Monday, June 22, 2009

Giving Up Sugar and Refined Flour

One night a few weeks ago I was going through some old papers of mine and came across the folder which contained all of my New Year's Goals, dating back to 1992. Somehow my son coaxed me into reading them aloud--how embarrassing for me and entertaining for Collin! Anyway I noticed one thing that kept coming up over and over again. In fact, you'll find it below in my New Year's post on this blog--"work on limiting refined flour and sugar in my diet".

Virtually every year I add that to my list of goals and every year I fail to make any progress with it. I eat a lot of sugar and white flour. Much less than the national per capita averages but much more than could possibly be healthy.

To my credit there's virtually no high fructose corn syrup in my diet. By varying estimates, Americans are consuming somewhere between 16 and 50% of their calories in the form of high fructose corn syrup. No wonder there's an obesity and diabetes epidemic!

No, my habits aren't that extreme, but neither are they good. As I've mentioned before, I bake all of our bread products and pastries and we almost never eat out, so I have a pretty good grasp on how much we're consuming. I purchase roughly 100 pounds of white flour per year and probably 30 to 40 pounds of sugar. I also go through a quart or two of local honey, a jar or two of brown rice syrup, about 10 pounds of whole wheat flour and incidental amounts of rye, cornmeal, semolina, teff and other flours. I ingest small amounts of corn syrup in the form of pancake syrup and also in the small amounts of processed foods that we're still buying, mostly tomato-based stuff.

Based on USDA estimates each American consumes roughly 136.6 pounds of flour per year (that's refined and whole grain flours lumped together) and 156 pounds of caloric sweeteners (sugar and high fructose corn syrup, mainly). Together Collin and I consume roughly 115 pounds of flour and maybe 60 pounds of sweeteners per year. Since Collin's only here half the time, I calculate my portion of that to be maybe 77 pounds of flour and 40 pounds of sweeteners. Gosh, that sounds obscene!

Well I'm determined that this is the year I will finally tackle this goal. And the first phase of that starts now. Collin left on Friday to be with his dad for the next three and a half weeks and I thought it would be a great time--while I'm alone--to begin making some changes.

The rules are a little hazy, but here's what I'm thinking. Nothing draconian just yet. I can have a little of this and a little of that. I can finish off anything that's still in the fridge. For instance I made homemade hamburger buns and some bagels this week and there's still one of each left in the fridge. I'm allowed to eat those. There's a little bit of leftover pasta in there too that I can finish off. I can't have sugar in my tea, but I think I'll let myself use honey (even though it's really no better than sugar). I've been sweetening my oatmeal with a little bit of brown rice syrup--so little that I can barely taste the sweetness. Fruit is okay, but I never eat extreme amounts anyway. White flour can only be used in very minimal quantities when making whole-grain breads--just enough to lighten things up a little.

And then there's the question of other starchy things. What about potatoes, and rice? I just bought a 5 pound bag of potatoes, so I will eat them. Don't want anything to go to waste, of course. As for rice, I guess I should stick to brown rice instead of white. Blah. I never have been able to acquire a taste for brown rice.

When I told Collin what I was planning to do, he said "But what will you eat, Mom??" I said "I know!!" He knows me only too well.

We'll see how all of this goes. I just wish the garden were a little further along, so I'd have a lot of interesting foods to distract me. I'll post an update once I get a little further into this challenge and let you know how it's going.


  1. High fructose corn syrup, sugar, and several fruit juices are all nutritionally the same.

    High fructose corn syrup is simply a kind of corn sugar. It has the same number of calories as sugar and is handled similarly by the body.
    There is no scientific evidence to suggest that high fructose corn syrup is responsible for diabetes.
    It is especially important to understand that Americans are consuming more calories from all types of foods today than what was consumed 30 years ago. And we expend less energy to burn the extra calories. Consider the numbers reported in the February 2009 Loss-Adjusted Food Availability Data by the USDA. Total caloric intake on a per capita basis for Americans increased from 2,172 calories per day in 1970 to 2,775 calories per day in 2007 – an additional 603 calories. Where are all these calories coming from? Major contributors to this 603-calorie increase include 299 calories from added fats and 194 calories from flour and cereal products. Added sugars account for 57 calories of the daily increase.

    The American Medical Association in June 2008 helped put to rest misunderstandings about this sweetener and obesity, stating that “high fructose syrup does not appear to contribute to obesity more than other caloric sweeteners.”

    Even former critics of high fructose corn syrup dispel long-held myths and distance themselves from earlier speculation about the sweetener’s link to obesity as the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition releases its 2008 Vol. 88 supplement's comprehensive scientific review.

    Consumers can see the latest research and learn more about high fructose corn syrup at

    Audrae Erickson
    Corn Refiners Association

  2. I understand why the Corn Refiners Association is scrambling and has mounted this massive campaign. You've got to protect your industry, your profits and your livelihoods. But I think it's unconscionable when doing so endangers the health and wellbeing of others. Tomorrow I will delve into the subject of high fructose corn syrup in more depth. Wasn't really planning to do that...but now it looks like I'll need to.

  3. "By varying estimates, Americans are consuming somewhere between 16 and 50% of their calories in the form of high fructose corn syrup. No wonder there's an obesity and diabetes epidemic!"

    Surely you understand that a calorie is a calorie regardless of its source, and Americans are obese not because of HFCS.

  4. See my follow-up post The Corn Syrup Blues. Research indicates that consumption of HFCS causes faulty leptin-signalling in the brain. Hunger signals do not get turned off, so you will consume more of everything.

    Calories consumed in the form of HFCS are dangerous calories from a health standpoint because they lead to the consumption of more overall calories (from all types of food).

    Strictly you're correct, a calorie is a calorie, but that's missing the point. You need to recognize that a calorie of one type of food is metabolozed very differently than a calorie of another type of food. It's grossly oversimplifying the matter to say HFCS doesn't contribute to obesity just because a calorie's a calorie.