Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Not-So-Sweet Impostor: High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

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‘Tis the Season for immune issues, tooth decay, and metabolic syndrome, right?  Well, in America, where each of us now consume on average well over 60 pounds of HFCS per year, it seems that these sweetener-induced health issues aren’t just treats to be enjoyed once a year anymore.  

Since you’re probably not guzzling corn syrup out the bottle (please PM me if this indeed describes you), how exactly are we getting so much HFCS in our diets?  HCFS is in almost all sweetened beverages (fruit juices and sodas, in particular), most store bought baked goods (I can hear your collective screams), canned fruit, packaged cereals, and dairy products (think sickeningly sweet yogurt and ice cream). Further, HFCS is often added to low or nonfat products  — along with other preservatives, chemicals, and thickeners  — to boost flavor and prolong shelf-life.  Basically, if a food is highly processed and contains absolutely no nutritional value, you can be sure HFCS is on the ingredients list. 

HFCS lurks in many fast food items as well, including that bizarre non-melting shake, ketchup and florescent nugget dipping sauces or dressings, burger buns, pancakes, all desserts, maple syrup, and of course in that gigantic super-sized soda.  Fun fact: a 20-ounce soda or HFCS sweetened drink has the equivalent of 17 teaspoons of sugar. (To put this in perspective, our ancestors used to consume about 20 teaspoons of sugar per year.) 

The people who make HFCS want you to believe it is a natural product and interchangeable with cane sugar (“sugar is sugar!”), and yes, HFCS is derived from corn, but the highly-processed final product is anything but just another sweetener.  Basically, natural cane sugar is glucose and has to be digested, while HFCS contains industrially-engineered fructose (not natural fruit sugar), which is absorbed directly by the liver, hence immediately spiking insulin levels. This “free” fructose can actually make small holes in our intestinal lining, triggering inflammation and a host of health problems: insulin resistance and diabetes, fat deposits in your liver and elsewhere, heart disease, various types of cancer, dementia, metabolic syndrome, empty calories (=junk in your trunk), teeth decay, and a speeding up of the aging process (yours for free!).  The manufacturers of HFCS are extremely secretive about the processes used, and for good reason. High fructose corn syrup is laced with contaminants and toxins, including mercury. Not exactly a glowing report. . .unless we’re talking about a potentially radioactive glow?   

Obesity rates have tripled over the last few decades, and our diabetes rates are up seven fold. Certainly HFCS is not the only culprit, but since its invention in 1957 some of the numbers are indeed startling. And it is no coincidence that many fast food chains replaced real sugar with HFCS as it became readily available – and extremely cheap — due to highly subsidized corn in the late 1960s and early 1970s. 

In a (corn)nut shell, we should all avoid high fructose corn syrup like the plague it is. Do yourself – and your intestinal lining – a favor; eat more whole plant foods, and when you buy processed foods, check the labels and eat smart. 🙂 

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Just Say NO to Factory-Farmed Meat

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the politics of food lately, and about factory farming in particular, and my reading list has reflected this trend (Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, Marion Nestle’s Food Politics, and several articles on CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operations), including Rolling Stone‘s “In the Belly of the Beast” (http://www.rollingstone.com/feature/belly-beast-meat-factory-farms-animal-activists). Then the other night I watched the documentary “Blackfish,” which chronicles the captivity and exploitation of orca whales by Sea World.  I was in tears by the end of the film, but not just over the treatment of the majestic, beautiful orca; I was thinking also of the American system of meat production – this “cycle of destructive extravagance” as Maureen Ogle calls it — that currently slaughters over 10 billion land animals per year in only 13 slaughterhouses.  So here’s my question: When are animals smart enough to warrant human consideration and respect?  Pigs are as intelligent as a 3 year-old child, and cows as emotionally complex as dogs.            

Americans — who now on average consume over 200 pounds of meat annually — have long demanded cheap, abundant meat, and government subsidies and mass production keep the official costs low.  A Big Mac today costs $4.00 and a cheeseburger $1.30, while a hamburger made from humanely raised, grass-fed beef runs about $7.25 in a casual restaurant (when you can find it). Individual monetary costs alone do not begin to account for the health issues and environmental problems that come as unavoidable sides to your burger and fries, however.  And, of course, every piece of meat comes from a living, breathing creature – and therefore, I think it should be eaten sparingly and conscientiously. Meat is expensive, even if we don’t see the immediate costs at the cash register.   

The more I read about our modern meat industry, the more sickened and critical I become.  I truly believe that people want to eat well, and ethically, but there is so much secrecy and misinformation swirling around that giving up – or not looking for the truth — becomes the easier option.  This vague sense of cows frolicking on a family farm somewhere is no accident. Slaughterhouses do not want you to see your next burger collapsed in its own waste.  Michael Pollan writes, “Were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent, literally or even figuratively, we would not long continue to raise, kill, and eat animals the way we do.”  I am increasingly convinced that factory-farmed meat is wrong – on every level, and for everyone. 

You don’t need to know much to take a stand against this cruel industry, and you don’t have to become a vegetarian, either.  We simply need to educate ourselves about how most meat is really produced in this country and understand the effects it’s having on our society, our health (both individually and as a whole), and our environment.  The system is entrenched, but could be changed if enough of us refused to eat factory-farmed meat.  If you choose to eat meat, please consume only humanely-raised animals.  I agree with Jonathan Safran Foer when he argues that “when we eat factory-farmed meat we live, literally, on tortured flesh. Increasingly, that tortured flesh is becoming our own.”  

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What’s NOT to love about lentils?

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Well, my friends, I have had the week from Hades here, I kid you not. I will not bore you with the details, but let’s just say it was a winning combo with the husband out of town (as in Tasmania out of town) and myriad illnesses all around (we like to mix it up in this family!). We are slowly scraping our way back to health, and I credit just a tiny part of that to the mighty lentil!

Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean we have to be all hoity-toity and ignore the perfectly amazing little legumes whiling away the time in our cupboard. Yes, I’m talking about the lentils you bought recently but have considered too humble for your dinner party guests.  I know that in betwixt these festivities you, like me, need some simple, healthy, and comforting food, and lentils are just waiting to be appreciated for their awesomeness. Lentils have been staples of Indian, African, and Middle Eastern cuisines for thousands of years, and it’s high time we all got on board!  We visited India last December, and our favorite dishes by far were the incredible Bengal lentil curries.

There are many reasons to cozy up to this legume. First of all, they are one of the easiest ways to get your daily dose of fiber and protein (1/2 cup = 9 grams fiber, 12 grams protein!), and tons of other important vitamins and minerals, most notably magnesium, calcium, iron, folate, phosphorus, and potassium. Further, lentils — unlike most other beans (lentils are technically considered “pulses,” not really beans, but let’s not get technical) — do not need to be soaked and can be quickly cooked to perfection (whilst absorbing spices and flavors) in just 20 minutes. Oh, and certainly not least, lentils are inexpensive, usually under $3 for a 16 oz bag of organic lentils. As I say, what’s not to love? 

You can certainly use lentils in salads, veggie burgers, and lentil roasts, but I like them best cooked simply and served warm. Here are a couple of easy recipes to add to your repertoire! 

Curried Lentil Stew

  • 2-3 t. olive oil
  • 1 large sweet onion, chopped
  • 3-4 carrots, chopped (or whole if you prefer)
  • 1 cup cauliflower, chopped into florets
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cans diced organic tomatoes
  • 1 cup lentils, green or brown (red are gorgeous but get too mushy!)
  • 3 cups vegetable stock (or water)
  • 2 t. curry powder
  • 1 t thyme (dried)
  • 1 t sea salt
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 1 T balsamic vinegar
  • 1 T lemon juice

1. First, add onions and carrots to your heated olive oil. Cook for about 7-9 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add garlic and cook for about one more minute. You’ll want to just stop now because your kitchen will be smelling so very nice, but push forward! Your family is depending on you!

2. Rinse your darling lentils, looking out for stones, then put them in with the onion mixture, also adding the broth, tomatoes, curry powder, thyme, salt, and pepper.

3. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 25-30 minutes. Add in your cauliflower and cook for another 10 minutes or so, until lentils and veggies are tender. Remove from heat, stir in vinegar and lemon juice, and you’re done. Yummilicious. I’ve also made this with sweet potatoes and added spinach . . . you really can’t go wrong! Serve over brown rice, baked potatoes, with cornbread or chips, topped with a dollop of soy sour cream and chives or other fresh herbs.

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Easy Lentils and Rice (adapted from Veganomicon)

I love this recipe because it is so quick and takes relatively few ingredients or brain power, which is kind of where I’m at this week. You can also fancy it up by topping with chopped avocado, baked yams, broccoli, or caramelized onions. (To caramelize onions, just slice 2-3 sweet onions thinly, stir in 3-4 tablespoons olive oil and salt, then place in a baking dish and bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.)  I also love the pairing of lentils with cinnamon, so so good!

  • 1 cup lentils (I like green or brown best)
  • 1 cup rice, brown or white, rinsed (I have used jasmine and basmati)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 t. allspice
  • 1 1/2 t. cumin

1. Bring four cups of water to boil in a large saucepan or pot. Add rice, cinnamon stick, and spices. Bring back to a boil, lower heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.

2. Add lentils (after rinsing!) and bring back to a boil, then simmer on low until liquid is absorbed, about 35-40 more minutes. Remove from heat, remove cinnamon stick (unless someone loves chomping into that!), and mission accomplished! If you went to the trouble to make the onions, throw those in there, of course.  I often add a bit of sea salt and black pepper too, as needed. Try this alongside a fresh tomato – cucumber – red onion salad for a Mediterranean twist in winter. Happy lentil eating, my friends!

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