Monday, December 14, 2015

Still singing the Sugar Blues

Recently I've had the interesting experience of reading William Dufty's book, Sugar Blues. I first became acquainted with it through quotes in the margins of Nourishing Traditions, and was meaning to get to read it sometime ever since. Since it's a rather old book (written about 40 years ago) you can find it online in several places and read or download it for free. 

It's not a strictly scientific document; more like the experience of one man and some fascinating insight into how sugar changed the entire history of mankind. Some parts are not suitable for young readers. It does, however, make one irrefutable point: refined sugar, in all its forms, is detrimental to human health and creates a subtle addiction that is very difficult to get over.

I am the first to admit I have sugar issues (which were worked to the high pitch of a full-blown sugar addiction at some point in my life). Only later did I discover that it might be linked to my long-term vegetarianism; but also, I grew up in a home that was not aware of the extreme damage refined sugar can do to our bodies in the long run. 

Awareness of the problem is the first step to solving it. It's extremely hard to kick the sugar habit, especially as it's so socially ingrained. You can't go to a social gathering without encountering sugar-laden desserts, cookies&coffee corner, or candy handouts for children. You find added sugar or corn syrup in pretty much anything and everything - snacks, sauces, "natural" juices, even canned vegetables. Another reason to cook from scratch as much as you can and avoid commercially prepared food.

The attraction to sweet foods is biologically ingrained and natural. In their original state, naturally sweet foods - such as dates, figs, carobs - are very rich in minerals and valuable nutrients. Refined sugar is an alien substance that does great damage to the body. But years and years of unwholesome dietary habits leave their mark. We crave sugar when we are hungry; we crave it after we've just had a good meal.

I did, however, find some ways which help me curb the desire for immoderate sugar consumption:

1. Make sure you eat your fill of whole, healthy, nourishing and satisfying foods. I personally find I'm a lot less likely to succumb to sugar cravings after a hearty beef stew, or a simple and delicious meal of artisan rye bread with a big slice of farm-fresh cheese, homemade hummus and salad.

2. Get your sleep. The more tired you are, the more likely it is that you'll eventually pop something sugary into your mouth to keep yourself going. If at all possible, go to bed when you're pleasantly sleepy and not utterly exhausted.

3. Gradually adjust your palate to less sweetness. Commercially prepared sweet foods are just loaded with sugar. Even most conventional recipes for cakes, cookies, etc, are full of sugar. When I first tried to teach myself to go without sugar in my coffee, it seemed bitter. But after a few days, I began to feel the subtle sweetness added by milk or cream, which I never noticed until then. Once your palate adjusts, you will be rewarded by a whole array of new, subtle tastes, rather than just the blunt sweetness of modern desserts.

Some of my favorite desserts today are:

- a platter of fresh fruit, attractively sliced and arranged;
- fruit salad which includes a variety of fresh fruit, some unsweetened dried fruit, some nuts, and just a bit of honey and lemon juice;
- fruit slices or berries with unsweetened whipped cream;
- Medjoul dates; I love them - these succulent dates are like natural candy. It's important not to overdo, though. One day, someone asked me if Medjoul dates are an acceptable pick-me-up snack. I said "yes". Then the same person asked if it's OK to eat 15 of them at a time...

I will finish with this quote from Sugar Blues:

"The difference between sugar addiction and alcohol addiction is largely one of degree. Small quantities of narcotics can change body-brain behavior quickly. Sugars take a little longer...
The enduring American fantasy of the dope pusher is a slimy degenerate hanging around school playgrounds passing out free samples of expensive addictive substances to innocent kids. This fantasy devil was created at the turn of the century by and for a country of booze and sugar addicts with an enduring nostalgia for the friendly country store where so many of them got their habit."


August said...

I like Medjoul dates a lot, but invariably I eat the whole box. I can tell they do unkind things to my blood sugar too.

Mrs. Anna T said...

August, naturally if you eat a whole box of Medjoul dates, it will do unkind things to your blood sugar. The key here is moderation. If you can't stop after 2 or 3 dates, perhaps it's better not to eat them at all.

Lady Anne said...

Whoosh! An entire box of dates would do unkind things to more than your blood sugar! Yes, take out two or three and then put the box away *before* you start eating. I find the more inconvenient I make it to reach a goodie, the less likely I am to bother. I adore fruitcake, which many people claim to dislike, so I keep it in the freezer. Candy goes on a top shelf. Cookies just don't live in our house.

I think "back in the day" even homemade snacks were less healthful than they are today. There was a time when being plump was fashionable, and our ancestors certainly did a lot more manual labor (my grandfather shoveled coal as a railroad engineer) but not even hard work could overcome a 1932 cookie recipe I found which called for 1-1/2 cups of flour and 2 cups of brown sugar. Heaven help us.