sugar

Face-Off: the Unicorn Frappucino versus Lemon Meringue Pie

When my seventeen-year-old daughter and her boyfriend pass up homemade lemon meringue pie in favor of going to Starbucks to try the new Unicorn Frappuccino ("We promise--we'll share one!"), it's easy to believe the battle is lost.

When a mocha frappucino isn't enough calories

When a mocha frappucino isn't enough calories

According to the Starbucks site, a grande Unicorn contains 410 calories and a jaw-dropping 59 grams of sugar. That would be 11.8 teaspoons of sugar, or two days' worth of the World Health Organization's recommended allowance.

As much as you can still advise or boss around a high school senior, I shrieked, "But don't eat any more sugar today! Diabetes!"

Not that lemon meringue pie is a vegetable, exactly, but its ingredient list doesn't contain anything called "Blue Drizzle" or "Sour Blue Powder." Consider the Unicorn's make-up:

Ingredients

Ice, Milk, Crème Frappuccino Syrup [Water, Sugar, Salt, Natural And Artificial Flavor, Xanthan Gum, Potassium Sorbate, Citric Acid], Whipped Cream [Cream (Cream, Mono And Diglycerides, Carageenan), Vanilla Syrup (Sugar, Water, Natural Flavors, Potassium Sorbate, Citric Acid)], Mango Syrup [Sugar, Water, Mango Juice Concentrate, Natural Flavor, Passion Fruit Juice Concentrate, Citric Acid, Potassium Sorbate, Turmeric, Gum Arabic], Blue Drizzle [White Chocolate Mocha Sauce (Sugar, Condensed Skim Milk, Coconut Oil, Cocoa Butter, Natural Flavor, Salt, Potassium Sorbate, Monoglycerides), Classic Syrup (Sugar, Water, Natural Flavors, Potassium Sorbate, Citric Acid), Sour Blue Powder (Citric Acid, Color [Spirulina, Water, Sugar, Maltodextrin, Citric Acid])], Pink Powder [Dextrose, Fruit And Vegetable Color (Apple, Cherry, Radish, Sweet Potato)], Sour Blue Powder [Citric Acid, Color (Spirulina, Water, Sugar, Maltodextrin, Citric Acid)].

When you feel relieved to know carageenan is made from seaweed and that some people actually pay to take spirulina supplements, you know you're in new territory. It's a smoothie...kinda. It's a health food! Only made of sugar, dipped in sugar, and topped with sugar.

"Psst! If you were put in a blender, You'd make a really healthy drink, I'm guessing."

"Psst! If you were put in a blender, You'd make a really healthy drink, I'm guessing."

For that bizarre concoction, this was turned down:

Granted, it's looking a little the worse for wear after plastic wrap and a night in the fridge.

Granted, it's looking a little the worse for wear after plastic wrap and a night in the fridge.

Homemade lemon meringue pie clocks in at 7.5 teaspoons of sugar per serving (one serving = 1/8 of a 9-inch pie). Again, over the daily maximum. The best option appears to be skipping dessert altogether, sadly. But, assuming you're human and have not decided to go sugar-free till death, let's get back to our face-off.

Sugar Content:

Unicorn Frappuccino: 11.5 teaspoons of sugar per serving

Lemon Meringue Pie: 7.5 teaspoons of sugar per serving

Winner: Lemon Meringue Pie

 

Nutrients:

Unicorn Frappuccino: 15% of US RDA of Vitamin A! From the mango and passion fruit juices, I'm guessing

Lemon Meringue Pie: 11.6 % US RDA of Vitamin C, naturally. But also more more than a trace source of vitamins A, E, and B6, as well as thiamine and folate. The lemon juice and zest even contain a wee bit of fiber.

Winner: Lemon Meringue Pie

Satisfaction Level:

If you're a teenager or prefer to drink your desserts, you'll give the prize to the Unicorn.

If you're into bright flavors, pie crust, and texture variety, not to mention knowing what's in your food, you'll choose the Lemon Meringue Pie.

And if you fall in the latter group and get a hankering, here's the recipe:

Lemon Meringue Pie 

(from Sweet Auburn Desserts by Sonya Jones)

1 prebaked pie shell
Filling:
3/4 - 1 cup sugar
5 Tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
2 c milk
4 eggs, separated
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 c fresh lemon juice
2 tsp lemon zest
Topping:
4 egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
pinch of salt
1/4 c sugar

Combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a saucepan and gradually add the milk. Mix until cornstarch is dissolved. Cook over moderate heat until it comes to a boil, stirring constantly.

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks. Gradually mix 1 cup of the milk mixture into the egg yolks, then add the yolk mixture back into the remaining milk. Simmer over moderate heat for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add butter, lemon juice, and lemon zest, stirring until the butter melts. Set aside and let cool.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

To make the meringue, beat the egg whites with cream of tartar and salt until they form soft peaks. Gradually beat in the sugar just until the meringue holds stiff peaks.

Pour the filling into the pie shell and spread the meringue over the top, covering completely and sealing the meringue to the shell. Form peaks with a plastic spatula. Bake the pie 12-15 minutes, or until the tips of the meringue are golden.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.


And, if they turn the pie down for Unicorn Frappuccinos...well, more for you. Just space it out over a few days!

Alzheimer's Disease, the Sugary Truth?

Hope everyone had a lovely Easter and Spring Break, if applicable. If you have leftover ham, consider this family favorite for dinner tonight, which I posted about in 2011: Ham and Sweet-Potato Hash with Fried Eggs. Now that my kids have grown, I find myself doubling the onions and sweet potatoes and eggs, rather than the ham, which must mean something, when weighed in the balance against my many parenting failures!

Really--if we impart any legacy to the next generation, or even our spouses, a liking for vegetables and fiber probably ranks right up there or higher than a trust fund.

 

Artist Lucie Guyard's charming depiction of vegetable superheroes

Artist Lucie Guyard's charming depiction of vegetable superheroes

Why so? Because we eat way too much sugar and fiber-less processed foods. According to a recent article in The Week, "eighty percent of supermarket foods" contain sugar, including savory offerings. Check out the sugar content of that loaf of whole wheat bread you pick up. Or the yogurt. Or the cereal. 

The average American adult downs 22 teaspoons of the stuff a day, the average child 32. The World Health Organization recommends just six teaspoons a day.

One UC Davis study tried to get participants to eat a comparable amount of sugar solely through fruit (i.e., the "natural" way). The result? Four out of seven subjects had to quit because it was just way too much fruit to eat. Fruit contains loads of fiber, after all. That fiber which does wonderful things for out gut and digestion.

Anywho, I bring all this up for two reasons:

  1. The Bellevue Farmers Market Opening Day is set for Thursday, May 18. As in less than a month from now. Yippee! Fruits and vegetables galore, all at their seasonal best and grown by farmers you can talk to, from places you've heard of and can visit. And,
  2. My in-laws were visiting for Easter, and my mother-in-law has been diagnosed with dementia.

Now, no one can call dementia "Alzheimer's Disease" (AD) while the person is still alive because they can only inspect a brain post-mortem for the telltale plaques and tangles. (Other causes of dementia can often be ruled out, however.) And no one is 100% certain of all of AD's causes, but some scientists theorize that AD may actually be better termed "Diabetes 3" because of its ties to brain insulin resistance and obesity. The Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology estimates there are 24 million people with dementia worldwide, and that number is expected to double every 20 years in the future, which means we need to figure out if our diet is contributing to its rise.

That same journal article recounts a joint study done by departments of Brown University and the Rhode Island Hospital, where brains of patients with advanced AD were examined post-mortem and found them characterized by "strikingly reduced levels of insulin and IGF-1 polypeptide and receptor genes." That is, they demonstrated abnormalities typically associated with Type 1 and 2 Diabetes. This led the authors to claim AD might be also called "Type 3 Diabetes." I'll be honest--the article is very technical, and it's easier to understand when it's recapped in laymen's terms. The bottom line is, we need to cut back our sugar intake drastically and eat more vegetables.

My in-laws have not been eating well. They've been eating out, basically. A steady diet of Starbucks croissants, Subway sandwiches and Appleby's, with the occasional DQ drive-by. So when they came to visit, I was determined to ply them with fruits and vegetables. Salads, carrot and celery sticks, steamed green beans and broccoli, roasted asparagus and carrots and sweet potatoes and cauliflower. Apples at lunch, instead of chips. My father-in-law loved it all and said, "We don't get many vegetables." My mother-in-law only ate a few green beans the first day. The second day she ate half an apple but worried it might disagree with her. (It didn't.) The third day she ate broccoli and the roasted vegetables. If they weren't headed home today, who knows what I might have gotten into her! But alas, home they go, back to white flour and Subway bread, and no "vegetable" beyond lettuce shreds and potato chips.

All the evidence may not be in or agreed upon, but that doesn't mean we have to wait. People have eaten plants for thousands and thousands of years and survived, but we haven't eaten steep amounts of sugar and processed foods for more than a hundred, and things are already looking grim.

 

Better stick to the stuffed variety of Peeps...

Better stick to the stuffed variety of Peeps...

If you're reading this post, you don't have dementia yet, so celebrate with a walk around the block, as many servings of fruits and vegetables as you can manage, and passing on the processed, sugary foods.

Ingredient Impostors - Mourn or Celebrate?

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[et_pb_section admin_label="section"] [et_pb_row admin_label="row"] [et_pb_column type="4_4"] [et_pb_text admin_label="Text"] Ever since the time I bought Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) crumbles as a meat substitute, on a vegetarian friend’s recommendation, I’ve been leery of food products masquerading as actual foods.

Better just to eat vegetables than fake meat! Even tofu climbed higher on my list than TVP.

So you could say I was leery of food impostors. No high-fructose corn syrup, no non-dairy creamer, no margarine, no soy cheese in our house. Recently, however, in reading about the vegan diet I posted on earlier, I gave almond milk a try. With guilt, of course, because almonds require so much water to cultivate, and I spoke to a Washington beekeeper who had stopped trucking his bees to California to pollinate the almonds because it was too stressful on them. I would have stuck with regular milk, except the vegan book suggested too much dairy might be linked to acne. I've got three teenagers at home; this caught my attention.

What was on sale at QFC

Almond milk in smoothies might prove to be the "thin end of the wedge," as 20th century British books like to say. Meaning, the first impostor ingredient that opens the door for many more. I haven't tried it straight or in cereal or my tea yet, but it's worked great in smoothies and baked goods. Moreover, I switched my kids from the sweetened varieties to the unsweetened, and no one noticed. I might give rice milk a go next time, though it's not like you can grow rice without a ton of water, either.

But maybe the thin end of the wedge had already been inserted. Because a couple years ago I had a to-die-for cashew "cheesecake" at sometime BFM purveyor Jujubeet, and I was a believer. I even went so far as to attempt to make them at home. (They were fine, but not as good as Jujubeet's. If you're curious about the recipe, here's the site.)

The (anti-)sugar book I posted on last week had me rethinking sugar substitutes because author Gary Taubes talked about the smear campaign Big Sugar launched against artificial sweeteners. But, as is the case with TVP, would it not be better just to eat less real sugar, rather than to replace sugar with chemical artificial sweeteners? That seems the easiest solution, although the food industry is excited about a new, "all-natural low glycemic index sugar" developed by a Nobel prize winner. This sugar molecule is "hollowed out" without losing its sweetness, thus possibly enabling manufacturers to reduce sugar by leaps and bounds without resorting to artificial sweeteners. Interesting.

Basic building blocks of the food industry [pic: Food Dive]One impostor I'm curious about is Bee Free Honee, basically an apple jelly gone awry that can be used interchangeably with honey in recipes. I still have real honey in the house and certainly want to support our BFM beekeepers, but I've definitely cut back on cooking with honey because of its price! Maybe I could save the real honey for tea and topping cornbread, but make granola with a honey substitute. At $8 for a 12-oz jar, however, it's not like the bee-free variety is exactly a bargain. I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, there's always real food to be eaten. We had these "Launcher Quesadillas" from the vegan cookbook, so named because they reportedly "launched" doubters into the lifestyle. Not everyone in my family was launched, and they were a pain to try to flip, but they were certainly tasty. Sweet potatoes, black beans, bell pepper. I added the sour cream and thought they could have used some cheese, but whatever.

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Sugaring Off in 2017

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One week remains on the yearly No-Sugar January, but I read the perfect book to help me continue the trend into February (my all-time record is until March). Reading this book, in fact, had me drinking Oolong tea for two days, so that I could forego the usual teaspoon I put in a cup of English Breakfast or Earl Grey.

They say when you find a hammer, the whole world is a nail, and that is indeed the case with Taubes. In the book, sugar gets blamed for the whole suite of Western diseases: diabetes (and insulin resistance), obesity, high triglycerides, metabolic syndrome, inflammation--even gout and possibly certain dementias! Indeed, something has to be blamed for the rise in these illnesses all around the world, tracking perfectly with the Westernization of diet around that same world. As became more apparent as time passed, the culprit wasn't saturated fat, as we were told for decades, so the witch hunt was back on.

Going through the research, as Taubes does at length, there are some major strikes against sugar:

  • Processing fructose in the body requires the production of insulin. (Table sugar is made up of half fructose and half glucose, which abets the digestion of fructose.) Consuming a lot of sugar leads to chronically elevated insulin levels.
  • Calories that get stored as fat only get released from fat cells and burned as energy when insulin levels in the body drop. So, if your insulin is always elevated, the fat never gets released, and you get fatter and fatter.
  • Chronically elevated insulin levels lead to insulin resistance, which is tied to everything from high blood pressure to elevated triglycerides to inflammation to creating and feeding hungry cancer cells.

The problem with most studies done on humans is that there is neither the money, time, nor inclination to do long-term research, and sugar takes a while to wreak havoc. One study thought sugar was just fine, but that was when consumed at the then-current rate of forty-two pounds per person per year. We blew past that number decades ago and now sit at about ninety pounds! Even if we don't drink soda or eat many desserts, sugar is omnipresent in processed foods, from bread to salad dressing to cereal to most peanut butters. (After reading this book, I'm switching brands of whole-wheat bread. Too much sugar in the one we have in the house.)

Another fascinating path Taubes goes down is to recount the tobacco industry's history with sugar. I had no idea "American blend" cigarette tobaccos mixed a roasted, caramelized tobacco variety with another variety that had actually been marinated in sugar solution! The sweetness both increased the inhalability of the tobacco and the nicotine delivered. Amazing. Toxic, addictive, and amazing. Sugar helped tobacco lure new smokers, and it made the smoke more deadly.

As I head to the dentist for more fillings this morning, it's hard to argue that sugar needs to be eaten. Yes, it tastes wonderful, preserves food, and does seem to provide a brief, accessible energy boost, but, as Sugar-Free January proves every year, it can be eaten in miniscule amounts and not be missed, for the most part.

Laura and Mary during annual "sugaring off" time in Wisconsin [Garth Williams]So consider extending your reduced-sugar period this year and saving the sugar blowouts for special occasions. Your triglycerides will thank you for it.