Those three words are floating around the office water cooler and the Internet in the last few weeks. I have even had a couple people ask me if I had read the story.
Of those three words in the sentence, the definitions of two of them are fairly broad. "Is" is still is.
Sugar is defined in the article as "anything that is sweet." Toxic means poison. But what does "Is sugar toxic?" mean for the food we eat?
"High-fructose corn syrup, sugar — no difference" is within The New York Times article. All sugars are lumped together, which sounds dramatic but doesn't spark a dialogue. At BalanceofFood.com, we don't think that is true.
To further complicate the topic, sugar is also defined as the byproduct when you eat starchy foods.
To clarify, fruit and milk have natural sugars that don't affect the body like other sugars. Carrots are naturally sweet. Things that are naturally sweet aren't worth the sweat.
"Naturally sweet" is also in use for those who believe in using honey and agave nectar to sweeten items. There are advantages over refined sugar, but how much depends on the amount used.
We are told that natural and artificial sweeteners are used because their sweetness level is higher, therefore we can use less to achieve sweetness. The problem is our foods are too sweet, regardless of what we use to sweeten them.
Because HFCS is so cheap, more of it is used in foods and in foods that otherwise aren't sweet.
A limited amount of sugar isn't going to kill us. "Limited" is the key word.
To say that sugar is poison is designed to scare us. Taking it literally is dangerous; ignoring the overall message that we are getting too much "sugar" is also dangerous.
Find alternatives that are less sweet. When practical, make your own version and add the sugar level you want. Though I haven't seen a Kool-Aid ad in years, its commercials used to preach the message of letting Mom decide how much sugar her children would get. And you can't buy high-fructose corn syrup.
If you are concerned that you are consuming too many calories, reducing your sugar intake is the easiest way to fix that. This doesn't mean you have to go without, though.
BalanceofFood.com friend and dietitian Melissa Dobbins pointed out in a recent TV segment that you could use 25% less sugar in a baking recipe and not lose sweetness or consistency.
Getting used to eating less sweet will take time. And try to resist temptation to pile on the artificial sweeteners. You are trying to diminish your sweet tooth.
Food trucks have proven to be a dilemma for us at BalanceofFood.com. We love the portability in a size and setup better suited than ice cream trucks. Given the rate of restaurant failure, food trucks allow restauranteurs a chance to succeed where they otherwise might not have a chance. And there is the fun of using this vehicle (pun intended) using that motif to bring unique foods to people who otherwise might not be exposed to them.
At the same time, the coverage of food trucks comes across as bringing pseudo pretentious fusion to people who have access to that kind of food anyway, missing a marvelous chance to make great use of portability to help those who really need better quality food.
There was the story last week of a grass roots movement in Chicago — Food Desert Action — that is converting a CTA bus into a mobile produce stand. This is where portability can help the masses. Food deserts exist mere miles away from people who have plenty of food options clamoring for food trucks, and this disconnect bothers us greatly at BalanceofFood.com.
There are a few communities that are doing similar ventures to Food Desert Action, but they are drops in a sea of people who don’t have regular access to fresh fruits and vegetables. And this isn’t just about the food itself; having someone who cares about them enough to want them to eat better can lift communities that need the help and encouragement to do better with food.
The other crucial occurrence was getting a chance to educate myself as to how food trucks work. While I live in a big city (Chicago), I live in one with a paranoid mayor (the soon-to-be retiring Richard M. Daley) where he wouldn’t allow food trucks to cook on the truck, defeating the purpose of, well, a food truck. If we are going to complain about elementary schools only being able to warm up lunches made elsewhere, we will complain about food trucks for adults that do the same thing.
There was a food truck summit in Chicago last week in what started out as a rainstorm and became a borderline monsoon. We were cold and wet under a tent that leaked, but we were surrounded by food trucks. Other than seeing a cupcake truck (that was there) downtown, this was my first exposure to food trucks. True, I have eaten off food carts in Chicago, Toronto, and Vancouver, even Windsor, Ontario. But those were hot dog type carts, nothing fancy.
There was an empanada truck, a tamale truck, a couple of sweets trucks, a mac ‘n’ cheese truck, a naan sandwich truck (it has a bricks and mortar location where I have eaten), and a truck that has Italian meatballs, flavored French fries, mushroom soup — couldn’t classify it easily. The offer was select items for around $3, a tasting of some of their most popular items.
The food truck I couldn’t classify was one from Evanston, a border suburb to the north (home of Northwestern University). Trucks in Evanston can cook on board since its mayor isn’t paranoid. I got a chicken sandwich with pickled radishes and onions with a chili aioli on ciabatta bread. The aioli wasn’t that spicy, the vegetables were a nice touch even though they blended into the background. The chicken wasn’t that good nor visually appealing; though it would be grilled but looked breaded, something I would find in the frozen foods section.
I waited in a rather long line at the empanada truck. There were 6 choices, went for the BBQ chicken one. The other choices were around $3, but the empanadas were $2. Admittedly, they were small; the woman in front of me bought one of each for her and her boyfriend. The one I had was tasty and a nice little snack. I couldn’t help but wonder how good it would have been if freshly prepared on the truck.
The dessert had to be a cupcake since I had passed by the cupcake truck before in its regular motif. It felt like I was in line for something female-centric, such as tampons. Not a whole lot of testosterone in line.
I got a chocolate raspberry selection, chocolate cake with raspberry filling and raspberry cream cheese frosting. Height-wise, the cupcake was 50% frosting, only adding to the girly element. The frosting was more visual than taste — lots of calories with little taste is a bad thing in my world. The cupcake itself was pretty good, though nowhere near the value assigned to the $3.25 price tag.
The evening's expenditure, before the storm crashed down on the event, cost $8.25 and I came away with a good amount of taste and decent full levels. Next time in a similar scenario, I would have skipped dessert, maybe gone for the mushroom soup, and bought 1 or 2 more empanadas. But I'm not sure I would get that excited to chase one down, unless, possibly, they can start cooking on the truck.
Having watched shows about food trucks in other cities, often they will congregate in a particular spot, giving people the chance to roam from truck to truck. This adds to the variety yet reduces the portability.
If food trucks are going to duplicate what is out there among people who can get similar type food, that will be boring. Putting too much restriction on food trucks will hurt the business (e.g., Toronto's food cart troubles). But food trucks would also serve a higher purpose if they would roam to food deserts.
Green Truck is a mobile truck service that serves healthier food that is local in origin. Oliver mentioned the Green Truck and pointed out that they serve local food, in this case, specifically bison burgers, bison dogs, salads.
Oliver noted that Green Truck serves the "same kind of foods, just better ingredients, less processed, less refined, leaner meats."
I would go to a food truck to get a bison burger or bison dog, since I can't find too many of them. Ironically, the restaurant I mourned earlier this year did return, but without its signature buffalo burger.
Freaked out because your DVR isn't scheduled to record Tuesday's episode of "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution"?
Well ... looks like the show is pre-empted for another hour of "Dancing with the Stars." Not sure why we need 2 hours of DWTS instead of 1. If I were a DWTS fan, I might know why. Anyway, the originally scheduled April 26 episode will now air May 3 at 8 pm Eastern/Pacific.
Having ABC move the program from Fridays to Tuesdays for its second season was a sign that the network had faith in the show. There are many more potential viewers on Tuesday than Friday. But the network ran "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" straight through its run.
Will Jamie's show lose momentum as a result of losing a week? Will people remember to tune back?
if you recall last year's run, the show debuted in late March and ended before the May sweeps. This switch happens before the May sweeps, which starts Thursday. Skipping a week means more Jamie Oliver during May sweeps unless, of course, the show gets interrupted again.
The idea of televising the revolution is to get as many eyeballs to watch the program, so a better time slot is great, but only if they show it regularly. Running in May sweeps is wonderful, unless the pressure of sweeps leads to odd scheduling.
if Jamie's show ran on cable, the airings would be regular, reruns would be plentiful, but the overall audience would be small. Running on a major OTA network means airings will be mostly regular, reruns will be virtually non-existent, but the overall audience would be much larger. Tradeoffs? Yes. We just want to make sure the program doesn't lose the momentum to bring the food revolution to the masses.
Note: no podcast this week. Podcasts may be in and out during the run of Season 2 of Jamie's show since school lunches will be a dominant topic.
You might recall that toward the end of Tuesday's episode, Jamie Oliver noted that "America deserves better." His quest to get rid of flavored milk in school lunch programs is in keeping with his motto.
Jamie Oliver rants against a lot of elements in the American school lunch program, but flavored milk is tops on his list. Oliver sincerely asks why children are offered chocolate and strawberry milk in schools, given the added sugars. Jamie often points out in his show that flavored milk has more sugar than a can of fizzy pop.
True, some of that sugar is milk sugar. And in attending seminars on school lunches at the Family Farmed Expo in Chicago, some school systems are working to reduce the sugar content of the flavored milk. Few are banning them entirely.
While I am not as aggressive on Facebook as I used to be, I couldn't help notice that this week, two of my Facebook friends (friends in real life, too) had posted two different op-eds [Link 1 and Link 2] on the benefits of chocolate milk in the school lunch programs (though I don't know the op-ed authors personally).
The theme in both op-eds were straightforward; schools should stock chocolate milk in schools because, otherwise, kids won't drink milk and they need to drink milk for calcium for growing bones.
I certainly applaud the idea of children getting calcium and growing strong bones. Win-win. The disagreement lies in how.
If children are never exposed to flavored milk, they will not know any better. However, even if kids aren't being served chocolate milk in schools, most children are certainly aware of flavored milk. And the authors and their supporters say if you take away chocolate milk, they won't drink the white milk.
At first, I would agree. If you are used to chocolate milk, you would have trouble adjusting to white milk. Adjusting from whole milk to 2% milk is a tough transition. The new product doesn't taste like you think "milk" should taste. And given how much sugar kids eat, sugar withdrawal from their milk has to be tough, especially as a child.
The two authors generally agree that children are getting 4 extra teaspoons of sugar per 8 oz. milk — sugars that aren't milk sugars. How would they feel about 4 teaspoons of sugar being added to spaghetti sauce so kids will eat tomatoes? Or 4 teaspoons added to bread for sandwiches? Do the ends always justify the means?
We are told that we have to serve kids lunches that approximate fast food; otherwise, they won't eat lunch. We are told that milk needs added sugars; otherwise, they won't drink milk. Why aren't we giving kids the benefit of the doubt that they might know more than we do about themselves and what they are capable of accomplishing?
Adults don't buy much chocolate milk at the store for themselves. They drink white milk, if they drink milk at all. Of course, they drink sugar-laden pseudo-coffees; some lessons aren't always learned.
Not that change will be easy, but if society is going to change the way we feed our children at school, then we should look at what is there and what we can change.
If these kids are eating breakfast at school, they get plenty of sugar from the food. Yes, kids need energy, but parents and schools complain about ADD and attention spans; perhaps there is a link. Schools that revamp their school lunch programs find kids pay more attention in class and are better behaved. Not saying there is a direct correlation, but something to ponder further.
Both authors note that there are bigger problems within the school lunch system than flavored milk. And on that point, we can all agree. But we also talk about the dangers of "liquid calories" in our diet. Teaching children to get calcium through cheese, butter, leafy greens, and yogurt shows them other ways to get calcium than through drinking milk.
School systems are set up for children to drink milk, and milk counts toward the minimum requirements to get a school lunch reimbursed by the federal government. So chocolate and strawberry milk increase those odds for pennies per day.
Changing children's palates is a daunting task in itself, much less doing so within the financial and restrictive nature of USDA guidelines. However, we should try to reduce the flavored milk in schools, but do so in a way that teaches kids about making smart food choices.
Have chocolate milk available on Fridays or special days. Treats are special, and if chocolate milk is available every day, then it's no longer a treat. Offer incentives to do white milk that might involve getting chocolate milk occasionally. Or get kids to pick healthier meals and 'reward' them with chocolate milk.
The goal of those who are in favor of flavored milk is getting kids to drink more milk. And those against flavored milk want kids to get the goodness of milk without the added sugars. There are plenty of compromises that can satisfy both sides.
At those school lunch seminars, some of those school systems were talking about eliminating high-fructose corn syrup from chocolate milk. If the people who wrote the op-eds would agree that those changes are good, then we have made progress. We all can agree that if we are serving chocolate and strawberry milk, they should be free of high-fructose corn syrup. And schools are also good at reducing fat in flavored milks.
The status quo isn't acceptable, but a total ban may not be practical. If nothing else, even if flavored milk is kept in schools, kids should learn something about making smarter choices in the school lunch line.
The commercials within "the revolution" are getting better, though the bar was low to start. Advertisers: understand that while many with the DVRs are fast-forwarding past the commercials, BalanceofFood.com is in your face about the food you want to put in our face.
Hellman's Light Mayonnaise advertised with the slogan "Real Simple Ingredients." Yet, these are the ingredients that Hellman's says doesn't belong in mayonnaise: modified corn starch, xantham gum, lemon and lime peel fibers, sorbic acid, phosphoric acid, and beta carotene. Most of this is not simple.
Water is the first ingredient: simple, yes. But hardly worth establishing bragging rights. Oil and vinegar are next, and that modified corn starch is before eggs; just like Grandma used to buy. Sugar and salt are also simple but not ingredients to be proud of having too much. Calcium disodium EDTA, lemon juice concentrate, dl alpha tocopheryl acetate, and natural flavors round out the list.
If your commercial-brand mayo is going to brag about "real simple ingredients," don't use the light version as your visual example. And don't try to make it part of the revolution unless you can back up the hype.
Cindy Crawford was beautiful and in shape when she was discovered while being an engineering major at Northwestern University. Yet, Propel Zero wants to take credit for how she looks. Ah, no. And two commercials makes it worse.
Just take the vitamin pills with the water: cheaper and more efficient that way.
Special K ran an ad for the second show in a row, this time for a protein shake with 10g of protein and 5g of fiber. First, they want women to eat their "chocolate" after 9 pm, then they don't want them to eat, at least not where you have to chew. The revolution allows people to use their teeth.
Water is the first ingredient and there are two artificial sweeteners, or as Special K puts it, "nonnutritive sweeteners." And there is sugar and corn syrup solids in the product. How much sweet do you need in a diet drink?
Ore-Ida is pushing its fries (this is a product that I enjoy as well). The premise of the ad is a family cutting back in trying financial times, yet they are paying much more money per pound. A 5-lb. bag of potatoes, skins included, is cheaper than a 2-lb. bag of Ore-Ida fries. For the record, I have both in the house. And the real potatoes are healthier if you keep the skins on, tastier too.
We had another Bing tag and then a spot in the next break. While this isn't a food-related product placement, the ongoing commercials within the show make me and others not want to use Bing out of spite. It's lame and any company that wants its name associated with a lame stunt is, well, lame.
"I do know what my customers want. They are looking for a good price and quantity. They're not concerned with quality." -- Deno.
For those who missed last week's episode, Deno is the owner of the fast food restaurant that Jamie Oliver is trying to convince to serve better made food. The emphasis in italics is mine, but when you play back the clip, Deno realizes a second after he says it that some snarky journalist may post that quote at the top of a blog entry.
Jamie Oliver is desperate for the revolution to be inside the school cafeteria, but Oliver got two good doses of reality as to why the revolution is also around what happens inside the school cafeteria.
So Jamie goes through a bunch of complaining about not getting into the LA school cafeterias, and not working well with Deno. There was very little that happened in the first 25 minutes.
But Jamie finally gets into the classroom, yet not the cafeteria. He teaches a class of 10 in a culinary arts class. The focus ends up on Sophia, whose sister and parents are diabetics. Her 13-year-old sister was diagnosed with diabetes when she was 10. Jamie offers to work with Sophia in the future. This has strong potential, and we'd wish Jamie could spend more time on people such as Sophia.
Then Jamie decided that coming up with a Revolution Burger to compete with Deno's regular burgers was the best way to go. But Oliver made sure to keep the costs at what Deno was charging for one of his more expensive burgers.
Jamie tried out his Revolution Burger on a random street corner. He cleverly asked patrons to pay what they thought it was worth. Smart way to get people to try the product and let Jamie know the value of the burger.
Jamie's Revolution Burger had more taste and only 430 calories, versus Deno's burger at 800-1500 calories: each one for $4.85. One crucial point for consumers is to make it easy to make a stronger choice. If you are in the same place, and the price is the same, you would almost have to choose the healthier option.
Deno needed to learn that at the same price, his customers do care about quality.
Early on in the episode, Jamie dressed up as a tomato and passed out free lunches to school kids. The lunches included fruit, white milk, and a wrap featuring guacamole, smoked turkey, lettuce, and herbs. The kids got T-shirts that said "Feed Me Better" and "Let Jamie Oliver In."
Jamie Oliver came at us in the beginning of the last break to make this much more than a hour of TV to watch on your couch:
"Please don't just watch this show. Get involved. Go to ABC.com. And remember America, you deserve better."
Oliver got volunteers to dress up as fruits and vegetables to pass out those lunches. This is not just about a chef from England; this is about average Americans doing what they can.
"We need more health, not necessarily more health care. Health prevention, health education. We're the only party with a national food policy to put more Canadian food on Canadian plates and get the salt, fat, and sugar down. That's how you get better value for your health care dollar."
Feel like you wish your government was more concerned about the food that you eat?
Some Americans would feel that government shouldn't be involved any more than necessary with a wobbly definition of what "necessary" means.
But if you are looking for a government that is interested in what is going on in the food supply, Canada might be your answer.
As readers of our sister blog, CanadianCrossing.com, are fully aware of, there is a federal election coming up on May 2.
Some of the Liberal Party highlights include education programs, improved food labels, and restrictions on trans fat and sodium. The Liberal platform calls for a mass review of Canada's entire agriculture structure, something desperately needed in the United States.
Among the parties with current MPs (sorry Greens), the New Democratic Party has the strongest platform on food issues. Okay, so the NDP isn't going to win the prime minister's chair, but they could have influence over who is the next prime minister, especially if the new government is also a minority.
The NDP pushes food security/sovereignty, emphasizes local food networks, and wants a food school to teach kids how to create nutritious foods.
Even the Conservatives, the party currently in charge of the minority government, have provisions to create an "Agriculture Innovation Initiative, to support local farm-based research and development projects." And the Conservative budget contains $100 million over five years to increase capacity in the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Yes, that's right, conservatives funding increased food inspection.
Canada isn't exactly all that progressive on the topic, unlike, say, European countries. Thanks to NAFTA, Canada is overrun with glucose-fructose (i.e., high-fructose corn syrup). The efforts are small, so far, but at least no matter which government runs the next Parliament, there will be some progress (pronounced PRO-gress) in Canada on a somewhat stronger food policy. Then the new prime minister can come to Washington to talk to Congress and tell them to wake up on creating a stronger food policy.
Passover starts at sunset tonight, so people have been getting ready for the celebration. And at least in my area, people are stocking up on goodies that are Kosher for Passover, not to be confused with Kosher foods.
Regular readers know that I take advantage of this special time for my own indulgence: Kosher for Passover Coca-Cola.
For those relatively new readers, Kosher for Passover Coca-Cola is distinct from regular Coca-Cola since high-fructose corn syrup is not Kosher for Passover. Corn products don’t make the cut, so they make the soft drink with real sugar.
When I first discovered this fantastic product more than a decade ago, I wished that Kosher for Passover Coca-Cola would be a year-round treat. And while that hasn’t happened, what was the status quo has actually declined over the last couple of years.
One joy in having the Kosher for Passover version was that it was available in 12 oz. cans, so the product could be savored a little bit at a time over several months.
Unfortunately, in the last few years, the availability has been limited to 2-liter bottles – nice if you are throwing a party, but impractical if you need it to last beyond a few days.
This is all the more frustrating since you walk down the aisle and see miniature bottles and cans, a size that would be perfect for K4P Coke. Serving size is crucial, and 2-liter bottles make it more tempting to pour larger servings. And while the taste is so much better, a little bit does go a long way.
And when you see Pepsi Throwback, Mountain Dew Throwback even Dublin, TX Dr. Pepper in glass bottles, you think that Coca-Cola is missing the bigger picture.
There is a niche audience for a small bottle or can K4P Coca-Cola year-round, and this is just for those who know about the product.
Yes, Mexican Coca-Cola is rather prominent and in glass bottles. But the combination of K4P in smaller sizes would be a win-win for all parties concerned, especially Coca-Cola.
And if we can expand the list of requests just a bit further, convince your Canadian division to move away from glucose-fructose (HFCS) in its Coca-Cola product. The taste is not nearly as good as Canadian Coca-Cola used to be not so long ago.
For the consumer, this is about taste. For the manufacturer, profit. There is a direction to satisfy both cravings.
Note: No podcast this week: there will be a carryover of the theme on Monday (you'll see on Monday what this means).
This was a particularly busy week for food. Lost in the shuffle was one of our favorite features, Stephen Colbert's Food for Thought. And since Colbert and his compatriot, Jon Stewart, are going on the Easter/Passover break, we wanted to give you a taste.
Personally, I have been eating more chocolate lately, but not in the traditional candy bar form. Apparently, I'm missing a new ingredient in the chocolate bars: air. I like the band Air (way different from Air Supply) and I love breathing air.
Air is being added because of the rising price of chocolate, but you have to ask yourself after awhile how much chocolate you are getting. Sure, the label says chocolate but we live in a land where there is white chocolate, something that is more theoretical than actual.
Colbert's Choxygen, a wonderful parody, is the ultimate candy bar because it gives us life and zero calories. The bad news is that we have to pay for it.
Then, we got Colbert's take on bacon, or at least Denny's tribute to bacon: Baconalia. There was the bacon taster plate and the maple bacon sundae.
As wonderful as bacon can be, most restaurants don't get a basic appreciation of bacon. How often do you see bacon in a restaurant that is lightly cooked? How often do you ask yourself whether if you went back to the kitchen, you could cook it your way and maybe they would give you a discount for cooking your own bacon?
Truthfully, if Denny's cooked bacon to the level that we want to eat it, that would be a celebration of bacon.
Colbert's take on the bacon dessert was "What if we scrape the breakfast dishes into the freezer instead of the garbage?"
I had an opportunity to try chocolate-covered bacon when I did my in-depth report of deep-fried butter. And the picture showed bacon that was barely cooked. That wasn't tempting. Well-cooked bacon covered with a dark chocolate sauce: mmmmmm. Barely-cooked bacon with sugar-laden (or HFCS) milk chocolate: not worth it even if you don't have to wait in line.
There is no right way to finding the balance of food, just your way. My typical breakfast is whole wheat spaghetti with homemade sauce, sautéed mushrooms, and a naturally low-fat Italian cheese sprinkled on top. Works for me.