me that they would have artificial colorings or HFCS in them! No more of these in our refrigerator nowadays. (We’re lucky to have some excellent local pickle- and jam-canners here in Georgia, but we’ve also experimented with a few home-pickled veggies on our own.)

    • Yeah, I didn’t think I was naive about the food industry anymore, but every once in a while I have to check myself, and I usually am surprised in the worst way. I try to stay positive about my food choices, but the shopping really can get me down.

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