Could Do Better

Just LOOK how well we are doing on the 'no sugar' front! You can take the baking away from The Girl, but you can't take the baker out of The Girl. Banning the baking has been hard on the poor pet, but a holiday sleepover with her 'girls' saw her spending half a blissful day in the kitchen in preparation. I came home to find the kitchen table covered with chocolate butterflies 'curing' on baking paper resting in the centre of a number of large open books, to give the butterflies that 'just about to fly away' effect. There was icing and chocolate on every surface, piping bags full of chocolate and icing, and mixing bowls full of batter, all being 'cleaned' efficiently by a certain small sister.

I have been contemplating the effects of our new 'not so much' sugar lifestyle. First, it is very, very difficult not to give in to the whining. I don't think I have ever realised how much we equate sugar with love, comfort and happiness. And how much certain children will attempt to capitalise on that. And what a very easy touch I am for emotional manipulation. I swear I will never take Posy to the supermarket EVER AGAIN. If from this you deduce that the sugar sometimes still jumps from the shelf into the trolley, you would be absolutely correct.

Second, how much sugar there is everywhere, everyday, available for consumption at every turn. One day last week there was an article in our local paper quoting a WHO researcher who was becoming concerned at the 'normalisation' of sugar in children's diets. What was once maybe a once-a-week treat is now becoming an everyday snack - chocolate, lollies, cakes, biscuits. Interestingly, this was also something touched on in the comments in the last post. When did sugary treats become a lunchbox staple?

Third, I have discovered how awful all that sugar really makes me feel. After a week of eating well, the weekend treats (no, of course I haven't been eating them in moderation. Lemon slice for breakfast covers all the major food groups, surely) make me feel positively unwell. This could be because I am getting quite old and my once cast-iron digestion is beginning to let me down. The children appear to be able to eat cake for breakfast with complete impunity.

Fourth, keeping sugar for a weekend treat makes it just that - a wonderful, precious moment of sweetness, much anticipated and savoured. OK, more savoured if possibly I could resist eating cake for breakfast, but, well, it was there, you know..

Which brings us to point number five - if it is there, we eat it. During the last couple of weeks the dear wee petals have been wandering from fridge to pantry like unquiet shades. 'There is nothing to eeeeeat,' they moan, clanking jars of condiments around in the fridge like Marley's Ghost, hoping against hope that there is something tasty behind the chutney. There is of course - cheese and fruit and vegies and dip and nuts and the odd bit of dried fruit. Mostly they sigh and choose an orange or nibble on a date, or decide they are not really hungry, because they're not, of course. Most of us are never really actually hungry, because we don't go long enough between meals to let our tummies get to growling stage. But there must be something so addictive about sugar. Because I can look at an array of oranges, dates, cheese and capsicum slices and decide I am not hungry, but put a plate of chocolate cake in front of me, and suddenly my appetite returns. I believe this may also account for that mysterious manifestation, the extra 'dessert stomach', where no matter how full you are, there is always room for a little sweet something.. So taking away all the sweet somethings has somehow recalibrated our appetites.

I have been watching (actually listening to, whilst doing something tedious, like cleaning the bathroom) The Men Who Made Us Fat This series of documentaries on the food industry is extraordinarily intriguing. I think the most disturbing thing about it for me is the glimpse into the workings of the corporations who make a great deal of money from processing our food. It made me absolutely determined that the food my family eat will be prepared by me, or the local butcher and baker who I can talk to, and who are passionate about their craft, not by a giant corporation whose passion is for shaving a few cents off  the product and the process wherever they can. Even though I find cooking dreadfully tedious, I am motivated by a great deal of concern about my children's health and well being. The convenience of food-in-a-box is far outweighed by the knowledge that the people who put the food in the box have absolutely no interest in my children's health and well being.

Well, I promised  my latest, and most successful to date, muesli bar recipe. It is actually a cookie, and based on this recipe which Jessie sent to me several weeks ago. True to form, I couldn't stick to the recipe as given, but experimented and tweaked. The original recipe only has two ingredients, coconut and medjool dates. I only ever have the dry dates, so needed to add dried fruit to give the mixture the moisture it needed to clump together. Now I am excited about the potential of using our own dried fruit this summer to make it more of a local production. I also added the sunflower seeds for extra protein. This is a very nutrient and calorie dense cookie - I have been sending them along to school on the days the girls go straight from school to afternoon sport. This is not food for the couch potato (ie me). It is also a very loosely interpreted recipe, and ripe for further experimentation. If you try it, let me know what further tweaks are successful..

Muesli Bar Cookies

Whiz up a couple of handfuls of sunflower seeds in the food processor.
Add a cup of dessicated coconut, a cup of dates, and at least a cup of assorted dried fruit.
Other optional extras may include a couple of tablespoons of cocoa powder, sesame seeds, soaked chia seeds, or other tasty tidbits from the pantry.
Whiz it all up until it all clumps together in a dough. If it doesn't clump, add more dried fruit.
Try not to eat all the dough.
Roll into balls, squash down with a fork, bake in a 150C oven for 10-15 mins until they begin to be hard to the touch.
When they are cooled on the tray they will be crispy on the outside and delightfully chewy and moist in the middle.


oh your poor children, wandering wraith-like around the house...
i thought i was good about sugar but after reading this, i realised i have packed for today's work lunch a slice of brownie for afternoon tea; and in the fridge for pudding this week is upside down syrupy orange cake. daily treats for me, not weekly. oh dear. and i justify it as 'homemade'.
you should also read 'salt sugar fat' buy michael moss (i got it from the library). reveals what the snack/processed food industry does to our food. it will further turn you off 'convenience food'.
jo, you are dangerous. first you get me distraught about cut-in-half worms, and now my sugar intake.
It's summer here, and summer has me making much of what we eat or getting good local stuff. I'm always so less motivated in winter, but you I'll depend on you to inspire me when November rolls around (though that will be summer for you, won't it? Hmmm ...).

I'm always amazed by how horrible I feel after I eat sugar. Sometimes this keeps me from eating it, and as I said recently, I'm trying not to each much anyway, but when someone throws a perfect, homemade chocolate chip cookie at me, it's hard to resist. But I always regret it.

Good luck with the sugar ban!

Bek said…
It is so hard, especially for an expert baker. No sugar (i.e. including no sugar substitutes - organic/raw cane sugar/agave/maple/coconut etc) baking really isn't an option. Unless you use lots of fruit, which is still carbohydrate. Lower GI than regular sugar (althought cane sugar is still only GI 68 - on the high end of medium) and still more nutritious, but it's still carbs!

I really think portions is something that often gets lost in the sugar/fat/obesity blame argument. You can have the 'healthy' version of, for example, cake, but if you eat a massive slice it's still probably going to be a lot of kilojoules/calories. There is some interesting research on how portion sizes have increased incrementally since the 60's.

Obviously availability and cultural norms are also a massive issue. It's true high added sugar foods are becoming increasingly socially accepted. You give chocolate as gifts, you have junk food when people visit, at parties, for fundraisers. You can't even buy petrol without being bombarded with chocolate. We don't just have birthday cake at home, you have it with family, and friends, and colleagues etc. You're right - high energy/junk food food is normalized.

I remember having a patient who mentioned she had an ice-cream after dinner occasionally. I asked her how often and she was very vague. Eventually I asked how often she shopped: the answer was weekly. How many did she buy: 2 packets of 4 ice-creams. Did anyone else eat them: No. She at 8 ice-creams a week, every week, and she still thought she only had ice-cream 'occasionally'!!! I'll never forget that conversation.

There is some really scary stuff happening in appetite research that is used in food industry such as the additive effects of low level caffeine supplementation in beverages. It is a ploy by big business to make money, sell more product, and often impacts most on more vulnerable members of the community. Even reducing food advertising to children, although almost uniformly supported by the general public, still hasn't become legislated because food industry is such a strong player in politics.

Sorry for the rant. But I think it is such a complex issue.

I think its great what you are trying to do thought. Don't give up, even if the odd cake wangles its way in there.
Anonymous said…
I want The Girl's butterfly cakes. With a nice cup of tea. What a lovely afternoon treat!

But yes, sugar is horribly addictive. Why do you think they fought wars and enslaved people over it? The BBC has a great page on how we became addicted to sugar. Google it! Interesting reading.

Funny how we could eat more of it when we wre kids! At Easter, I used to be able to eat chocolate for breakfast. And then morning tea, and nibble on it all day. Now I can't.
Jen's Busy Days said…
I am on the fence with sugar. I think it is a bit like wheat and dairy. Those industries became subsidised a long time ago when we weren't so wealthy and huge amounts crept into our diets because it was so cheap. Sugar has done the same.

Being aware of its presence, much like my awareness of wheat in so many things, helps me to not choose foods containing it so often. In my opinion it is a case of balance, maybe back to pre-war levels, and eating a lot from scratch as well as being aware of your personal food needs.

I allow my children more carbs than me as they move more but I still keep a very close eye out for bloating bellies or carb lows after too much. Each child is different and tolerates different levels before it becoming an issue. This is true of wheat, dairy and sugar in our household. Dairy is definitely a food that needs limiting for one child. He blocks up with more than 1 glass or equivalent of milk.

Good luck on finding your balance point Jo. It will be better for your health and if you notice that of your children talk to them...educate them on how their body works.

Best wishes
Jen in NSW
Anonymous said…
If you add the sesame seeds you have both Omega 3's and 6's catered for in this tasty looking treat. Sugar is like TV. If you try to remove it you really start to realise how much a part of modern life it has become. SO with you on the middle men turning our "food" into profits. They really could care less about the nutritional content and are solely motivated on the profit margin and how far they can push the boundaries without actually killing someone (at least for the next 30 years when they will probably have reformed the company so no-one can sue...) We put SO much trust in these companies, believing that they are doing the right thing by us but documentaries like this are exposing the truth that we all know in our heart of hearts but it is just SO easy to reach for a can, a box, or a plastic bag and much more difficult to do it all from scratch. Believe me I know. I am the woman who makes her own sesame milk and sometimes feels like a slave in order to imbibe my daily cuppa ;)
GretchenJoanna said…
I have never seen anything like those butterflies before!

I predict that all your consciousness-raising will bear fruit in the end. Probably no one will be fanatical, but when your girls grow up they will likely be better than average at nutrition.

You are a loving mom!
Jo said…
Hello my lovies! Have been mostly internet-less for a week, on holiday with the babies. We were wickedly decadent and had sugary treats every day, but only once a day. We shopped very discriminately for our daily treat. Now back home to a new school term, and the 'sugar as an occasional treat' regime.
I agree with everything all of you said up there. Moderation in all things is excellent, but like Bek's patient, our ideas of moderation have streteched somewhat in the last generation..
Tanya Murray said…
I really valued your thoughts in the post but I have to say I also enjoyed many of the thoughtful comments/conversations created at the end. As ever your charming analogies make for an entertaining read.
Jo said…
Tanya, I am truly gifted with a bunch of thoughtful and talented blog friends:)
Anonymous said…
I make the oats and fruit one unbaked. YUM! The coconut one is also amazing and tweaking recipes is the best bit! I am glad you've a no-processed-sugar recipe. :)
I must admit to being a terrible sweettooth myself and although I no longer eat chocolate or use processed sugar at all (asides from kombucha) I do crave sweet treats. Dates, sultanas, coconut sugar on breakfast (very little though), pink lady apples, etc. I'm trying to stick to fruits though and not biscuits or cakes and slowly I'm getting into nuts as snacks instead. My favourite nut? Macadamias because... They're sweet! I'm finally sugar free with my coffee though. Yay me! Keep it up and I swear you will feel so much better. :)

Oh, and yes, sugar is totally addictive. We use rapadura instead which hasn't had the spinning and molecular changes made to it and it's far less addictive, much better for you and tastier (although it is still sugar).
Jo said…
Jess, I am a terrible sweet tooth. All I ever crave is chocolate, and anything the girls have baked!
At the end of most meals I feel I need something sweet, which I am sure is just a habit. So to satisfy that sweet tooth without the processed sugar and carbs, I have started eating a tiny handful of delicious organic sultanas, or a couple of dates, very slowly and meditatively. I have to make very sure my mind knows it is getting its sweet treat. If I gobble them up mindlessly, my mind doesn't realise the treat happened, and wants more. I have a very distractable mind:)
And I could eat nuts all day, but then I'd be the shape of a macadamia. I am also not so good at moderation.
Brilliant that you have gone sugar free with coffee. You must have a will of steel. Well done you!

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