This post is about 2 things that really, really need to be eliminated from our diet, but instead, they DOMINATE the American diet. The good news is, if you read labels and turn away from foods that contain these ingredients, your home will automatically be one that contains mostly whole, unprocessed foods. The bad news is, they are both in A LOT of foods. In our family, we started slow with this one. It is a process. We are still in the middle of the process. This post will tell you what they are, and if you decide you want to avoid them, there will be links for additional reading.
1. High Fructose Corn Syrup
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a type of sugar that has been processed and combined with corn syrup to produce a cheap, easily dissolvable sweetener. But this sugar is quickly absorbed by the liver where it is converted into fat. Since your brain doesn’t recognize HFCS as regular food, it never shuts off the appetite center — so you keep eating. Blood sugar levels rise, massive amounts of insulin is recruited to metabolize it and then you crash and feel hungry again. Avoiding it (and all simple sugars for that matter) not only keeps you from a mountain of calories, but because they induce highs and lows in blood sugar and put you into a cycle of craving more high-calorie foods, will stabilize your cravings, moods and energy levels. It is found in soft drinks, fruit juices, salad dressings and baked goods. Wanna get healthy? Read the food labels of products in your pantry and refrigerator and throw out all products that contain HFCS.
I admit, this one is a hard one. During the holiday season it arrived back at our house in candies and all sorts of other ways. I try hard to check labels and keep this ingredient out of my grocery cart, but to say we avoid it completely is not true. (It’s even in ketchup, and bread!)
Pop is a biggie. I just love a can of pop with my pizza, but drinking it is like drinking a can of HFCS! Reading through all this HFCS information again is very motivating for me to cut the pop. The diet stuff is no better because of the artificial sweeteners in in. There are some very yummy carbonated beverages sold in health food stores that use pure cane sugar, which is still a simple sugar, but better then HFCS, so I will fall back on this when I am at home and want something bubbly. (seelink below for brands)
Trans fat is a type of unsaturated fat that is made saturated during a manufacturing process that adds a molecule of hydrogen. These hydrogentated oils raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol and cause a host of cardiovascular diseases. They are slowly being removed from commercial recipes but products in your home may still contain them.
Avoid shortening, margarines, and vegetable oil. All hydrogenated oils. Soy, Corn, Cottonseed, and Safflower oil. Read labels, not just the amount of trans fats but also the ingredient list. Skip foods that contain non-hydrogenated oils.
I had been using Canola oil in my baking, but due to some controversy over whether it is healthy or not, I need to read up on that. I also use olive oil, coconut oil and real butter.
Here is where the conclusions for my own family and what we eat may raise a few eyebrows, since it goes against much of what is familiar and accepted.
We use butter-real butter
We use buttermilk
We use whole milk
We eat grass-fed beef (in moderation)
We eat eggs, lots of eggs
Most would read that and think “ohhh…big- time saturated fats and cholesterol!” but…
We are healthier then we have ever been. I will write a post on my family’s poor health history (it seemed we lived at the dr’s office!) and how it has changed drastically since we started eating what I call “traditional foods” (or “whole foods” or “real foods”).
It is that time of year where everyone is making New Years Resolutions and cutting calories. I believe that is not the answer. Yes, moderation is good, but I believe the answer is stressing the quality of the food we eat, not so much the quantity, because if you are eating quality food, the quantity seems to regulate itself. It is amazing how full we stay on these types of food, and by avoiding HFCS (which trigger cravings) and filling up on good food, we end up eating less and staying full much longer. When our bodies got used to eating this way, it was amazing how the food that used to “call our names” no longer have that appeal, and now my body (and my kids bodies!) crave what it should crave. Don’t get me wrong, they will still be delighted with candy and sweets,(that is what Grandma’s house and parties and holidays are for!;)) but here at home, they ask for fruit and snacks that make them feel good, and have even complained about how junk food makes them feel. (loved that!)
For now, here is some reading from the Weston A. Price Foundation. I am not a die hard Weston Price fan, but a lot of what they represent makes sense to me and is working for us. Here is some of what their site has to say about fats, (and why I am very comfortable feeding my family the above foods).
Rise of Coronary Heart Disease in the 20th Century – by the Weston A. Price Foundation
Scientists of the period were grappling with a new threat to public health—a steep rise in heart disease. While turn-of-the-century mortality statistics are unreliable, they consistently indicate that heart disease caused no more than ten percent of all deaths, considerably less than infectious diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis. By 1950, coronary heart disease, or CHD, was the leading source of mortality in the United States, causing more than 30% of all deaths. The greatest increase came under the rubric of myocardial infarction (MI)—a massive blood clot leading to obstruction of a coronary artery and consequent death to the heart muscle. MI was almost nonexistent in 1910 and caused no more than three thousand deaths per year in 1930. By 1960, there were at least 500,000 MI deaths per year in the US. What life-style changes had caused this increase?
Since the early part of the century, when the Department of Agriculture had begun to keep track of food “disappearance” data—the amount of various foods going into the food supply—a number of researchers had noticed a change in the kind of fats Americans were eating. Butter consumption was declining while the use of vegetable oils, especially oils that had been hardened to resemble butter by a process called hydrogenation, was increasing—dramatically increasing. By 1950 butter consumption had dropped from eighteen pounds per person per year to just over ten. Margarine filled in the gap, rising from about two pounds per person at the turn of the century to about eight. Consumption of vegetable shortening—used in crackers and baked goods—remained relatively steady at about twelve pounds per person per year but vegetable oil consumption had more than tripled—from just under three pounds per person per year to more than ten.1
The statistics pointed to one obvious conclusion—Americans should eat the traditional foods that nourished their ancestors, including meat, eggs, butter and cheese, and avoid the newfangled vegetable-oil-based foods that were flooding the grocers’ shelves; but the Kritchevsky articles attracted immediate attention because they lent support to another theory—one that militated against the consumption of meat and dairy products. This was the lipid hypothesis, namely that saturated fat and cholesterol from animal sources raise Hydrogenation and Trans Fats
Most animal fats—like butter, lard and tallow—have a large proportion of saturated fatty acids. Saturated fats are straight chains of carbon and hydrogen that pack together easily so that they are relatively solid at room temperature. Oils from seeds are composed mostly of polyunsaturated fatty acids. These molecules have kinks in them at the point of the unsaturated double bonds. They do not pack together easily and therefore tend to be liquid at room temperature. Judging from both food data and turn-of-the-century cookbooks, the American diet in 1900 was a rich one—with at least 35 to 40 percent of calories coming from fats, mostly dairy fats in the form of butter, cream, whole milk and eggs. Salad dressing recipes usually called for egg yolks or cream; only occasionally for olive oil. Lard or tallow served for frying; rich dishes like head cheese and scrapple contributed additional saturated fats during an era when cancer and heart disease were rare. Butter substitutes made up only a small portion of the American diet, and these margarines were blended from coconut oil, animal tallow and lard, all rich in natural saturates.
The technology by which liquid vegetable oils could be hardened to make margarine was first discovered by a French chemist named Sabatier. He found that a nickel catalyst would cause the hydrogenation—the addition of hydrogen to unsaturated bonds to make them saturated—of ethylene gas to ethane. Subsequently the British chemist Norman developed the first application of hydrogenation to food oils and took out a patent. In 1909, Procter & Gamble acquired the US rights to the British patent that made liquid vegetable oils solid at room temperature. The process was used on both cottonseed oil and lard to give “better physical properties”—to create shortenings that did not melt as easily on hot days.
After the second world war, “improvements” made it possible to plasticize highly unsaturated oils from corn and soybeans. New catalysts allowed processors to “selectively hydrogenate” the kinds of fatty acids with three double bonds found in soy and canola oils. Called “partial hydrogenation,” the new method allowed processors to replace cottonseed oil with more unsaturated corn and soy bean oils in margarines and shortenings. This spurred a meteoric rise in soybean production, from virtually nothing in 1900 to 70 million tons in 1970, surpassing corn production. Today soy oil dominates the market and is used in almost eighty percent of all hydrogenated oils.
The particular mix of fatty acids in soy oil results in shortenings containing about 40% trans fats, an increase of about 5% over cottonseed oil, and 15% over corn oil. Canola oil, processed from a hybrid form of rape seed, is particularly rich in fatty acids containing three double bonds and the shortening can contain as much as 50% trans fats. Trans fats of a particularly problematical form are also formed during the deodorization of canola oil, although they are not indicated on labels for the liquid oil.2
Certain forms of trans fatty acids occur naturally in dairy fats. Trans-vaccenic acid makes up about 4% of the fatty acids in butter. It is an interim product which the ruminant animal then converts to conjugated linoleic acid, a highly beneficial anti-carcinogenic component of animal fat. Humans seem to utilize the small amounts of trans-vaccenic acid in butter fat without ill effects.
But most of the trans isomers in modern hydrogenated fats are new to the human physiology and by the early 1970’s a number of researchers had expressed concern about their presence in the American diet, noting that their increasing use had paralleled the increase in both heart disease and cancer. The unstated solution was one that could be easily presented to the public: Eat natural, traditional fats; avoid newfangled foods made from vegetable oils; use butter, not margarine. But medical research and public consciousness took a different tack, one that accelerated the decline of traditional foods like meat, eggs and butter, and fueled continued dramatic increases in vegetable oil consumption.