Friday, April 2, 2010

Pimping Sweets, Snacks – Even Your Water

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.

When I opened my late aunt’s refrigerator and cupboards on my first day in Monroe – whoa! It was full of foods containing additives designed to extend their shelf life, but which would shorten our lives. Leading the way were foods – soft drinks, sauces, jellies – containing high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). A close second was those containing trans fats. In double-quick fashion I rounded them up and threw them out.

I thanked God that I’d packed food, including nuts, olives and Cabot Unsalted Butter, which I was introduced to a few years ago at the time I discovered both the Food Network and Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. She uses the Cabot regular butter because I am sure she does not have high blood pressure as I do.

Exposing the ills of trans fat and all unhealthy foods/additives/chemicals is part of my humble initiative to make the world a better, healthier height-weight proportionate place, with the admonition that at least moderate exercise is mandatory for any healthy lifestyle. In the last couple of days in honor of Easter, I’ve commented on chocolate, HFCS, eggs and flour. For more details, read: and

Today, I conclude with trans fats and soft drinks.

I was of a strong mind to pack my olive oil but my better judgment convinced me that the large bottle would not make the trip intact. When my glance passed over the Crisco shortening in my aunt’s cupboard, that decided that I would not be preparing any foods requiring oil until I could get some olive or canola oil.

These oils come from the healthier fats. However, all fats must be consumed in moderation to protect against illnesses such as heart disease and stroke. The four major dietary fats in our foods are trans fats, saturated fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Trans fats and saturated fats are considered bad, while their counterparts are considered good and are contained in olive, canola and other oils that generally come in liquid form.

Let’s count the reasons that trans fat should be eliminated from our diets: 1. They raise bad (LDL) cholesterol levels; 2. Lower good (HDL) cholesterol levels; 3. Increase the risk of developing heart disease; 4. Increase the risk of a stroke; 5. They are associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, amongst other bad things. Surely, no sensible body would need more convincing to rid his diet of trans fat.

Fortunately and unfortunately for the unsuspecting public, trans fats are omnipresent. In shortening, margarine, cookies, cakes, doughnuts, crackers, corn chips, potato chips, pork rinds, frozen foods, fried foods – particularly commercially fried foods. That includes chicken, pork, fish, hamburgers, French fries, onion rings, apple pies, etc.

Trans fats are (alias, trans fatty acids and partially hydrogenated oils) created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. The American Heart Association, one of the sources I consulted for this article, has on its Web site a very informative booklet titled “Face the Fats.” Read it at

Chew on this bit of trivia from Dr. Mehmet Oz: “Trans fat was originally designed for candle wax, but the market died with the advent of electricity.” Candle wax? Yikes! (Dr. Oz has a great sense of humor, serious sense of purpose, his own TV show and Web site, as well as a smashing gig as director of the Cardiovascular Institute at New York Presbysterian/Columbia.

Why would manufacturers use such an additive, one might wonder? Dr. Oz has some theories, but the AHA puts it best. “Companies like using trans fats in their foods because they’re easy to use, inexpensive to produce and last a long time,” it writes on its trans fat Web page. “Trans fats give foods a desirable taste and texture. Many restaurants and fast-food outlets use trans fats to deep-fry foods because oils with trans fats can be used many times in commercial fryers.”

Does this mean that we should stop eating out? No, but it means we should greatly decrease our visits to such establishments. We can also pressure them - and we all know who they are - to cook with oils that do not contain trans fats. Remember, the power of the pocketbook. Further, we could as families and individuals cook more of our meals at home, allowing for control over the amount of everything potentially harmful in our food.

Good news for supermarket, grocery store and convenience store shoppers is that manufacturers are required to list the presence of all fats, including trans fats, on food labels. Customarily, if a food does not contain trans fats, it is listed prominently on the package. The back of my bag of lightly salted Kettle Brand potato chips goes to great pains to inform me and all who have eyes that not only do they contain 0 grams of trans fat, they contain none of the following: 1. MSG, 2. artificial flavors; 3. artificial colors; 4. preservatives; 5. GMO ingredients; 6. gluten; 7. nothing artificial, and 8. contain only "real food ingredients."

Still, I read the label - as every consumer should - before I purchased them. Are my Kettle chips a healthy snack? Consider: They contain no trans fat, but in one serving or about 13 chips do contain 1 gram of both saturated and polyunsaturated fat, as well as 7 grams of monounsaturated fats for a total of 9 grams of fat. Each gram of fat has about 9 calories. One serving of these chips has 150 calories, of which 80 come from fat. That equals 14 percent of fat for someone on at 2,000 calorie-a-day diet. A baker's dozen of potato chips also contain 0 cholesterol, 5 percent sodium, 12 percent potassium; 5 percent carbs, 4 percent fiber; 0 sugar, and no measurable protein. I'm no Dr. Oz but I think he'd advise going easy on the chips. Just because a food does not contain trans fats does not means it’s healthy. I eat the Kettle chips in moderation, and never as a snack. A snack in my eating plan is something like a banana, nuts or celery/carrots w/ or w/out a nut butter.

While movements are afoot to require restaurants, including the chains, to either stop cooking with trans fats and/or to list which foods contain them, they are not yet required to do so. Buyer, beware. Buyer, be aware.

A few weeks ago I had my cousin and her family over for Sunday lunch. It is the same cousin who in part inspired this series of articles.

Her husband and teenage daughter are two of the most finicky eaters I have ever encountered. They love fried foods, however. Fourteen-year-old Brownie, her nickname, loves soft drinks, too. She’s a big fan of Sunny D, which contains HFCS as do most sodas and processed fruit juices. Sunny D was part of the haul that I banished to the trash upon my arrival.

Fresh-squeezed orange juice is healthier than juice made from concentrate. Photo courtesy of Photos above of cherry pie, oil and butter are courtesy of the American Heart Association.

The challenge was to make a beverage that would meet Brownie’s approval, since I couldn’t lawfully or morally ply the child with Merlot. I decided on tea. I sweetened it with light brown sugar and added lemon and a ton of oranges – a favorite of Brownie’s.

When she sat down she gave me to know in no uncertain terms that she did not like tea. Undaunted, I coaxed her by talking up the oranges. I poured a trace amount in her glass and begged her to try it.

“You like it,” I asked hopefully,

She looked over at her father and smirked. Sheepishly, she turned to me, No, ma’am.

Back to the drawing board for me and possibly a lot of parents who may be trying to wean their kids (or themselves or spouses) off of soft drinks, even if they are diet sodas.

“Did you think that just because diet soda was calorie-free that it was guilt-free, too? Sorry,” writes Dr. Michael Roizen on “Even drinking diet drinks is associated with a higher risk of metabolic syndrome,” a combination of medical disorders that increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes

And from “The Enforcer” more bad news. “Consumption of sugar (or its equivalents, like corn syrup) in soft drinks has been linked to obesity in children and adolescents,” said MR, chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic. “But a recent study of almost all 50-year-old men and women in Framingham, Massachusetts, found that having more than one soft drink daily, whether sugared or diet, increased the risk of metabolic syndrome by 44 percent over a four-year period. The risk was increased similarly whether the drink was sugared or diet.”

In an article titled “How Can I Stop Drinking So Much Soda?” on are some soft-drink alternatives that include sprucing up water with mint, lemon and frozen strawberries. Others are coffee, tea and soy milk. Probably more palatable is a homemade juice spritzer: “Combine one or two parts seltzer, mineral water, or club soda with one part 100 percent fruit juice (try fresh orange juice).” Yum!

Learn more about the issues discussed in this article at the following Web sites:;;;

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