Sugar shock, Part 2

I used to be a big fan of Kashi products. Then it occurred to me that they were just highly processed foods with an aura of health surrounding them. Just because a highly processed food product contains whole grains, doesn’t mean it’s not still a highly processed food.
I used to always keep a box of some type of Kashi snack bar in my pantry. Then I stopped eating products with soy protein isolate, which is essentially a byproduct of soy processing that manufacturers try to cram into foods just to get rid of the stuff. As I’ve mentioned, some soy foods are healthy, others (the highly processed ones) are not. If you want to eat soy, eat tempeh or edamame or tofu.
What I never really paid attention to was how much sugar is in a lot of Kashi products. After Dr. Abrams highlighted the differences between a Larabar and a Kashi GoLean bar (he intentionally did not mention the names, but I recognized the labels, and confirmed the nutrition information on the product websites). Most of the Kashi GoLean bars have sugar as three of the first four ingredients, with soy protein isolate as the fourth. Sure, the sugar wasn’t just white sugar. It came in the “healthy” guise of brown rice syrup, evaporated cane juice crystals, evaporated cane juice syrup, etc. But it’s still sugar. It’s still highly processed. Let’s call a spade a spade.
Your typical Larabar contains three ingredients: Dates, some type of nut, and another type of dried fruit. Depending on how “complicated” the flavor is, it may include a variety of dried fruits, spices, cocoa powder, etc. But no added sugar! I eat very few snack/energy/meal replacement bars (I get more ultimate satisfaction from real food, like a piece of whole fruit and a few nuts). But in a pinch, I feel very good about reaching for a Larabar, which is pretty darn close to real food.
As Dr. Abrams says in the lecture I listened to last week, don’t pay too much attention to the grams of sugar listed in the Nutrition Facts box. But pay a lot of attention to sugar, in any of its forms, listed in the ingredients list. Why? Because many foods include some natural sugars. Look at the nutrition facts box on a carton of milk to see what I mean. The grams of sugar listed come from lactose, the natural sugar found in milk (unless you’re looking at a carton of chocolate milk, of course).
(For tips on spotting added sugars, check out this Harvard School of Public Health article.)

I was dismayed to find that my favorite Organic Tomato & Roasted Red Pepper Soup from Trader Joe’s contains added sugar. That means it is verboten during my personal two-week no-sugar challenge. Since food manufacturers are (so far) not required to break out how many grams of sugar are from added sugars, there’s no way for me to know how much added sugar is really in the soup. Cane sweetener is third on the ingredient list, but reduced fat milk is first. So how many of those 10 grams of sugar comes from the lactose? I sure can’t tell.
Health experts have been calling for food labels to disclose grams of added sugar for well over a decade, so I’ll believe it will happen only when I see it happen. I am cautiously optimistic, and ever hopeful.

So what does a day of no sugar look like? Here’s what I ate today:

  • Breakfast: Oatmeal cooked with water, milk, unsweetened applesauce, raisins, vanilla, cinnamon, chia seeds and vanilla whey protein powder (which is sweetened with stevia), topped with ground flax seeds and unsweetened coconut. Oh, and coffee with organic, local, 2% milk.
  • Snack 1: Plain, nonfat Greek yogurt with thawed frozen blueberries (picked by us last summer) and a few chopped walnuts. Green tea.
  • Lunch: Leftover veggie-noodle stirfry in peanut sauce*, served over a bed of mixed greens. Sparkling mineral water and green tea. Snacked on three Brazil nuts (for selenium) while I was doing the minimal prep work. (*This is a slight cheat, since I’m also giving up peanut butter. However, the leftovers need to be eaten, and it is an otherwise very healthy dish, despite the fact that the omega-3/omega-6 fatty acid ratio isn’t ideal. I should note that when we made this Saturday night, we ate salmon with it. Go omega-3s!)
  • Snack 2: Lowfat cottage cheese, a diced pear, and a few almonds (total nuts for the day: 1 ounce).
  • Dinner: Green salad with leftover roasted Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, topped with two fried eggs and 1/3 of an avocado. Leftover roasted sweet potato on the side. More mineral water. No dessert, since I maxed out my three servings of fruit allotment, and that big pile of dark chocolate in the pantry does contain sugar, alas. Although, really, a baked sweet potato practically tastes like dessert, especially with a little cinnamon. Yum!
As I mentioned, I’m also off alcohol for two weeks (to start). I’m also planning to cut back on caffeine. In addition to my morning 2-3 cups of joe (depending on the size of my mug), I’ve gotten into the habit of having a small cup in the afternoon and often a shot of espresso after dinner. That’s probably a shade too much…even if coffee is full of antioxidants!