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Refined Carbohydrates


Let's All Have Dessert For Breakfast!!

yogurt humor.jpg

Does the world need 369 kinds of yogurt? Let me narrow that question a bit. Do the grocery shoppers in my neighborhood need 369 kinds of yogurt? The dairy case at my supermarket suggests that we do. Yes, I counted. 369 distinct varieties. Capitalism run amuck?

I love yogurt. But I hate yogurt. What do I love? I love creamy, full-fat Greek yogurt, unsweetened, or perhaps sweetened with a little stevia. This is yogurt as nature intended – a balanced healthy meal that has been around for centuries. What do I hate? I hate sugary, low-fat yogurt that is passed off as a ‘health food’ when it really resembles dessert more than breakfast.

Let me elaborate. When you buy anything but plain yogurt, you are buying a lot of sugar (or chemical sweetners, which I would caution against). Allowing the food industry to decide how much sugar to put in anything, even yogurt, is a bad idea. (If you have not yet seen That Sugar Film, it is smart, funny, and worth renting. The film illustrates that much of the sugar we eat is found in food that is perceived as healthy, like yogurt.) A 6oz container of yogurt often contains about 20 grams of added sugar. That’s five teaspoons. Would you let your kid put five teaspoons of sugar on his cereal? I hope not. Yogurt has a natural tang to it, and this takes some getting used to – but if you pour a bunch of sugar in it, the tang is masked by the super-sweet flavor. This is what we have become accustomed to – heavily sweetened yogurt. Yogurt begins to look, nutritionally, pretty much like dessert.

Here’s low-fat strawberry yogurt, contrasted with low-fat ice cream and cookies. Note that although the yogurt offers a few extra grams of protein, it comes along with more grams of sugar, too:

Stonyfield Low-fat Organic Strawberry Yogurt    

1 cup (200 calories)

Fat – 2g • Carbs – 36g (sugars 35g) • Protein – 9g


Breyers All Natural Light Vanilla/Chocolate/Strawberry Ice Cream

1 cup (218 calories)

Fat – 6g • Carbs – 35g (sugars 30g) • Protein – 6g


Mother’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

6 Cookies (220 calories)

Fat – 10g • Carbs – 30g (sugars 15g) • Protein – 5g


The question, ‘Is this dessert?” is sometimes even provoked by the names of the flavors offered: Chobani’s Chocolate Haze Craze; Dannon Oikos’ Vanilla Sundae or Chocolate Covered Stawberry; Dannon Danimals’ Cotton Candy Thrill; and Yoplait’s Boston Cream Pie.

To make matters worse, America’s misguided fear of saturated fat has led to mostly reduced fat offerings. In my supermarket, the low-fat and fat-free varieties dominate, with 94% of the shelf space. (Only 23 full-fat offerings – yes, I counted.) This is a problem for two reasons. First of all, low-fat engineering takes a balanced, natural food and removes a key nutrient, leaving behind mostly carbohydrates. Secondly, it makes the yogurt more sour and less palatable, so more sugar is required to make it taste good. Stripping fat out of yogurt makes breakfast (or your snack) a carbohydrate heavy meal that lacks staying power. Let’s look at the macros of the two extremes for a moment:


Full-fat Greek Yogurt – Plain                       

1 cup (220 calories)                                     

Fat – 11g • Carbs – 9g (sugars are 16% of calories) • Protein – 20g                                                    

Fat Free Fruit Yogurt

1 cup (230 calories)

 Fat – 0g • Carbs – 46g (sugars are 80% of calories) • Protein – 11g

Which one looks more like a meal and less like dessert?

Yogurt-- Maximized

How can you get the most from your yogurt? Here are three things you can do to skip the hype and go straight to the good stuff:

  1. Go Greek (usually roughly double the protein);
  2. Buy plain (unsweetened, so you control how much sugar or stevia goes in);
  3. Buy full-fat (better taste, and more satisfying, balanced nutrition).

In my grocery store, with 369 choices, these three criteria rule out all but one option. At specialty markets, you'll find a few more.



When It Comes to Carbs, Don't Be Dense

As the obesity and diabetes epidemics progress, the search for causes and explanations becomes ever more urgent.  Why, now, are so many people struggling with these diseases? There are many theories…  I recently came across one interesting idea that appeals to my sense of possibilities, and it came from a 2012 paper entitled, "Comparison with ancestral diets suggests dense acellular carbohydrates promote an inflammatory microbiota, and may be the primary dietary cause of leptin resistance and obesity." Quite a mouthful. But author Ian Spreadbury makes a pretty simple and interesting point in this paper. The notion is that ancestral foods, (foods that humans have been eating for thousands of years), are not particularly dense with digestible carbohydrates, but many modern foods are.

Maybe our body’s mechanism for managing carbohydrate calories is gradually overwhelmed by our modern low-fat diet, rich with foods that are very dense with carbohydrate calories. Could these modern foods be driving the twin obesity and diabetes epidemics? The low-fat diet, introduced and encouraged by our government in the late 70’s and early 80’s, pushed us away from some traditional foods (they asked us to decrease consumption of  meat, animal fats, full-fat dairy, and eggs) and toward modern foods (they asked us to increase consumption of grains like bread, cereal, and pasta). And, since that is when these epidemics picked up speed, it seems like a point in time that deserves some scrutiny.

Calculating the carbohydrate density of a food is simple. In a 100 gram serving, take a look at the grams of total carbohydrate and simply subtract the grams of fiber.  Like so:

Although the author provides his own nifty graph in Figure 1 of his paper (scroll down a bit), let me offer a more colorful version of the carbohydrate density of various modern and ancestral foods. Note that the scale (0-100g) is the same in these two graphs...  You will see that there is very little overlap. With the exception of cassava, taro, and plantains, ancestral foods are all less dense (from a carbohydrate perspective) than the modern creations listed.

Carb Density of modern foods.png
Carb Density of Traditional Foods.png

Are there modern creations that I left out that are lower in carbohydrate density? Yes. I cheated a little to make the graphs look better. For example, the mysterious creation, Kraft Free Singles (fake, fat-free cheese), has a carbohydrate density of only 11.5. Although low, this is more than triple the carbohydrate density of real cheddar cheese (3.1), so the pattern of higher carbohydrate density in modern foods is intact. Likewise, low-fat fruit yogurt scores 19.1 -- again, lower than most modern creations, but quadruple the carbohydrate density of plain full-fat yogurt (4.7).

Of course, one of the reasons most of these modern foods score so high on this scale is that they are not a real, whole food full of fiber and/or water. So, might it help to drink a lot of water when chowing down on that granola bar? Maybe... it certainly could not hurt. Note, also, that it definitely does NOT help to wash the granola bar down with soda or Gatorade or Snapple or Red Bull or apple juice.  Nor does it help to add a big glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice to your breakfast of Post Honeycomb cereal. VERY BAD IDEA. That would add to your body's carbohydrate load, now wouldn't it?







Triage In Your Local Grocery Store

Balancing vintage sensibilities in a modern supermarket is challenging. Avoiding all the refined carbohydrates and refined oils in the grocery store really cuts down on options.  Let’s face it:  sugar (in all of its many forms), flour, crazy corn derivatives, and vegetable oil have made it into almost all processed food.

Part of the trick to shopping vintage is TRIAGE – knowing what is important and what can be ignored (at least for now). Some modern foods need to be avoided, but others can remain.  With practice, you will get good at avoiding most of the ‘bad’ stuff, while still enjoying some of the most delicious modern inventions, especially family favorites.

For many families, vintage eating is more of a direction than a strict regimen. Many people who eat this way follow the 80/20 rule…  80% vintage, 20% modern. For some, vintage eating just means more real food and less processed food.  So which processed foods stay, and which ones go? The answer is influenced by your health and goals, as well as your personal preferences in the realms of convenience, cost, and taste. It also depends upon available substitutes.

Ask yourself these questions about any processed product before putting it into your grocery cart:

  1. Does my family love this?
  2. Do we need this? (If it is a dessert or sugar-sweetened beverage, the answer is 'no.')
  3. Will we consume only small amounts of this?
  4. Is it hard to find an acceptable real food substitute?

If all of your answers are 'yes,' it probably should make the cut. If there are no’s in there, you will have to weigh whether it is delicious, important, convenient and irreplaceable enough to ‘cheat.’ Deprivation vs. guilt, right?

Here is an example.  In my house, one of the processed foods I still buy is Hellmann’s Mayonnaise. (Hellmann’s, like all commercial mayonnaise, is full of refined vegetable oil, so it doesn’t qualify as vintage.) Why do I still buy it?

  1. Does my family love this?   Yes. Especially my husband, and I want to stay married ;-)
  2. Do we need this? Yes. No reason to live without mayonnaise. It is naturally low-carb and sugar free!
  3. Will we eat only small amounts of this? Yes. We are not huge mayonnaise eaters.
  4. Is it hard to find an acceptable real food substitute? Yes. I tried substituting with homemade olive oil mayonnaise… The taste was heavy and unacceptable, and it wasn’t quick and easy to make. (It involved getting out the food processor, which means extra cleanup.) Plus, this unpopular substitute only keeps for about a week, so it would be a regular hassle and lead to extra spoilage/waste.

In contrast, although I used to use store bought salad dressing, I now make my own. (Most prepared dressings don’t qualify as vintage – they are full of vegetable oils like soy, corn, canola, and/or cottonseed oil. Many are full of sugar, too, which is unnecessary and not where I would choose to splurge on sugar. Remember: triage!) Why did I cut out this convenience?

  1. Does my family love this? Yes. Especially Hidden Valley Ranch ;-(
  2. Do we need this? Yes. We eat salad almost every day and dressing adds fat to our meal and makes them more satisfying and delicious.
  3. Will we eat only small amounts of this? No. We go through a lot of salad dressing.
  4. Is it hard to find an acceptable real food substitute? No. I make dressing in a few minutes with olive oil, vinegar, salt, herbs, and mustard. It lasts for weeks and saves a few dollars. The taste is stronger than the lighter, refined oils, but it is still delicious. I also occasionally make creamy dressings with real sour cream.

In this case, the quantity we go through and the easy and delicious substitute swayed me to eliminate commercial salad dressing from our fridge most of the time.

Another example would be pizza versus pasta. We love pizza, there is nothing quite like it, and it is cheap and convenient. So we still eat it – just less often – perhaps once or twice a month. But pasta… we don’t really love or need it, and I can still make Bolognese sauce which we either eat like chili or put on just a few noodles. So for us, pizza (in moderation) makes the cut, whereas pasta doesn’t.

Knowing when to splurge on modern favorites can help keep the peace and make vintage eating more doable for your family!



What Was On Those Boats?

When British colonial doctors traveled to the Colonies to care for the British settlers in distant lands, they were consistently amazed by the absence of chronic diseases in native populations. In fact, originally, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and cancer were referred to as the 'Diseases of Civilization' rather than 'chronic diseases.' Why? Because 'uncivilized' natives did not have these diseases. But, as indigenous  populations began to consume more and more of the food imported for the settlers, the colonial doctors noticed that chronic disease began to afflict the natives. It often took decades, but as traditional food ways diminished and 'Western' diets were adopted by traditional societies, Western diseases arrived, too. So that begs the question, "What was on those boats?"  

On my arrival in Gabon, I was astonished to encounter no cases of cancer... I can not, of course, say positively that there was no cancer at all, but, like other frontier doctors, I can only say that if any cases existed they must have been quite rare.
— Dr. Albert Schweitzer (reflecting back to 1913)

Dr. Albert Schweitzer, a doctor who received the Nobel Peace Prize for his missionary work, spent over four decades in a missionary hospital in Gabon (that's Africa, folks), treating thousands of natives each year. And initially, he found almost no cases of chronic disease. The natives seemed somehow immune. Over time, chronic disease developed, according to Schweitzer,as "the natives were living more and more after the manner of the whites." 

As you might imagine, a long, unrefrigerated sea journey was not possible for many types of food. Were the Colonists importing butter, eggs, and meat? No way. The foods shipped to the Colonies had to be far less perishable. What was the cargo? It was largely white sugar, white flour, and white rice. Could these foods be the cause of 'Diseases of Civilization?'