Dump the Unhappy

Dump the Unhappy

just not in the ocean… the fish don’t need it either.

For tips on giving up soda and other sugary drinks, see Baby Step #1. You don’t have to dump it in the ocean to get off the fizzy stuff. We can help.

Sugar in Cereals – New Information from EWG

Well friends, Environmental Working Group, the same folks who bring us the annual sunscreen report, have done an analysis of boxed cereals, and as we’ve suggested in the past, the news is not good. The worst of the bunch are 12 cereals that are more than 50 % sugar. Let me say that again, cereals that are more than 50% sugar.

Take a moment and picture a bowl of say, Rice Krispies or Cheerios. Now picture that bowl with a line down the middle, cereal to the left and sugar to the right, in equal measure. That is what a bowl full of Froot Loops with Marshmallows or Honey Smacks is. All of these cereals that EWG places in the “Hall of Shame” are marketed with animated characters, bright colors, and some even make nutrition claims about high fiber and other benefits that are drowned in half a bowl of sugar.

If you or your tribe members eat boxed cereal, give this writeup a look, see where your favorites are. If you need to make some changes, EWG has made some general suggestions on how to cut back on the morning sugar rush. In our house when the sugar numbers on cereals started creeping up (meaning above 5g per serving), we began insisting that the kids mix that cereal with one that is MUCH lower (like 1g). We also limit the quantity and will offer them other food if they are still hungry. I found that the kids would continue eating cereal long after they were satisfied. When they asked for more and I offered an alternative, they’d say “No, I’m full.” The sugar keeps them coming back, long after their appetites are satisfied. Part of the magic of that sweet demon I suppose, but one over which we have some control.

Not sure why all the fuss over sugary cereals? Take a look at this on what sugar does to your brain. Or read about the insulin response produced by eating the sugar regularly included in processed foods that researchers believe may be the leading cause of obesity here.

Thank you EWG for looking at this serious issue and helping to shed some light on the giant and ridiculous cereal aisle.

For more information about teaching children about healthful morning choices, see Lessons From the Cereal Aisle. For more information about reducing the sugar in your diet, see Big Sis’ post about Reducing Sugar One Teaspoon at a Time.

Fed Up with Diet By Advertising

Sugar – looks pretty innocent, doesn’t it?

In honor of the release of Fed Up, a documentary about the power of sugar in our food supply, I’ve decided to take another look at my own (and my children’s sugar intake), and to remind myself WHY I would still be concerned about it.

This documentary, and most of what I’ve read about sugar and processed food in the last 10 year,s leads me to the conclusion that I cannot trust food manufacturers with my health. (See Salt, Sugar, Fat for more about that.) And it seems to me that there is often an inverse relationship between the amount of packaging and readiness and the healthfulness of the actual item. There are, of course, exceptions in the “natural foods” category. I can purchase prepared foods with less sugar, fewer chemicals, but these items ARE exceptions.

I don’t particularly want to build a life of eating exceptions. Processed food that doesn’t contain excessive salt, sugar, and fat is usually very expensive, and frankly, it’s just unnecessary. Somewhere along the way some very smart guys (think Mad Men with fewer cocktails and hopefully a little less infidelity) did a real good job of convincing Americans that we don’t have time to actually prepare (rather than warm) our food and that we’ll be fine just purchasing and warming the stuff their corporate sponsors produce.

The notion that we should be eating processed food, that it’s yummy, that it’s nutritious, that it’s convenient, that it’s inexpensive is an ad campaign. That’s it. And ad campaign. It’s not science. It’s not sound personal finance or family friendly economics. It’s not what your doctor recommended or what your grandma told you to do. It’s an ad campaign. I don’t want to build a life on an ad campaign. I don’t want my children’s health to be the result of an ad campaign.

Here at the pantry Big Sis and I have consistently embraced the fundamental importance of real food – food that you cook for yourself – as the cornerstone of a healthy diet. There are lots of models of “healthy” eating out there and they differ in some pretty important ways, but almost all of the ones that involve a lifestyle change, rather than a temporary restriction or substitution of their processed food for your preferred processed food, will lead you to Michael Pollan’s very sound, and very simple advice about food. 1) Eat food (by this he means food, not packages or chemicals), 2) Mostly vegetables, 3) Not too much.

Notice that nowhere in this simple advice does Mr. Pollan suggest that you consume a whole lot of sugar. If you are convinced that you don’t have time to eat better, or that there’s no way that changing your eating habits can really work or be affordable or fit into your schedule, I implore you to see Fed Up, or read Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. Don’t have time for all that? Check out our posts on sugar, on Salt, Sugar, Fat. Make sure you know the true cost of that easy food. If you’re convinced, but not sure where to turn, we can help. Check out our Sugar Busting and Baby Steps to Better Health series. Or take 5 minutes and read about cutting sugar at breakfast time. You can do this; you really can. We’ll help.

While you get started, I’ll be doubling back, checking for slippage, doing some quick calculations of my and my kids’ regular sugar intake. When it comes right down to it, we just don’t need that much, and the less we eat, the less we need to enjoy a little sweet satisfaction in our long, healthy lives.

Blogiversary Cookies.. and a Giveaway

It has been a whole year. I absolutely cannot believe it. Bigg Sis and I had been talking about doing some writing together and it dawned on us that there was a way to get started, like right away. And so we dove in, and wrote post after post, but I don’t think that we had any idea that, unlike putting a book or a series of articles out there, the space of the blog was going to be one that was going to give so much to us. That we would develop relationships with other bloggers, that our own dietary choices would continue to evolve because of the amazing real food community we’ve stumbled into. I’m a little overwhelmed. I’m not kidding.

I have been deeply gratified by the comments we’ve gotten that essentially tell us that we’ve made a difference for someone. It’s like karmic payday. I have been delighted and surprised by the support I’ve received and the way I’ve been stretched as a cook, as a writer, and as a Mom. I feel lucky, and together Bigg Sis and I wanted to be sure that you know how much we appreciate you. Those who show up every time; those who pop in and comment, and all of you lurkers. We appreciate you and hope that we give you some small piece of what you all give to us.

In the vein of giving back, we’d like to offer everyone a blogiversary cookie, and for one lucky reader, a blogiversary book. But which to do first? Me, I’d go for the cookie, but I’ve seen what happens on these here internets, and I’m betting you’d like to know about the giveaway…. Continue reading

Salt, Sugar, Fat – It’s Not You, It’s Them

The release of Michael Moss’ book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us has prompted a flood of news stories. Moss is a New York Times reporter and a Pulitzer Prize winner. The guy has street cred as an investigator. I’ve not yet read the book; however, I’ve read the excerpt provided by Moss to the NYT Magazine. I also heard Moss interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday. Moss’ revelation confirms the worst of my concerns about the producers of processed and convenience foods. The long and short of it is that when you feel like you can’t stop eating Oreo’s, that’s because you very nearly can’t. It’s not you, it’s them.

Moss reveals that in 1999 the Vice President of Kraft addressed CEOs of the other leading food producers and laid out his concerns about the growing obesity crisis and the increasingly clear links between highly processed foods and some of America’s biggest health threats. This individual worried about his industry’s culpability both from a moral and a financial perspective – we could get sued people. The response of his peers? We are responsible to our shareholders. We’ve spent a long time figuring out exactly how much salt, sugar and fat to use to ensure that consumers will buy our products and we cannot risk the loss of marketshare that would surely result from a change in practices.  Let me say that part again: we are beholden to our shareholders.  Guess who’s not in that sentence?  You (unless of course you are a majority shareholder in General Mills or something).

Let me be clear, I am aware that companies who make food are for-profit companies.  I realize that this is the arena in which they are making their living.  Somehow, however, the brazenness of the shareholder beholden-ness shocked me.  The implications of the food industry’s refusal to consider health crises in food formulation are vast.  For me, the takeaway from Moss’ revelations is two-fold: 1) processed and packaged has been scientifically researched and developed to maximize taste, addiction, and profit, and 2) the onus of providing your body with nutritious food falls entirely on you. Continue reading

Real Bears (Not in My Yard This Time)

I couldn’t let this go by without sharing it with you.  Our friends at the Center for Science in the Public Interest have some things to share about soda and sugar.  And they got Jason Mraz to help….

For more about sugar and soda consumption, see Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution writeup of the Real Bears, or check out our bloggy friend Ellise Campbell over at Enlighted Lotus Wellness. For our tips on cutting the sugar in your diet, check out our Sugar Busting series.

A Kale Smoothie Kind of Easter

Wow.  We’ve had a whirlwind for the last couple of days what with visiting family, trying new recipes, and preparing for Easter.  We’ve had a wonderful time (as we always do when Big Sis is in town) and once again, we’ve learned a few things…

LESSON ONE: BLUEBERRIES WORK
Blueberry EggsBig Sis and I (and our respective spouses and offspring) descended on our parents yesterday, having previously hatched up (har, har) a plan to dye Easter eggs as a group. Having discovered that Paas (and everybody else) includes food colorings that we find objectionable for contact with food, we decided to try some natural dyes. We also decided(some wisdom here) to bring crayons and stickers in the event that things didn’t go according to plan… We tried several recommended options, including beets, turmeric, paprika, spinach, green tea, something else I can’t remember (“brown”), and blueberry. Remember how I said I don’t always follow ALL of the directions? Well, apparently if I’d read ALL of them (or more than one post about them), I’d have discovered that MOST natural dyes perform best when you boil the eggs WITH the food. Oh… Blueberry, apparently, is an exception to this rule. So we had a wonderful time coloring, stickering, and dying fabulously purple eggs.

LESSON TWO: A SOLID FOUNDATION RULES THE DAY

I’ve been dreading this day a bit, because of the whole sugar extravaganza.  We had a lovely dinner with my parents last night that included delicious deserts that all four of us consumed with great vigor.  It’s possible that I overdid it…  And so when I woke up this morning, the last thing I wanted was to eat candy, to see candy, to provide my children with candy, or to argue about candy.  I did give them a little in their Easter baskets, but none of the consequences that I feared came to pass.  It was absolutely no surprise to them that they would have to wait until after breakfast to have any.  It was no surprise after breakfast that they would be limited to one small item.  They have asked a couple of more times and we’ve let them work through a few Jordan almonds, but there has been no drama, no whining or complaining, and the sugar amounts have been small enough that there’s not even been an obvious sugar freakout.  I am so delighted that I can provide them with a “treat” and have it incorporated into our family’s rules about food so seamlessly.  I guess all of the earlier conversations are paying off.  Hallelujah indeed.

LESSON THREE: A KALE SMOOTHIE HELPS JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING

So I mentioned that I overindulged a bit yesterday and as happens during holiday weekends, I felt a bit done with the food celebration before we got to the actual event.  So this morning after the children found all of their bits, I went out to the kale patch and harvested the last of what last season’s still living plants had to offer.  Stuffed it into a blender with a whole bunch of other bits and served it with the hard boiled eggs that tradition commanded and some toast.  I had a small amount of the egg salad (because my husband makes KILLER egg salad), but drank down a huge glass of that kale smoothie, and my oh my but I felt better after that. The “recipe” below is fairly approximate as in my haste to complete the task before the wheels came off the children’s respective carts, I got a little loosy-goosey with the measuring.  Adjust to your and your own crew’s preferences.

FOOD HANGOVER KALE SMOOTHIE

  • 2 Tbs chia seeds*
  • 1.5c water
  • 2-3c fresh kale
  • 2 frozen and 1 fresh banana
  • most of a can of pineapple and some of the juice
  • handful of frozen cherries
  • 2 handfuls of fresh blueberries
  • 1c cold water
  • handful of ice cubes

Place the chia seeds in a bowl or glass with 1.5c water and set aside.  Place all other indredients in blender.  You may have more luck adding the items as you blend, depending on your blender.  When you’ve finished assembling other ingredients, check chia seeds.  They should seem a little jelly-like; if it’s not, give it a few more minutes.  Blend like mad and adjust ingredients to your preferences.  My crew LOVED this one.  I’m pretty sure we were close to the 3 cups of kale and the cherries added enough sweet and color to keep that reality from my children altogether.  This made EXTREMELY generous portions for four very willing consumers.  Delish.

There you have it folks, Easter traditions done (our way), important lessons learned, and glorious weather enjoyed with family members who are also great friends.  Perfect.

* A Note About Chia Seeds.  Yes, these are THE chia seeds.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about you may well have been born sometime after the 1980’s; the rest of us are busy hearing a jingle in our heads.  “Ch,ch,ch chia pet.”  Yes.  Same chia.  The seeds are highly nutritious and can add body to other foods if mixed with liquid and allowed to sit.  I’ve used them here to increase the nutritional punch and to give the smoothie more, well, smoothie feeling, thickness, without resorting to either adding protein powder or using so much frozen fruit that my Vitamix gets ticked off at me.  I get mine in bulk at my local food co-op and I have also seen them in my local Wegman’s.

Sweet Duplicity

Image

How can one hide sugar?  I mean, where there is sugar, there are ants, right?  (I wonder if ants differentiate between table sugar, high fructose corn syrup and honey?)  And more importantly, how to bust sugar or cut down your sugar intake when it’s hidden?  If you know the manufacturer’s tricks, you will at least know where the sugar is and in what quantity.  (Tomorrow I’ll have a few tips and recipes for decreasing your sugar intake.  First step – know where it’s hiding!)

  1. One way to hide sugar from consumers is simply to use a chemical name that people might not recognize as sugar.
  2. Another way is to put sugar into products where you’d least expect to find it.
  3. Yet another way (these folks are sneaky people): Because ingredients are listed in order of highest content to lowest content, if a manufacturer uses all one type of sugar then sugar will be higher in the ingredient list than might appear ‘healthy.’  So the manufacturers use different forms of sugar so that no one type of sugar is as high in the ingredient list as would be the actual total of sweetener.
  4.  And lastly, if you label the product ‘healthy’ despite a ton of sugar, then maybe people won’t check for or worry about the high sugar content.

So first off, here is a list of names of sugar:
Agave nectar
Brown sugar
Cane crystals
Cane sugar
Corn sweetener
Corn syrup
Crystalline fructose
Dextrose
Evaporated cane juice
Fructose
Fruit juice concentrates
Glucose
High-fructose corn syrup
Honey
Invert sugar
Lactose
Maltose
Malt syrup
Molasses
Raw sugar
Sucrose
Sugar
Syrup
Again, a manufacturer can use a combination of these sugars so that sugar does not appear to be as dominant an ingredient.  Also know that although it can be argued that honey has some beneficial qualities not possessed by table sugar and high fructose corn syrup has a slightly worse effect on the body than table sugar… all of these are sugar and too much sugar is very bad for you (see Little Sis’ post about the 60 Minutes article on sugar featuring a well-respected MD.)

Check the labels on some products in your pantry that you would think would contain no sugar.  Got any jarred spaghetti sauce in there?  How about peanut butter?  Crackers, soup, bread, salad dressing, ketchup, not to mention your breakfast cereal?  They are putting sugar in lots of places!  And the more sugar you eat, the more sugar you want and the less sweet sugar tastes.  You get used to the high sugar content and something like a strawberry no longer tastes sweet and so lots of people put sugar on their strawberries.

I used to love Kashi Go-Lean Crunch cereal.  It’s healthy, right?  It says so right on the box, right?  Yeah and you know why it tastes so good?  One serving has 13 grams of sugar.  That’s just under 3 teaspoons.  Can you imagine adding 3 teaspoons of sugar into your cereal bowl?  The point is that just because it has other good qualities (like high fiber and protein) doesn’t mean there isn’t a bunch of sugar as well.  And it doesn’t mean that they don’t know the trick of using several sugars.  Kashi uses evaporated cane juice crystals, brown rice syrup and honey.  If you added all of those together as ‘sugar’ – it would land higher on the ingredient list than any of them do as single ingredients.

So if you would like to reduce your sugar intake, you must be aware of the ways that manufacturers hide sugar content.  They want you to eat it, like it, buy it again and eat it some more.  And sugar is incredibly conducive to this business plan.  When we eat it, we like it and we buy it again.  We eat it some more, and some more, and some more.  Tell us where you find unexpected sugar!  I found some in a hug from my eleven year old ‘cool dude’ this morning.  Now that’s a sweet way to start the morning.

The Habit-Driven Holiday

So I attended the twins’ pre-K Easter party today.  Mercy.  I actually really enjoy rooms full of pre-schoolers because I’m weird like that.  I do have to admit, however, that my enjoyment becomes somewhat strained when we give them all a plate full of “treats” to eat and then set them loose on the world.  The volume increase alone can be staggering.  In my attempts to reinforce my kids’ good eating habits I usually feel like a Scrooge at all holiday affairs.  Don’t get me wrong, I let them partake, but do a fair amount of talking beforehand and whatever meal they have before an event like this is exceptionally nutritious and my expectations for their participation in consuming that meal are very high.  While the table of offerings at their parties have, thankfully, decreased a bit since the parties at the beginning of the year, it is still chock full of nibbles that my kids don’t usually get (including candy) and each of these parties includes some kind of take-away that also includes candy. …  See, you’re even thinking I sound a little mean.  And maybe I am, but I just don’t think a 5 year old needs to consume the sugary equivalent of a King Sized Snickers bar (and even I can appreciate the wonder of a King Sized Snickers bar) as an afternoon snack to celebrate Easter.

So in my concern about these dietary issues, I’ve assumed that I am alone, that the other parents think this is fine and dandy, and that I am the only one who thinks this whole equation doesn’t add up.  But today I listened.  Each of the parents that came to help was coaching children to take some of the healthy choices, pushing grapes and carrots and popcorn, eagerly offering water over juice boxes, placing limits on the time and amount of take away candy consumption that would occur.  Sighing and shaking their heads as they watched the escalation begin.  So I left wondering why, if we all think this is a bit much (as we seem to), we continue to do it this way?  These kids are 4 and 5 year olds; wouldn’t now be the easiest time to train them NOT to expect all of the junk?  Wouldn’t now be the time to develop family and community traditions that don’t require us to walk around harping after our children and thinking we didn’t pull it off anyway at the end of the day?  Let me be clear; I am not suggesting that we stop having parties.  And you should know from my earlier posts that I am also not suggesting that we ban chocolate.  I just want to explore the scale.  So many of our daily dietary choices are based on habits, and often on habits that are not particularly healthful.  Do we continue to binge and to teach our children to do the same out of habit?  And do we then grimace at the amount of noise and the tears that follow 40 minutes later when they crash?

Lest you all think that you should send my children Easter treats in the mail, I should tell you that next weekend, they will get Easter baskets and that those baskets will have some candy.  A chocolate bunny, some mini chocolate bars, and some lovely white Jordan almonds.  No high fructose corn syrup (which wasn’t THAT hard to do) and none of the food colorings that are on the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s “Food Additives to Avoid” list (this was harder).  Their baskets will also have a small toy (thank you Legos).  As for eggs we will, at some point, be dying eggs…  I have yet to decide HOW we will be dying them as all of the “kits” also include “Avoid” colors.  I am sure, however, that I will be able to convince my children that any method we choose for coloring eggs is fun.  What 5 year old doesn’t want to do a messy art project as a family?

Should you do what I do?  That’s not what I’m saying.  Is all candy bad?  I have NO idea (except about chocolate, which is good, plain and simple).  I do know that for ME responsible parenting means trying to bring as many days as possible into some kind of alignment with my fundamental beliefs.  I fundamentally believe that the additives in much of our food are cumulatively harmful; I actively stress the importance of teaching our children to eat better than we do.  Celebrating a holiday does not mean giving up who I am, and who I want us to be.  Separating our harmful habits from our cherished traditions may well help us to enjoy our holidays and celebrations even more, as ourselves, and as who we want to be.

So that’s my plan for the upcoming holiday. What’s yours? Is it what you want it to be? Are you celebrating by habit or by design? And, more selfishly, if you do something cool and food safe with eggs, do tell. Yes, there are millions of things out there on the web… Which are your favorites?