Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Sugar -- Shopping for Healthier Eating

I have to preface my post about sugar with the fact that I'm definitely one of those prone to eating sugar all day long if let loose. That's one of the many things that convinced me to learn about healthier eating. Especially at Christmas time, I would eat cookies and sweet breads all day long. I would bake and eat, bake and eat. Occasionally I'd have fruit too, but I'd go around the clock eating sugar.

When I was young, I remember going to visit my grandma. I'd look through her kitchen drawers for sugar cubes and marshmallows (two things we never had at home, unless we were headed to some summer event included roasting marshmallows). I'd eat the marshmallows whether they were soft or years old and hard (which was often the case). I remember even eating colored marshmallows -- yuck! And the sugar cubes were just beautiful.

This same grandmother baked and decorated cakes professionally. She always had cakes mixing and frosting around for licking. One of my favorite activities was to sit and look at her Wilton Yearbooks. Sugar stacked upon sugar creation. Just beautiful.

Through the years, I've seen what my love for sugar has done to my body and to my ability to be in control of my eating. I'm happy to say that even though I still love my fruit and prefer sweeter salads to the savory ones, the artificial stuff just doesn't do it for me anymore. I've even seen a progression in my preference for almond milk. I used to buy the Blue Diamond Vanilla Almond Milk. It tasted like I was eating a bowl of vanilla ice cream. Very yummy. As time passed, that just became too sweet for me, so I switched to the Original formula. Not much later, that was too sweet too. Now I drink the Original Unsweetened if I ever have the need for milk and it's just perfect. It's so fun to see that my tastes have adjusted to my healthier eating habits.

Okay, now for some talk about sugar shopping. The object is not to eliminate all forms of sugar, but to eliminate refined sugar and sources that are digested too quickly -- w/o fiber, like Dr. Oz mentioned in my previous post (well, he didn't mention it there, but I quoted him there --

"Sugar is supposed to be eaten, of course," says Dr. Oz, "but it should come together with fat or some element like fiber—as you would find in fruit—so you can absorb it a bit more slowly."

Some people think "Oh I can't have a banana -- it has too much sugar" -- but it's a natural sugar, filled with other nutrients. (Then they go eat a bagel that is low in nutrients, fiber and causes problems in your body). Unless your doctor has told you not to eat them for some medical condition, eat away.

What kind of sugar should you NOT buy? Don't buy any of the following (alone or in the ingredient listing:

  • white sugar
  • brown sugar
  • pretend maple syrup (Aunt Jemima, Log Cabin, etc.)
  • corn syrup
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • powdered sugar
  • turbinado sugar
  • "raw" sugar
  • black strap molasses (there are other names for refined molasses)

The high fructose corn syrup one is tricky. It's the most highly refined form of sugar and blocks your body's ability to know when it's full. To quote Dr. Oz again:

"It blocks the ability of a chemical called leptin, which is the way your fat tells your brain it's there"

Hmmm, so that's why we eat so many artificial foods without wanting to stop. I'm sure there are other damaging effects from high fructose corn syrup too, like leaching nutrient from your body.
You'll be surprised once you start checking ingredients HOW MANY foods have high fructose corn syrup in them. I was buying what I thought was a healthy wheat bread for my family for YEARS and it had high fructose corn syrup in it. I had to really look around to find some affordable bread for my kids w/o it. Thankfully, Costco got on board with this several months after my search began. They sell their Kirkland loaves of organic 100% Whole Wheat and Organic Multigrain that say right on the top "No High Fructose Corn Syrup."

If you don't have access to a Costco store, many stores sell Franz bread and probably 1/2 of their breads don't have high fructose corn syrup in it. It states that at the top. Sometimes it's expensive, but it's on sale at least once a month for the same price as the Costco bread. I personally think the Costco bread is more fresh and tastier. Make your own bread and you won't even have to worry about it! :)

There's a TV ad campaign running right now (sponsored by Pepsi, if that gives you any inclination to what the motivation is) to try to convince the public that high fructose corn syrup is just fine. They show one adult saying she doesn't want to eat something because of the high fructose corn syrup and the other friend says it's natural because it comes from corn. And besides, "all things in moderation" which is one of the biggest myths of nutrition. I'll write a whole post about that another day. Obviously arsenic isn't fine in moderation. There are TONS of things that aren't fine in moderation. But I'll let that rest until another day. Here's a really good article about that ad campaign and the truth about high fructose corn syrup. (It even shows you the commercial I was talking about!)

What can you buy? Here are some unrefined sugars that you can look for in the store or on the ingredient panel:
  • pure maple syrup (yes, it's expensive, but don't use as much or as often -- save yourself a few trips to the doctor and it all evens out in the end)
  • dates (soak them or blend them dry in the food processor -- very sweet and yummy),
  • evaporated Cane Juice (looks like white sugar, but is more a more carmel-y color
  • sucanat (grainy dark brown sugar -- dissolves well in recipes -- works well in the place of brown sugar)
  • rapidura (similar to sucanat)
  • fructose (looks like a thinner white sugar -- is inconsistent in sweetness -- hard to figure out for recipes, but dissolves well if you just need a bit to add to something
  • date sugar (extremely expensive, I've never justified buying it)
  • unrefined, unsulphured molasses (barbados molasses, sorghum molasses)-- (yummy!)
  • stevia (I've bought this, but it takes some experimenting and I think I've only used mine once -- so long ago that I don't even remember what for)
  • honey
  • brown rice syrup (I've never bought it by itself -- just in foods made with it, like Clif bar products or Soy ice cream).
  • barley malt (same comment as with brown rice syrup)
Now that I've listed all these sugars you can buy for healthier cooking, I do have to tell you that too much added sugar is still not good for you. It's not a nutrient dense food. So keep it low. Keep it in that 10% realm -- and this doesn't mean 10% of the time, it means 10% of your calories. Sugar alone has far more calories and less nutrients than fruits, so if you can get your family to eat more fruit instead of prepared foods made with even the healthier sugars, you are better off. If you find a product that is organic (like Jam or Peanut Butter for example), the chances are the it has these unrefined sugars used instead of the refined (and in the case of peanut butter, they don't even add sugar, which is great).

The sugars I buy the most are honey, pure maple syrup, dates, evaporated cane juice (I buy it in bulk when it's on sale or in a 25 pound bag), and sucanat (pic to the right). One thing I realized when I first started buying healthier sugar is that since they are more expensive, I didn't use them as much. That's a good thing. It evens out the cost and keeps me from making so much sugar food for my family.

No comments:

Post a Comment