Sugar-Free January

2014 New Year's Resolutions

Time for the inevitable post--and funny that it's always New Year's Resolutions (plural), as if we were ever successful in keeping even one of them. Maybe we figure if we increase the number of resolutions, we improve our odds of succeeding with something we shoot for...

Anyhow, inspired by recent books I've read, here are some resolutions I'm considering which might also interest you:

RESOLUTION 1. Extending the usual practice of Sugar-Free January to a toned-down version thereafter. That is, go cold turkey off sugar (except honey in the tea and what honey is found in my homemade granola) for the entire, very long month of January, as I do every year, but after that, limiting sugar to the occasional dessert, especially when offered one at the home of a friend or at book club or at a family special event.

Recently I read/skimmed Eve Schaub's

and posted the following 4-star review on Goodreads:

(Rounding up from 3.5 stars.)

If you enjoy books where a family decides to give up [insert common cultural practice] for a year, while they blog about the consequences, this book will be right up your alley.

Inspired by the Robert Lustig YouTube video on the evils of sugar, Schaub's family abstains from fructose for a year and blogs about it in a chatty style (i.e., many exclamation points and italics and asides).

I had read and found convicting and enthralling Lustig's book FAT CHANCE: BEATING THE ODDS AGAINST SUGAR, PROCESSED FOOD, OBESITY, AND DISEASE, which I imagine covered much of the same ground as the video. Schaub does a good job of summing up the scientific arguments against fructose in laymen's language.

YEAR OF NO SUGAR is correctly billed as a memoir, however, so if you want the hardcore discussion of why sugar is making us fat and killing us, I would refer you to the Lustig book. Schaub recounts instead stories of driving all over town in search of something sugar-free at a restaurant, battling the omnipresence of sugar at schools and in community celebrations, dealing with the holidays, and so on.

As my husband and I do Sugar-Free January every year, and as I have long bemoaned how kids are bombarded with crap food, of which sugar is only one of many harmful ingredients, I could nod along with Schaub in her struggles. But being also firmly in the camp of don't-be-a-pain-in-the-butt when people lovingly prepare food for you, I sympathized with the put-upon wait staff at restaurants and the friends and relatives who tried to bless this family with food, only to be stymied! It wasn't like folks were offering them pies, cakes, and candy, for Pete's sake, but a tablespoon of sugar in the entree's sauce, and the deal was off.

Food can make everything wonderful or everything miserable. I think if I can convince my kids to prefer homemade goodies (which by their nature are rarer), the battle will be won. But first we've got to get through the rest of this holiday season...

Note: I received a galley of this book from the publisher.

RESOLUTION 2. Giving up one thing I normally buy packaged in single-use, non-recyclable plastic, and buying/making the alternative. I think I'm through with bagged spinach. Yes, it takes more effort to buy a bunch of spinach and wash it and dry it, but those crinkly salad bags are forever and can never morph into anything but trash. 

I would give up storebought sour cream, except that I haven't found a homemade version that worked well enough, and the tubs are at least recyclable into fleece jackets or plastic lumber or something! This resolution was inspired by two great reads:


Two fascinating, creative, disheartening books that will having you joining me on this resolution.

RESOLUTION 3. And, finally, if you're tired of resolutions that are about deprivation of some sort, give this one a go. Prepare one new vegetable per week until you run out of them, and then add new favorites to your rotation. We're stuck in the broccoli-spinach-carrots-brussels sprouts-green beans-Napa cabbage rut. How about your family?

I see Deborah Madison has issued a new revision of one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, and I can't wait to check it out:

Yes, I'll be that lady in the produce section buying the weird stuff that's never on sale, and I hope the practice will continue into the 2014 Market season because there were green and squash varieties I'd never heard of before!

Happy New Year to all, and my your Resolutions outlast the week.

Sneaky and Not-So-Sneaky Fiber

Magazine's pic. It's a normal-sized pie, despite scale of that fork!

 Only two more days until blessed February begins and Sugar-Free January takes itself off for another year. My hub is already planning the Chocolate Banana Dream Pie he'll make to celebrate. From an old issue of Eating Well magazine, this has been a personal favorite of his ever since its appearance. I'm thinking of marking the occasion with an ice cream sandwich, but all in all, skipping sugar for a month wasn't too awful--especially after reading Fat Chance and giving myself a good scare. Not only did I manage to lose a few pounds without any more exercise than I was putting in in other, sugar-full months, but I'm hoping I struck a few blows in combatting future insulin resistance.

Cutting sugar was one side of the equation, and the other was increasing fiber. Not fiber found in pills and supplements, but fiber found naturally in food before it's processed out: whole wheat; vegetables and fruits which have not been pureed into mush or smoothies; more brown rice instead of white; and so on. If you too are looking to sneak more fiber in with your family, I have a few suggestions:

1) Mix white pasta and rice with brown, whole-grain varieties. With spaghetti, I found I could replace 1/3 of the standard noodles with whole-wheat and no one noticed, as long as it was covered by a yummy, thick sauce. With rice I've gradually upped the ratio until we're at half-brown and half-white. I just increase the water and cooking time to compensate.

2) Make your own pizza crusts and add in 1/3 to 1/2 whole wheat for the white, all-purpose flour. I've done bread machine dough and the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day version, and both are well-received. (More on my latest artisan baking adventures below.)

3) To replace or supplement processed cereals, make ahead and freeze muffins and waffles. Most recipes can be modified to replace up to half the flour with whole wheat with no harm done. I usually shake in some wheat or oat bran and flaxseed meal, as well. Sugar can also be reduced by 1/4 to 1/3 in just about any recipe.

4) Lasagna and spaghetti sauce hide a multitude of sins. I'm not a big fan of juicing or pureeing vegetables into palatability because that destroys the fiber in them, but I'm not above some grated carrot or chopped spinach or minced mushroom.

5) Pick your sugars wisely. We are a dessert-loving family, and for the most part I don't try to make dessert into something it's not, but I do tend to make oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies more frequently than Toll House, and I'd rather everyone have fruit pie than cake. Juice boxes and sodas are special-occasion items, and non-homemade sweets are rarely worth it.

Anywho, that's the latest from the fiber front. But I did try out my slightly-less-whole-wheaty variation of the healthy Artisan Bread In 5 recipe linked above and found it successful, both as a bread and as a pizza crust. The reduced amount of whole wheat gave the bread a more crackly crust, which I liked, but my husband and son both preferred the full-on whole wheat! It looks like we'll be alternating the two recipes.

If you want to try my variation, I took the basic (white) Artisan Master Recipe and, instead of 6-1/2 cups all-purpose flour I substituted:

1/2 cup rye flour
2-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 tsp vital wheat gluten.

I then followed the recipe, increasing the rising and resting times by 15-30 minutes to let the dough develop.

The loaf version were just fine. I did struggle with the pizza crusts sticking to the dinged pizza peel:

This is not a "liberal" amount of cornmeal because the dough totally stuck

I had to smoosh/scrunch the darned crust off the pizza peel onto the baking stone, resulting in all the toppings either falling off or rearranging:

The kids still ate it. Pepperoni-"Striped" Pizza

My next pizza I decided to slide into the oven on parchment paper. Then, after a few minutes of baking and setting up, I pulled the paper out. Worked just fine, except I totally forgot to pull out the paper until the end, so the crust was not as "restaurant-crunchy" as the doomed pepperoni pizza's. Still, it was quite tasty. And this one was a Tostada Pizza inspired by CPK, for some extra extra fiber!

Have a fibrous week!

Sugar, Fat, and All of That

Mea culpa

I write today's post, fully aware that yesterday I ate four gingerbread cookies, two spritz cookies, one "Beurre and Sel Jammer" (Butter and Salt Jammer), one blueberry strudel cookie, part of a brownie, and part of a chocolate-covered Rice Krispy treat. In my defense, I had come from a Christmas party, but nevertheless, this post should probably be labeled Do-As-I-Say-Not-As-I-Do.

People magazine tweeted this morning that, for the first time, thirteen-year-olds will appear on the show The Biggest Loser. And why not? In the last thirty years, obesity and its attendant health ills have crept downward to become a problem of even the young. Nor are Americans the only people getting fatter. The Biggest Loser and its local spin-offs are hit shows in twenty-five countries worldwide and counting. Obesity is a big deal and big business. But what could be causing the worldwide weight gain?

If you're Dr. Robert Lustig, you think you've found the smoking gun. In his new book entitled Fat Chance (Penguin, coming December 27, 2012), he shares his alarming findings and provides plenty of evidence to back them up.

Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at UCSF whose "Sugar: The Bitter Truth" lecture video got lots of hits on YouTube, has been watching the rise of obesity and its attendant ills in his practice over the last umpteen years. While not every obese person is unhealthy (and many people with acceptable BMIs still suffer from metabolic syndrome), obesity frequently brings in train "the cluster of chronic metabolic diseases...which includes...type 2 diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), lipid (blood fat) disorders, and cardiovascular disease," along with "co-morbidities associated with obesity, such as orthopedic problems, sleep apnea, gallstones, and depression." Lustig even mentioned the increase of dementia as tied to this whole mess, as insulin resistance leads to dementia!

Consider some of his alarming statistics:

- 1/4 of U.S. children are now obese;

- Greater than 40% of death certificates now list diabetes as the cause of death, up from 13% 20 years ago;

- The percentage of obese humans GLOBALLY has doubled in the last 28 years; there are now 30% more overnourished (obese) people than undernourished, worldwide;

- Fructose (all the sugars you can think of, apart from the sugar in milk) is "inevitably metabolized to fat";

- Fructose consumption has doubled in the past 30 years and increased six-fold in the last century;

- The majority of humans, regardless of weight, release double the insulin today as we did 30 years ago for the same amount of glucose; this hyperinsulinemia leads to insulin resistance, the body thinking it's starving, and increased eating, especially for foods high in fat and sugar because our dopamine receptors aren't getting cleared--a vicious cycle;

- The processed food industry has turned to increased sugars of all kinds to improve flavor and shelf life; we eat lots of processed foods; therefore, 20-25% of all calories we consume on average come from sugars; in adolescents this number can approach 40% of daily calories.

Because I was blitzing through this, I didn't absorb the science as well as I might have, but Lustig helped me understand that how often, how much, and how unhealthily we eat can be a function not of choice but of our biochemistry. The feedback systems and processing systems which served humans so well for eons were not built to handle as much food as we eat nowadays, particularly the avalanche of empty sugar calories. Sweets and fats used to be hard for us to come by--if we hit a surplus, of course our bodies stored it up (as fat) for a rainy day! Unfortunately, there are no more rainy days, so we keep storing and storing and overloading the system.

Lustig's book is not about dieting or losing weight--in fact he says we have natural weights we gravitate toward, and there isn't a heckuva lot we can do about it, exercise or no exercise. But obesity is a new thing that is environmentally-aided, and that can be fought against.

His conclusion? You can probably guess. Lots of fruits and vegetables and fiber. The fiber in fruits requires enough work to digest that it effectively negates the fructose. Milk or water to drink (lactose is not processed like fructose). Meats (not corn-fed) and dairy (ditto) are fine, but don't skip the produce. Whole grains (all the brown in them--exactly how my son doesn't like them), but even then there's no need for tons of grain. And, if it has a nutrition label, it's a processed food. Use sparingly.

The low-hanging fruit Lustig tackles first is ridding your life of soda, smoothies, frappucinos, and fruit juice. (8 ozs of orange juice has more sugar than 8 ozs of Coke.) If you do alcohol, do just enough wine to get the resveratrol benefits and then lay off. (Another source of resveratrol? Peanuts!)

As Lustig points out, changing one's food environment is all but impossible for the poor. After all, corn and soy receive massive government subsidies, making the processed foods based on them cheap, cheap, cheap. Even if you have access to fresh produce, your money goes farther on the stuff in boxes, and food stamps cover soda. One of the more disheartening bits of the book was when he talked about meeting with Michelle Obama's personal chef Sam Kass, the point person for the White House Obesity Task Force. Kass admitted everyone in the White House (including the President) had read Lustig's NYTimes article "Is sugar toxic?" but they would do nothing to help. "Because they don't want the fight, this Administration has enough enemies." Sigh. Not that the Republicans mentioned fared any better. Basically, changing our food landscape is up to us. For those of us with the dollars, vote with our dollars! If we don't buy it, not all the food stamps in the world will make it profitable.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it's kind of a bummer to read this going into Christmas-cookie season, but one of my New Year's Resolutions will be to improve the food environment for my kids. I'm already talking up the benefits of fiber and fruits and vegetables, and the juice boxes are history.  (How I wish I had a time machine! I would never have introduced our biggest consumption area for processed foods--breakfast cereal. I can only comfort myself that we don't eat any off of his "Ten Worst Children's Breakfast Cereals" list! In the meantime, I've converted my youngest to occasional oatmeal and have started making bran muffins for my oldest. The middle child's cereal tooth can only be tempered with homemade waffles, full of colon-busting whole grains and flaxseed.)

I highly, highly recommend this book. Pre-order it for your family as a Christmas gift that will keep on giving!

Breaking News: Ice Cream is Not a Vegetable

The Culprit

Day 18 of Sugar-Free January. Many anti-sugar people will tell you, with zeal in their eyes, how glorious they feel off sugar. How energetic, how this, how that. I am not one of them. I feel EXACTLY THE SAME. I also weigh EXACTLY THE SAME. And my jeans fit EXACTLY THE SAME. Plus today someone gave me the monthly delivery of home-baked cookies that I won at last fall's Eastside Academy auction, which is aggravating. And then there's my book store event on Saturday, January 29, where I'll be serving up homemade Valentine sugar cookies without eating any myself. Grrr... Maybe next year I'll do Sugar-Free February, because that's only 28 days.

The only comfort, for the next two weeks, is that I'm not having any chocolate milk. Harvard Nutrition reports that “people are getting 50 percent of their calories from carbs, and 80 percent of those calories are from refined starch and sugar." With our children eating school lunches (and probably reaching for the chocolate milk), they are "getting the full brunt of that diet." As a result, children and teenagers are at higher risk for developing heart disease and diabetes. In our house, I didn't force the kids to participate in Sugar-Free January, but I did reduce them to one sugary sweet per day, and that includes non-sweets which are primarily refined flour. What can I say? We're all waiting for February 1.

If it isn't the sugar making your kids hyper, you may want to check out other food additives. lists several food dyes and one food preservative as possible exacerbators of ADHD:

  1. Blue #1 (Brilliant Blue). Found in many "kids'" cereals, Yoplait yogurts, and some Frito-Lay chip products!
  2. Blue #2 (Indigotine). More "kids'" cereals, cake mixes, candies.
  3. Red #40 (Allura Red). According to the article, this is the most widely used food dye in the U.S. Found in everything from Jell-O to Lunchables, sodas to M&Ms.
  4. Yellow #5 (Tartrazine). The second most common food dye, and one that HAS been linked to hyperactivity by studies. (See Robyn O'Brian's THE UNHEALTHY TRUTH). Think of all that yellow food. Kraft Mac & Cheese, I'm looking at you.
  5. Yellow #6 (Sunset Yellow). You mean Cheetos and Fanta Orange Soda don't occur that color in nature???

And then there's Sodium Benzoate. Just try to get away from this preservative, especially in acidic foods. Interesting to note that the EU has warning labels on items containing many of these additives, to the effect of, "Don't blame us if your kid eats this and turns into a fit-throwing, bedtime-avoiding, off-the-wall little monster." Yeesh. Makes plain, old-fashioned, straight sugar look rather harmless!