Archive for February 3rd, 2011

DISCLAIMER: This post is based on my oh-so-scientific research (via Google) and experience.  I am NOT trying to persuade everyone to think and act like me, despite the smartypantsiful tone of my blog.  I do hope, however, that this as least raises some questions that need to be asked for the sake of our kids, and inspires others to start reading labels and doing their own research.

You may have noticed by now that I believe there are benefits to an old fashioned diet based on real food, the way God intended.  In the book of Acts, when God gave Peter the vision of all kinds of animals being let down from heaven on a sheet for him to eat, I believe God was telling Peter to go get him some bacon (nitrate-free, of course).  That’s right, shortly after the gift of the Holy Spirit, God gave us the gift of bacon (and all God’s people said…).  He did not, however, give us artificial ingredients like High Fructose Corn Syrup and MSG, which is why I try to avoid them along with other artificial ingredients whenever possible.

Pick up a parenting magazine and you’re bound to find an article about how kids in America are struggling with obesity and diabetes – kids! You’ll also find plenty of articles on how to get picky eaters to eat a variety of foods.  I can’t help but wonder if the two issues have the same root cause – processed foods loaded with sugar and artificial ingredients that train your taste buds to prefer foods containing those chemicals.  Have you recently read the ingredients in the foods that are aggressively marketed to our kids and busy moms?  Many snacks that are targeted at kids contain high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).  Some are obvious, like sugary drinks and cookies, but others are less obvious, including:

  • Hot dogs and lunch meats
  • Yogurt and other dairy products, including most ice cream
  • Bread, crackers – including savory crackers, like Ritz
  • Cereal, granola bars, cereal bars
  • Ketchup, barbecue sauce, salad dressing, jams and jellies
  • Canned fruits, applesauce, cranberry sauce
  • Canned tomato products, spaghetti sauce, baked beans, pickles

As I mentioned in my earlier post about Breaking Free From the Sugar Addiction, HFCS is one culprit in weight gain.  It interferes with your body’s ability to produce the hormone leptin, which is what helps regulate your appetite.  It makes your brain think it’s starving,  so it causes kids (and adults) to crave food when they’re not hungry, and can potentially lead to kidney disease because our kidneys don’t know how to process it.  Too much sugar, from any source, spikes your insulin level and causes your body to store fat.  But what about kids who aren’t overweight?  It doesn’t matter what they eat, right?

Do you have – or know – a kid who refuses to eat anything but pizza and chicken nuggets? I believe there’s a reason why some kids who’ve grown up eating processed foods and fast food refuse to eat anything else – and it’s not their fault!  MSG and artificial sweeteners like Aspartame (Nutra Sweet) are excitotoxins, which means they literally overexcite the brain.  According to Dr. Vince Bellonzi (whose YouTube video on the subject is available at http://www.healthy-holistic-living.com/msg-reaction.html), a component of these chemicals is found naturally in our bodies.  But in both MSG and Aspartame, they are at concentrated levels that interfere with the body’s neurotransmitters.  They excite the reward system in the brain and make us think foods taste better than they actually do.  Think about how different soup or broth made with MSG tastes than other brands or homemade soups.  (According to Dr. Bellonzi, “MSG could make dirt taste good.”  Mmmm…dirt.)  Not only does MSG make us crave more products containing it, which is why fast food restaurants and food manufacturers love it, it can cause serious side effects, especially in children.  Because of the way it overexcites the brain, MSG can cause problems with impulse control and concentration – what looks like symptoms of ADHD. (Some studies have shown that ADHD symptoms in certain kids disappeared when MSG was removed from their diet.)  Other MSG-related symptoms include migraines and depression.  These problems are amplified when there is a nutritional imbalance, like a diet lacking in protein or magnesium, or containing too much calcium.  To complicate matters, MSG is often disguised under other names, including – but not limited to:

  • Monosodium Glutamate
  • Autolyzed Yeast, Yeast Extract
  • Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Hydrolyzed Protein
  • Hydrolyzed Plant Protein, Plant Protein Extract
  • Hydrolyzed Soy Protein – and most soy products, like veggie burgers
  • Sodium Caseinate, Calcium Caseinate,
  • Textured Protein (Including TVP)
  • Hydrolyzed Oat Flour
  • Corn Oil
  • “Natural Flavoring” – doesn’t always mean MSG, but can.

So think about what we’re giving kids on a typical kid-friendly diet:

  • Breakfast – Nutri-Grain Cereal Bar (with HFCS in both the filling and bar, 12 g. sugar); GoGurt (with HFCS and more sugars/ounce than Coca-Cola)
  • Lunch – Campbell’s Chunky Vegetable soup (containing both HFCS and MSG disguised as “yeast extract”) or Nalley’s 99% fat free chili (with MSG listed under several names)
  • Dinner – Spaghettios (with HFCS as the third ingredient) or a Tony’s frozen pizza (with MSG)

Is it any wonder that kids turn up their noses at fruits and vegetables when their taste buds have been trained to crave only foods that are pumped with chemicals? Should we be surprised at constantly hungry children with a sweet tooth when they eat a sugary breakfast, causing their insulin level to spike and induce cravings for sweets all day?  If you have a picky eater at home, and suspect that these chemicals might be the culprit, don’t despair – all is not lost!  You can retrain taste buds, but it takes time.  When we had to suddenly cut out most of our favorite convenience foods because of gluten intolerance, it took a while to adjust to foods that weren’t designed by food engineers in a lab.  But now our taste buds are able to recognize how awesome “real” food tastes when it’s not competing with chemically enhanced versions.  Since it takes time to learn to appreciate food in a more natural state, you can take gradual steps toward a more healthy diet without risking an all-out rebellion at the dinner table.  Start out by reading labels and swapping favorite convenience foods with more healthy versions.  If that thought is overwhelming, here’s a list of ideas to get you started.

Some of our favorite kid-friendly, “real food” substitutions (all GF unless otherwise noted):

  • Dannon Natural Vanilla yogurt does not contain HFCS, but still tastes great.  Mountain High yogurt is also natural and has slightly less sugar.  Yoplait 25% less sugar kids cups are flavored naturally with fruit and sugar.
  • Instead of a cereal bar, try whole grain toast (with no HFCS) topped with Smuckers Simply Fruit jam (just fruit and fruit syrup/juice).  Or look for low sugar cereals like Kix.
  • Make extra homemade waffles or pancakes on the weekend to reheat in the toaster on busy mornings.  Log Cabin Lite syrup is the only brand I’ve found that doesn’t contain HFCS, aspartame or Splenda, but it’s still made up of artificial ingredients.  We prefer real maple syrup (which is expensive, so we don’t have it often) or fruit-sweetened pancakes, like this recipe for pumpkin cranberry pancakes, with butter and a little powdered sugar.
  • Substitute canned pasta with fun pasta shapes (like wagon wheels or Tinkyada’s GF brown rice “Little Dreams” in a variety of fun shapes) and Ragu No Sugar Added Tomato and Basil pasta sauce with all natural ingredients.
  • If your kids only eat meat in nugget form, try this recipe for my kids’ favorite chicken nuggets that are made with gluten free Corn Chex.  Dip them in Bullseye barbecue sauce, the only brand we’ve found with no HFCS.
  • Trade MSG/nitrate-filled hot dogs (like Ball Park) for all natural chicken or turkey sausages (brands like Amylu – who also makes great GF meatballs – and Honeysuckle Farms for bratwurst).  Serve with all natural fries baked in the oven and sprinkled with a little Lowry’s seasoned salt (our Costco carries Lamb Weston frozen all natural crinkle cut fries).  Dip in ketchup that doesn’t contain HFCS, like Hunts 100% natural ketchup.
  • Make mini pizzas with whole wheat English muffins (obviously, not gluten free – try Udi’s for GF pizza crusts) topped with pasta sauce or Mama Mary’s pizza sauce containing no added sugar, some hamburger or your child’s favorite pizza topping, and a little mozzarella.  Broil until cheese melts.
  • Ranch dressing can contain HFCS and MSG, so have kids dip their veggies in a healthier version like Newman’s Own Ranch dressing (it’s not lowfat, but kids need fat) or Marie’s Yogurt Ranch dressing (in refrigerated section of produce area).
  • For sandwiches, we like Hormel Natural Choice or Oscar Meyer’s nitrate-free lunch meat and real cheese (not individually wrapped “imitation cheese product”).  Substitute real mayo, like Best Foods mayonnaise, for Miracle Whip – the first ingredient in Fat Free Miracle Whip is HFCS – but read labels, since some brands contain HFCS and some don’t.
  • Make popcorn or homemade kettle corn for a healthy after school snack.
  • Trade chips like Cheetos and Doritos that are full of chemicals no one can pronounce, for chips with natural ingredients like Fritos, Wavy Lays, Ruffles, and Mission tortilla chips – which are all gluten free!
  • Look for unsweetened applesauce (watch out for  “low sugar” or “sugar free” labels because those may have Splenda added, which is another excitotoxin) and flavor with a little cinnamon, or try individually packaged Mott’s Healthy Harvest applesauce cups that are simply flavored with fruit puree.
  • Substitute raisins or other unsweetened dried fruit for “fruit snacks” (which we all know are fruit flavored corn syrup nuggets).  Dried apples, pears, prunes, peaches and apricots are other good choices.  Watch out for dried berries and cranberries because they are coated in sugar.  Sunsweet Prunes come individually wrapped, so they’re less messy and are easy to toss in a lunch bag for a high fiber snack.
  • Make natural, low-sugar, hot chocolate by adding 1 tsp. cocoa plus 2 tsp. sugar to a cup of hot milk (or rice milk or almond milk).  We like to also add a splash of vanilla.
  • Swap sugary drinks with water and a lemon/lime slice in a fun or fancy cup.  (My daughter loves this!)
  • When you just have to have a bowl of ice cream (which is a daily need in the summertime), try Breyer’s All Natural ice cream, which has no artificial ingredients or HFCS (this isn’t the case for the light ice cream, though).

I believe that once kids have been weaned off of processed foods and have begun to accept more natural, homemade versions, it will be easier to introduce new foods, including fruits and vegetables.  I could be wrong, but this has been my experience.  My kids love to eat a variety of foods, and even enjoy fruits and veggies.  It can be done!

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I love making this recipe when I need to bring a snack or dessert to a party – with a few M&Ms thrown in, it looks really fun and festive!  Kettle corn is cheap, a snap to make, and lower in sugar than most desserts.  The sweet and salty combo makes it our favorite snack for family movie night.

1/2 c. oil (I use canola oil)
1/2 c. popping corn
3 T. sugar
M&Ms, optional (M&Ms in seasonal colors add a special holiday touch)

I use a large, 4-quart stock pot, since this recipe yields 4 quarts of popcorn.  Put the oil in the pot and put it on a burner.  Turn the stove on just above medium heat (between medium and medium high) and let oil heat for 1 minute, but no more (unless you want the kernels to pop out of the pan upon contact with the oil, much to the delight of your dog who begins running around the kitchen, trying to catch the manna from heaven – ask me how I know this).  Pour in corn kernels and shake pan to distribute evenly.  Sprinkle sugar evenly over top and cover.  Set your popcorn bowl next to you.

When you hear the first kernel pop, put on an oven mitt and hold the lid down while you gently move the pan back and forth across the burner.  (I turn my stove down one notch at this point because of the type of pans I have, so you may or may not need to do this.)  When the popping slows down to a few seconds between pops, remove from burner and carefully take off lid.  Sometimes I let it continue popping for a few seconds off the burner before removing the lid.  IMPORTANT – make sure your kids are not close by when you take off the lid, in case a few rogue kernels decide to pop out of the pan, since they will be very hot. Immediately pour popcorn into bowl (be careful when picking out any popcorn that’s stuck to the side of the pan).  Sprinkle a layer of salt over popcorn, then carefully shake or stir to distribute.  Repeat 4 or 5 times, depending on how salty you like it.  When cooled, sprinkle with M&Ms, if desired.

Popcorn Variation:
You can also make regular (Dairy Free!) popcorn this way by omitting the sugar and M&Ms.  This tastes so much better than microwave popcorn!

Chocolate-Drizzled Kettle Corn:
For an inexpensive, fancy-looking gift or treat, pour popped kettle corn onto wax paper-lined jellyroll pans.  Heat 1/2 c. chocolate chips with 1/2 tsp. oil on 70% power in the microwave just until melted, stirring often.  Drizzle over kettle corn and let dry.  Break apart and place in zippered plastic bags or decorative tins.  Toss in some holiday M&Ms (plain or peanut).

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Pumpkin Pancakes

These moist, yummy pancakes have enough flavor that they only require butter and a little sprinkling of powdered sugar, so there’s no need to drown them in syrup* (although they taste fabulous with syrup, too).  You can substitute any complete pancake mix for the ones listed below, but I’ve found the best texture for gluten free pancakes by combining these two mixes.  Try adding a handful of dried cranberries for a flavor boost, and cooking them in bacon grease for the ultimate in pancake bliss!

Dry ingredients:
2 c. Bob’s Red Mill GF Pancake Mix (or your favorite GF pancake mix)
2 T. brown sugar (use 1 T. if using Vanilla Sweetened Almond Milk)
2 tsp. cinnamon
2/3 c. dried cranberries, optional

Wet ingredients:
1 1/4 c. almond milk OR 12 oz. can evaporated milk
2 eggs
2 T. oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract (use 1 tsp. vanilla if using Vanilla Almond Milk)
1/2 c. canned pumpkin or frozen pumpkin puree, thawed

Combine dry ingredients except cranberries in large bowl.  Combine wet ingredients in separate bowl.  Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir in dried cranberries, if desired.

Cook bacon on griddle and remove to paper towels to drain.  Spread grease evenly around griddle, scraping excess grease into drip cup for second batch.  Cook pancakes in grease.  Spread with butter and sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar.  Makes 14-16 pancakes, depending on size.

*In case you’re wondering, I calculated the sugar content of these pancakes using Almond Breeze Original Almond Milk, cranberries (which add a lot of sugar), the two pancake mixes, and 1/2 tsp. powdered sugar divided between 2 pancakes.  The total is approximately 16 grams of sugar for 2 pancakes.  Using evaporated milk instead of almond milk adds another 5 grams of sugar for 2 pancakes.  Two tablespoons of syrup alone is between 17 grams of sugar and 26 grams of sugar, depending on the brand (17 g. for cheap syrup that’s mostly corn syrup, and 26 g. for real maple syrup which is what we use), and most people pour more than 1 tablespoon of syrup on each pancake.  This is why we use powdered sugar and fruit to sweeten pancakes, instead of syrup, without sacrificing flavor!

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