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…..

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.