Browsing Category: health/nutrition info

Sugar in food: sneaky and surprising

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Having been diagnosed at a young age with reactive hypoglycemia, I’ve long been aware of the fact that modern food products hide alarming amounts of sugar, and conceal sugar in foods you’d never think contain it.

Like in food labeled as “Sugar Free”:

Or ketchup:

Britain’s FSA (Food Service Authority) defines high-sugar content as being 10%. Heinz Tomato Ketchup contains 23.5%. (British info source. Percentage from Heinz U.S. website.)

The following facts are just a taste (sorry!) of what investigative reporter Michael Moss uncovered in his book Salt, Sugar, Fat, about America’s food industry. (Via buzzfeed. More fun facts there!)

The American Heart Association’s recommendation for women’s sugar intake is just five teaspoons a day. That’s half a can of Coke. Or one and a half Fig Newtons.

Another source puts it like this: The American Heart Association recommends that women eat no more than  six teaspoons of added sugars per day or nine teaspoons for men. But, one 20-ounce bottle of soda contains about 16 teaspoons of sugars from high-fructose corn syrup. In other words…

(By the way, Coca-Cola executives refer to consumers who drink more than two or three cans a day as “heavy users.”)

And as I said before, sugar is hiding in unexpected places. There’s as much sugar in 1/2 cup of Prego tomato sauce as there is in three Oreos.

This fact alone (reported in Moss’s book) is particularly telling…

Some packaged food executives don’t actually eat the products their companies make.

John Ruff from Kraft gave up sweet drinks and fatty snacks. Bob Lin from Frito-Lay avoids potato chips. Howard Moskowitz, a soft drink engineer, doesn’t drink soda.

Go thou and do likewise.

Fructose is the new “Fat”

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So, last night, I picked up The Great Cholesterol Myth: Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease and perused it in the book store. It’s by an MD and a PhD, and is backed up with lots of studies. In it, the authors explain why sugar, corn syrup and anything high in fructose are so harmful to our bodies in general and especially our heart health. The quick summary: because they’re processed first by the liver. (This article by the editor of Harvard Health Publications provides a quick and easy-to-understand summary of the subject.)

Which isn’t to say that ANY fructose is bad; it’s just the over-prevalence in the modern American diet that is problematic. A meta-analysis published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reached the conclusion that “obesity and diabetes rates were low when total [dietary] fructose intake was in the range of 25–40 g/d [grams per day],” adding the caution that, “Conclusions as to the safe and prudent amounts of fructose consumption will require carefully controlled dose-responses studies in different populations….”

This has prompted me to do some research on fructose found in various types of sweet substances. Here are some things I’ve discovered…

Here is a University of Vermont study (See Table 1) which found that higher grades of maple syrup — those that are lighter in color — may contain lower levels of fructose than their darker cousins.

A short list of the highest offenders, from the Wheat Belly Blog by Dr. William Davis:

Where do you find fructose? Fructose can be found in (roughly in order from most to least):

  • Agave
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Sucrose (white sugar)
  • Honey
  • Molasses
  • Maple syrup
Self Magazine’s incredibly helpful nutrition database has a page listing more than 700 foods highest in fructose.
And here’s the opinion of one Paleo dieter, from a forum thread on PaleoHacks:

The monosaccharide form of fructose, which is found in corn syrup, is supposed to be the most harmful. Surprisingly, the honey has about 42gm of monosaccharide fructose per 100gm serving, while molasses has about 13gm and maple syrup has about 4gm (source). So with regard to monosaccharide fructose, maple syrup would appear to be the least toxic.
However, in the previous thread on honey, studies are cited which show that honey does not have the same harmful effects as other sweeteners, and may even be beneficial. This is probably because honey is a whole food whose ingredients have complex interactions that somehow mitigate some of the possible harm from the fructose.

(Update, 3/12/13) And here’s a great post on Green Lite Bites, exploring the nutritional aspects of several natural sweeteners.

Probably more info to come…

I am not a health professional and this post is not intended to be professional medical advice.

photo credit: Wikimedia

Cholesterol vs. Inflammation

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What you think you know about cholesterol could hurt you.

Twenty years ago, doctors told us to stay away from high-fat foods like eggs, bacon, and butter because they raised cholesterol and could lead to heart disease.

America responded and stopped eating fat. In its place, however, we ate more sugar and other carbohydrates.

How did that work out? Not great.

As a whole, Americans grew fatter and sicker than before. Scientists back then may have reached the wrong conclusion.

As more research uncovers the role diet plays in cardiovascular disease, it’s becoming obvious that fats aren’t the only villains in the picture. Increasingly, scientists are recognizing that you should also watch out for some carbohydrates—specifically, sugars and refined grains. “I believe that a diet containing moderate amounts of saturated fat is OK, and possibly better, than a low-saturated-fat diet that is rich in sugars and refined carbohydrates,” says Ronald Krauss, M.D., director of atherosclerosis research at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute.

Now a growing number of medical experts say weight gain, heart disease, and other illnesses are not caused by high cholesterol, but by something different: inflammation.

Dr. Beverly Teter, a lipid biochemist at the University of Maryland, said scientists wrongly blamed cholesterol for heart disease when they saw high levels of it at a damaged blood vessel. Teter believes the body put the cholesterol there to fix the problem, which was actually caused by inflammation.
“It’s the inflammation in the vessels that start the lesion,” she explained. “The body then sends the cholesterol like a scab to cover over it to protect the blood system and the vessel wall from further damage.”

Good things cholesterol does in your body:

– can protect against respiratory and gastrointestinal problems.
– helps create vitamin D.
– the brain contains more cholesterol than any other organ and needs it in order to send messages from one brain cell to another.

Foods that fight inflammation:

– that are high in Omega 3 fats
– olive oil
– avocados
– cold water fish
– coconut oil (fights colds and the flu and has even reversed the symptoms of Alzheimers, ALS and Parkinson’s Disease in some people.)
– walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans.
– pumpkin and sesame seeds
– natural saturated fats (maybe; science is still sorting this one out).

Foods which, in excess, cause inflammation:

– Omega 6 fats
– vegetable oils
– mayonnaise
– margarine
– anything containing high fructose corn syrup or other sugars
– white bread, white pasta, white rice

Foods which, in any amount, cause inflammation:

– trans fats (Which is a man-made fat, and for which the Harvard School of Public Health says there is no safe level to consume.)
– any packaged food containing the word “hydrogenated” on the label.

Condensed from an article by Lorie Johnson at CBN and an article by Rachel Johnson, Ph.D, M.P.H., R.D., at Eating Well.

I am not a health professional and this post is not intended to be professional medical advice.

photo credit: Nicola since 1972 via photopin cc

Yes, sugary drinks interact with weight-related genes (and how to kick the pop habit)

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This AP photo shows how many cubes of sugar are in popular soft drinks.
The Associated Press reports that “A huge, decades-long study involving more than 33,000 Americans has yielded the first clear proof that drinking sugary beverages interacts with genes that affect weight, amplifying a person’s risk of obesity beyond what it would be from heredity alone.” Full story here.
Are you hooked on pop? Here’s a “baby steps” approach to weaning yourself off the sweet stuff. Try taking one or two weeks to adjust to each step.
  1. Switch to diet pop, same amount. Update, 9/28/12: If you have a serious sugar addiction, you may need to do this step in phases. See this article for info about sugar withdrawal symptoms and how to manage them.
  2. Replace one pop a day with coffee, tea or juice. No added sugar or artificial creamers. You may use other sweeteners. Do some research and experimentation to find a sweetener that you feel is healthy, and that doesn’t cause any troubling side effects for you. 
  3. Continue replacing servings until you are off pop completely.
  4. Replace one drink a day with water or green tea. Flavor with real fruit or a splash of juice, if you want. (Note: if you’re going off of coffee or strong tea, you’ll need to do the replacement slowly to avoid caffeine withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and sluggishness.)
  5. Continue replacing until water is all you drink all day (with fruit, if you like). Or green tea till 3 pm; water after.

Kicking the sugar habit? Here’s the most important thing to know.

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Kicking the sugar habit - sugar monster, or sugar dragon

Sugar really can be quite addicting.  Dr Eric Stice has famously said, “Sugar activates the brain similar to the way cocaine reacts”. I think that those who call it “toxic” are going overboard, though. As Dr. David L. Katz says, “the dose makes the poison.” And Americans are definitely over-dosing. On average, American adults eat about 100 pounds of sugar a year. (Source.)

(Click these links for some stunning graphics showing how much sugar and corn syrup the average American consumes in a day, week, month, year and lifetime. Care for a dip in a hot-tub full of corn syrup, anyone?)

I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia in high school, so I was trained early on to stay away from or at least go easy on sugar, but later in life, I got a little sloppy with it. Eventually, between my weight gain, migraines, and moods, I finally realized that I needed to get back to that super-cautious approach to sugar.

Here’s a short video by “Mama Natural” with some tips for kicking the white stuff:

I especially want to note this point that she mentions in passing:

Eating sugar creates craving for more sugar.

Understanding this made a big difference for me. Before I realized this, I might indulge in some sweets a few times a week because, hey, a little now and then isn’t that bigga deal, right? But the sweet itself isn’t the only cost: it can kick off bigger cravings one or two hours later, and depending on your vulnerability, those cravings might last for days. As I’ve made clear before, I do believe in the occasional indulgence for very special occasions. But when I do, I know I’ve got to get back on the no-sugar horse the very next day and tough out the cravings until they subside.

The great thing is, the reverse is also true. The more you stay off of sugar and other white carbs, the more your cravings will subside. The first week or two is gonna be tough, but after that it gets lots, lots easier. If you are physically addicted to sugar, you may need to do a slower withdrawal in order to manage bothersome side effects. For more info, see this article on how to get through sugar withdrawal.

So if you’re trying to punt the sugar monster, hang in there! You’ll be glad you did!

the hard truth: if you want to get rid of cravings, you've got to get rid of sugar.

* Find Just Me(gan)’s blog at http://tallydogs.wordpress.com/

10 snacks you thought were healthy — but aren’t

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Bon Appetit recently published a list of snacks that have a “health food aura” about them, but are either not all that great for you, or are downright unhealthy.

Granola. Eye the ingredients, and pay attention to the carb-protein ratio, and the amount of fiber. Some of these are really no better than sugar-coated cereal.

Smoothies. If not made at home with wholesome ingredients, these are usually sugar- and calorie-bombs.

Low-fat cheese. This is interesting: a study out of Harvard has identified a natural substance in dairy fat — yes, fat — that may substantially reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Fat-free salad dressing. These are almost always crammed with extra sugar and/or corn syrup to make up for the texture and flavor lost to fat. Once you make your own salad dressings, you’ll be amazed at how easy it is and you’ll never go back to store-bought! A few of my faves:
Creamy balsamic vinaigrette (This page also includes the easiest recipe ever: 1-2-3 Dressing.)
Ginger-peanut dressing
Almost-Panera’s Asian dressing
– Easy Tex-Mex: equal amounts of Greek yogurt and salsa, then a bit of taco seasoning – easy and delish! See my make-ahead Tex-Mex salad.

Rice cakes. Fairly void of any decent nutrients, they’re really just empty calories. Chocolate or cinnamon ones are just empty calories with sugar added.

Pretzels. Proof that “fat free” doesn’t equal healthy. They’re basically white bread with an egg wash and a bunch of salt.

Veggie burgers. They sound inherently healthy, but frozen veggie burgers can contain more processed filler ingredients and sodium than actual vegetables or beans.

Diet sodas. Sweeteners may increase sugar or carbohydrate cravings, and if consumed in great quantity, may actually impact weight gain.

Others on the list: Bran muffin. Whole-wheat wrap. (See the original article.)

See my lists of ways to sneak healthier choices into your snacks and meals.

When “Sugar Free” isn’t

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I don’t normally buy Cool Whip. It’s not that I’m a food snob (okay, I kinda am), but mostly that A) whipped cream is not that hard to make, B) I trust whole food over manufactured food, and C) whipped cream tastes better!
But today I was making some lemon cheesecake desserts (the lemon version of my lime cheesecake shooters) to take to a shower tomorrow, but because of scheduling issues, they have to be done tonight. Whipped cream won’t last that long. So I decided to go with Cool Whip for the topping, since it’s very stable.
I grabbed a tub of the fluffy stuff — the “Sugar Free” version — and headed home. Then I read the label.
First ingredient: water. Second ingredient: corn syrup.
Are you kidding me?! It has corn syrup, and you’re calling it sugar free? Is this even legal?
(The Harvard School of Public Health includes corn syrups on its list of added sugars in disguise. Corn syrup has been proven to raise triglycerides even more than and faster than sugar.)
Lesson learned: Always read the label — before you leave the store!

Eat your oatmeal, get diabetes

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Okay, I confess. That headline is a bit of an exaggeration.

Unless you’re eating a sugared-up instant oatmeal, and not balancing out those 32 grams of carbs with an equal amount of protein — say, a half a dozen eggs, or five slices of Canadian bacon. Then it’s very little exaggeration at all.

Yeah, I hear ya. “But I thought oatmeal was health food!” Maybe some oatmeal, prepared certain ways, but this stuff? You might as well have Twizzlers for breakfast.

Seriously…

1 packet of Quaker Oats Maple & Brown Sugar instant oatmeal has:
157 calories
2 grams of fat
4 grams of protein
32 grams of carbohydrate ( incl 3 g fiber & 13 g added sugar)
Similar in macronutrient profile to:
4 Twizzlers, or
2 Fat Free Fudgesicle bars, or
a York Peppermint Patty.

I have a very personal reason for being so passionate about this.

My mom had Type 2 Diabetes, which some studies suggest doubles one’s chances of developing Alzheimer’s. Which my mom also developed.

For years she followed the low-fat diet recommended by the American Heart Association and the Diabetes Association. Her breakfast was usually a bowl of oatmeal, wheat toast with a spray of fake butter, fruit, and black coffee.

When she ate the low-fat, high-carb breakfast she thought was healthy, it would throw her blood sugar high, and she needed Metformin to bring it down. However, one day when she ate at my house and I served her a balanced breakfast, taking her Metformin made her blood sugar plummet to dangerous levels. (We ended up in the ER.) I often wonder if my she’d had a better understanding of carbs, sugars, insulin and health, if she could have avoided or forestalled Alzheimer’s.

It’s too late for her, but you still have time: Kick the corporate food! Shop in the produce section, buy lean meat, educate yourself about health! (Here’s a good place to start.)

To change your health, think outside the box.

(I’m indebted to HealthHabits and BalancedBites for the inspiration, some of the content and the first image in this post.)