Archive for the ‘Sugar And Salt’ Category

The commercial markets have been flooded recently with advertising based on different types of salt used in food production, flavoring and presentation. Everyone from McDonalds to Kraft Foods has been pushing sea salt over table salt, or kosher salt over sea salt, or iodized salt over un-iodized, but they forget to mention why! Thanks to a request from a valued reader, I spent a little time doing some research on the subject, and realized…

….that it really doesn’t matter what kind of salt you use. Salt is salt, but  if you have specific applications, the different textures and flavors of sea salt, kosher salt, and table salt can be very useful in your final dish’s presentation.

When you are interested in salt from the culinary aspect, the main variable in choosing a salt is its texture. Nutritionally, its the ratio of sodium levels, and other added nutrients that can be found in the different types of salt. All salts are at least 97.5% sodium chloride.

  • Table salt is mined only from underground sources. It is very fine, and very smooth, dissolves quickly in water and other liquids, and adds a large amount of flavor in relation to its size. It is best used for baking, soups, and other areas where it is a flavoring agent from the INSIDE of the food item. It also includes a small amount of calcium silicate, which prevents it from clumping when stored in a somewhat damp environment. A teaspoon of table salt is much “saltier” than a teaspoon of kosher or sea salt. It also usually contains iodine, a nutrient necessary for human health but not naturally found in our diets.
  • Sea salt is made from larger more-coarse crystals, is easier to take a “pinch” out of, and contains different nutrients than table salt. It is best used as a last minute addition to your meal, the granules offering an aesthetic quality to your meal as well as briny flavor. It is mined directly from ocean and seawater, and is not processed at all, so it contains nutrients that are not normally found in table salt, but usually not in enough quantities to make it nutritionally different to table salt. Because of the large crystals, sea salt tends to lose its flavor when heated. It is usually advertised as more natural than salt mined from underground sources, because it does not need to be processed.
  • Kosher salt is mined from underground, or from the sea, and has large white crystals like sea salt. It derives its name from it’s use in the kosher blessing process, and can be used as a substitute for both sea salt and table salt, but is preferred for its help in pickling and preserving foods, or as a salt rub, because the large crystals draw more moisture out of the food than table salt.  

Sea salt, kosher salt, and table salt contain the same amounts of sodium by weight, but there different volumes make sea salt and kosher salt slightly healthier, based on just that technicality alone. The larger crystals of sea salt are also more aesthetically pleasing, so it is more often used in the presentation of a dish, whereas table salt is part of the internal structure.

The Mayo Clinic recommends that people keep their sodium intake between 1500 to 2300 mg a day, but many people exceed that number in dangerous levels everyday. They offer a very informative series of online articles about ways to reduce your sodium intake, check those out HERE. Processed foods often contain large amounts of preservatives, which are usually sodium based, and can up your intake into the 10k of mg. To test your knowledge on the differences between salt and sodium, try this QUIZ from HealthCentral.com.

Happy Cooking!

The Sweet Truth, Part 3: Living a Sugar Free Lifestyle

PLEASE SPEAK TO YOUR CHILD’S PEDIATRICIAN OR NUTRITIONIST BEFORE MAKING ANY DRASTIC CHANGES TO THEIR DIETS!

The first thing that anyone will tell you about living sugar free is that it truly is impossible. Even if you were to live on green beans and vitamins alone for the rest of your life, you would still consume sugar, be it small quantities, but still eating it all the same.

The only real way to benefit from a sugar free lifestyle is to reduce the amount of added sugar in your life. Added sugar is any kind of natural product  that has sugar added to it to make it taste better or in some cases to improve the texture. Some things by themselves, like say yogurt, or even water, are just plain gross by themselves to a large number of people. Plain yogurt can be bitter, but if you add a little bit of sweetened flavor, such as sugar and vanilla extract, the yogurt becomes much easier on the taste buds.

For kids, this is very hard to overcome, because a lot of companies understand that kids love sweets, that kids are picky, and that kids will eat things that are sweetened and not taste bland. Anything and everything made for a child’s diet is often loaded with added sugar and flavorings, especially things like breakfast cereal (HELLO, LUCKY CHARMS?)  and juices. A great representation of the juice example is Kool-Aid. Mix 2 cups of sugar, which has the same amount of calories in the two cups as an entire stack of pizzas, with water and add a little packet of coloring and flavoring. This drink is often times enhanced even more with sugar, as some kids have become so immune to the taste and effects of sugar that they need more. When I was a teen I babysat for two small children that would not even touch Kool-Aid unless it had been sweetened with three or more cups of sugar!

The direct replacement for something like Kool-Aid would be all natural apple juice, or freshly squeezed OJ or in a perfect world plain water. But the question is, how can you get from something that is almost syrup like in its sweetness to something that is going to almost be considered bitter in comparison? Your kids are going to have withdrawals, especially if you go cold turkey on them. As the body is deprived of something that it normally consumes, just like an addiction to cigarettes or nicotine, it goes into a mild form of shock. There will be mood swings, cravings, physical symptoms like chills or sweating, and lots of arguing. You can make this transition easier on you and your kids by Replacing, Reassuring, and Rewarding.

REPLACING:

 


To replace large amounts of sugar in your child’s diet, first take a look at what they eat during the average week. For lack of space and time, i’m going to focus on the quickest meal, breakfast. Because school is in session now, lets say you are providing them a breakfast of say, a Pop Tart, some grape juice, and maybe an apple or a banana. The next day you offer them cereal, perhaps Frosted Flakes, and whole milk, and on Saturdays you have the time and energy to make them a full breakfast of eggs, bacon and toaster waffles, complete with syrup. Believe it or not, the only thing in that morning diet that doesn’t automatically come from the store PACKED with sugar in the average brand are the eggs, and the fruit. (Fruit has natural, not processed sugars in it, good sugars that are broken down and cause limited spiking of blood sugar levels. )

So how do you replace the bad things? For day one, we’ll start with the Pop-Tarts. Anything filled with jelly and coated with frosting is not only going to have reached maximum energy output by the time your kids get to the bus stop, but will cause a crash right around the time their spelling test occurs at 11:00. White flour, sugar, and preservatives do nothing for your child. Swap it with a whole grain cereal, (if you need the frosting try frosted Mini-wheats) and the amount of sugar will balance with the amount of good carbs and fiber to extend the length of the blood sugar increase. The grape juice can easily be switched for a “no-added-sugar” brand, and keep the fruit.

Day 2 is a little better than day one, except you’re gonna need more whole grain cereal, or swap the Frosted Flakes for natural oatmeal. I’m not talking about the flavored bananas ‘n cream kind, just regular cooked oats, with a drizzle of honey, or a half teaspoon of Splenda on top. The oats will go alot further than the Flakes. And although whole milk does contain amounts of sugar, its not bad enough to necessitate a switch, if you feel the need to, skim milk is best.

Saturday’s meal is one of my favorites. I love pancakes, waffles, anything that fills me up. Thankfully a lot of toaster waffles and pancake mixes are offered in whole-grain and even some sugar free varieties. Ask me to lose the syrup and I’ll ask you if you want to lose your hands. But there are substitutes for that too. Try a sugar free syrup. My mom was a diabetic, I can promise you and your offspring that sugar free syrup tastes just about the same as regular syrup. Or try a fruit (with no fruit syrup) topping, like fresh blueberries, strawberries, or peaches. You’ll mix the good energy of the whole grain ‘cakes with the energy of the fruit, and your kids will be happier, healthier and more focused throughout the day.  As for the bacon, try turkey bacon, or a brand that doesn’t say maple or honey flavored, or sugar cured.

When you do your grocery shopping you will notice an explosion of a variety of brands that are offering sugar free and whole grain products. This shift from the days of processed white flour and sweeteners is a response to the obesity epidemic that plagues our nation and most of the planet.  Take your time to examine the other options available to you when yo shop, and LOOK AT LABELS. Just because a product says reduced sugar does not mean its healthier, and just because a product says its high fiber does not mean it is whole grain. Reduce the amounts of processed white flour and sugar in your shopping cart and your kids will benefit from it at home.

***You can make shopping for healthier foods a fun experience, pick a product and see if your kids can find the healthiest version of it. Say you pick up a box of oatmeal. Without making too much of a mess pick out a bunch of types of oat-meals and compare the labels. Whoever gets the least amount of calories and sugar wins, and that’s the item you you buy. This does take extra time, but if youre going to spend a Saturday at the market, might as well teach them something.***

You also have the option of replacing sugar in your cooking. Use Splenda, or if it is available to you, stevia products like PureVia or TruVia. They don’t have the same effects on blood sugar as regular sugar does, as a matter of fact, stevia has no effect on the blood sugar at all. Swap the sugar in your Kool-Aid or lemonade for Splenda, change the sugar and milk in your recipes for unsweetened apple sauce, and slowly bring your kids to an acceptable, healthy level of sugar. Your family, their teachers, and eventually even they will thank you.

REASSURE:

Teach your kids about how they are making their body healthy! Taking something away without a valid, understandable explanation causes tantrums in even small babies. “You take away my toy, I cry. You take away my toy and give me a shiny spoon, I don’t cry.” Let knowledge and REWARD (scroll down) be your shiny spoon. Ask your kid’s doc at their next appointments about why they shouldn’t eat massive amounts of sugar. Usually a doctor or nutritionist will be happy to explain to your kids how sugar can affect how they feel during the day, how they act in class, and how they sleep at night. This coming from the doc instead of just silly old Mom can be helpful, most kids have a reverence for anyone in the medical profession.

Be honest with your kids, let them make the choices in what the family eats, set good examples, and you will create good habits that will help them the rest of their lives!

REWARD:

There are days when yo are going to want to cheat. That plate of cupcakes the nice neighbor brought over is not going to sit on the counter for very long without someone giving into the urge to snack. And being realistic in the idea that one day isnt going to kill you or yor kids is GREAT! Teaching them moderation and using small amounts of sugar as a reward is a great method to encouraging healthy eating habits. But if the backsliding is too much for you to bear, take the cupcakes to a nursing home, or politely tell your neighbor thanks, but no thanks. Then promptly take your kids out for a movie. Rewarding them with fun activities for a week of sugar free will go much father than a cupcake. Plus the physical activity will go towards making them healthier and happier too.

It’s not easy, but it doesn’t have to be torture. Reducing sugar in your kids lives can be fun and ultimately rewarding. Check back tomorrow for a collection of sugar free Halloween recipes that you and your kids will LOVE!

Happy Cooking!

What kind of substitutes are there for sugar?

Sugar alternatives have flooded the worldwide market in the last forty years, some FDA approved for use in food in the US, and most not. The very first artificial sweetener was actually made from lead, and is known as lead acetate or sugar of lead. It was used by ancient civilizations like the Romans, but was obviously found to cause lead poisoning after long term consumption and humanity discarded it. Saccharin was the first safe sweetener, accidentally created in the late 1800’s, and is used today to flavor toothpaste and dietary food products. Aspartame (Sweet N Low) came along in the mid 1960’s and is used for packet sweeteners, desserts and chewing gum. It is useless when heated to high temperatures and therefore is not recommended for candy making, cooking, or baking. Sucralose (Splenda) is a chlorinated sugar that was FDA approved in 1998. It can be substituted for normal sugar in any application, but does not break down in the body, passing through the digestive system as waste.  Alternatives that are not made from sugar but are naturally created include sorbitol, xylitol, and lactitol, which are found in things like berries, but the costs outweigh the benefits of commercial production of these products and they are not widely available to the public.

Speculation of artificial sweeteners as a carcinogen has been a major topic of debate since the 1970s. There has been evidence in rats that large amounts of some compounds in artificial (synthetic) sweeteners can cause cancer, but that evidence has been denounced by both sides of the controversy, and it is believed at this time that all of the six FDA approved sugar substitutes are safe for human consumption with no ill effects.

The newest sweetener to hit the supermarket shelves in the United States is stevia. This highly controversial sweetener has been available since its discovery as a member of the sunflower family, with leaves that are sweet to the taste, and a taste that lasts longer than regular sugar. Stevia as a food additive was banned in the early 1990’s in the US, with the statement that not enough study  had been done about the health effects and toxicity of the plant, but many speculated that it was banned because of the fact that stevia does not require patenting to produce, unlike other artificial sweeteners, and that the FDA could have been pressured to ban the substance by the sweetener industry. The leaves and extracts were still available as a supplement. After many years of testing and studies, the stevia compounds that primarily contain the sweetness were linked to mutagenic properties inthe livers of male rats, but again this evidence was largely dismissed by the scientific community, because of mishandled testing and results.  The rebaudioside-A extract was approved for use as a food additive in 2008, and major soft drink companies like Pepsi and Coca-Cola have based their formulas on the use of the extract in their sodas, creating PureVia and TruVia, respectively, which can be purchased at stores nationwide.  Stevia has been used and cultivated without restriction in Japan since the 1970’s with no reported ill effects.

What about high fructose corn syrup?

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is known as any kind of corn syrup that is processed to convert some of the glucose found naturally in the syrup to a sweeter fructose to enhance the taste. This additive can be found in an extremely wide range of products in the US from breakfast cereal to soup. There are several concentrations of HFCS, three that are commonly used in the US, with different ratios of fructose and glucose.

HFCS is much cheaper to use in large scale commercial food operations than sugar, because of the wide availability of corn here in the states, available amounts of sugar made here in the US, and the exorbitant costs of shipping and taxes on sugar from foreign countries.

HFCS is denounced by its critics because of claims that the higly processed substance is more detrimental to the human body than regular sugar, affecting weight and appetite levels, and because of the possibility that in some applications it could cause mercury poisoning. The American Medical Association calls for more research on the subject, but deemed that no comparable effect on the body was seen as compared to table sugar. High fructose corn syrup was approved as a safe food additive in 1976. There has been much debate on the subject of HFCS, and many businesses from Hunts Ketchup to mom and pop bakerys have changed their formulas to use real sugar instead of the corn based product. The Corn Refiners Association, the main advocate for HFCS petitioned the FDA to change the name of HFCS to “corn sugar” in September of 2010. The debate rages on.

Thats Part 2! We’ve covered real sugar, fake sugar, and alternatives to sugar! Check back tmro when we will go SUGAR FREE in Part 3!

You can tell as soon as Junior gets off of the bus. His class had an early Halloween party. The unmistakable glow of a 100% sugar diet emits from him like like the beam from a lighthouse, blinding…  terrifying. You scramble to prepare your house and yourself for the whirlwind that will soon occur as your son makes the 30 yard dash from the bus stop to the front door in what seems like mere seconds. The door is thrown open and your perfect angels runs in, chocolate frosting still covering some of his left cheek and screams “HI MOMMY! THE SCHOOL LET US HAVE CUPCAKES AND CANDY FOR HALLOWEEN TODAY! ISNT THAT GREAT!” You wince as his backpack is thrown at the kitchen counter, and you grab knick knacks from the shelves in the living room to prevent them from falling to the floor as his tiny feet pound down the hallway to his room like a rhinocerous. You are sympathetic to the plight of his toys as the sounds of a boy in full hyper mode come crashing through the house.

Ahhh, the effects of a sugar rush. Every kid will experience it, every mom will deal with it. I have often wondered if there could be a place where small children under the influence of a “Snickers bar diet” could be placed in large hamster wheels and the running would generate enough power to light up Baltimore. Any mom who has ever been to a place like Chuck-E-Cheese on a Saturday night knows what I’m talking about.

So this week, with the Halloween holiday quickly approaching, we’re gonna talk about sugar, the types, the nutrients involved, the effects, the substitutes, and pros and cons of things like SweetnLow, high fructose corn syrup, stevia, and other recent sweet mentionables in the news. Part 1 is the history, the making, and the effects on the body of sugar. Part 2 is alternatives to sugar, the controversy behind the different artificial sweeteners, and Part 3 will tell you how to live a lifestyle that is sugar free but still satisfying and will not cause your kids to move to Grandma’s house.

What is sugar and where did it come from?

Sugar, according to Wikipedia, is most commonly derived from sugar cane, a tall cornstalk like plant. The stalks grow in fields much like corn does, and when harvested they are boiled down to extract the juices called liquor. The liquor is heated, and processed to remove impurities, color, and contaminants, and during this time takes it crystal like shape, but since this is very time consuming most sugar manufacturers as sugar dust to speed up the process. The liquor and forming crystals are spun in a centrifuge to separate and the removed crystals are dried and packaged for sale.  The raw sugar that is processed directly from the cane without any serious refinement is brown and quite strong flavored, with an almost nutty taste and much larger crystals. White sugar is boiled and refined a number of times to remove all the color and impurities.
Sugarcane was present in India and southeast Asia dating back to the early days of civilization, because of its love for a tropical climate and lots of rain. Indians would chew on the stalks of the sugarcane plant and suck on bits of the plant for its sweet taste. During the 500’s and 600’s Indians discovered ways of processing the cane into the granules commonly known today. This new product could easily be preserved for much longer than the cane stalks and would eventually become one of the most highly sought after trade items on the planet. Buddhist monks taught the Chinese how to grow sugarcane, and they were the first people to learn many different ways to incorporate sugar into their diet.
The Arabs learned how to make sugar granules from the people in India, and they were the first to start large scale production of sugar in that form for trade and commerce. Soon there were sugar plantations and refining mills spread as far as Africa, around the 10th century. British soldiers brought the first tastes of sugar back to  Europe, where sugarcane can not be grown on a large scale, after the crusades in the Holy Lands of the Middle East, and it replaced honey as the most popular sweetener somewhere around the 12th century. Christopher Columbus would bring the first cuttings of sugar cane with him to the Americas when he discovered our lands in 1492. Raw sugar can easily be made and shipped all over the world, but white sugar is largely consumed in the country that it is made largely because it is still difficult to transport long distances in storage without spoilage of the product.

Sugar can also be made from sugar beets, a small plant that resembles a parsnip, and the processing is much easier, but the crop does not grow as quickly or spread as fast as cane does. It can be grown in colder climates, but the amounts of sugar made from an individual beet plant is much less than from a stalk.

What types of sugar are there?

Sugar is most commonly purchased in white or raw form. Raw sugar is the crystals in their purified but not extremely refined form. White sugar is also ground fine into powdered sugar, or caster sugar. Molasses is the dark thick sugar liquor that has been boiled down from the cane and purified without losing its color or strong flavor. Brown sugar should not be confused for raw sugar as it is usually white sugar that is colored and flavored with molasses.

What kind of value to the body does it have?

Sugar is, at its most basic form, a carbohydrate, or more accurately a group of carbohydrates. Sugars in their chemical compound formulas are known as sucrose, glucose, dextrose, fructose, and maltose, among other things, based on the number of chemical bonds. Sugar is found in the most basic bonds of existence, (human DNA contains deoxyribose) and is normally burned by the body to fuel energy. It is made by most plants as a form of stored energy, to keep for later use. Sugar increases the amounts of sugar in teh blood, fueling muscles and organs and allowing the body to go faster farther. However the effect of sugar is often short-lived and the crash that occurs when your blood sugar drops to normal, and often times lower, can be exhausting. This constant up and down of blood sugar causes hunger, cravings, emtional and physical symptoms as well, and can lead to serious health and mental problems if not managed. Large amounts of sugar were thought to be detrimental to the human body as a major cause of diabetes. Recent studies show that sugar by itself is not the cause of diabetes, (there are many variables including controlling the amounts of all carbohydrates that enter the body), but sugar is a major factor in obesity which is the number one cause of diabetes. Also, the human body adapts to amounts of sugar you consume, requiring more and more for energy, the more you eat it, which leads to weight gain. Consuming large amounts of sugar also leads to tooth decay and oral problems as well.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of The Sweet Truth, we will cover artificial sweeteners, their risks and benefits, and what the heck is STEVIA?!?