Hey there! As some of you may or may not know, 2015 has been a year of monumental change and upheaval in the BirdHouse, and for better or worse, we Birdies have been greatly affected by those changes.
One of these new realities is that my beloved husband was recently diagnosed with a lifelong condition that will require him to carefully watch what he eats from now on, and especially how much sugar (and more specifically, the carbohydrates that break down into glucose) he is putting into his body at any one time. As I am the primary grocery shopper, I insisted on going to the dietician appointments with him, and learning up on how I can make better food choices for our little family that a) help regulate his blood sugar, and b) don’t leave us both feeling cheated and still hungry at the end of the meal.
While the benefits of eating more whole grains and less white flour, more vegetables and less pasta, more clean eating, and less same-as-usual have been notable, it is a lifetime’s work to ensure we make this a lifetime’s habit.
And let me tell you, food manufacturers don’t make it easy. Especially when it comes to the various forms of sugar in prepared foods; the stuff is just as pervasive as sodium, if not more so.
*steps up on soapbox*
The lengths that food manufacturing chemists go to in order to hide all of the many types of chemical rearrangements of sugar in prepared foods would be impressive if it weren’t so horrifying. Here is a list I compiled of the common, and not so common names and sources of sugar that you can find in today’s food labels:
* Agave nectar/syrup * Barley Malt Syrup * Beet Sugar * Brown Sugar – Brown Rice Syrup * Cane Crystals * Cane Juice * Cane Sugar * Carob Syrup * Confectioner’s/Icing Sugar * Coconut Sugar * Corn Sweetener * Corn Syrup * Crystalline Fructose * Demarara Sugar * Dextrose * Evaporated Cane Juice * Fructose * Fruit Juice Concentrates * Golden Syrup * Glucose * Glucose-Fructose * Granulated Sugar * High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) * Honey * Inverted Sugar * Maltose * Malt Syrup * Maple Syrup * Molasses * Palm Sugar * Raw Sugar * Saccharose * Sucrose * Syrup * Turbinado Sugar *
Now, as I mentioned in THIS post, I *am* a baker, and so to eschew all types and forms of sugar in my baked creations would be madness (madness, I tell you!). Also, some of the above sweeteners were designed to “work” better in certain recipes; for example, invert sugar, made by rearranging the chemical composition of table sugar, is used in most commercial candy manufacturing, because it’s more resistant to absorbing water molecules through humidity or condensation (bonus word for the day: sugar is very hygroscopic, meaning it sucks up as much of the available moisture from the air as it can hold, and then some)…and the last thing a consumer would want when purchasing a sugary confection would be for it to get gooey and slump because it’s full of moisture that greedy sugar just picked up from the atmosphere. Imagine if all lollipops and gumballs were sticky, for example….euuughhhhhh.
I would be a total hypocrite if I claimed to have removed every one of these “bad sugars” lock, stock, and barrel from my family’s consumption; some recipes, like butter tarts, are challenging to substitute corn syrup with something else and still have it taste and come out the same (and yes, I have tried). The trick is in moderation.
And anyway…some sweetness in life makes it worth living, after all.
The bolded sugar substitutes above are the real worries, most especially High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). This nasty chemically-treated corn-derived sugar is pervasive; it’s in practically every manufactured food. From carbonated beverages to pancake syrup to cookies and cake, HFCS makes a surprising appearance in foods such as yogurt, bread (even multigrain!), cereal bars, frozen pizza, macaroni and cheese, certain nut mixes, salad dressing, ketchup. It goes without saying that HFCS is not what we should be eating in any quantity at all, but we end up consuming a metric butt-tonne of it annually.
What does HFCS do to our bodies that makes it so bad, you may ask? Well, I found a handy little infographic that explains it better than I can. Presented here for your reading pleasure (and props to the source, Medicalinsurance.com):
Corn is by far the largest US crop grown of all the major crops, and US corn yields account for over 1/3 of the world’s corn supply. As of 2013 data, 12% of all the world’s corn grown is slated for human consumption, and the average American consumes about 25 pounds a year in various forms.(1)
Corn derivatives like HFCS are very cheap to make, and hence the most pervasive in our diets, and, sadly, if we don’t have a healthy budget to make a wider range of food choices, the “Algebra of Poverty” makes it so it is next to impossible to avoid them.
Algebra of Poverty:
The poorer we are = the less money we have to spend on food
The less money we spend = the cheaper the food we buy to satisfy our hunger
The cheaper the food = the more it is stuffed with “fillers” instead of real ingredients
“Okay lady, now that you’ve depressed me, is there any hope for us to avoid HFCS in our food choices?”
…actually yes, there are. Even on a tight food budget, there are things we can do to make better food choices.
1). STOP EATING SO MUCH FAST FOOD. Yes, the occasional Mickey D’s, KFC or Taco Bell won’t kill us (and I freely admit that I do partake of some of them on occasion), but honestly, the quality of the food ingredients that are used and they ways they are prepared, despite their (mis)information campaigns to prove otherwise, we would probably receive more food value eating out of a dumpster. (And no, I do not advocate eating out of dumpsters…!)
2) SHOP AT YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD FARMERS’ MARKETS. In most cases, produce costs are lower and quality is way higher than at grocery stores. Depending on how large the farmers’ market is, they can offer a huge selection of food items, not just fruits and vegetables. I’ve seen drinks, baked goods, meats, cheeses, eggs, preserves, and tons more at the large markets. Doing most of your shopping at markets means you’re less tempted to buy that big box of chemical-laden sugary snacks if they’re not in your face. Best of all, you can talk to the vendors, most of whom have a personal relationship with the food they are selling; they can offer recipes and preparation advice too.
3) SHOP THE PERIMETER. If you must use grocery stores (and most urban dwellers do), a trick taught to me long ago was to only shop the perimeter of the store, and skip all the middle aisles. That will give you a chance to choose items from, at the very least, the produce section, the bakery, the meat/deli counter, and the dairy aisle. How much do you really need that bag of cheesy poofs or that flat of pop, anyway?
*gets down off soapbox*
When it comes to our continued good health, there are no easy answers that we can apply just one time and be done with it. Making sure we are healthy so we can live long, productive lives, is quite literally a lifelong task. I know I certainly have a long way to go to ensure my and my loved ones’ continued good health into our twilight years; I wish everyone good luck with their own journeys, and my fervent hope that some of what I have written above may switch on a “lightbulb” for people who need to make changes in their own lifestyles!