Tag Archives: sugar

Sugar coated research

Image from shutterstock

Image from shutterstock

A friend recently sent me this article from the NY Times: “How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat“. The article details how researchers recently found documents showing that (more than 50 years ago) sugar industry executives paid and provided articles to scientists. The scientists were “encouraged” to write review articles highlighting fat as the main culprit in heart disease and downplay the role of sugar. Many believe this is why for decades fat was the focus of so much media attention, and that only now is sugar getting it’s day in the lime light as a bad guy in heart disease.

I highly encourage you to read the article and form your opinions, as always. Here are my thoughts.

1) I think the scientists industry leaders acted unethically IF things played out exactly as this article details. Scientists are allowed to receive funding from industry groups. However, this funding needs to be disclosed. Also, scientists have a duty in their research to present the whole picture, especially in a review article. Now, this happened before today’s current ethics rules were in place. But I don’t know that that entirely excuses the behavior. Again, I say IF this article is not skewing what really happened to make a better story.

2) While the review article in question likely did influence scientific and public opinion, researchers were already focusing on fat as a culprit in heart disease. If we could go back in time and take away the review article, fat still may have emerged as the prominent bad guy in nutrition world.

3) While the behavior was unethical, the American public is still somewhat to blame. We are the ones who turned to refined sugars and highly processed carbs. We could have turned to protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, etc. We as a people are looking for an easy solution. Fat is bad? Ok. I’ll just avoid that. There is not ONE bad nutrient. Good nutrition is a balance. We always seem to forget that, then blame science for telling us the wrong thing.

4) This highlights the importance of not only looking at the funding behind research but thinking about how we fund research. Scientists take money from private industries because research takes money and that is a good source of it. If we as a people want good, unbiased research, we need to help come up with the money to fund it. End of story.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the article, sugar vs fat, and research funding. Please leave thoughts in the comments. And I’m always happy to respond to your questions or articles you send me! Just email me at: kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com.

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Brown Rice Syrup

I’m back! At least partly. My computer issues are 75% resolved. Unfortunately, the 25% not resolved is any photos for recipes, so that may be a little bit in coming. But, we are making progress.

Also, on the news front, I know have an Instagram account for the site. My user is foodforthoughtrd. I’ll post there whenever I post here on the site, as well as other things from time to time. Check it out if that is how you monitor social media.

Brown Rice Syrup

Now for today’s topic: brown rice syrup. I’ve seen this popping up on some of my snack food labels more frequently lately. Especially on snacks that like to list that their ingredients are “non-GMO”, etc. I’m assuming this is to alleviate the souls of those who hate the dreaded high fructose corn syrup in their foods. But my question: is this really a better alternative, or just the food industry pandering to people’s fears?

First step, find out facts about brown rice syrup. Brown rice syrup is a “nutritive sweetener” made from using enzymes on the starches in cooked brown rice and then cooking it until it becomes a syrup. Don’t let the term nutritive fool you to think it is nutritious. That just means it has calories, versus a nonnutritive sweetener such as aspartame. It is basically a sweetener made entirely out of glucose. It has some other compounds which are just two or three glucose molecules put together.

It may have some trace minerals in it, including arsenic. This can be a concern for it being toxic. I could not find good data on the arsenic levels of brown rice syrup, to be honest. So, you may want to be cautious.

How does it compare to other sweeteners? It is less sweet than regular sugar, which makes it also less sweet than high fructose corn syrup. Most online sources suggested using 1 ¼ cups brown rice syrup in place of 1 cup of sugar. Without using more, brown rice syrup already packs a higher calorie punch at 75 calories per tablespoon versus 42 calories per tablespoon regular sugar. Both seem negative attributes to me.

Brown rice syrup also has a higher glycemic index than regular sugar or high fructose corn syrup. This shouldn’t be surprising, since it is made up mostly of glucose, which is what the glycemic index compares foods to. But for those with diabetes, this is a bit concerning.

What’s the take home? You aren’t getting something better by subbing brown rice sugar for high fructose corn syrup or regular sugar. That doesn’t mean I think you should consume large quantities of either of those sweeteners. Really, the final breakdown is that same as always: eat more whole, unprocessed foods. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, beans, low fat dairy, etc. Eating any added sugar isn’t great. There isn’t a magic sugar that will make it ok.

Let me know if you’ve seen this ingredient lately or if you have any thoughts! And don’t forget to check me out on Instagram!

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To sugar or not to sugar

When I was little, my favorite cereal was Frosted Flakes.  What was a kid not to love?  As it was also my mom’s favorite, we got to eat fairly regularly.  However, occasionally, we ran out.  And my Dad insisted that you could just sprinkle some sugar in a bowl of corn flakes and get the same result.  WRONG!

I was reminded of these morning battles when I saw a blogger say that she bought the plain shredded wheat cereal for her family then had them add sugar, rather than buy the frosted cereal.  And I babysat some children whose mother had successfully convinced them that adding honey to a bowl of regular Cheerios was the same as eating Honey Nut Cheerios.  These mothers must be more convincing than my father.

But all of this had me puzzling – is it really healthier to sprinkle sugar in a cereal than just buy the sugar version?  From my observations, people dump in at least a teaspoon of sugar when doing that.  Well, today, we are going to crunch the numbers.  For consistency sake, I am going to say that people add 1 teaspoon of sugar (or honey) to their cereal.  Also, we are going to assume that our hypothetical cereal eaters drink all the milk in the bowl.  While I personally find this disgusting, it is the only way I know to make this fair.  If you add in sugar, a lot of it dissolves into the milk.  However, have you ever looked at a frosted mini wheat after it has been in the milk awhile?  That sugar dissolves too.

Here goes:

Nutrients 50 g shredded wheat cereal + 1 teaspoon sugar 50 g frosted shredded wheat cereal 1 cup Cheerios + 1 teaspoon honey 1 cup Honey Nut Cheerios
Calories 187 175 126 140
Carbohydrates 45 42 27 30
Sugar 4 10 7 12
Fiber 7 5 3 3

(I used 50 g for the shredded wheat, since that is approximately a serving size listed on a package).

So, you really do save yourself some added sugars when you add the sugar yourself.  BUT, that does mean you have to be careful in how much you add.  A teaspoon of sugar adds 4 g of sugar.  A teaspoon of honey adds 6 g of sugar.  So, it doesn’t take much to make them about the same.  I added the fiber line because I found it slightly interesting that the frosted cereal has less fiber.  I’m assuming this is because you are getting more actual wheat cereal in 50 g of the plain cereal and adding your own sugar versus 50 g of cereal including the sugar.

So parents everywhere are justified.  Even if it doesn’t really taste the same.

Happy cereal eating!

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!

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Aspartame

Everyone has an opinion on what you should or should not eat when you are pregnant, it seems.  Recently, a man at the grocery store told me I should not buy a certain light yogurt since “it contains aspartame which is toxic for the baby, you know”.  I tried to pleasantly smile and show him where it says on the front of the package that the yogurt contains no aspartame.  This made me stop and think more about aspartame.

Aspartame is a very common artificial sweetener.  Commercially, it is known as Nutrasweet and Equal.  It can be found in some sugar free products as well.  It is not found in products that have been heated to a high temperature however, since it is not very heat stable.

Aspartame is about 200 times sweeter than regular sugar.  It is made by combining two amino acids – aspartic acid and phenylalanine.  When we eat aspartame, it is broken down to these two amino acids and methanol.  The amino acids are clearly safe to have in our bodies, unless you have a special medical condition.  Methanol can be toxic in high amounts, but the amount generated in the breakdown in the regular consumption of aspartame is less than the amount of methanol created by digesting some natural foods.

Research to this point has not shown any adverse health effects from consuming aspartame, although it has been accused of causing cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, ADD, and many other issues.  While research is ongoing, it is considered safe to consume in moderation.

The FDA has a set a recommended upper limit for consuming aspartame at 50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.  Few people would ever consume that much.  For example, a 200 lb person could consumer over 4500 mg of aspartame in a day.  That would be 23 cans of diet soda or 129 packets of tabletop sweetener.  Hopefully, you can see there are health consequences of consuming those amounts of these products beyond any concerns about aspartame.

What is my opinion?  I don’t like putting a lot of fake ingredients into my body, for sure.  However, I also know there are detrimental effects of consuming excessive sugar – such as excessive weight gain which can lead to diabetes and a multitude of other health problems.  I drink diet soda, on the rare occasions I drink soda.  I also see the benefit of sugar free products for those with diabetes.  As always, I think moderation is key.

Happy eating!

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