Sugar! It’s in the news headlines almost daily. There are heaps of it piled high on magazine covers. There are different scientific terms (like glucose, fructose, sucrose, lactose, dextrose, maltose) but it has dozens of different names to hide sugar on packaging labels. There are words that you might recognize (fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, cane crystals, caramel, evaporated cane juice, malt syrup, brown rice syrup, agave nectar, cane sugar, date sugar, golden syrup, treacle, molasses, beet sugar, sorghum syrup, carob syrup). There are some names for sugar that are mean to be confusing (panocha, diastatic malt, florida crystals, maltodextrin, muscovado, diastase, dextran, ethyl maltol).
Why is there so much hype about sugar all of the sudden?
Our bodies need glucose for muscle and brain activity, but not too much. Humans can function perfectly well on natural sugars found in grains like oats, rice and corn, and also in fruit. These foods have a natural balance of sweetness and fibre, plus micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. Our bodies absorb what they need and the rest (like insoluble fibre) helps our bowels move the waste out.
The big deal is that starches found in white flour or gluten free blends tend to have low fibre. The same is true for candy, chocolate and soft drinks. Some of the ingredients start off from natural sources – wheat, sugar cane, sugar beets, corn and rice – but after being processed, all that’s left is the sugar in a highly concentrated form.
In fact, the World Health Organization recommends 25g (or 6 teaspoons) of sugars in our diet, per day. To put that amount into context, 330mL can of coca cola has 35 g of sugar.
Our bodies feel nourished and full when we eat oranges and broccoli, which are high in vitamin-C and calcium, respectively. And yet many people get stomach pains from drinking calcium-enriched orange juice. Consider another example of eating a baked potato with dab of butter and topped with Greek or Skyr yogurt, and yet we may feel sick after eating poutine. Both have dairy, fat and potato.
It’s not necessarily the individual foods themselves but their method of preparation, the volume consumed, added ingredients (like gravy and curds) and what’s taken away (fibre).
There is one food combination that elicits an addictive response in our brains. Imagine a 1-year old tasting birthday cake with ice cream for the first time. Picture little fists full of cake and stuffing their mouth in absolute joy. I remember my nephew licking off all the icing, throwing the cupcake on the floor and then asking for more. His face and tongue were bright blue! Not 20 minutes later, he was half asleep, eyes glazed over, fists and face still covered in frosting.
Once we’ve tasted that combination of sugar and fat, we just can’t get enough.
Donut shops sell dozens of flavours and a double-double (two cream, two sugars in coffee) is a best seller. Bagels with cream cheese, muffins and fruit-filled pastires are the preferred breakfast choice at business meetings. Crackers and cheese snackables get tucked into lunch boxes. Add to that list milk-chocolate bars, cupcakes, butter tarts, warm chocolate chip cookies, and ice cream. (That last sentence made me salivate! Butter tarts are my favourite).
It’s not a habit that is easily broken.
The combination of sugar and fat is synonymous with eating out, processed foods and celebrations. Meals that carry meaning, like family traditions, memories and our unwinding from work activities. These are the meals that connect us to joy and friendship.
Saying “no, thank you” isn’t just about changing your eating habits and making healthy choices. A family member might confront you as being rude not to take a scoopful of your aunt’s famous potato salad (with the creamy dressing, finely chopped onions, old cheddar and crispy bacon pieces). Especially because it’s your favourite and she made it because she knew you were coming. Worse still, how do you say “no, thank you” to the catered sandwiches that the client ordered for the workshop you’re facilitating.
Choosing healthy food is so much more than packing apple slices and measuring one Tablespoon of nut butter for a snack. Instead, it’s a combination of making choices that support your goals for the meals in your direct control, and doing the best you can when you aren’t.
Where do you start?
Write an ode to the foods you love but don’t want to eat anymore.
I know it may sound ridiculous but hear me out.
I wrote about why I love chocolate ganache and rich mousse desserts. I wrote about why flourless chocolate lava cake makes me melt on the inside. I wrote about my friends who share my love of chocolate and then all the other things we have in common that wasn’t food related.
I wrote about the types of chocolate I didn’t like – dry busicuits that need some water to help chew them because they don’t inspire my saliva to flow, and cheap chocolate that has mostly milk-content. I strayed into the other types of desserts I didn’t like – fruit flan for example with the layer of gelatin on top that I pick off.
Then I went back to other desserts I love: butter tarts, pecan pie and panuche icing over banana cake. I wrote about how those desserts remind me of people I love, like my Mom’s pecan pie and the time she had guests over and they ate the whole pie with no left-overs for us and I was overwhelmingly dissapointed. Then I thought of how she makes banana cake so it is a bit undercooked in the middle, and how my Father would painstakingly beat the panuche icing until the texture was just right.
I wrote about Grandma Gordon who always had a box of butter tarts but she had “wrapped them myself.” Then I wrote about how I miss her, and the non-sweet foods I enjoyed with her, like pickles and beets. Wouldn’t you know it, I remembered how much I love fermented pickles and went out to buy some. I even decided to try Kimchi.
It was a relief to realize why I felt physically compelled to buy butter tarts at the store even when I wasn’t craving them. I learned more about myself and what foods bind me to my family.
My journal became a way to capture my memories and cherish the ones I love.
From my writing, I realized that the best snack to help with my PMS cravings is whipped chocolate avocado pudding. I can also comfortably and assertively say “no, thank you” to cookies (chocolate or not) because I know I won’t enjoy them unless they are freshly baked.
Now, when I walk by a club pack of mini-eggs at Easter I don’t feel compelled to buy it. Instead I get a cup of tea and remember with fondness the time my friend Pauline and I ate a whole bag out of a giant brandy snifter one evening at her home. We were totally surprised when she went to refill the glass and found the bag was empty. It’s not about the candy. It’s about remembering how much fun she and had together that night.
I can’t recommend the exercise of journaling enough.
Journaling your thoughts is not a typed activity. It requires ink to flow from the pen in your hand.
The first step is to buy yourself a journal that inspires you and a pen that has a smooth flow of ink. Don’t use a ball-point pen from the kitchen drawer. These are your cherished memories. Splurge on these two things.
When you’ve finished writing, write some more.
Write each day – just 2 things that brought you joy that weren’t related to food. Maybe it was a call from your Aunt, or a hug from a loved one. Whatever it is, big or small, write it down.
If you have a memory you want to share, or realize a memory that is tied to something you eat – not because of the food but because it reminds you of a joyful time in your life – I would be honoured to talk with you about it.