A small bit of light came out of Bangladesh today in the wake of the Rana Plaza building collapse that has to date killed at least 244 people—most of them garment factory workers making clothes for US retailers. The CBC reports that 40 people have been found alive, and local rescue workers hope that number will rise as their efforts continue.
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has gotten a bad rap for the past few years. Popular belief is that it’s worse for our health than sugar. In fact, a good friend of mine regular buys “Mexican Coca-Cola” rather than mainstream Coke because it’s made with cane sugar instead of HFCS. According to some sources, there’s a “Mexican Coke Craze” afoot in the US for this very reason.
(And yes, Coke is not an ideal beverage by any stretch of the imagination—both from a health and a social responsibility perspective. But I digress….)
So, is the Mexican Coke Fan Club onto something? Is high-fructose corn syrup worse for you than sugar?
In a word, no.
In “Sickeningly Sweet,” our upcoming issue of the Green American, we detail numerous health effects that have been increasingly linked to overconsumption of added sugars—from obesity and heart disease to diabetes and stroke to Alzheimer’s and cancer. The culprit behind those ill effects is fructose—the sweet molecule in both table sugar and HFCS.
HFCS is 55 percent fructose, while table sugar is close behind at 50 percent. At only five percent more fructose content than HFCS, table sugar is pretty much the same dietary nightmare as HFCS.
When you eat fruit, which contains fructose, the fiber helps you digest it slowly, so you don’t get the blood-sugar spikes that contribute to ill health. Also, as blog commenter and holistic health coach Maria Hoffmeyer noted on a previous post, “The fructose in fruit comes in a package including fiber. The fiber slows down the digestion and your liver doesn’t get hit with it all at once like it does with the processed forms. Just like we ideally don’t overwhelm our liver with alcohol, we would do well to have some consideration for it as well with fructose.”
In addition, both table sugar and HFCS are highly likely to be genetically modified (GM). (What’s wrong with GM foods? See our “Frankenfood” issue for details!) Ninety-five percent of the sugar beets grown in the US are GM, which make up most of our domestic sugar supply. And if you see high-fructose corn syrup on a label, you should just assume it’s GM, as 88 percent of the corn that it comes from in the US is.
Bottom line, the Mayo Clinic notes that “controversy exists … about whether or not the body handles high-fructose corn syrup differently than table sugar.” But Mayo and Green America are on the same page when it comes to sugar and HFCS: Avoid overconsumption of both.
We at Green America take it a step further and say avoid both conventional table sugar and HFCS altogether for good health and to keep GM foods off your plate. (I should probably put quotes around “foods” when it comes after “GM” as a rule, right? Or you can just picture me making air quotes with my fingers….) If you do want to still enjoy sugary treats now and then (and how many of us are going to voluntarily give those up forever?), look for those made with cane sugar—preferably Fair Trade and organic. Cane sugar isn’t yet GM; the organic label limits the number and type of pesticides and herbicides applied to the crop; and the Fair Trade label ensures that sugar plantation workers were treated with respect, dignity, and fairness. As for packaged foods, anything that’s certified organic will, as a rule, not contain any GM ingredients.
And, of course, everyone should try to stay within the American Heart Association recommendations most of the time for optimal health. If you want to use alternative sweeteners, see associate editor Martha van Gelder’s comparison chart in the upcoming Green American, and view her fun video preview here.
I’m happy to report that I’m doing really well with my new low-sugar, low-salt, high-leafy-green-stuff dietary adventure. As I noted previously, my palate has shifted, since I don’t get as much extra sugar and salt in my diet as I used to, and I now appreciate the natural sweetness of foods that previously didn’t taste like much at all (think roasted carrots). I feel great, I’ve lost some extra pounds that have been hanging on since my youngest daughter was born, and my mindless workday snacking is much more under control. I actually opt for carrots with raw almond butter more often than not, and I like them!
I did go off the rails the other day and have more than my fair share of Fair Trade dark chocolate, but I just jumped back on the wagon and continued my improved eating habits from that point on. The lesson there: Maybe it’s good to take a break from totally clean eating from time to time and indulge in a comfort food, to keep from feeling deprived and keep yourself on track.
How is your sugar-free or sugar-lite lifestyle coming along? Any new tips to share? Any thoughts on HFCS vs. sugar?
Have you read Pulitzer-prizewinning journalist Michael Moss’s new book Salt, Sugar, and Fat? If not, I encourage you to consider it. Not to be all dramatic, but what I learned between the covers of this book changed my diet for good.
I’ve always tried to follow author Michael Pollan’s advice to “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” But I do tend to reach for sugary snacks when I’m under stress. As I mentioned in the inaugural blog post of the Green America editors’ series on sugar, what I learned from our research for the Green American magazine into the health impacts of fructose—the sweet ingredient in both table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup—scared me enough to cause me to limit my table sugar to the American Heart Association’s (AHA) recommended levels of six teaspoons (30 g) of added sugars per day for women. (Men get nine teaspoons, or 45 g.)
Moss let me know that what I was doing wasn’t enough. Let me explain….
Back in the 1970s, people started becoming concerned about the fat content in their food. So what did the processed food manufacturers do? They lowered the fat content and labeled their products “low fat” and “lite”—but they also quietly upped the salt and sugar levels to make up for it. And we fell for it.
They still do this today, writes Moss, and we’re still falling for it.
Moss went inside the processed food industry and uncovered how companies carefully manipulate the three unhealthy core ingredients in his book title to entice consumers into craving more, eating more, and buying more. “Any improvement to the nutritional profile of a product can in no way diminish its allure,” writes Moss, “and this has led to one of the industry’s most devious moves: lowering one bad-boy ingredient like fat while quietly adding more [of another, like] sugar to keep people hooked.”
In fact, he writes, “To make a new soda guaranteed to create a craving requires calculating what industry insiders call the ‘bliss point,’ or the precise amount of sugar or fat or salt that will send customers over the moon.”
No, it’s not their fault that we’re overeating—we have brains and willpower after all. But they slap labels on their “foods” like “Low Fat!” or “Lite!” or “Low-Sodium!” to make us believe they’ve given us a healthier version of their foods, but they haven’t. Once you start looking at the labels of your seemingly healthy snacks, you’ll most often find that if that granola bar is low in salt and fat, the sugar content is through the roof. If those pretzels are low in sugar and fat, their salt content goes a long way toward the 1500 mg (a bit under three-fourths of a teaspoon) you should have per day, if you’re following AHA guidelines.
I’m a busy working mom who tries to eat healthy and serve good food to my family when it’s my turn to cook. But it was then that I realized that limiting our fructose (table sugar or HFCS) isn’t enough. So I revamped my entire diet as a first step to revamping my entire family’s diet.
On the advice of a holistic nutritionist friend, I embarked on a three-day “cleanse” where I’d eat mostly vegetables and raw seeds for three days. The food was mind-numbingly boring, to be truthful, but I took it as a meditation on gratitude and focused on how lucky I was to have access to three square meals of healthy fare a day.
When the three days were over, I spent several weeks adding in tastier but still good food each day, all with an eye toward emphasizing vegetables and keeping my sugar, salt, and fat intake below AHA guidelines.
To my everlasting shock, I found that those three days of blah-but-good-for-me food had “reset” my palate.
The organic vinegar and olive oil salad dressing I’d previously found dull suddenly zinged with flavor. The brown rice I’d tolerated in the past took on a rich, nutty taste it never had before. I could tell that roasting vegetables brought out more of their natural sugars than steaming—a distinction I don’t think I could have made in the past. And when one of my daughters gave me a gummy bear out of her (respectably small) stash of Easter candy, I was surprised to find that one of my favorite sugary treats had turned unpleasantly sour.
Americans have grown so used to tasting salt- and sugar-overload, that that’s all we’re tuned for, and we’re truly missing a rainbow of flavors.
I thought I ate healthy before this challenge, but now I’m eating super-healthy. And those sugary snacks I used to reach for when stressed? Mostly gone and hardly missed. Not that I won’t indulge once in a while (my mom’s cinnamon pull-apart bread cannot be denied), but I feel like it can truly be once in a while—not in the middle of every work day when I’m on a deadline.
In a nutshell, here’s what I did (This is not intended to be a comprehensive diet plan, so please consult your doctor or a nutritionist—or at least a good nutrition book from a reputable source—before radically shifting your own diet.):
- For three days, I went cold turkey off of added sugars and salt, sticking to a diet of mostly vegetables and high-protein seeds like chia and raw sunflower or pumpkin.
- I ate a high-protein breakfast (flax-seed granola with raisins and dried cranberries and rice milk), per the recommendation of Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California-San Francisco who’s made a name for himself decrying the evils of fructose. Dr. Lustig says that the surest way to reduce ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates hunger, is to eat a breakfast that includes a lot of protein and little or no carbohydrates or sweets like cinnamon rolls.
- I limited myself to one snack and three meals a day.
- I limited healthy carbs, like brown rice or quinoa, to one serving a day.
- I drank at least eight 8-oz. glasses of water.
After the three days, I started adding in a few more carbs, fruits, and other healthy foods, with an eye to keeping my added sugar and sodium intake below AHA recommendations and still eating mostly vegetables. I also added in two small indulgences: an ounce of Fair Trade chocolate for dessert after dinner, and a glass of red wine before bedtime.
And you know what? Even when I was stressed, that ounce of chocolate is truly enough. Which is weird if you know how much I love chocolate, but there it is. I feel better, and I firmly believe this time, I’ve changed my relationship with sugar for good. Sure, I’ll indulge every once in a while, but it will truly be once in a while.
In a future blog, I’ll share some of our Green America staff’s best tips for detoxing from sugar, and we’ll have holistic nutritionist Tricia McCauley will be here to offer professional advice.
Meanwhile, here’s a link to a lovely sugar-lite treat from one of my favorite new healthy recipe bloggers, the Detoxinista, for Chocolate Peanut Butter Milkshakes—I used local, organic honey instead of maple syrup, because that’s what I had on hand. Do you have any favorite healthy and sugar-lite or -free treats or even recipes to share?
Several weeks ago, the Green American editorial staff started researching an issue theme centered on sugar. With the labor abuse in the sugar industry and the fact that much of the sugar sold in the US comes from genetically modified sugar beets, we thought we’d have plenty of social and environmental problems to cover. We knew that science has long been establishing links between sugar and obesity and type 2 diabetes. But what we were surprised to discover was just how serious of an impact sugar is having on human health.
So we shifted our focus to look more closely at those health impacts in the April/May 2013 issue of the Green American, and the results were much worse than we’d expected.
America has a sugar problem, says Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California-San Francisco, in part because “our brains light up for sugar the way they do for cocaine.”
The American Heart Association recommends that women eat only 30 grams (6 teaspoons) and men consume 45 grams (9 teaspoons) of added sugars per day for good health. However, here in the US, the average person eats over 108 grams—or 22 teaspoons—of added sugars per day.
What is this sugar overload doing?
It might not surprise many of you that study after study has linked consumption of sugar—or, more accurately, the sweet fructose in sugar—to “metabolic syndrome,” a set of risk factors that together increase the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol problems, and stroke.
But new studies are coming out that pinpoint fructose as a primary cause of type 2 diabetes and a possible cause of Alzheimer’s (a link so strong the scientists who uncovered it are calling the brain disease “type 3 diabetes”) and cancer. Add in the fact that much of the sugar on US store shelves comes from genetically modified sugar beets, and there are just too many potential risks associated with sugar consumption to ignore. (For more on the risks of genetically modified organisms, see select articles from our “Frankenfood” issue of the Green American.)
For more details on these links, see the upcoming issue of the Green American, “Sickeningly Sweet,” which should hit your mailboxes at the end of the month. (To subscribe, click here.)
The links are so frightening that Green America associate editor Martha van Gelder and I decided to get sugar out of our lives.
I know I have a sugar problem. Whenever I’m under stress, I tend to eat, and more often than not, I reach for sugar—probably thanks to the number of warm and comforting childhood memories I have around sweet food. There’s my mother’s chocolate chip cookies and pull-apart caramel bread. My grandmother’s apricot rolls and hard-as-a-rock-but-oh-so-good Christmas Bread. My aunt in Honduras making me a cinnamon, sugar, and milk concoction called poleada when I got homesick on a long visit in my teens. Summertime popsicles and winter hot chocolate. The list goes on and on.
So I’m starting slow, reading labels and limiting myself to the AHA’s recommended 30 grams of added sugar for women. Martha went cold turkey off of sugar. And online editor Andrew Korfhage has never been a big sugar eater, but he’s careful to make his overall diet as local, organic, and Fair Trade as possible., to avoid genetically modified organisms and avoid exploiting workers around the world. He also uses one of the best-option sugar substitutes we identified in the Green American: local and organic honey.
Every Tuesday and Thursday this month, Martha, Andrew, and I will be blogging about the social, environmental, and health problems associated with sugar and our attempts to limit it in our diets. (Or detox from it, in my case.) We may even have a couple of experts, including a holistic nutritionist, join us to offer advice.
What’s your relationship with sugar? Hate it? Consume it in moderation? Or do you, like me, have a sugar problem? What tips do you have to limit the amount of sugar in your diet?
It’s time to call your members of Congress!
Today, Congress took a giant step backward on the genetically modified organism (GMO) front by passing the Continuing Resolution spending bill, which included the “farmer assurance provision,” a rider perhaps more accurately known by anti-GMO activists as “the Monsanto Protection Act.”
The provision makes it easier for biotech companies like Monsanto to push their GM seeds into farmers’ hands without proper safety reviews. Under the provision, even if a court of law finds that a given type of GM seeds was approved illegally and may not be safe for human health or the environment, it would not be able to halt the seeds’ sale or planting. The Monsanto Protection Act also forces the USDA to immediately approve any permits for continued planting of GM seeds at the biotech industry’s request.
“The US judicial review process serves as a vital check on any federal agency decision that may negatively impact human health, the environment, or the livelihood of farmers,” write our allies at Food Democracy Now. “This provision gives Monsanto and its biotech cohorts a way around the law so it can continue to sell its biotech seeds regardless of the cost to people and the planet. This provision creates a precedent-setting limitation on judicial review and a dangerous assault on fundamental judicial safeguards.”
The current version of the CR bill is only good through September, at which point a new spending bill will need to be sent through Congress.
Click here to send an email via our allies at Food Democracy Now to your senators, member of Congress, and the White House demanding that Section 735 is removed from the CR spending bill in September.
Then, call your representatives and senators to help tie up the Congressional switchboard with demands that this dangerous rider be stopped.
Sample text: “I am a constituent and asking ________ to oppose the biotech rider, section 735, in the Senate Continuing Resolution spending bill when it comes back to Congress in September. I’m very concerned that GMOs are not safe for my family, and this rider removes vital judicial safeguards.”
It’s critical that we all take action today to protect the health of our families and the environment. The right of consumers to access safe and healthy food should always come before the right of Big Biotech to line their pockets with more cash.
One of my favorite articles in the “Go Green for the Holidays” issue of the Green American was Sarah Tarver-Wahlquist’s piece on giving “gifts that give back.” Gifts that do good in the world are easy to find, simple to buy—and they’re guilt-free!
Last year, I decided to spread my year-end charitable giving around. I volunteer with a couple of after-school groups, and I gave each of the kids in one of those groups $10 gift cards (the minimum) from GlobalGiving.org. The site has hundreds of charities that do everything from providing leadership training to girls in the Dominican Republic to rehabilitating abused horses to cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico. The kids went home and surfed the site to find a charity that meant something to them, entered the code on their card, and sent the $10 on its way to support their chosen cause. When we came back together after the holidays, we shared information about the charities we’d chosen. It was a great family activity, and it was a powerful way to celebrate the season of giving.
I have to confess, the parents seemed more excited about the gift cards than the kids did at first, but when we discussed it afterwards, they all agreed that it had been “fun to give something to people who are doing cool stuff.”
With families whom I know will be into it, I’ve given gift cards to Kiva.org, which helps lift up low-income communities around the world through microlending. These small, low-interest loans give impoverished people a hand up by helping them go back to school or start or improve a small business. In fact, you can watch your “borrower” pay his or her loan back via the website!
As Martha noted last week, as much as we try to simplify the holidays, many of us will still end up buying a gift or two. Consider giving a Fair Trade gift, and accompany it with a copy of Green America’s Guide to Fair Trade to let the recipient exactly know that the gift helped empower workers around the world. A friend of mine recently got married, and instead of buying the mortar and pestle she had on her registry from a department store, I found a nearly identical Fair Trade version from SERRV International and sent that instead. It even cost less than the original, and the bride was happy to know that her gift supported low-income (or, rather, formerly low-income) Fair Trade artisans in India who work under a community development NGO that also fights against child labor and works to prevent deforestation in the country.
Fair Trade … more bang for your buck.
I also had a $5 gift exchange a few nights ago with my local herb gardening/study group. My gift of choice? Two Fair Trade Divine Chocolate bars and a sampler box of Fair Trade Numi Tea. I got to share two of my personal favorite indulgences while letting others in my group know about the power of Fair Trade.
If you’re really excited about Fair Trade, you can throw a Fair Trade house party. Sarah’s article has step-by-step instructions on how to do just that. In a nutshell, you order a consignment box from organizations like A Fair World, Grounds for Change, Partners for Just Trade, or SERRV. They send the box, you display the items, and your party guests can shop—or not—as they see fit. Whether they choose to buy or don’t, you’ll have met your goal of spreading the word about the high quality and high impact of Fair Trade. Serve Fair Trade coffee, tea, chocolate, and sugar-laden items, and you’ll hook your guests even more.
And don’t forget, a membership to Green America also makes a nice gift!
What are your favorite “gifts that give back?” And would you ever consider throwing (or have you thrown) a Fair Trade house party?
Comment below for a chance to win a Fair Trade gift basket from Higher Grounds Trading Co., featuring a bottle of Fair Trade olive oil, a bag of Fair Trade coffee, and a Theo Chocolate Fair Trade cherry and almond chocolate bar.
Congratulations to Rachel, the winner of last week’s rainbow organic soap basket!
I just returned from the Los Angeles Green Festival, inspired and energized by an entire weekend of being surrounded by wonderful Green Americans who choose to spend their free time working for a better world.
One of my favorite moments was from the Festival was when I attended a panel session moderated by Green America executive director Alisa Gravitz on California’s Proposition 37, or the “right to know” bill that would have required food and beverage companies to label food products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). As you may know, Prop. 37 was defeated during the last election.
However, instead of the handful of downtrodden die-hards Monsanto and its ilk might have expected in the face of that defeat, I saw a standing-room-only group of energized activists ready to continue the fight for truly wholesome, healthy food that doesn’t do more harm than good to our bodies.
Panelist John Roulac, CEO of Nutiva, called the 47-53 vote an “historic victory,” despite the measure’s defeat, noting that the vote was close enough to trigger a recount, even though Monsanto and its corporate cohorts spent over $50 million on a campaign to prevent consumer’s right to know what foods contain GMOs.
This wasn’t a failed bill, the panelists noted. It was the spark that’s igniting a widespread grassroots movement supporting our Right to Know. We came close to defeating Monsanto this time, despite being outrageously outspent, and we’re only going to go up from here.
Panelist Pamm Larry, the self-titled “p—ed off grandma” whom many credit as being the driving force behind California’s anti-GMO campaign, reminded the audience that if we can spread the word and turn just half of America against GMOs, corporations are highly likely fold under that consumer pressure.
(Want to know what got Pamm so upset about hidden GMOs in her family’s food in the first place? Here’s a rare free link to the digital version of our “Frankenfood” issue of the Green American. Oh, and you can ask Kaiser Permanente, which is obviously starting to see the health problems likely associated with GMOs as impacting its bottom line. The insurance giant released a statement in its Fall 2012 newsletter advising against eating GMO foods. “Despite what the biotech industry might say, there is little research on the long-term effects of GMOs on human health,” the company noted.)
And so the fight goes on. When asked what’s next, all of the panelists threw their enthusiastic support behind Green America’s new campaign, GMO Inside, which will fight against the corporate disinformation campaign against GMO labeling. In addition to Green America, the GMO Inside steering committee includes Food Democracy Now!, the Institute for Responsible Technology, FoodBabe, Nature’s Path, and Nutiva.
We’ll be spreading the message far and wide as to why everyone should embrace precaution and avoid GMOs. We’ll also be bolstering upcoming efforts in Washington, Oregon, and Vermont to introduce GMO labeling laws. And when California is ready to reintroduce its GMO right to know bill, we’ll be there.
So what does that have to do with greening your holiday? A lot, as it turns out! One of GMO Inside’s first efforts has been to urge people to avoid GMO-laden foods when preparing your holiday meals. Popular Thanksgiving dinner items that contain genetically engineered ingredients include Wesson Canola Oil, Bruce’s Yams, Pepperidge Farm Crackers, Kraft Classic Ranch Dressing, Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce, and Kraft’s Stove Top Stuffing.
Fortunately, avoiding these GMO foods is as easy as buying organic or looking for the Non-GMO Project label, a third-party label that appears on products from companies that have pledged to avoid GMOs. You can also visit the GMO Inside website to find GMO-free Thanksgiving alternatives.
Here are some other ways to spread the word during your holiday dinner:
- If you’ve decided to make your Thanksgiving meal lighter on the Earth and kinder to animals by choosing America’s most popular vegetarian “turkey,” Tofurkey, rest easy. While most of the soy ingredients in the US are genetically engineered, Tofurkey is made from organic and GMO-free soy.
- Donate a couple of Tofurkeys and other GMO-free foods to your local food bank or homeless shelter.
- Make placecards or menus for your guests (on recycled or tree-free paper, of course), and use them to let them know that the meal you prepared is GMO-free.
- Did you already buy Thanksgiving items containing GMOs? Check to see if the product has a money-back guarantee. If it does, send it back to the company and let them know you won’t buy their products until they stop using genetically engineered ingredients. Then, head back to the store, if you choose, for organic replacements. Don’t forget to plan ahead for GMO-free December holidays.
- Post a photo of your GMO-free meal on Pinterest or Facebook. You can also post it to the facebook.com/GMOInside page.
Green America is ready to continue the fight against GMOs. Are you? What are you doing to get GMOs out of your holiday feasts?
Numi offers organic, Fair Trade, and GMO-free artisan teas, including its popular flowering teas and puerh teas. The Artisan Tea Blending Kit allows tea aficionados to create their own tea blends, and it includes a total of ten teas, herbs, fruits, flowers and spices, plus tea sacs and a glass teapot. It makes a lovely gift, or use it to indulge in your own “creativi-tea.”
Congratulations to last week’s winner of the solar hopping frog toy, Jeannine S.! Come back next Thursday for another wonderful (and useful!) green giveaway!