September 15, 2009

America's Sugar Addiction

Jonny Bowden has an interesting article on, The Healthiest Foods On Earth, which has this great quote:

All these healthy diets have in common the fact that they are absent foods with bar codes. They are also extremely low in sugar. In fact, the number of modern or ancient societies known for health and longevity that have consumed a diet high in sugar would be ... let's see ... zero.

Just recently the American Heart Association is now advising that Americans eat way too much sugar and we need to cut back. We eat 22 teaspoons a day. Fructose is unhealthy in many ways; it damages your liver and kidneys, puts on lots of unwanted weight, causes acne and tooth decay, etc.

From an evolutionary point of view, Dr. Miller in the Jungle Effect says that humans have a natural affinity towards sweet things as a way to encourage us to eat more fruits. Back before the wide availability of sugar, fruit and honey was our only source of sweetness. And fruit and honey can offer so much more to our bodies, whereas pure sugar offers nothing nutritionally.

One thing I have noticed in my label reading of various packaged foods is that sugar is in most everything, even things that you wouldn't expect: items like soy sauce and salad dressings. The fact of the matter is that America is addicted to sugar. Food manufacturers have to put it in the food they create, otherwise people won't eat it. It is just like the tobacco companies lacing their cigarettes with nicotine to get smokers hooked on their brand.

Ever since I cut back on sugar and eliminated High Fructose Corn Syrup completely, my taste buds have reawakened. I notice more subtle flavors in my food that before were hidden from my deadened taste buds. And now when I happen to taste some super-sweet food, I find it disgusting.

When I follow recipes, I am as much aware of the sugar content as I am when reading food labels. I present a recipe below from Living Without, a magazine that caters to those with various food allergies such as gluten. While this is a great service to people who cannot eat "normal" food, I notice that this magazine also caves in to the American addiction to sugar. Its recipes are heavily laden with sugar, especially its desserts. 

The modified recipe below originally called for 1 2/3 cups of brown sugar. One and two-thirds cups!! And, there was 4 tablespoons of maple syrup, a sneaky way to disguise an additional ¼ cup of sugar. And there were raisins in it, one of the most sweet fruits you can get naturally.

This is simply way too much sweetness. Nobody should eat food this sweet. We are not hummingbirds! So I cut the sugar nearly in half. The amount of oil was also a bit high: 2/3 cup, so I cut this in half as well. The result? I still find it a bit too sweet, but it has promise. This snack bar also suffers from what most gluten-free items suffer: it is crumbly. Using real eggs might help this, but I tend to use flax seed "eggs". I welcome any suggestions on how to make gluten-free breads more cohesive.

In future versions, I will try cutting back the sugar even more, adding nuts and/or seeds, and try to make less crumbly.

Gluten-Free Snack Bars


1⅓ c rolled oats
1 c sorghum flour
¾ c rice flour
½ c tapioca flour
1½ t xanthan gum
½ t salt
1½ t baking powder
1½ t cinnamon
1 c brown sugar, not packed

⅓ c canola oil or other vegetable oil
2 eggs, or flax seed "eggs"
2 T maple syrup
2 t vanilla extract

⅔ c dried cranberries, soaked in warm water
dried coconut flakes


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking pan.

2. In large bowl, combine dry ingredients.

3. In medium bowl, combine vegetable oil, eggs, maple syrup and vanilla.

4. Add wet ingredients to dry mixture and mix with a fork or wooden spoon until blended.

5. Drain cranberries, reserving ¼ cup liquid. Fold cranberries into batter. Add reserved liquid, a little at a time until batter is smooth. Batter will be thick.

6. Spread batter into prepared baking pan. Sprinkle coconut flakes on top. Bake in preheated oven 20 to 25 minutes until golden.

7. Cool on wire rack. Cut into bars or squares. Store in the refrigerator.

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