Monday, December 5, 2011
Sugar and Spice
Despite my reputation in certain circles for calorically-dense baked goods, in my everyday cooking (what I do of it), I don't really pack fats or sugars into my food. Most days, I make it a point to avoid sugar, though I do enjoy a Milk Break during morning coffee breaks, and some cookies with my nightly dose of St. John's Wort (it's seriously vile stuff, otherwise). But Dutch cookies are, for the most part, not very sweet--two Milk Break biscuits have only two-thirds the sugar of three Oreos--and, perhaps more relevant to healthy eating, don't contain high-fructose corn syrup.
I see this as a confirmation of Robert Lustig's theory that fat (consumed in modest amounts) doesn't make you fat, fructose makes you fat. Most Americans who are reasonably educated about nutrition and good eating are appalled at the quantity of carbohydrates the Dutch consume: bread in the mornings, sandwiches for lunch, ontbijtkoek with coffee, and a stamppot loaded with bacon bits for dinner. The terrible nutritive state of your average cloggie is only emphasized by little news bits such as this one, saying that your average child manages to eat only one piece of fruit every week, while your average Jap eats one-and-a-half--while the recommended serving is two. That's two pieces of fruit per week. I don't know which is more appropriate, being shocked that it's so low, or amazed that scurvy isn't an issue any more.
Edit: Frank has now pointed out that the DutchNews site I referenced is a terrible source for facts and that the actual recommendations were for 2 pieces of fruit per day. So really, the Dutch don't do that badly. But it says a lot that I was willing to believe "per week", don't it?
But while most Dutch food is stacked to the ears with starches (simple or otherwise), there isn't any high-fructose corn syrup hidden away in most of it. I've tried to find a food that has high-fructose corn syrup in it, and despite my best efforts, I've failed. I'm certain that sodas, such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, are fairly loaded with it, but the fact that I don't know for certain just goes to show how frequently it occurs to me to buy it (which is never). Even the fluffiest of fluffy white breads contains flour, water, yeast, and maybe a preservative and maybe a vitamin supplement--but no fructosestroop, as it's called in Dutch. The powdered soups that I have regularly for lunch, the sauces that you can buy for your patat frites, the cookies stuffed with marzipan and glazed with sugar--they might all have sugar, it is true, but they probably don't contain HFCS.
Of course diets and lifestyles and national trends and nutrition are more complicated than simply not having HFCS in anything. And who knows, maybe the Dutch would keep their elongated physiques even if HFCS were added to their diets (hell, I caught whooping cough here, and I've been vaccinated against it in the US). Genetics, environment--who knows? Our weekly pot of spaghetti, at any rate, hasn't seemed to do us any harm yet.