Holiday Decisions

Wait for that wisest of all counselors, Time.

― Pericles

Here’s hoping that none of you cared that I haven’t written another post till now, because you were so busy enjoying friends and family that you didn’t even notice!

Let’s talk about sugar and holiday gorging eating. I had some people over for Christmas and all around Christmas. It’s an important time of year for the line of work I’m in. And let’s face it: at Christmas people expect dessert. You simply cannot invite them over for a meal of just meat, maybe a vegetable or two ,and candy dishes full of cheese and pepperoni cubes instead of…you know…candy.

Of course on the day The Roommate and I actually celebrated Christmas–primarily by not eating sugar, resting quietly, and not having anyone over–we actually did have cheese and pepperoni slices in the fancy Christmas candy dishes. And almonds. The spicy ones. And we ate ham. Pounds and pounds of ham. I had a jar of pickled peppers in my stocking. The roommate had a can of roasted pecans under the tree.

Anyway, if one is going to swear off all sugar forever and ever, fine. But if one is going to ever allow it all, Christmas is the time.

We have certainly talked about refined carbs in general before, but it never hurts to remind ourselves of some of the facts. After all, we have a lot of decisions to make this time of year:

Should I have that candy? Everyone else is doing it…

They went to all the trouble to make that Rice Krispie treat.

If I don’t have a third cinnamon roll, the hostess will think I didn’t like them. (Odd, isn’t it, how you rarely hear anyone substitute words like “asparagus spear” or “slice of roast beef” for “cinnamon roll” in that sentence?)

We only have pumpkin pie once a year.

What I’ve been trying to advocate is that you think about reorienting your thinking. Those sugary, floury, starchy concoctions are not treats: they are poison. If you are a very obese person, chances are you are inordinately attracted to starchy and, likely less so, to sugary foods. That attraction, along with your size, is the indication that you are particularly metabolically unsuited to process them–though they aren’t health foods for anyone of any size.

They are killing you. They aren’t killing you as quickly as, say, arsenic, but they are killing you all the same. Arsenic is a good way to think of it. Most of us have seen and/or read some English murder mystery in which someone is slowly poisoning a spouse with just a little bit of arsenic every day. The victim gets slower, weaker, more unhealthy over time. But because the process is so slow, no one suspects a poison. The person is just “sick” and the doctors treat all the symptoms but never cure the patient until some clever 80-year-old sleuth who enjoys potting petunias when she’s not confronting murderers suddenly figures it all out.

Sounds eerily familiar, don’t it?

Every time you eat refined, bleached carbohydrates on an empty stomach, your arteries distend and stay there for hours. If you are over, say,  35, do you have any idea how big a risk you’re taking every time you gorge yourself on refined carbohydrates? A sudden distention of your artery walls can kill you almost instantly. One minute you’re singing Silent Night, the next your family is rushing you to the hospital.

So am I saying that you can’t ever have anything with a carbohydrate in it? That would be silly, since I just talked in a previous post about enjoying yourselves at the holidays in the grand human tradition. I also believe that we are something more than animals–we are thinking, rational beings made in the image of God. Food is more than just sustenance to keep us from starving. It’s enjoyment, fellowship, family, friends. I don’t completely abstain from some things because there’s room in life for some tasty things that aren’t health foods.

Really. We as humans have always done this, and every Paleo/Primal I’ve read has got his or her weak spot. That thing that is technically on their personal naughty list; but you just have to have some good things sometimes, right? Some cheese, some alcohol, some sugar, some fake sweetener. Everyone’s got one, and to me this isn’t proof that we’re all just out-of-control. It’s proof that we’re all human. We aren’t wild animals that eat only to survive.

What I am suggesting, though, is that you and I think carefully about what we’re doing. After all, we aren’t wild animals. We don’t have to eat something just because it’s in front of us. Get the knowledge you need to make wise decisions, and then apply it. Let’s start with sugar.

Sugar

Sugar is not a health food. No one thinks that. At the same time, humans have enjoyed sweetening their food for as long as they’ve had food. We want to find the line between enjoying a good thing that God has given to us and overindulging in something that very quickly goes from a neutral to a negative. So here’s some thoughts to help you make decisions about what to eat, how much to eat, and what to make:

1. Refined sugar is particularly harmful. Now don’t misunderstand: honey, maple syrup, unrefined sugar–those are all going to spike your blood sugar just like refined sugar. But there’s an extra special something that the refining process does that makes table sugar especially bad for you. No one is completely sure why. Some are investigating the angle that the removal of chromium is the issue. It could be whatever causes the refined sugar to rot your teeth, while sugarcane or unrefined sugar doesn’t (or at least not nearly as quickly.)

And of course the cat is out of the bag about how addictive refined sugar is. It binds to the opiode receptors located in your brain in a way almost identical to heroin. Like heroin, it increases the brain’s flow of dopamine, which gives you energy and focus. In real life, your brain counteracts dopamine naturally by releasing GABA to counter it. Heroin is so much more addictive than other dopamine stimulants because it blocks the release of GABA leaving nothing to counter that wonderful, life-is-perfect, the-joy-will-never-end feeling of a dopamine high.

Sadly, sugar does this too, though to a far lesser degree, obviously. Not only does this mean a mild addictive high whenever you eat refined sugar, but also increased risk of diabetes because GABA–which the sugar is inhibiting–is produced by the pancreas and is part of insulin regulation. Disable the regulator and you never know what might happen.

Sugar also acts on the opioid receptors that control eating. Most people have heard of the “munchie stage” of a marijuana high. This is similar. The eating of refined sugar stimulates your brain to crave more food, and particularly more refined sugar.

If you need a sweetener, it’s worth looking into whether some non-refined sweetener can do the job before you turn to sugar. Most of the time, I’ve found, something else can easily be substituted.

2. Remember that God made fruit in packages where the amount of fructose you can ingest at one sitting is limited by the fiber it comes packed in. Few people can eat more than one or two apples, but you can power down the juice of ten apples with no problem at all. Fructose is hard on your liver in large quantities and high fructose corn syrup should be avoided whenever humanly possible.

Use table sugar before you use that stuff in food.

(But if you’ve got a big bottle of corn syrup in your cabinet, don’t despair. There’s no need to let it go to waste. Add 1/2 C of corn syrup to 3 C of water and 1 C of plain, cheap non-antibacterial dish soap, let it sit in the fridge overnight, and you can make the most amazing bubbles with your kids. Ordinary bubbles form because the soap traps the water in a little sandwich. The water evaporates quickly, though, and then the bubble pops and everyone is sad. Add some corn syrup, though, and you’ve made a sugar polymer that thickens the skin of your soap–in the same vein as a plastic polymer–and your water can’t evaporate so quickly. You can bounce these bubbles and even carry them around in your hand if your hand is wet.)

3. Consider the amount of sugar that populations eat. Statistics are pretty clear: when a given population eats twenty pounds of sugar, per person, per year or less, they see virtually no heart disease, cancer, diabetes, appendicitis, or obesity. Once over twenty pounds per year and those conditions show up, but in manageable amounts. Seventy pounds, per person, per year is the threshold of epidemic. Americans now eat around 150 pounds per person in a year.

20 pounds per year is around 5.3 teaspoons per day, or about 21 grams of sugar. I shoot to stay at or below this number. 21 grams of sugar is 2-5 squares of a nice chocolate bar, depending on brand and darkness of chocolate. It’s about 2 servings of the vanilla bean frozen custard I made last week in the ice cream maker The Roommate got me for Christmas, as we define servings: i.e., “when we get full.” That happens pretty quickly when you only eat it after a big meal and the custard is so full of fat and eggs.* (Hate mail for The Roommate may be directed to ILIKEICECREAMSOSUEME@gmail.com)

4. The daily average counts too. Occasionally I’ll have a little more sugar in one day, and none the day after. But we have to make that choice carefully. What would you think if you had a friend struggling with alcoholism tell you: “Yeah doctors say no more than about 5 glasses of wine in a week, so I’m going to drink 5 glasses tonight and then I’ll just wait a week before I have any more.” You’d hopefully be thinking two things:

A. It’s not healthy for him to down that much wine at once.
B. The chances that he’s really going to wait a whole 7 days before doing it again are nonexistent.

Alas my chubby friend, if you are a carboholic you are just as stupid to say to yourself “I’ll just eat 150 grams of sugar today and I won’t have any more for the rest of the week.” It’s not good for you, and the chances that you will really wait another 7 days before doing it again are laughable.

So just be careful, ok?

5. What you eat your sugar with is really important, too. In all the studies I’ve linked to above, they tested the distending power of carbohydrates and the opiate effects of sugar by dumping large amounts into empty stomachs. But fat has this nice property–it slows down the absorption of sugar. Eat your sweets after a nice, big meal of good fat, protein and fiber and choose sweets that are packed in fat themselves, and your blood sugar doesn’t go up as quickly, doesn’t go up as high, and your arteries don’t distend so hard for so long.

Eat your sweet with fat. Don’t pop a candy before dinner–wait till after dinner and have some ice cream. (Or better yet custard. My recipe below will give you about 107g of fat and 75g of sugar for the whole thing, which was 8 servings for us spread over 5 days. That’s 13.4g of fat and only 9.4g of sugar in a serving.)

6. When you eat your sugar is also important. By “when” here I don’t mean in relation to a meal, but in relation to physical activity. You cannot burn off calories to lose weight via exercise. It doesn’t work that way. However you can burn off glucose if you have some in your bloodstream. Your muscles will use it first. What I’d prefer is that you never touched a Double Chocolate Chip Frappe ever again. If you’d do that for me, I’d be ever so grateful. That’s a ton of sugar, hardly any fat to slow its absorption, and most people drink those things on a relatively empty stomach. But if someone holds a gun to your head and forces you to do it, do it before you have to walk across town or go out to play with the kids. For the love of Pete, don’t do it afterward.

Flour

So now let’s talk about wheat flour. The problem with wheat is more profound because even the smallest amounts can cause big problems. If you cut your sugar consumption by 90% you can see 90% of the benefits. If you cut your flour consumption by 90%, nothing happens. (With the possible exception that you might lose weight due to blood sugar control, if you were eating enormous amounts of grain previously and don’t replace the wheat with other starches).

But blood sugar isn’t the thing that worries me about wheat. I’ve discussed this before so I won’t go into it except to provide some links, but I’d sit down and drink a bottle of soda on an empty stomach before I’d eat any flour knowingly. Here’s why, and I won’t talk any more about it because what I really want is for you to go to that first link and read the whole study.
http://physrev.physiology.org/content/91/1/151.long

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/modern-wheat-a-perfect-chronic-poison-doctor-says/

Starch

The final thing to consider is starch. This would be grains other than wheat, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, and other starchy vegetables.

Potatoes are not a health food. Sorry folks. Yes, they have some vitamins or minerals or something–but it is hardly worth eating them if you can get far better nutrition. They are a pure starch.

However, they aren’t going to rip your intestines up, inflame your joints, mess with your hormones, and put you at risk for auto-immune diseases like wheat does. At least, they mostly won’t. Some people do seem to react to nightshade family vegetables pretty poorly.

Personally I tend to treat potatoes like an unrefined sugar–particularly if the potatoes are drowning in fat. Potato flour can also make an acceptable substitute for some recipes if you find yourself forced to make something that usually uses wheat.

My main concern here is that no one walk away from reading this thinking that gluten-free is synonymous with healthy. Gluten-free is better than gluten-full, but starch is still starch and will still cause you to go giddy, crash, and then be overly hungry later. It will still make you put on weight if you eat it regularly. It will still put you at risk for the many conditions brought on by constant elevated blood sugar. The same is true for all the gluten-free flours, heritage grains, and grains that aren’t related to dwarf wheat.

As for the other starches, well if you want to see people throwing spears just walk into a Paleo forum and announce that you don’t think people really ought to eat that many sweet potatoes. They love them some “safe starches!” The reality is that for many people like me there is no such thing as a “safe starch.” They all cause us to crave more starch, to be disproportionately hungry, to ride the blood sugar roller coaster we’ve worked so hard to get off of. If you don’t have trouble with them, great! Just don’t try to spear me to the tent floor and force-feed me sweet potato fries.

*Custard Recipe:
2/3 C milk + 1/3 C pure cream
1 C pure cream
1/3 C sugar (I use the unrefined stuff and sometimes I use a few T of maple syrup instead. Don’t worry: I’m very picky about tastes and it doesn’t come out “mapley.” However if you do that, reduce the milk by just a tad to keep the liquid contents the same.)
3 egg yolks
1 vanilla bean pod

Slice open the pod and scrape out the seeds. Put seeds and pod into a stove pot with the milk, 1/3 C cream and sweetener of your choice. Heat it on low, stirring constantly so no film forms on the top. When it’s just about to start simmering, take it off the heat. Whip the egg yolks well, then very, very slowly–whipping the eggs the whole time–drizzle in about half the milk/cream/sugar/vanilla mixture. Do it too fast and you’ll cook the eggs. When about half is in there, pour all the egg mixture into the pot with the rest of the milk/cream and heat it till just before it gets to “simmer.” Take it off the heat and stir into a bowl with the 1 C of cream. Cover it with plastic wrap that touches the top of the custard, so no crust is formed, and put it in the fridge till thoroughly cool. Then mix in your ice cream maker according to directions.

For variation, try adding a cup of natural peanut butter to the mix. Look for a peanut butter that uses palm oil instead of sunflower oil and you’re golden. If your peanut butter has some sugar, you can reduce the sugar you add to the custard. Or, chop in a few cherries near the end of the mixing time. Or try substituting plain Greek yogurt for the milk (no 1/3 C of cream in that one) and add some lemon juice. Let your imagination run wild, folks.

Plato says he’s hungry

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4 thoughts on “Holiday Decisions

  1. Thanks for your great posts! My health has changed for the incredible since changing to lo-carb and very little sugar!

  2. Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently:

    ILIKEICECREAMSOSUEME@gmail.com

    Technical details of permanent failure:
    The email account that you tried to reach does not exist. Please try double-checking the recipient’s email address for typos or unnecessary spaces. Learn more at http://support.google.com/mail/bin/answer.py?answer=6596

    “Roommate,

    So is this really the inbox for hate mail to the Roommate? Good to know,
    and we’ll keep up the steady supply of hate mail so the account doesn’t
    languish for lack of use.

    Keep up the good work of making Hinton eat ice cream.”

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