Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fond Memories of Licorice and Cherry

Jelly Beans are a significant part of the Easter Sunday candy menu.

HEAD’S UP: Yours Truly is still in North Louisiana trying to be the best patient advocate possible for my ailing Ma Ma. I arrived a few days after Old Girl was admitted to hospital on 31 January in atrocious shape. While much better, she is not yet well enough for me to return to Gotham where there are at least eight million stories. Dutiful daughter that I am, I remain in the southern branch of the family seat. Happily, I do have stories. And I plan to tell them.

“How do you stay so thin,” a cousin asked me a few weeks back.
“I eat whole food,” said I, alluding to foods not stripped of many of their nutrients and "enriched" with chemicals designed solely to extend their shelf life or to makeup for a key missing ingredient such as fat. “The way we ate when we were growing up.” And I also reminded her that I have been thin all my life, plus I exercise in moderation. Then I embarked on a primer on healthy eating.

I’ve often since thought about that conversation because many people in Monroe are overweight. It’s also been on the brain the last week or so because of the myriad reminders that Easter is near. I walked passed an aisle fairly bursting with Easter baskets the day I should not have been in Wal-Mart. One sees signs of the day at supermarkets, malls/shopping centers, pharmacies, on television – just about everywhere one can buy clothes or food.

In my humble effort to make the world a better, healthier height-weight proportionate place through basic nutritional education, I offer some suggestions on how families can eat as healthfully as possible on Easter and any day of the year. Over the next few days, leading up to Good Friday, I’ll confine my remarks to chocolate, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), eggs, flour, trans fats and soft drinks.

But first some statistics. In its ranking last year of the most and least healthy states, United Health Foundation ranked Louisiana 47 based on such indicators as childhood vaccinations, smoking, cancer deaths and obesity. Vermont is ranked No.1, while Mississippi is 50. The top 10 healthiest states include all six New England states. On the other extreme only one state – Nevada – among the least healthiest is outside of the south.

Obesity in adults, a major indicator of health, is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater, according to the Centers for Disease Control. BMI is calculated from a person's weight and height and provides a reasonable indicator of body fatness and weight categories that may lead to health problems. Obesity is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes. The definition of overweight is a BMI of 25-29.9.

According to a study published online on 13 January in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, 68 percent of U.S. adults are either overweight or obese. The obesity rate in Louisiana is 28.3, the CDC reports. The national average is 33.8. For young people ages 2 through 19, whose rates are calculated differently than it is for adults, the obesity rate is 16 percent.

Now some words about chocolate and HFCS:

This is pretty straightforward. Choose milk chocolate over dark chocolate. And make a buy of chocolate not associated with human rights violations. For more details, read

Oh, my beloved jelly beans. My favorites are the black ones, which taste like licorice and the cherry-flavored red ones. If only I can find some that do not contain HFCS.

According to Mosby’s Medical Dictionary, 8th Edition, high fructose corn syrup is “a sweetener made by processing corn syrup to increase the level of fructose, usually to between 42 percent and 55 percent of the total sugar, with the balance being glucose. It is used extensively as a sweetener in processed foods and soft drinks, particularly soda and baked goods, but it is included also in many foods not normally thought of as sweet foods.” One of these is Heinz Ketchup, I learned one evening at dinner. It's also in some salad dressings.

Unfortunately, the medical community has not reached consensus on the ill effects of HFCS.

Michael Roizen, “The Enforcer” for Mehmet Oz of “Oprah”and “The Dr. Oz Show” fame, wrote on “One of the biggest evil influences on our diet is the presence of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) ...

“The problem is that HFCS inhibits the secretion of the hormone leptin, which tells your brain that you're full, so you never get the message,” explained Roizen, chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic. “And it never shuts off gherlin (the other main hormone that controls appetite, which stimulates your hunger), so even though you have food in your stomach, you constantly get the message that you're hungry.” Both factors have contributed “enormously” to obesity, he added.

The American Medical Association, however, says HFCS has no more ill effects than cane sugar, and that overconsumption of either is not good.

Meanwhile, has a number of opinions. There are tons of references to HFCS on its Web site. Some cite the lack of conclusive evidence about its harmful effects, while others assert its harmfulness and still others suggest, as does the AMA, that it is no worse than cane sugar. The most dogmatic, however, advises avoiding it at all costs.

Here’s Christine Rosenbloom in an article titled “The Truth Behind 10 Diet Myths.” "There's probably nothing particularly evil about high fructose corn syrup, compared to regular old sugar."

Rosenbloom of Georgia State University (Atlanta) asserts that the myths date to 2003, when researchers noticed a correlation between the rise of obesity with the use of HFCS. "They speculated that ... maybe we handle [high fructose corn syrup] differently than we do sugar … there really isn't any evidence to support that," she stresses.

Christine Gerbstadt, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, is less sanguine. In the article, “What’s Haunting Your Kitchen,” she advises tossing everything that lists high-fructose corn syrup (or other sugars) as the first ingredient. "Sugar is not the evil when you control the amount in your food," says Gerbstadt. "The trouble is that most prepared food contains much more than you would add yourself."

In that same article Inger Stallmann is most unequivocal. The research dietitian with the Georgia Prevention Institute at the Medical College of Georgia says out with all foods containing HFCS.

Amen to that. Staggering anecdotal evidence suggests that virtually all obese people consume a fair amount of HFCS because it is an ingredient in the foods they favor, which are mainly processed. For the Easter cakes, pies, dinner rolls and other foods, why not real sugar – brown cane sugar – in moderation, of course? It's as simple as purchasing those food favorites, such as jelly beans and ice cream, that do not contain HFCS. They are all in the supermarket and often sit right next to each other. If not, management will stock them, especially if it's made clear that these are the only foods for which hard-earned dollars will be allocated.

I chose the ice cream that did not contain HFCS. For the same reason, I opted for the Smucker's strawberry "organic" preserves over the Smucker's peach preserves. As the example of Smucker's illustrates, many companies manufacture a "healthy" and "unhealthy" version of the same product. This is why it is important to read the labels, so keep those reading glasses within reach.

In closing, really, must we have sugar in our salad dressing?

Tomorrow: eggs and flour.

Learn more about any number of medical and nutritional issues at the following Web sites:;;;;;;;;;

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