Sugar High

My entire adult life has been spent avoiding sugar. I’m pretty sure up until last week I thought Splenda was the best invention since sliced bread. I probably consume 3-4 packets a day, if not more. I love my coffee and tea extra sweet, so being able to enjoy my beverages calorie-free with as much sweetness as I pleased was nothing short of a miracle.

But then Diane happened. Diane is my mom’s yoga teacher, and she is awesome. I have only taken one class with her when she did a private session for me and my bridesmaids the day before my wedding, but from the way my mom talks about her, she is pretty much the coolest person ever. At the beginning of every class, she instructs her students to make one clean-living change to their lives that week. One of her suggestions looks like it is going to change my life in a non-trivial way. A few weeks ago my mom and I were chatting on the phone, and she told me her challenge for the week: look at the ingredients in your food, and make small changes to eat cleaner. I didn’t think too much of it during our conversation. But the next week, while I was making a turkey sandwich, I glanced at the ingredients in what I thought were my super-healthy 100-calorie sandwich bread thins. I wish I could list them all, but that would probably take me an hour. Here are some of the more disturbing ones:

* Distilled monoglycerides (a glyceride consisting of one fatty acid chain covalently bonded to a glycerol molecule through an ester linkage. They are formed biochemically via release of a fatty acid from diacylglycerol by diacylglycerol lipase.)

* Sodium stearoyl lactylate (a versatile, FDA approved food additive manufactured using biorenewable feedstocks.)

* Azodicarbonamide (a synthetic chemical with the molecular formula C2H4O2N4. It is a yellow to orange red, odorless, crystalline powder. As a food additive, it is known by the E number E927.)

Um. Gross. And here I was thinking I was making a healthy sandwich. I had an epiphany right then and there. If my sandwich bread had all of those ingredients, I bet everything else in my pantry did too (and they did). I have always prided myself on being a healthy eater, but I had never once looked at an ingredient list. I have always checked the nutrition information, but what does that tell you if there are monoglycerides and aodicarbonamides lurking in your food? Why are we literally polluting our bodies with chemicals and additives and preservatives?

So, I have decided to make a major life change about the way I eat, while trying to stay realistic. I’m not going to throw away everything in my pantry or boycott restaurants that use these ingredients. But I will never again buy anything without first checking the ingredient list. If I don’t recognize it, I won’t buy it. Period.

I have several challenges ahead of me. My biggest one is probably my husband, Jared. I think it is fair to describe him as a good ‘ol American boy. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and Oreos rank highly on his list of favorite foods. I mentioned my epiphany to him over dinner one night, and he thought I was out of my mind. He pretty much already thinks I’m a crazy health nut, so I tried to play down my new eating philosophy a little. “But why do you care,” he asked, “if it tastes good?” I actually don’t have a very good answer to that question. I haven’t done a lot of research on these food additives or know of any studies that prove they have adverse health effects (although I’m sure they’re out there). I just think that putting man-made preservatives into our bodies is unnatural. I’m pretty sure we are not designed to process them. The good news is that if I can continue to make food for him that tastes just as good as it did before this change, I think he will at least find that this won’t negatively affect him. And I’m hoping that over the long-haul, he will start to actually prefer real foods over processed foods.

Cost will also be a issue. I refuse to break the bank by shopping exclusively at Whole Foods. I will do my best to shop at regular grocery stores, and watch for sales for items that can’t be found outside of whole foods or central market. I will try to use our farmers market more regularly and search for retailers in Dallas that provide natural foods. I also hope to make more food items at home. Just wait until Jared tries a homemade Oreo!

My last foreseen challenge brings me back to Splenda. I just love that stuff. But I’m going to give it up. Cold turkey. I will need to learn to enjoy beverages less sweet, and use real sugar or other natural sweeteners instead. But this means no more diet coke, skinny vanilla lattes at Starbucks or insanely sweetened coffee in the morning. It will be a challenge, but I think I’m up for it. I will now eat real sugar, in moderation.

I’ve made up a list of rules that I am going to try my best to follow. Here they are:

1. Whole foods will be defined as more a product of nature than a product of industry.

2. Lots of fruits and vegetables.

3. Dairy products (milk, unsweetened yogurt– or naturally sweetened, eggs and cheese)

4. 85% Whole wheat and whole grains (100% at home)

5. Seafood– wild caught whenever possible

5. Organic meat (naturally raised is fine with me too)

6. Beverages are limited to water, milk, all natural juices, naturally sweetened coffee & tea and alcohol

7. Only real sweeteners are allowed. Honey, raw sugar, agave syrup, molasses, and 100% maple syrup

8. Grocery store products must contain only ingredients I recognize. I will try to purchase things that have only 5 ingredients or less.

I am fundamentally changing the way I think about food. This blog will document my progress, address challenges that come up along the way, and provide suggestions to others looking to eat cleaner. Comments/suggestions are welcome. Thanks for reading!

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