Monthly Archives: January 2011

The Sour Truth About Splenda

By now you’re probably aware that artificial sweeteners containing Aspartame are not good for your health.  It may not surprise you that this substance accounts for more than 75 percent of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA.  You might not even raise an eyebrow when I tell you that Aspartame can lead to chronic illnesses such as brain tumors, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, chronic fatigue syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, mental retardation, lymphoma, birth defects, fibromyalgia and diabetes.

If you’re like so many Americans, perhaps you’ve learned to steer clear of those little pink and blue packets of Sweet’ N Low and Equal and instead opt for the yellow Splenda packet.

WHAT CAN YELLOW DO FOR YOU?

That’s a trick question, because the answer is NOTHING!

Splenda, the brand name for sucralose, is the nation’s leading sweetener.  In addition to finding the product in every restaurant, grocery store and coffee shop, you can now even buy Splenda-sweetened ice cream, soft drinks and cereal.  Unfortunately, Splenda can be every bit as harmful to your health as the other brands of artificial sweeteners.  Although the advertisements claim that the product is “made from sugar so it tastes like sugar,” Splenda is actually a chemically created product containing chlorine and phosgene, a toxic gas.

Dr. Mercola's website (www.mercola.com) is an excellent resource for learning about the many dangers of Splenda.

Further research is needed to determine the exact long-term consequences of ingesting this poisonous substance over many years.  Animal research provides us with evidence that Splenda contributes to health problems such as diarrhea, aborted pregnancy, enlarged organs, reduced growth rate and decreased red blood cell count.  We don’t know everything there is to know about this product, but we’ve learned enough to come to the conclusion that we must avoid it.

SWEET ALTERNATIVES

Splenda may not be the short cut that so many Americans think it is, but there are still a few healthy alternatives.  First, you can reduce sweets in your diet.  It may not sound fun, but it’s the healthiest option.  Over time, your desire for sugary sweets will dramatically decrease and your insulin levels will level out.  If you avoid sugar and artificial sweeteners for even a week, you’ll be amazed at how much sweeter the items you used to love will taste and you may even be satisfied with a smaller quantity.  At the very least, you can bake with sucanat, which is a whole cane sugar instead of using the processed white sugar.

When you want that occasional treat, use natural sweeteners like Stevia, agave nectar, honey and Xylitol.  Stevia is a South American herb that’s been around for hundreds of years.  The leaves of the Stevia plant have a delicious and refreshing taste that can be 100 times sweeter than sugar.  The body does not metabolize the sweet glycosides from the Stevia leaf or any of its processed forms, so there is no caloric intake.  Plus, Stevia doesn’t adversely affect blood glucose levels and may be used freely by diabetics.  You can now find this product at your local health food store and even on the baking aisle at the grocery store.  Check out my Stevia recipes for Pumpkin Raisin Bars and Margaritas!

This cook book is a great resource for Stevia dessert recipes.

Agave Nectar comes from the Agave plants that thrive in Southern Mexico.  While this honey-like nectar has all the useful properties of real sugar, its lower glycemic index helps protect against health risks associated with traditional sweeteners.

Xylitol is another healthy alternative. This white crystalline substance looks and tastes like sugar and has been used in foods since the 1960s. In addition to serving as a sugar substitute, Xylitol has been proven to prevent tooth decay. Look for Xylitol-flavored chewing gum like Trident.

If you’re still reaching for artificial sweeteners and foods that contain them, it’s time to face the sour truth!  It’s better to just eat the real stuff in moderation, or even better, to seek out natural alternatives.  Your body will thank you!

What’s all the gluten-free fuss about?

You may have noticed the ever-growing section of gluten-free foods at your local market or health food store.  Or perhaps you’ve noticed that restaurants like Outback Steakhouse, Macaroni Grill, P.F. Changs, Shane’s Rib Shack and Mellow Mushroom offer gluten-free menus.  Our patients are even reporting that some churches now provide a separate gluten-free communion!  So what’s all this gluten-free fuss about, and what does it all mean?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat and grains like spelt, kamut, barley and rye.  It’s what gives dough its elastic consistency and holds bread together.

Gluten stops sauces, gravies and soups from curdling and gives many processed foods like dips and margarines a smooth texture.

Gluten is extremely difficult for humans and pets to digest (You could do your dogs and cats a favor by buying them gluten-free food!). As humans transitioned from a hunter-gatherer to an agrarian society, they instinctively knew to ferment and sour their grains to make them more digestible.  Nevertheless, archeology shows that humans decreased in stature and brain size after gluten was introduced into our diets, and dental caries, infant mortality and skeletal diseases all skyrocketed.

To make matters even worse, our nation’s processing and storage processes have further denatured gluten grains, fostering the growth of toxins and making it even more harmful to the body.  Despite all this, wheat continues to dominate the American diet (And the food pyramid instructs us to eat 6-11 servings of grains a day…way more than we need!).

A gluten intolerance develops when your immune system begins reacting to gluten as if it were something harmful, like a virus or bacteria.  The latest research concludes that one in three Americans is gluten intolerant, and more than 80 percent of us are genetically predisposed to a gluten intolerance.

When people who are intolerant eat gluten, it wreaks havoc on the intestinal lining, leading to a chronic immune response and digestive issues galore.  The symptoms can look different from person to person (joint pain and inflammation, dermatitis, asthma and other respiratory tract issues, poor brain function, autoimmune diseases, behavioral issues, etc.), but the damage often begins in the gut.

Whether you are intolerant to it or not, I encourage you to take a look at the amount of gluten in your diet and do your best to keep it to a minimum.  You might not think you eat much gluten if you don’t consume a lot of grains, but it’s in more foods than you might think, such as salad dressings, condiments, lunch meats and processed foods.  And, don’t forget that beer comes from wheat and barley!

Red Bridge is a good gluten-free beer alternative.

Tips for reducing your gluten intake:

  • Mix it up. Don’t reach for the pastas and breads every time.  Brown rice, corn and potato are all options when you’re looking for a gluten-free starch to go with a meal.
  • Shop for gluten-free alternatives. If you start looking for it, you’ll notice there are tons of options out there.  In fact, it’s the fastest growing segment of the natural foods market.  Check out Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or your local health food store for the best variety, or head to the natural section of your grocery store.   You can find some quite tasty breads, cake/brownie mixes, pastas and crackers that come from rice, corn or potato instead of wheat.  Buckwheat, millet, amaranth, and quinoa are all gluten-free grains.  Over time, you’ll compile your own list of go-to brands that are committed to being gluten-free (For example, all Boar’s Head meats, cheeses and condiments are gluten, MSG, hormone/antibiotic and nitrate free.)  Little changes in your shopping habits can make a huge difference in your health!
  • Buy whole, organic foods. When we stay away from most packaged, frozen and canned foods and opt for fresh meat and produce, we automatically eliminate a large amount of gluten from our diet.  (Bonus: we also limit our pesticide exposure and consumption of harmful additives!)
  • Do your homework. There are dozens of gluten-free cookbooks on the market, as well as several Web sites that cater to a gluten-free lifestyle. (Here are a few: www.wholefoodsmarket.com, www.gfreecuisine.com, www.livingwithout.com, www.the-gluten-free-chef.com)

We could all benefit from reducing the amount of gluten we’re eating on a regular basis, and leaning more toward a lean and green, low-glycemic diet.  Do you have any tips for reducing gluten or know of any great gluten-free brands or restaurants we should know about?  Please share them here!

Grocery Store Spotlight: Navigating the Baking Aisle

We’ve all been in a situation where we needed a quick dessert in a pinch.  Maybe you’ve gotten into bed and realized that you were supposed to bring cupcakes for your child’s class party the next morning, or you remember it’s a friend’s birthday at work.  Or, perhaps you just didn’t have time to do anything elaborate for the neighborhood potluck.  Unless you thought ahead and ordered something from the bakery, you find yourself in the baking aisle at the grocery store, desperately searching for a quick and easy treat that might even fool people into thinking that you’ve got it all together and made something from scratch!  (No judgment, I’m a domestic goddess in training myself!)

Let's face it, sometimes a box of brownie or cake mix is the best we can do!

But have you ever looked at the contents some of those brownie and cake mixes?  Well I have, and they are full of unhealthy ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, artificial flavoring, modified starches, dyes and a bunch of words I can’t pronounce!

For example, here’s a look at the ingredients in a box of Betty Crocker Super Moist Yellow Cake Mix:

Enriched bleached flour (wheat flour, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), sugar, corn syrup, leavening, partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oil, modified corn starch, corn starch, salt, propylene glycol mono and diesters of fatty acids, dextrose, dicalcium phosphate, distilled monoglycerides, sodium stearoyl lactylate, natural and artificial flavors, xanthum gum, yellow 5 and yellow 6.

Think twice before you grab the Betty Crocker box brands.

And here are the ingredients in the Duncan Hines Caramel Turtle Brownie Mix:

MIX: Sugar, Bleached Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour [Enriched with Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid], Malted Barley Flour), Cocoa Powder Processed with Alkali, Walnuts (Nuts, Corn Oil, BHT Added to Protect Flavor), Vegetable Oil Shortening (Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil), Wheat Starch, Dextrose, Salt, Cornstarch, Artificial Flavor, Carrageenan, Leavening (Sodium Bicarbonate). CARAMEL TOPPING: Corn Syrup, Water, Dextrose, Sugar, Modified Food Starch, Natural and Artificial Flavors [Milk], Salt, Phosphoric Acid, Caramel Color, Potassium Sorbate [Preservative], Sodium Citrate, Colored with (Yellow 5, Red 40, Titanium Dioxide).

And surely that sweet little dough boy wouldn’t put anything harmful in his products. 

Let’s see what’s really in Pillsbury’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough:

Enriched Flour Bleached (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Semisweet Chocolate Chips (Sugar, Chocolate Liquor, Cocoa Butter, Soy Lecithin, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Salt, Milk), Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and Cottonseed Oil, Water, Molasses, Eggs, Salt, Baking Soda, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Natural and Artificial Flavor.

He's not as sweet as he looks!

Here are the contents of Ghirardelli’s Double Chocolate Brownie Mix:

Sugar, enriched bleached flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folate), chocolate chips (sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla), partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils, natural cocoa, wheat starch, cocoa (processed with alkali), salt, artificial flavor, sodium bicarbonate, natural butter flavor.

So maybe you think you can find better-quality products if you head over to the frozen section and grab a pie or cake there.  Think again.

These are the ingredients in the Sara Lee German Chocolate Layer Cake, the biggest doozie of them all!

Water, sugar, skim milk, high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (coconut, soybean and/or cottonseed and palm kernel oils), enriched bleached flour (wheat flour, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), eggs, corn syrup, whey protein concentrate, vegetable oil (soybean and/or cottonseed oils), cream, maltodextrin, walnuts, butter, coconut, cocoa processed with alkali, mono- and diglycerides, milk protein concentrate, almonds, propylene glycol ester, modified corn starch, polyglycerol esters of fatty acids, salt, leavening (sodium acid pyrophosphate, baking soda, corn starch, monocalcium phosphate), acetic acid esters of mono-diglycerides, lactose (milk), xanthan gum, natural flavor, cellulose gum, polysorbate 60, soy lecithin, sodium citrate, disodium phosphate, colored with (beta carotene, caramel color, and annatto extract), carob bean gum, guar gum, soy flour.

I checked it out, and all the Sara Lee cakes and full of harmful ingredients.

Ok, so right about now you might be despairing that I’m declaring all the mainstream brands you’ve been buying for years to be unsuitable.  But don’t fret, there are some healthier options out there for those of you who don’t have the time or desire to bake everything from scratch.

Look for the Dr. Oetker Organics brand, found in the natural section of your grocery store.  Their products are all USDA Certified Organic and don’t contain all the junk.  They make brownie, cake, cookie, pancake, icing, pudding and other mixes.  I baked a batch of the chocolate brownies the other night to make sure they didn’t taste gross (The things I do for the sake of research!), and they were delightful.  I don’t think anybody would be able to tell that they were any different from the popular brands.   There were 5 ingredients in the brownies I made:

Organic Cane Sugar, Organic Enriched Wheat Flour, Organic Cocoa, Salt and Baking Soda

Now that’s an ingredient list I can feel better about eating and feeding to my friends and family.  When it comes to cookie dough, I like the Immaculate Baking Company products, found in the natural section of the grocery store as well as health food markets.

This company uses real, organic ingredients and there are no syrups, dyes or hydrogenated oils in sight!

Another brand that I’ve purchased but haven’t tried out yet is Cherrybrook Kitchen.  This might be a great brand for you to try if you’re often baking for people with gluten and dairy sensitivities.

So, it turns out the secret to conquering the baking aisle is to avoid it all together!  The healthiest brands are often found in the natural section of your regular grocery store or at health food or specialty markets (Trader Joe’s provides some great, affordable options.).  There are so many choices out there, so as always, read labels closely and find the brand with the fewest ingredients (that you can pronounce!).  You might want to stock up so you always have something on hand in an emergency!

Alright, so we may not bake like Martha Stewart, but we can raise the bar on the store-bought desserts we serve to the people we love!  Next time you need cupcakes, cookies or brownies in a hurry, avoid the Pillsbury, Sara Lee, Duncan Hines, Ghirardelli and Sara Lee brands in the baking aisle and frozen section and reach for healthier alternatives.  Yes, they will probably cost a bit more, but I think it’s worth it to save yourself dozens of unnecessary, damaging ingredients.