Gluten Free For Good


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Posts Tagged ‘sugar’

sugar or fish oil, which will it be

My day usually starts with a cup of organic coffee sweetened with coconut milk, an apple with almond butter and a dose of science and culture. I haven’t read a newspaper in ages, but I do read feeds from science blogging networks and research publications. I find creative inspiration in everything from gene expression and nutrition to spider sex and evolution. It all seems connected in one way or another.

I tend to follow a rather yogic principle of parsimony.

So, sugar and fish oil? How are they connected?

While trolling research articles early this morning I ran across a collaborative effort by an interesting mix of scientists. While the subjects in the study were mice rather than people, I still found the piece enlightening.

Sucrose Counteracts the Anti-Inflammatory Effect of Fish Oil in Adipose Tissue and Increases Obesity Development in Mice.


Sucrose is the organic compound commonly known as table sugar. It’s refined white sugar and according to the US Department of Agriculture, Americans consume 156 pounds of added sugars per capita each year.


Imagine that (if you can).

You’ve probably heard that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are protective against inflammation, blood sugar imbalances, heart disease, hormonal disorders, obesity, neuro-degenerative diseases and so on. There’s a lot of compelling research regarding the benefits of high-quality fish oil.

After reading this research article, I’m thinking it might be a waste of money to take an expensive fish oil capsule if you’re going to follow it up with a bowl of fruit loops or a donut. The researchers discovered that high levels of dietary sucrose counteracted the anti-inflammatory benefits of fish oil and increased the development of obesity.

Check here for a detailed run-down on sugar, including the various forms. And for an exposé on fruity, sugary breakfast cereals, check here.

Peace, love and fish oil – without the sugar chaser!

a slime burger with a side of sugar

One year for Mother’s Day my oldest son gave me a hand-made card with a detailed mathematical breakdown of how many school lunches I put together over the years. It made me smile. And gasp. With four kids, the total came to more than 8,600 sack lunches with hundreds of apples, carrot sticks, sandwiches, yogurt, homemade granola bars and so on.

After watching the beginning of season #2 of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, I’m looking back with fondness on making all those thousands of sack lunches. Maybe not so much with fondness, but definitely with relief.

Last year Jamie’s reality series took place in Huntington, WV. This year he’s taking on the LA public school system and if the looks on the faces of the school bureaucrats he tried to meet with are any indication of what’s to come, Jamie better get some linebacker bodyguards to hang out with.

If you watched last week you know that Jamie blasted two major components of the LA public school lunch program – flavored milk and pink slime.

One cup of strawberry flavored milk contains 6 teaspoons of sugar. Not to mention dyes, additives, artificial flavors and gums. In a jaw-dropping demonstration, Jamie loaded a school bus with 57 tons of sugar (it was actually sand). That’s how much sugar kids in the LA school district consume each week in flavored milk alone.

Does anyone wonder why type 2 diabetes is being reported among children at such alarming rates? And obesity? For the record, I don’t think an occasional sweet treat is evil, but I do know that refined sugar enters the bloodstream quickly and can cause rapid fluctuations in blood sugar levels. That doesn’t set the stage for effective learning or healthy cognitive development. There’s also evidence that artificial flavors and dyes can cause behavior problems, allergic reactions and food sensitivities.

On to part two of Jamie’s attack on the LA school sytem – pink slime. Artificially flavored, sugar-bomb milk is bad enough, but this stuff is over-the-top disgusting on so many levels. In another gag-inducing demo (just in case we might want the recipe) Jamie shows us how pink slime is made. Take the discarded bits, pieces and trimmed fat from the processing of meat (the parts normally used in pet food) and drench them in ammonia to get rid of the nasty pathogens. Once the ammonia has done its job (it’s called the kill-step), the pink slime is made into burgers for school lunches. Ammonia gets rid of the contamination in the meat (if you can call it meat). And get this, ammonia doesn’t have to be listed as an ingredient in burgers made from pink slime. According to the USDA, ammonia is not an ingredient, it’s part of the processing.


Sketchy logic if you ask me.

By the way, pink slime is really what this stuff is called. There are even industrial processors known for using the dregs of the meat packing industry to make pink slime for fast food burgers.

So, in addition to all the sugar and additives, kids also get a dose of ammonia and discarded meat sludge for lunch. Healthy building blocks for growing bodies? Not even close.

Jamie definitely his work cut out for him.

Okay, I’m stepping off my soap box to go throw up.

Peace, love and sack lunches.

For a detailed post I did several years ago on sugar, check here.
For kid-friendly lunch ideas, check with Kelly at the Spunky Coconut, Ali at The Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen, or Alexa at Lexie’s Kitchen.

the secret of the gluten-free sugar cereal

Nancy Drew here.

You might recall that I’m pretty famous for solving mysteries. I’ve got a baffling, whodunit on my hands and have been doing some investigating. Now I need your help in solving the case.

Would you consider the following ingredients to be wholesome?

So there’s no confusion, here’s a good description of what the word wholesome means, straight from The New Oxford American Dictionary. Word for word.

Wholesome – conducive to or suggestive of good health and physical well-being: the food is plentiful and very wholesome. (New Oxford American Dictionary.)

Here’s the list.


By the way, I’m not trying to make a point with that capital-letter-yelling-thing. It was capitalized on the box, so I figured I better honor the formatting of the document. I want to be objective (okay, that’s probably impossible) and fair (hopefully). The “fair” part is important in getting honest answers, especially when you’re a famous detective. Not to mention a cute, cultural icon.

Does that list represent wholesome? I’m wondering because right next to the list of ingredients on the website’s nutrition information is the declaration that this is a “wholesome, sweetened, rice cereal.” They even advertise it as wholesome in CAPITAL letters on the front of the cereal box. Right next to (you guessed it, in all caps) “excellent source of vitamin D.” I’m not going to go into depth about the vitamins added because I don’t know enough about vitamin A palmitate or the vitamin D they added. Vitamin A palmitate is the synthetic form of vitamin A and although I did find some potentially negative side effects associated with it, I don’t have enough information to comment on it. Having said that, I’ve always felt that it’s much better to get your nutrients from fresh, whole (preferably organic) foods, which are honestly WHOLESOME.

Back to that word as it relates to the advertising of this cereal.



Are you SERIOUS? (that was yelling.)

By what standards? This is a giant leap if I’ve ever seen one. It doesn’t take a detective to figure this one out.

I took these photos, but didn’t paste those styrofoam-ish, neon-colored, perfume-smelling, creepy-crawly things onto the side of the bowl. They struck out on their own. Wonder if they were trying to escape the organic milk?

Okay, bottom line?

This is awful. It breaks my heart to think little kids are being fed this stuff then sent off to school and forced to sit still and attempt to learn. Kids with food intolerances are more likely to suffer from ADD-like symptoms. Factor in dyes, additives, chemicals and sugar and they are at such a disadvantage. It’s sad. The ingredients in this box are not nourishing building blocks for growing children. I’ve often thought the gluten-free community was lucky NOT to have all these low-grade, processed food choices. It took some time, but the Standard American Diet (SAD) is making its way into the gluten-free community. In my mind, that’s not something to celebrate.

Okay, enough ranting. Looking on the bright side, this gives us more reason to learn, become aware and equip ourselves with the knowledge we need to make smart choices.

My conclusion? This cereal is about as far from WHOLESOME as you can get. Marketing this stuff to kids with brightly colored boxes, cartoon characters, games and toys is beyond icky. But we do have free choice. We can think for ourselves.

Don’t buy it. Don’t eat food that looks like dried out crayon shavings. You’re the boss of your food. Period.

Oh, I almost forgot about my original question. So, what do you think? Wholesome or not?

Peace, love and well-nourished kids!
P.S. Don’t eat cereal that dyes your milk lavender and lime green.

what’s the deal with agave nectar

Why does eating have to be so complicated? Here we are at the top of the food chain and we’re confused about what to eat.

Why is that?

Well, first off – everyone has an opinion (from Alicia Silverstone to the Weston A. Price Foundation), nutrient research is confusing, the food industry is often out to make a profit regardless of the impact on our health, we’re all biochemically unique, government subsidies impact choices (why does a salad cost more than a double cheeseburger), advertising targets our weaknesses (sugar, fat and salt), we think we’re too busy to cook real food, we think real food is too expensive, we don’t know what real food is, we have too many “opt-out” choices (fast food on every corner), and the list goes on and on. We’re one of the richest and most resourceful countries in the world and yet we’re overweight, out of shape and generally unhealthy. Each piece of this food/health puzzle could be a PhD thesis.

Every so often I take one little puzzle piece and spout off about it. This time I decided to tackle agave nectar. Keep in mind that I’m not a doctor or your mom, so whatever I say is simply my opinion (refer above to PhD category #1).

What is agave nectar (also called syrup)?
Agave nectar is a sweetener made from the starch and inulin in the root of the agave plant. Maguey (also called the Century Plant) is the “official” name of the more than 200 species of agave plants commercially grown in Mexico. Contrary to what you might think, the plant is part of the lily family and not a cactus. The nectar is being promoted as a healthy, natural, allergen-free, low-glycemic alternative to refined sugar. Agave has a mild and pleasant taste and blends and dissolves easily when used for cooking or baking. It also seems to add lightness and texture to gluten-free baked goods.

Is agave a raw and natural sweetener?
What does raw or natural mean to the food industry? Not much, although both words sound good on paper (or on a product label). Agave is often advertised as a raw and natural sweetener, which gives the impression that it’s an unrefined, organic sweetener. Healthy, pure and unprocessed. Add in the word “nectar” and it sounds divinely healthy. Like some lovely goddess in a long flowing skirt went out into the desert and hand squeezed the organic juice right out of the plant and into the jar. But, according to food guru Marion Nestle, agave’s inulin content requires either heat or enzymes to convert it into a syrupy nectar. Inulin is an indigestible fiber found in the root of the plant. So, regardless of what the label says, it has to be processed in some way. Some of the research I found suggested that it was highly processed using heat and chemicals, in much the same way as HFCS (high fructose corn syrup). Another company claimed their agave product was not chemically processed and never heated above 118 degrees.

Overall, most of the information I found was misleading and confusing. Some claimed their products were low glycemic and a great sugar alternative for diabetics. Some promoted agave for vegans and those on a gluten-free diet. Other articles suggested agave was no better, and maybe even worse, than HFCS. All claimed that agave is sweeter than sugar so you can use less of it, thereby cutting calories. But on further study, I found that agave is higher in calories than sugar, so it’s often a wash depending on how much you use.

The Glycemic Research Institute in Washington DC made a decision last fall to halt a clinical trial of agave because the diabetic subjects were experiencing dangerous side effects related to the ingestion of a certain agave product. In fairness, although I have no idea what this actually means, the agave test food dosages were classified as “high.”

I published a detailed post in 2008 on sugar (check here) and listed all the different kinds of sweeteners. I included agave nectar and noted that I was reserving judgement on it because I didn’t know enough about it. I still don’t.

Is agave nectar similar to HFCS? What is fructose and is it unhealthy?
This could be another PhD thesis, but I’ll stick to the basics. According to my Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition textbook, “Fructose is a monosaccharide sometimes known as fruit sugar or levulose. Fructose is found abundantly in fruits, honey and saps.” Fructose is a simple carbohydrate. There are three monosaccharides that are important in nutrition – glucose, fructose and galactose. Fructose is the sweetest of the sugars. Disaccharides are pairs of monosaccharides linked together. Glucose (sometimes known as blood sugar) is the essential energy source for the body’s activities and occurs in every disaccharide. All sugar (white table sugar, HFCS, agave, honey) is made up of a combination of fructose and glucose. WebMD lists white table sugar with a 50/50 ratio of fructose to glucose. HFCS is listed with a 55 to 45 ratio, meaning it contains more fructose than glucose and therefore sweeter. The various sources I found listed agave nectar at anywhere from 60 to 90% fructose. Remember that agave contains inulin, which is made up of long chains of fructose molecules linked together.

Is that a bad thing?

Not in theory. In fact, inulin can be considered a good thing as it’s a fiber and also a prebiotic. It feeds our friendly bacteria. But here’s the catch. Fructose is okay when you get it from a whole food source and not extracted from the fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, phytonutrients and other goodies that come in the apple, carrot or beet. Studies have shown that commercially extracted fructose, concentrated into a high sugar sweetener (HFCS) can increase metabolic disorders leading to diabetes, heart disease, obesity and other lifestyle-related diseases. HFCS is very sweet, highly refined, and made from white corn starch. The question is whether agave could contribute to those same problems because of its high fructose content.

Bottom line (in my opinion)? I’m going to stick with honey and maple syrup as my sweeteners of choice, but I’ll use them in moderation. I’ll keep you posted on the subject of agave when I run across further information.

By the way, Alicia Silverstone uses agave nectar in her Kind Diet Cookbook and The Weston A. Price Foundation published an article on agave, calling it the “worse than sugar” and “the latest health scam.” I have Alicia’s cookbook and I absolutely love it and I’m also a member of the WAPF.

So there.

Go forth and eat whole foods. You almost (yes, there’s always a catch) can’t go wrong.

You might also find the following posts interesting (and sweet).
Sugar, part 2 – HFCS commercials
Boo hoo! (high fructose candy corn syrup)
Liquid candy
Corny spoof on HFCS

Pass (on) the popcorn


I had several ideas for this week’s post, but I decided to put them off in favor of sharing a big tub of butter-flavored popcorn with you. There’s no way we can sit through a WHOLE movie without downing 2,000 or 3,000 calories in the process. We might starve. Add in the coming attractions and those annoying commercials and that comes to 2 or 3 hours. We can’t make it that long without adequate food and drink. Can we?

Popcorn. We’ll have some popcorn because that’s a healthy treat, right?

Wait, let me back up and set the stage. First some statistics and credits.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the past 20 years has seen a dramatic rise in obesity rates in the United States. In 2008, only Colorado (not that 18.5% is all that great) had a less than 20% obesity prevalence. Thirty-two states had a prevalence equal to or greater than 25%, six of which were equal to or greater than 30%. Check the map at the end of this post to see where your state fits into the mix.

Now the credits. The movie food nutrition data used in this post came directly from the December issue of the Nutrition Action Health Letter, which is the voice of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Okay, back to the movie and the food that will sustain us while we sit on our bums for a couple of hours. Let’s watch Julie & Julia, at least Julia used real butter, rather than butter-like flavoring.

I’ll use the data on Regal Entertainment Group provided by CSPI. Regal is the largest theater chain in the US. If you’ve gone to any movies lately you know the kid behind the counter always encourages you to buy the large serving. That way if the 20-cup tub of popcorn doesn’t last through the coming attractions, you can go back for more (shudder). Here are the heart-stopping (literally) details.

Regal Theaters Popcorn
1 large tub with 2 tablespoons of “buttery” topping

1,460 calories
64 grams of saturated fat
980 mg of sodium
This is if the person adding the “buttery” topping stops at 2 tablespoons, which I doubt happens. You can also “up” the sodium content if you re-salt it yourself on the way to your seat (I don’t eat movie popcorn, but I will admit to having a heavy hand with the salt shaker).

Regal Theaters Soda Pop (hey, we need something to wash down all that salty, buttery popcorn)
1 large drink
54 fluid ounces
500 calories
33 teaspoons of sugar

Reese’s Pieces, 8 ounces (we must have candy – this is treat night)
1,160 calories
35 grams of saturated fat
31 teaspoons sugar

Okay, lets figure out what we’ve had while sitting on our bums in a dark theater for 2 hours.

Total calories: 3,120 (WHOA, it’s not like we’re riding in the Tour de France)
Total grams of saturated fat: 99 (5 day’s worth)
Total mg of sodium: 980 (those of us who re-salted can add another 400 mg)
Total teaspoons of sugar: 64 (now, what are empty calories again)

Let’s say the average person needs 2,000 calories a day. The daily values appropriate for that caloric intake are:
20 grams of saturated fat
2400 mg of sodium
refined sugar – yikes, we don’t need refined sugar (imagine what a bowl of 64 teaspoons of sugar looks like)

This is a small example of why obesity rates and the associated health problems are on the rise in this country. Skip the movie food and bring a bottle of water and some healthy snacks into the theater. Yeah, I know, the movie police might get you. Better than having a heart attack while watching Men Who Stare at Goats.


Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for informational and educational use only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.
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