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.

Great Grains: Buckwheat

Buckwheat, eh?  A little skeptical?  Buckwheat my friends, is a very cool plant, and a versatile little workhorse of a grain.  It used to be much more popular and still is commonly found in Eastern Europe as a cooked grain and porridge and is also found in Asia in buckwheat noodles.  Buckwheat pancakes and crepes are common worldwide.  And yet, it seems that many folks have not embraced this funny little triangular grain.  I am woman enough to admit that I was a buckwheat naysayer.  Didn’t see the point, so many other more familiar grains available.  But buckwheat really is interesting in a number of ways that I think make it merit a second look. Continue reading

Sugar Busting

Looking around the blogosphere, it seems like sugar is on everybody’s lips… and no, I don’t mean they all just ate powdered donuts (please don’t do this).  I guess what I should say is that sugar is on everybody’s mind; according to a growing number of doctors and research scientists, sugar is also on our hearts, our arteries, our cancer cells, our livers, our EVERYTHING.  If you didn’t watch it, or haven’t seen it on some other blog since Sunday, here’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s story on sugar as a toxin.  This is 60 Minutes, folks.  Not a guru in Big Sur (no offense, California because I love you, this was useful as hyperbole only) describing his cosmic understanding of sugar.  This is a conventional news outlet running a story on what many doctors think is the biggest health problem in the United States.

If you have the stomach for it, the 60 Minutes website has a few links to off-air conversations about sugar.  The lead doctor interviewed, Robert Lustig, also has a longer documentary about the toxicity of sugar in the diet.  There is a shorter version, with the a great explanation of the science for non-science folks by Underground Wellness. If you find ANY of these remotely convincing, you’ll be wanting to decrease your sugar intake pronto. So, we’ve decided to become a little more focused (say WHAT?!) in our posts for the next several days to offer some simple strategies to cut sugar in your diet. Not enough on their own, but baby steps are, in our collective experience, a good place to start.

So we began our Sugar Busting Series this morning with Big Sis’s post about the ease and wisdom of brewing iced tea for the road when traveling rather than guzzling sugar poo from a convenience store. In a perfect celebration of the upcoming calvacade of candy that is Easter in the U.S., we will be offering several more posts about increasing the natural sweetness of a less sugary life.

Currying Favor with Your Heart

While I am not a fan of super hot dishes (unpleasant memory of habanero burger in San Mateo, CA comes to mind), I do like a little spice.  As I’ve gotten more comfortable in the kitchen, I’ve also been more willing to experiment with culinary traditions that I would have left to restaurant chefs in the past.  Well it seems that researchers at Penn State (a little alma mater high five) would tell me to keep it up.  Add that spice and you just may lower your risk for heart disease and a couple of other nasties, including one of our other national favorites, diabetes.  The spices studied – turmeric, oregano, paprika, rosemary and ginger- lowered the level of triglycerides (a kind of fat) in the blood (yeah, that’s gross) by about a third and lowered insulin levels by 20%.  Apparently the researchers found these results even with high fat meals.  Wow.

What does this mean for the standard American diet?  It is unhealthy in a variety of ways, not the least of which is that much of its zing comes from salt.  The extremely high level of fats in many American foods is not countered by the benefit of these magical little spicy devils.  It’s unclear from the research at this point whether the spice creates a lasting impact on triglyceride and insulin levels, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that even a temporary dip in those numbers is a good thing….  and the nice thing about meals is that there’s always another one around the corner, three chances to lower those numbers a day.

You say you’re not a curry fan?  I say that’s impossible.  Curries are a flavor family, which is to say that there are many, many different kinds of curries.  There are whole cookbooks that are just about curries – like Rhagavan Iyer’s ; with 660 options it’s like a triglyceride lowering bonanza.  One of our family favorites is Mulligatawny soup (also Kramer’s favorite in Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi Episode).  The point is there are many different kinds of curries and, provided they have turmeric in them, they could well be beneficial to your heart, your blood, and your health.

OK, I won’t get hung up on the curry – oregano and rosemary are on that list too.  Staples of Italian cooking and great additions to many, many dishes.  Got some tilapia fillets?  Olive oil, lemon, salt, pepper, generous oregano sprinkle, bake.  Voila, fantabulous fish.  Craving steak?  Salt, pepper, rosemary all over.  Cut some of that beef fat with that delicious little twig.  Do a quick internet search on either herb and you will come up with SO many options it will make your flavor-craving heart spin.  Do yourself a real favor the next time you’re at the hardware store, garden center, or heck even the grocery store and buy yourself a little live rosemary or oregano.  Pop that bad boy in the ground and you’ve got some heart help just a few steps away.  Added benefit: it just smells good out there.

So what are you waiting for?  Maybe it’s not the food your Mom used to make; doesn’t mean it’s not good.  You say you tried before; have you tried recently?  Your body is begging you to give spice a chance.  Until next time, may your meals be flavorful and your health be spicy!