April 14, 2014 § 22 Comments
“On a Year of No Sugar, why was dextrose okay?”
I’ve gotten asked this question a lot lately, and although I do detail the answer in my book, I thought it might be helpful to give everyone the quick and easy version right here.
Remember how most sugar (sucrose) is made up of roughly half glucose and half fructose? Fructose is the bad part– the part which does not satisfy your hunger, does not get used by any of the cells in the body besides the liver, and when processed by the liver creates toxic byproducts which can be traced to virtually every major American health epidemic today: hypertension, liver disease, cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and Type II Diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome.
But dextrose…. what was that? Lucky for me I had someone I could ask- Dr. Robert Lustig, the man behind “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” and author of the New York Times Bestselling book on the topic of sugar Fat Chance, as well as the very man who had inspired our project in the first place. The first time I communicated with Dr. Lustig was before we began our No-Sugar Year: I wrote to tell him about our upcoming project and to get a better understanding of what a Year of No Sugar could look like. Throughout our year I communicated with Dr. Lustig as questions would continue to pop up from time to time and he was very generous and answered all our questions and more.
The dextrose question wasn’t going away, and I just wasn’t confident I was going to get this one right by myself. So when Dr. Lustig wrote back regarding the dextrose issue, and assured me that “dextrose is glucose,” and therefore, for our fructose-free purposes fine, I felt reassured to be back on track.
Later on, when I read Australian author and No Sugar expert David Gillespie’s book Sweet Poison, I was astonished to read that for him dextrose was not just one more mysterious ingredient found on boxes or bags at the grocery store, but a pantry staple in his no added sugar diet: he purchased dextrose and used it in cooking! I was intrigued. And after I ordered some I started experimenting with recipes he had developed as well as creating some of my own. In my book Year of No Sugar I even share, with David’s permission, his excellent coconut cake recipe, which is made using dextrose.
Year of No Sugar is specifically/ medically speaking a Year of No Added Fructose– the bad part of sugar. Part of the real problem for many is that sugar is a word that is used in so many ways that it gets confusing fast: in addition to all the myriad names for sugar (invert sugar! date sugar! cane sugar! beet sugar! brown sugar!) there are simple sugars and complex sugars and blood sugars. How to sort it all out?
Well blood sugar levels (aka blood glucose levels) are of a great concern to people with diabetes and insulin resistance and other illnesses, so regulating glucose can be important for many people. If you suffer from one of these medical conditions, I recommend you consult your own doctor. Because my family is lucky not to suffer from one of these conditions, it was not one of the focuses for our year.
So here is the upshot: in our year, in our book, we were talking about plain old familiar Sugar, the kind that comes in the big white bag, and is dumped all-too liberally over our food supply in a wide variety of aliases— let’s call it Sugar with a capital “S.” It’s important to note that you can have Sugar without glucose and you can have glucose without Sugar, but you can’t have Sugar without fructose and you can’t have fructose without Sugar. Fructose is what makes Sugar, Sugar. We could live our whole lives entirely without fructose and never be the worse off for it.
Now, we didn’t bathe in dextrose, mind you. We didn’t free-base dextrose on our glass coffee table. We simply used this corn-based product to sweeten our occasional homemade baked goods to a much more subtle level of sweet than we ever could have imagined we’d appreciate. Dextrose is one-third the sweetness of table sugar but without the bad fructose; and, for those with gluten issues I’ll note that most dextrose is also gluten free. Other times I used brown rice syrup or barley malt syrup as these do not contain fructose either. Australian author Sarah Wilson, author of the book I Quit Sugar, also sweetens with brown rice syrup in many of her recipes.
There are so many persuasive reasons for Big Food to use added fructose— Sugar with a capitol “S”— in every place it can. But. It’s. A. Poison. And that’s the elephant in the hospital room that no one really wants to talk about.
March 18, 2011 § 4 Comments
One day last week when I was still at the Mayo Clinic with my Dad, we were eating lunch in the cafeteria when a rather heavyset couple sat down at the other end of our table. Of course, you never know why someone is a Mayo, or even which person in a couple or group of people might be the “patient,” but wandering around you do tend to look at folks and wonder… why is she here? Is it him? All these people are suffering in some way, some more obviously than others. One day I met a woman at the hotel’s laundry machines who explained without prompting that her husband was so ill- with pancreatitis I think it was- that she couldn’t leave him in the room alone very long. As we were talking she got a cell phone call to tell her that her nephew had cancer.
Occasionally you would notice someone red-eyed and sniffling into a Kleenex as you sat down in one of the many waiting rooms… what could anyone really say? Or do? Who knows what news they may have just received? And then you see the children with parents heading to an appointment and you just pray they are here for something ridiculously benign, like an inverted hangnail.
But back to the large couple in the cafeteria. They had clearly gotten the “I’m trying to be good, or mostly good” meal: they each had purchased a large chef’s salad with a breadstick, she had added a banana and a skim milk, while he had a large diet soda and a piece of pie for dessert. I couldn’t help but wonder to myself if they wouldn’t have been better off enjoying a meal with much more fat but much less sugar/fake sugar. I mean, sugar (or the chemically fake stuff) was in the salad dressing, in the breadstick, in the diet soda and in the pie… it was freakin’ everywhere on their tray and it was as if I, through some mutant power which might qualify me to be a comic book superhero, was the only one who could see it. I idly wondered if perhaps one of them suffered from one of the many variants of metabolic syndrome, and if so, if anyone would ever offer the suggestion that they might be healthier forgoing the salad in favor of the pot roast and mashed potatoes…
Now, clearly, I’m no doctor, no nurse, and no dietitian. But it just seems to make a lot of sense to me when Dr. Robert Lustig says that we’re effectively missing the technicolor elephant in the living room when we caution people to watch their salt, watch their fat, watch their alcohol, but rarely if ever do we mention the deleterious effects of sugar, and it’s omnipresence in our contemporary diet.
But maybe, if enough of us pester our poor waitresses for ingredients and start reading the depressing labels on the foods in our supermarket, just maybe that dialogue will change. Recently my mother sent me a short article that appeared in the February 11 issue of the New Orleans Times-Picayune by dietitian Molly Kimball, entitled, “Secret Sweets: You my be surprised how many ‘healthy’ foods contain added sugar.”
In the article, Kimball notes that the “just-released 2010 Dietary Guidelines say that we should ‘significantly reduce’ our intake of added sugars… That’s because diets high in added sugar are linked not only to obesity, but also to an increased risk of high blood pressure, triglycerides, inflammation, and low levels of good HDL cholesterol.”
Yes! Thank you! Of course, the article is minuscule, basically a list of how much sugar you find in products you’d never suspect such as salad dressing, ketchup, bagels, pasta sauce and bread. Sound familiar? If she wanted to she could’ve added to her list: chicken broth, mayonnaise, breakfast cereal, dried fruit, english muffins, pita bread, coleslaw, virtually every sauce known to man…
You and I know the list goes on and on. In fact it’s long enough to make one suspect Dr. Robert Lustig may be onto something when he observes that as fat consumption has gone down, obesity, type two diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and stroke have- nonetheless- gone up. In his YouTube lecture that I’m going to keep referencing until you break down and finally go watch it, “Sugar the Bitter Truth” he states it as plain as can be: “It’s not the fat, people. It’s not the fat.”
I wished, somehow, I could have communicated that to our table mates that day, and saved them from who knows how many bad salads, not to mention a lifetime of trying to be “good” and wondering why it still isn’t working.
February 11, 2011 § 4 Comments
Okay! I’ve done my homework and you get to be the beneficiary of that morning-long endeavor, unless of course I have got it all backwards in which case I am here to mislead you terribly. After watching Dr. Robert Lustig’s “Sugar: the Bitter Truth” on YouTube for the third time, as well as doing further slogging around on the internet, I’ve gotten to what I hope is a slightly better understanding of the “ose” question. Here is what I have come up with, which is very likely a gross oversimplification of the matter:
Sucrose– is processed table sugar in all it’s many forms: raw, white, brown etc. It is made up of both glucose and fructose and is harvested from sugar cane or sugar beets.
Fructose– This is the naturally occurring sugar present in fruit, fruit juice, honey, etc.
Glucose– This is the “breakdown product of ingested carbohydrates and the form of sugar that the body uses for energy.” Also known as dextrose.
The quotation above comes from livestrong.com which had several helpful articles on the “ose” question, which was good, because Dr. Lustig’s talk makes the assumption that his audience already knows the difference between these terms.
As a side note, I have to say that I was once again dumbfounded at what an incredible, informative and persuasive talk “Sugar” is… Maybe it’s just me, but then again it has been watched, as of today, 766,122 times on YouTube, so I guess I’m not the only one to find it compelling. And this is despite the fact that he bandies about terms such as “hepatic steatosis” and “dyslipidemia” with unsettling ease.
One of the most striking, if complicated, parts of this video is where Lustig goes through and, point by point, details exactly what happens in your body biochemically when one ingests two pieces of white bread versus a shot of bourbon versus a glass of orange juice. You might be surprised to see his very clear demonstration that the glass of orange juice (fructose) behaves in one’s body most like the alcohol, with the exception that alcohol is processed by the brain while fructose is processed by the liver. Acute toxin meet chronic toxin. As Lustig puts it:
“You wouldn’t think twice about not giving your kid a Budweiser, but you don’t think twice about giving your kid a can of Coke. But they’re the same. In the same dosing. For the same reason. Through the same mechanism. Fructose is ethanol without the buzz.”
Whoa. And that goes for fruit juice too, by the way. Pediatric patients coming to Dr. Lustig are advised to drink only milk or water. And by a funny coincidence, that’s exactly what you are left with after omitting all drinks containing either sucrose or fructose.
So the only question that I’m still ruminating on for the moment is that of dextrose specifically: is added dextrose okay on the No-Added Sugar Project as Devised and Implemented by Eve? After all, it isn’t sucrose and it isn’t fructose. According to just about everybody it’s glucose– which Dr. Lustig describes as “the energy of life.” So, does it matter that it’s added as an ingredient, rather than manufactured by my body after eating a piece of bread? Or, is it like other ingredients such as artificial colorings or preservatives, ie: better to do without, but not expressly prohibited under No-Added Sugar? And if so, does this mean my kids can eat the french fries at the skating rink again, resulting in my popularity as a mom going up by about ten-thousand points?
These are the questions that keep me up at night.
February 9, 2011 § Leave a comment
“So we are being poisoned by this stuff and its been added surruptitiously to all of our food; every processed food.”
-Dr. Robert Lustig – “Sugar: The Bitter Truth”
You’d think it’d be simple to exclude sugar from your diet, right? Not easy perhaps, but at least reasonably simple. You wouldn’t have to be an Einstein. Just look at the ingredients, and then when you find sugar- don’t eat it. Simple.Yet lately I’ve been running into some ingredients that have been defying my supposedly fool-proof plan. Dextrose for one.
Flashback to last week: for several days I wasn’t feeling so well, and as a result I was behind: behind on my cooking, behind on my shopping, behind on my meal-planning. Somehow we muddled through, but one night when I was feeling particularly desperate, half-ill and starving, I hauled out an industrial size bag of frozen “Bertolli” chicken with cream sauce and bowtie pasta. Okay, the ingredient list was longer than my arm, and appeared to have been at least partially written in some unknown foreign language, but this was a food emergency. At least there was no sugar; I had purchased this on my first “no sugar” BJ’s run a few weeks ago.
Of course, silly me had to double check, which as we have already thus far learned can be a big mistake if you’d like to actually eat anytime in the near future. What I found was within the chicken ingredients of meat, water and seasoning, the first sub-ingredient under “seasoning” was: “dextrose.” Dextrose? %^&*#$!
So you know what? I felt crappy. I was starving. And there was pretty much nothing else in the kitchen at that moment that seemed even remotely appealing. I cut open the bag, dumped it into the non-stick pan, cooked it for the requisite ten minutes and we ate it anyway… dextrose or no dextrose.
Upon completing our meal my first thought was that something was amiss- what was it? I realized it seemed really odd to me how quickly our meal had come together- I mean, a meal like chicken and bow-tie pasta with spinach and cream sauce doesn’t just happen all by itself! How long would a recipe like that normally take me? At least an hour but very likely more, not to mention all the dirty dishes that would result from washing spinach, separately cooking chicken, carefully simmering the cream sauce in a pan while boiling the pasta in another pot.
So it occurred to me that this meal had been sponsored: brought to you by dextrose! (As well as its friends isolated soy protein product and sodium phosphate!) The inverse correlation was very clear: the fewer chemicals and additives, the greater amount of meal prep/ cooking and clean-up time, and vice versa.
But it had also become clear to me that there are so many pseudonyms for sugar and it’s variants that I need to do some homework. When I look up “dextrose” on the internet I find a host of confusing answers: “Better known today as glucose, this sugar is the chief source of energy in the body.” While another advertisers hail dextrose powder as “Corn sugar!” that is “30% less sweet than pure or refined sugar.” So, forgive me for being dense, but which is it? Is it something that we create in our bodies to provide energy, or is it an added sugar?
True confessions time: biochemistry was not my best subject. Can you tell? So what is sugar? What are the differences between terms like sucrose, glucose and fructose? And where the heck does dextrose come in? Are all “ose” words sugar-related? What about bellicose? Today I happened upon a website of diabetes information that listed a frightening amount of “reduced calorie sweeteners” to look out for, without so much as an “-ose” ending to tip us off:
…found primarily in packaged foods such as cookies, gum, and candy. Reduced-calorie sweeteners include sorbitol, mannitol, lactitiol, maltitol, xylitol, isomalt, erythritol, and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates.
Am I the only one who is starting to break out in a sweat just trying to define “sugar” in a list of ingredients? Probably. I don’t know too many other people who would worry whether their food contained isomalt or not.
It’s clear to me that sometimes I’m splitting hairs, because I have to. I put back a box of cereal in the supermarket because it contains “two percent or less” of molasses or cane syrup, and yet how sure am I really that the waitress in the restaurant knows there is no sugar in the tortillas? Did she check for isomalt? Or xylitol? Of course not.
So I’m off to watch Dr. Lustig’s talk “Sugar: the Bitter Truth” for the third time, in hopes of decoding the mystery of the “-ose.”
January 9, 2011 § Leave a comment
Here’s one for you: how is a DRY CLEAN ONLY tag like sugar? (This inspirational metaphor came to me after I discovered this morning I had shrunken my favorite winter hat in the wash after failing to read the tag.) Answer: precisely the moment you make the assumption it isn’t there, is when it will be. Call it Murphy’s Law of Hats and Sausages if you will.
You see, Friday night I had grand plans of trying out a new soup recipe, so I headed with the kids in tow to the store with a shopping list that read:
- 3 oz. Spinach
- 8 oz. Tortellini
- 1 lb. Sausages
I was feeling optimistic about cooking more meals from “scratch” and thereby avoiding the sugar issue altogether.
Silly me. Although the spinach and milk posed no problem, I was in for a surprise at the refrigerated pasta products section as package after package of tortellini revealed the presence of sugar thirteen or fourteen ingredients down. Strike one. Fortunately, I was delighted to find that the small bags of cheese tortellini by the dried pasta section would work.
Next, wandering by the seafood section the kids clamored for one of our favorite treats: smoked salmon. Because I’ve been feeling like the sugar drill sargent of late, any edible indulgence that doesn’t involve sugar is suddenly very, very attractive. Buuuuuuut- can you guess? Oh yes, our favorite brand of smoked salmon let us down in the sugar department. Luckily the brand next hook over would do.
On to the sausages. And you can see where I’m going with this, can’t you? You wouldn’t think it’d be hard, but try finding supermarket sausages without sugar, I dare you. By this time I was pulling my hair out in large fistfuls wondering if we’d be reduced to eating dirt sandwiches for the next twelve months. What have I gotten us into? I wondered. It was at this moment I found a package of sweet sausages which listed in the ingredients dried apples and fruit juice.
Now, making rules for our project thus far has involved splitting quite a few hairs and the fruit juice issue has been a big one. As Dr. Lustig points out in his lecture Sugar: The Bitter Truth, fruit juice is sugar- and without the fiber of the originating fruit it is every bit as detrimental as the other forms of sugar we know and love. Our rule regarding fruit juice has therefore become this: no products containing fruit juice unless they contain actual fruit as well. Therefore we have been able to buy Polaner All-Fruit Jam with which to flavor our yogurt, as well as fruit sauces, fruit leather and fruit gummi-like snacks for the kids to take in their lunches. It felt like a bit of a stretch, but technically the sausages did have both fruit pieces and fruit juice- so the sausages went into my basket with a sigh of relief.
Phew! I was deeply grateful catastrophe would be averted for yet another night. That night as I prepared the soup I realized I will have to revamp my definition of “convenience foods” to include virtually anything that has a list of ingredients. Nonetheless, despite everything, we had done it. Tonight we would eat, a nice, interesting, and fairly homemade meal- with no sugar.
I went to pour in the six cups of organic chicken broth I have stored by the box in our pantry, when a terrible thought occurred to me. I stopped. No. Couldn’t be. But what if….? Cautiously, as if defusing an explosive, I turned the box over to check the ingredient list: Organic Chicken Broth… Organic Chicken Flavor… Natural Chicken Flavor… Organic Evaporated Cane Juice- DAMN!
January 7, 2011 § 1 Comment
I am now a savory person living in a sweet world. Do I feel deprived? Well- I cannot tell a lie. A bit. Yes. Definitely.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m speaking relatively here. Are there lots of topics probably way more important than whether or not Eve Schaub got to put honey in her coffee this morning? Yes.
That being said, I wouldn’t be bothering with our family “experiment” if I didn’t think it had value. In fact, if you listen to the lecture which inspired the idea of attempting our family year without sugar, you might just wonder why more people aren’t talking about sugar and it’s omnipresence in the contemporary western diet- quickly becoming the contemporary diet of all industrialized nations. In this talk posted on YouTube, “Sugar: the Bitter Truth,” pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Robert Lustig makes the case for sugar being the root of every evil from obesity and Type 2 diabetes to hypertension, cardiovascular disease and stroke. If we could find a way to reduce the incidences of all of these maladies, wouldn’t it be worth talking about? If there’s another way to look at- or perhaps even opt out of- the treadmill of diet and disease in our culture, shouldn’t we be talking about it?
So when I say deprived, I mean relatively so. I know- there’s a tiny little violin playing somewhere just for me. And yet, it’s funny the things over which one feels more mournful than others. Last night at dinner at our favorite local restaurant, I managed not only to forgo the Oh-My-God Bread Pudding, (gasp!) but when our dear friend Carol enjoyed it, amazingly enough, it really didn’t phase me. Really! However, it was another matter entirely this morning as I stared longingly at the Crispy Hexagons cereal box on the shelf… (forgot to toss those out- darn!)
Another phenomenon I’ve noticed is the “waiting for the other shoe to drop” feeling I’ve been getting at recent meals: it’s as if I’ve just seen three quarters of a play when suddenly- the curtain goes down and everyone goes home. It is so thoroughly ingrained in me to expect a little- or a big- sweet finale at the end of a meal, but especially at the end of a labor-intensive home-cooked meal or a rare evening-out meal, that I find myself experiencing a sort of phantom dessert syndrome. “What, no fireworks? No crème brulee or tiramisu? Not so much as a mint?” my brain chemistry complains.
Yep, one week and my brain is already talking to itself. Well, this should be an interesting year.