Replace Those Unhealthy “Health” Foods Part 2

So last time we met (for more than some dreadful food recall, that is) I had pointed out an article that highlights several “health” foods that we would all be healthier if we’d simply do without.  Bigg Sis and I are constantly surprised by the health claims of food manufacturers and their willingness to present their products in ways that suggest they’re good for you when, in fact, they simply are not.  To continue down a positive road in reaction to this info, I’d like to finish (part 1 here) replacing Buzzfeed’s list of 18 bogus health foods with real healthful suggestions.  On with the show. Continue reading

No More Twinkies – Hidden Sugar Boot Pt. 2

Alright friends, hopefully you’ve had time to recover from our last sugar extermination project, because today we march forward again… toward a pantry of naturally sweet goodness and away from factory hidden sugar poo.  We continue our Sugar Busting Series (or Easter recovery period) by revisiting the Twinkie as the sugar bar beyond which no reasonable food item should pass. Hmmm, a Twinkie, that friendly little gooey yellow cake that, at least in my day, wore a cowboy hat on the package (because?).  I remember wanting a Twinkie, a LONG time ago.  I REALLY don’t want a Twinkie anymore (and I can’t emphasize that sentiment enough), but more to the point, if I’m going to have that much sugar, I sure as heck don’t want it to come from my pasta sauce.  So today we’re going to revisit that list of 8 Twinkie exeeding sugar trapsLast time we discussed substitutions for some of the biggies: boxed cereal, pre-made smoothies or smoothie mix, fat free salad dressing, and sweet yogurt.  What remains?  Tomato sauce, granola bars, canned fruit, and muffins.  Let’s knock them out, in order of ease.

Muffins. Try a slice of whole wheat bread or toast with a little nut butter and a small amount of jelly, raisins, or sliced bananas.  WAY cheaper, more satisfying, and far less sweet than a store bought muffin or a muffin made from a mix (which I like to call a cupcake). Bang, done.

Canned Fruit.  I don’t imagine you actually need my help on this, do you?  The obvious solution is to use real, fresh fruit.  If the only way you like peaches is to eat them canned in heavy syrup, eat an apple instead.  As you eat less sugar overall (and your taste buds begin to adjust to a reasonable expectation of sweet), try a fresh peach and see how you feel then. If appeasing a child is the issue, perhaps offering the little one the opportunity to choose some fresh fruit will make the syrupy fruit easier to give up.  If you ABSOLUTELY must have canned fruit, you want to avoid the word syrup on the can; buy it canned in its own juice.  If you’re choosing canned because of the shelf life, take a look at the freezer section and see if there is an option there that will serve your needs.  Frozen fruit is not stored in syrup. Bang, done.

Cereal Trail Mix

Granola Bars. The right substitution for a granola bar depends in part on why you like granola bars.  If you are looking for a more wholesome snack than a cookie that is still sweet, I’m gonna refer you back to and amazing snack Big Sis shared: Lemon Kissed Cashew Hemp Bars. If portability is your thing, and you like the crunch of a traditional granola bar, I’m going to suggest one of our favorite snacks, cereal trail mix. While this began a a kid snack, I confess that I regularly raid whatever container they are munching from. This particular version has a handful of 5grams of sugar cereal mixed with a handful of 1gram of sugar store brand Cheerios, a handful of dried cherries and a handful of cashews. It’s more or less a cereal bar without all the sugar poo to hold it together, which my five year olds seem to be able to handle, so long as I provide them with a lid.  Bang, done.

And finally, the biggest surprise on this list, and the one that saddens my heart the most… tomato sauce. Let me tell you, we eat some tomato sauce around here. While there is no evidence of an Italian gene anywhere in the family DNA, you’d never know it from watching our table. We swore off jarred pasta sauce years ago because I felt that I could make something tastier for less money (true), but I understand the convenience that a jar of tomato sauce may represent in your house. The truth is, however, simple tomato sauce is just not that difficult to make, and if it saves you all that sugar (and a lot of fat in many cases), why not give it a go? We have come to love Deborah Madison’s version of simple tomato sauce because it has a minimal number of ingredients, is quick to prepare, freezes beautifully (time saving score) and is very adaptable. It is also extremely low in sugar. Deborah Madison’ version includes canned (or boxed) tomatoes, onion, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. In my house, we add basil and oregano because we can’t live without it.

SIMPLE TOMATO SAUCE   adapted from Deborah Madison Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1/4c chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, small (however you like to do it)
  • 1 28 ounce can (or box) diced tomatoes (drained if you like really thick sauce)
  • 1 tsp dry oregano
  • 1 Tbs fresh or 2 tsp dry basil
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet or pot, warm the oil over medium heat and saute onion for about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds).  Add tomatoes and simmer for 15 minutes or until the sauce is a thickness that suits you.  Stir in oregano and basil (if dry) and simmer for and additional 5 minutes or so.  If using fresh basil, add just before serving.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Run through blender or food processor if you like smooth sauce.  We like it chunky.  Serve over your favorite pasta, rice, quinoa, bulghur, any other grain you can think of.  It’s easy; it’s awesome and it does NOT have anywhere near as much sugar as a Twinkie.  Bang, done.

So there you are, 4 more foods that won’t add much to your sugar count for the day.  Not sure where to start?  Feeling overwhelmed?  Just pick one, any one, and start there.  Maybe one food swap isn’t going to get you where you want to be, but isn’t it good to at least be moving forward (one teaspoon at a time as Big Sis would say)?  Food changes that contribute to your health bear their own momentum.  Starting is the hard part; hopefully somewhere in our Sugar Busting Series, you’ve been able to find first (or 12th or 50th) step that is not only easy, but delish.

Sweet Duplicity


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
Evaporated cane juice
Fruit juice concentrates
High-fructose corn syrup
Invert sugar
Malt syrup
Raw sugar
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.