Fifty years ago, Julie Andrews sang that “just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”. Forty years after that, Johnny Depp, acting as J.M. Barrie, said to little Peter Llewelyn Davies, “Just a dog? Just? Porthos, don’t listen to him! Porthos dreams of being a bear, and you want to dash those dreams by saying he’s just a dog? What a horrible candle-snuffing word. That’s like saying, ‘He can’t climb that mountain, he’s just a man,’ or ‘That’s not a diamond, it’s just a rock.’ Just.”
Although Finding Neverland is one of my favorite films and has a lot of good things a viewer can learn from it, in the case of today’s post, “just” is a very important word. Our American culture has forgotten that, in 1964, just a spoonful of sugar was enough to get kids to clean up their room. In the United States, both adults and children eat and drink enormous amounts of sweets every day. If people are not consuming actual sugar, they often substitute sugar with artificial sweeteners, which may not help our problems either.
Through managing (or not managing… attempting to manage) Type 1 Diabetes, I have become increasingly more sensitive to the carbohydrates and sugar in our food these days. People often concentrate on fat and calories to lose weight, but the real villains are the carbohydrates. The more carbohydrates you eat, the more insulin your body must use to keep your blood sugar down. The more insulin you use, the more likely you are to gain weight and the more likely your pancreas is to call it quits (Type 1 Diabetes) or get lazy (Type 2 Diabetes). Sure, we should be careful how much fat we eat, but not all fat is an evil. And we should limit the number of calories we eat each day to a reasonable number based on age, height, weight, activity level, and other factors like disease. But these limitations are not nearly as effective if we are not watching what kinds of calories we are eating. There are three things in food that contribute to the calories in our food: fat (9 calories per gram), protein, and carbohydrates (each 4 calories per gram). (Well, alcohol has calories, too, but I am not talking about alcohol consumption here.) If the majority of our diet falls into the category of carbohydrates, and less in the categories of fats and proteins, we have a problem.
You may be asking, “But what about sugar? Shouldn’t we be careful with how much sugar we intake?” And I will tell you, “Why yes! my friend. We should be careful that we do not consume too much sugar, but sugar falls into the category of carbohydrates. Digestible carbohydrates turn to sugar in the blood when food is digested. So, not only should sugar be considered sugar, but we should remember that all digestible carbohydrates eventually turn to sugar. That means bread, pasta, potatoes, carrots, fruit… The only foods I know of that contain no (or next to no) carbohydrates are meats (not mixed or cooked with sugary ingredients), some cheeses, and eggs. Indigestible carbohydrates are pretty much just fibers; they do not make a huge difference when talking about carbohydrates turning to sugar.” So, yes, the important thing to be watching is our carbohydrate intake, and one way to watch that is to watch sugar intake. I thought this was common knowledge, but apparently it has only been decided recently that sugar is what we should be watching more than fat. When I read the New York Times article linked above, I had a small hipster moment where I wanted to shout from the rooftops, “I knew it first!” I have actually been meaning to write on carbohydrates – especially sugar – for a long time, but I let my procrastinator self take over. I guess hipsters can’t be procrastinators if their goal is to know about cool things first, before they become cool. I would fail at the hipster life.
While we must be careful that our carbohydrate intake is not too high, carbohydrates are an important part of every culture’s diet. A Cuban staple is beans and rice. Yes, beans have protein, but they actually have more than twice as many grams of carbs as they have grams of protein. The main stay in Asian cultures is rice. In China, instead of being greeted with “nǐ hǎo” (“how are you?”), you may get asked (in Chinese), “Have you had your rice today?” In England, potatoes are the most common carbohydrate. Zambians eat nshima with their meals. In India, it is naan. Italy is famous for its pasta, France for its bread, and Greece for its pita. Eating a low-carb diet is good, but it is also difficult. All throughout the world, carbohydrates are a most important ingredient in our food.
What separates the United States’ food from that of the rest of the world are sweets. The U.S. culture is addicted to sweet food. I used to love super sweet desserts, but now that I eat less dessert (less sweet things in general), I have come to realize just how sweet our desserts are here. They are sickeningly sweet. I actually get headaches and feel physically disgusting when I eat many desserts here. That may be partly because I am diabetic, but I know that is not the only reason. Desserts in the United States are just that sweet. If you eat desserts from other cultures, they are often much less sweet than our desserts here, and guess what! They actually taste better. Instead of screaming at you, “SUGAR! SUGAR! SUGAR!” you can taste the flavors in the desserts because those flavors are not masked by ungodly amounts of sugar. Happy thought, indeed.
People often use artificial sweeteners to substitute for sugar. That may sound like a great idea, but those artificial sweeteners are enabling us to remain used to sweet in our food. By using artificial sweeteners, we may not be consuming the calories and carbohydrates that we would be if we used actual sugar, but these sweeteners are letting us keep craving sweet things. Sugar may be a problem, but it turns out artificial sweeteners are, too!
What are we to do? You may think you cannot possibly live without your sweets, but I promise you that you can. It is completely possible! Once you have gotten used to less-sweet things, you will look back at what you once thought was the best dessert in the world and gag from the sweetness. At least that is what has happened with me. Now that I have gotten used to eating less sweets, when I eat super sweet foods (or drink super sweet drinks), I actually DISLIKE them. I recently made brownies for some friends that I used to think were the best brownies in the world, but this time I felt sick from all the sugar. I have found a recipe recently that is magic for wanting dessert as a singleton. It’s Joy the Baker’s Single Girl Melty Chocolate Cake, from her first cookbook, titled (how did you guess?) Joy the Baker Cookbook. But here is the magic part about this recipe. I use 60% cacao chocolate chips and completely leave out the sugar and it is perfection! The chocolate chips are quite sweet enough on their own. I actually can’t even stand semi-sweet chocolate now; it is too sweet.
Years ago, I probably would not have liked this recipe much at all because it would not have been sweet enough, but as I have honed my tastebuds to desire less-sweet things, it is now one of my favorite desserts, both because it has the perfect amount of sweetness without adding sugar and because it makes one serving only. Perfect for a single girl like me.
Sugar used to be a rare commodity, something just for special occasions. It would be good for our society to get back to that view of sugar. Instead of viewing it as an easy thing to buy at the store and therefore easy to throw into any recipe, we should reserve it for special occasions and even then use it sparingly. I am not saying that we should never eat sugar, just that we should use it in small doses. One spoonful of sugar to get that medicine down, not five.
I challenge you all to train your tastebuds to love less-sweet foods and to scoff at more-sweet foods. Do not put sugar (or sugary things like honey or maple syrup) into savory food like Blackberry Farm does with its delicious Deviled Chicken Salad. (When I heard that they put honey in that chicken salad, I wanted to cry. It is the best chicken salad I have ever tasted, but apparently they use honey to make it taste better.) Try drinking your coffee or tea with less or no sugar (including less or no artificial sweeteners). Try eating dessert only once a week or once every two weeks. Try making your favorite dessert with half the usual amount of sugar. Try eating sweet potatoes or sweet fruits when you are craving dessert. (A baked sweet potato or roasted apples or pears are deliciously sweet, like dessert.) Just a spoonful. That is all you need. Just.
- “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLkp_Dx6VdI
- Just: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYi1nQf-GlE
- We have a problem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kAmsi05P9Uw
- Digestible carbohydrates turn to sugar in the blood when food is digested: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/carbohydrates-and-blood-sugar/
- Decided recently: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/02/19/nutrition-panel-calls-for-less-sugar-and-eases-cholesterol-and-fat-restrictions/
- I knew it first! (look at Part 3, Number 6): http://www.wikihow.com/Be-a-Hipster
- Know about cool things first, before they become cool: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjxwyaGB-pY
- Nshima: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nshima
- Happy thought, indeed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKE2S-lHhRY
- Keep craving sweet things: http://styleblueprint.com/nashville/everyday/diet-soda-making-fat/?utm_source=StyleBlueprint+Nashville&utm_campaign=61d7176bec-
- Joy the Baker Cookbook: http://joythebaker.com/cookbooks/
Read from the beginning: https://soarwithlaughter.com/soar-cloud-high/