Why does this exist?

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While grocery shopping on Sunday, I found something else to add to the list of “Ew, why does this exist?”

To quote my sister, “Because who would want to eat a cherry that actually tastes like a cherry?” Duh. Silly me.

What’s the weirdest food product you’ve seen lately?


Do you think sugars should be regulated?

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Earlier this week, British science journal Nature published a commentary called “The Toxic Truth About Sugar“, in which authors Robert Lustig, Laura Schmidt and Claire Brindis (all researchers at the University of California medical center in San Francisco) argue that “added sweeteners pose dangers to health that justify controlling them like alcohol.”

The paper details some of the specific ways in which increased sugar consumption has been linked to a rise in obesity and related non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease. It also goes into the ways in which sugar’s effects on the body can be similar to those of alcohol (by acting on the brain, for example, to encourage further consumption). By using alcohol and tobacco as two other substances that have been linked to disease and are now regulated, the authors make a case for doing the same with sugars. Read the rest of this entry »

Have you tried the new Peanut Butter Cheerios?

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I don’t know what it is this week, but I’ve had cereal on the brain—cereal monogamy, to be specific. For someone who writes about food so much, sometimes my own living-under-a-rock-ness astounds me. For example, I had no idea there were so many varieties of Cheerios out there. Chocolate? Dulche de Leche? Peanut Butter?  I’m intrigued.

Because I’m kind of a nerd, I wanted to check these out online before adding them to my shopping list. I’m glad I did. While I’m all for whole grain cereal, and the nutrition stats and ingredient lists are not completely terrifying, sugar is still one of the first four ingredients  for most of these flavors (corn syrup, brown rice syrup, and other sweeteners are also on the list). The artificial coloring is kind of a drag too.

I’m sure I’m not the first to say it seems like there’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing thing going on, with sugary cereals basking in the “healthy glow” shoppers associate with Cheerios. Okay, that’s a little melodramatic, but you know what I mean. It’s only cereal, I know, but it still bugs me to see artificial stuff on the list. Read the rest of this entry »

Junk food addiction may be real

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Hooked on the sweet stuff?

While I don’t think I’d equate a cookie with, say, cocaine, I do believe that people can become “addicted” to certain foods. Sugar and fat seem to hold considerable power over many, many people—I’ve seen people cry over their inability to give up ice cream. Research continues to show that this addictive effect may in fact be very, very real.

Studies on animals as well as on obese individuals and compulsive eaters reveal that fatty and sweet foods, in addition to being just plain unhealthy, can wreak havoc on the brain in a similar way to cocaine, nicotine, and other drugs. For example, sugary drinks and fatty foods have been shown to produce addictive behavior in animals,  and brain scans in humans reveal disturbances in the brain’s “reward” circuits similar to those in drug abusers.

As stated in a Bloomberg News article, according to a National Library of Medicine database, 28 studies and papers on food addiction have been published this year alone. “The data is so overwhelming the field has to accept it,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “We are finding tremendous overlap between drugs in the brain and food in the brain.”

This article offers summaries of some particularly fascinating studies on food addiction. Read the rest of this entry »

Survey Shows Intake of Added Sugar Drops in US

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Though I wouldn’t go so far as to say that sugar is evil, it has been shown to have negative effects when consumed in excess. It contributes calories, but no other nutrients our bodies can work with. When we consume too much added sugar, it can impact our waistlines, our blood sugar levels, our triglycerides, and even our immune function.

Unfortunately, the extra calories Americans have taken in over the past thirty years have mostly come from added sugars in products like sweetened beverages and snack foods. Sugar and other caloric sweeteners can also be found in places you normally wouldn’t think to look for them, like bread, crackers, non-dairy milk, and healthy-sounding non-fat and low-fat yogurts and other products that boast a low fat content.

However, surveys of over 40,000 people over the past few decades collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Americans have started to consume less added sugar. Researchers calculated how much extra sugar was added to food (naturally-occuring sugars such as fructose in fruit was not included) and deduced that between 1999 and 2000, there was about 100 grams, or 3.5 ounces, of added sugar in a typical person’s daily diet. By 2007 to 2008, the number was 77 grams, or 2.7 ounces.

That translates to a drop from 18 to 14.6 percent of calories coming from added sugars. Though that’s still pretty high, the decrease is significant. Researchers, found that about two-thirds of that reduction related to lower consumption of sweetened beverages. It was also worth noting that low-carb diets became more popular during the 2000s, potentially adding to lowered consumption of sugars in carbohydrate-rich foods.

Though it’s great that people are taking in less added sugar than they were, most people could still stand to cut back more. Continue to forgo soda and candy bars, but keep checking labels. Rather than hit your daily sugar-quota with your breakfast cereal and soy milk, reach for the unsweetened stuff so you can enjoy one real sweet treat that will be far more satisfying.

Source: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, August 2011

Sugar: The Bitter Truth

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I try not to get preachy when talking about nutrition, but when someone asks me what “healthy eating” is, I usually give this answer: Pretty much anyone can do themselves a favor by eating more vegetables and eating less added sugar.

Today we see sugar in all kinds of products—sodas and juice drinks, yes, but also in beverages like soymilk, in bread, salad dressing. Snack foods are also abundantly available and cheap. Portion sizes of carbohydrate-rich foods have also grown tremendously, making it even more difficult for consumers to control their sugar intake.

Personally, I believe that an occasional ice cream cone or piece of cake is perfectly fine. When you eat these foods, you actually feel like you ate something. The problem starts when people consume excess calories from foods that don’t make them feel full.

Excess calories are only the beginning of the ever-growing list of the negative effects of sugar. There is a lot of interesting information to found. Some of it’s alarmist BS with little basis in scientific evidence, and some of it is well-researched and clearly explained.

In this video, Sugar: The Bitter Truth, Dr. Robert Lustig, Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, in the Division of Endocrinology Director of the Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health (WATCH) Program at UCSF, shows how added sugars in prepared foods (especially soft drinks) have contributed to the rising obesity rates over the past 30 years.

A Healthier Easter Basket

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I don’t know about you guys, but when I was a kid, Easter was always a very candy-centric holiday. Then again, what holiday in the US isn’t? I remember a lot of white chocolate bunnies, Cadbury eggs, and jelly beans.

A few weeks ago, I was in a drugstore with my mom, and she picked up a bag of the familiar Russel Stover’s jelly beans. I noticed that the label said “Pectin Jelly Beans.” Huh. How had I never noticed that before?  I went into dietetic student mode right there in the store, talking about how pectin is a fibrous polysaccharide found in fruit but that it still weirds me out when I see it used as a gelling agent in food. To me, it’s one of those “lesser evil” products, but in this situation I was more fascinated than repulsed. You need something to make the jelly beans gel after all…

As an adult, Easter involves about as much candy as is does Catholicism for me—which is to say, almost none at all. Buying yourself a Cadbury Cream Egg to go with a box of tampons is  lot less exciting than waking up to colorful basket from an unseen man-sized rabbit (my mom used to tell me he was six feet tall, and I believed her…).

That said, Easter baskets are very much a part of Easter for those who celebrate the holiday. Still, with childhood obesity becoming such an issue (and with kids eating so much candy on a daily basis anyway), some people are seeking out healthy alternatives to the traditional, sugary model.

Here are some great ideas I saw in the Chicago Tribune. I like the idea of celebrating spring (instead of sugar) by giving gifts to be played with outdoors such as bouncy balls and soap bubbles. Also, if you’re doing an Easter-egg hunt, why not fill those plastic eggs with stickers and toys instead of candy? Finding the eggs was always more fun than eating eating whatever was inside anyway.

The article also includes a few recipes as well for healthier treats. I liked the idea of strawberries dipped in white chocolate, though inserting a stick, adding a fruit-leather face and calling it a “Bunny Hop Pop” is a little much for me. But hey, whatever gets you through.