Posts tagged ‘processed food’

January 18, 2012

Challenge Update

I’m just a couple of days into this sugar challenge and I already have some thoughts to share. I woke up on day 1 thinking about the big bag of Hershey Kisses that’s residing in our freezer. I hadn’t thought about them in days. As I made tea (rather than coffee) and nibbled at some leftovers from Gravy (eggs and hash browns), I wondered how this would go. My mind kept wandering back to desserts and Gravy’s hot chocolate (it’s amazing), which I had the day before day 1. So I ate a pear and it was wonderful.

At a Winterhawks game later that day, I had an interesting encounter with a Rose Garden staff member. I had brought along a

My contraband for the hockey game.

few almonds and a Larabar in case I needed to snack during the game. We’ve been to the Rose Garden a time or two and I was confident that any bread product there would contain at least one refined sweetener (figuring that Subway bread is comparable [PDF]). I wanted to spare myself the temptation of a hot dog or pizza, so I brought my own snacks. As the guy was looking in my bag, he nudged the Larabar and said “what’s this?” Foiled. While I looked up and raised my eyebrows up to my hairline I considered telling him that I’m gluten-intolerant and what did he expect me to do? I didn’t, and he asked me to just leave the snacks in my purse. Good thing I didn’t bring my own applesauce.

I did as he asked and ended up eating a couple of nachos with cheese dip. It occurred to me that the dip could contain sweeteners, so I stopped eating. After looking up some queso dip online, I found an ingredient list that includes maltodextrin—which isn’t exactly a sweetener—and MSG. That was a bigger surprise to me than the lack of corn syrup. Lesson learned: if you’re trying to eat a healthy diet without rogue ingredients floating around, sporting events are not the best places to get a meal. But really, we all knew that already, didn’t we?

Yesterday I made black bean cookies with toasted hazelnuts and dried unsweetened pineapple instead of chocolate pieces and sweetened cherries. I also whipped up “icing” from coconut milk and creamed honey. They’re delicious and I went a bit overboard because they’re “guilt-free.” I think once they’re gone, I need to try not having dessert per se. Bring on the fruit. By keeping this challenge limited to sugar, I’ve made a lot of processed, unhealthy food acceptable for the week. This has me wondering if I could do a more comprehensive challenge. Maybe something like a vegan challenge (but nothing like Oprah’s—which included mass amounts of highly processed foodstuffs), or a 100% whole food challenge. I think the whole food idea gets more to the point of having a healthy diet.

To sum up, it’s going well. Honestly, it isn’t that hard to avoid added sugars if you’re not typically dependent on packaged or fast foods. We also generally don’t go to casual dining restaurants, where all kinds of added sugar, salt and fat are lurking. All these things make it easier to know exactly what I’m eating.

January 4, 2012

Hello 2012, Goodbye Sugar (Briefly)

I’ve been wondering for a while how I would do with a personal food challenge. One of my favorite food blogs is 100 Days of Real Food; basically, a mother of two in North Carolina saw Food, Inc. and undertook a 100-day challenge of feeding her family nothing but real, whole foods. Now she’s doing it again, but on a food stamp sized budget. It sounds super intense. So what would my challenge be?

The answer is obvious to me: cutting out added sugar. I’ve thought about sweeping changes before and thought that getting 90 or 95% of the way there would be pretty simple. It’s the last little bit that’s so hard. I already eat mostly whole, real food, mostly vegetarian and mostly healthy (let’s leave the past month out of it, though). Sugar is a big weakness. I plan to make my challenge one week long sometime later this month. It’s going to require planning. Here’s what’s on my mind already:

*Coffee: I sweeten mine. I’ve experimented with maple syrup and agave and found that agave works pretty well. If I go out to coffee, I’ll have to bring my own sweetener. This requires thinking ahead. Noted.

*Anything in a package: Most things in packages have at least one sweetener. I’ll allow molasses, honey, agave and maple syrup, but corn syrup, cane sugar and all their relatives are off limits. This means I need to check the ingredients on Dave’s Killer Bread and see if there’s one without cane sugar. I think I can go without any other packaged items. If I do need anything else, I’ll check the ingredients carefully, but that’s something I already do.

*What’s in the pantry: Why didn’t my challenge start on January 1st like a resolution? Because we still have Christmas cookies, Toblerone bars (a Christmas tradition in my family) and lots of Hershey Kisses hanging around (these might need to go in the freezer). Starting with the year would have ensured failure. Better to wait a bit until the sweets on hand include banana soft serve and vegan “truffles” made out of dates.

*Spontaneous baking: Baking isn’t just about the end product; the process itself is very comfortable and soothing. I’m thinking making whole grain bread would help the urge, but I’ve also found some fabulous recipes that don’t include sugar…most of them at My New Roots.

Shunning one or several sweeteners and allowing others is totally arbitrary, it’s true. I’m sort of a believer that a sweetener is a

Hello, (sugar-free, vegan) truffles!

sweetener, but that all sweeteners are not created equal. Clear as mud, right? Part of this is that I want to recalibrate my sense of taste. After two months of frequent treats that were largely sweet, my taste buds are all hopped up and need to come back down to earth. Downing a mouthful of homemade toffee would feel excessive if I were at a more normal level of sugar consumption, but it’s something that happened with embarrassing frequency the week before Christmas. It’s time to get back to normal, where a brownie made out of walnuts and dates is sufficiently sweet. And maybe I only need one or two of those a day…not half a dozen.

So at a time TBD, but soon, I’ll undertake my little challenge and blog about it to keep myself honest. If anyone wants to join me, I’d love the company. Or do you have your own food challenge for the new year?

October 27, 2011

Mmmm, Orange Corn Syrup

I’ve been a sugar fiend since I was a little kid. Until about age nine, I would spoon sugar into my grilled cheese sandwiches when they came out of the microwave. During grade school, I would usually bake chocolate chip cookies-a big batch of them- on Friday afternoon, and they would be gone by Sunday. Thankfully, I’ve learned self-control and somewhat outgrown the obsession. But this time of year is special. Between mid-October and New Year’s Day, it’s extra difficult to avoid buying and politely decline all manner of sweets (not that I do the rest of the year either).

For extra nostalgia, put them on your teeth like fangs.

Holiday-specific candy is particularly treacherous for me. Candy corn, Toblerones (a Christmas tradition in my family) and Cadbury Mini Eggs are such ingrained pieces of the holidays that I don’t think I could ever turn them down completely. So last weekend, I caved and bought one small bag of autumn mix for pumpkin carving. I’ve been putting off buying any kind of Halloween candy for weeks. We don’t get trick-or-treaters in our complex, so there’s no reason to stock up aside from wanting to indulge my own inner child. My inner child is very persuasive when she’s been given candy, which leads to more candy.

Here’s the crazy thing about this sugary concoction: it doesn’t even taste that good. Sure, it’s fine if you’re eating mindlessly, but if you stop and really taste it? It’s about as sweet as can be up front, a little waxy, with a mild aftertaste of bitter red dye. It reminds me of red licorice. And yet we keep eating it. One small bowl was shared three ways, with my husband and cousin. In more recent years than I’ll admit, I could have downed the bowl myself in an hour. These days I’m a little more conscious and was super aware of the gross taste in my throat and the energy crash that followed even just a reasonable amount of the candy.

So why eat this stuff? For me, nostalgia. Nibbling on candy corn reminds me of being a kid. If I wanted something delicious, I’d get a fancy chocolate bar or a couple of truffles. Autumn mix reminds me of years ago when my biggest concern was this week’s spelling test. One bag for the season is plenty. It has virtually no nutritional value and is only mildly enjoyable, so why bother with more? Give in to nostalgia for a bit and call it a day without faulting yourself for breaking this or that arbitrary rule. The fact that I didn’t enjoy this candy very much is a good sign to me that I’m at least sensitive enough to multiple-sweetener-based “foods” to know when I’m eating them. It’s one of the many benefits of eating a mostly plant-based unprocessed diet—there are plenty more mentioned on 100 Days of Real Food, a blog I frequent. This awareness in itself is a victory over the inner fiend. Now if only peanut butter cups would stop being so delicious…