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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

50: A Good Time for the Great Taste

This week’s story is about a trip to McDonald’s. Now Mickey D’s is not known for contributing to our good health. But laughter is a great tonic, and when I re-read this old story, I got a good chuckle.

Personally I haven’t eaten anything from McDonald’s in about 14 years, ever since an overdose of MSG turned me into a shrieking banshee inside of 15 minutes. My four kids had the misfortune of being in the vehicle with me at the time.

But this other incident goes back a full 25 years, to when I still considered the Golden Arches to be a treat. At least it meant I didn’t have to cook. Are you old enough to remember when that jingle played on the radio? “You deserve a break today / So get out and get away / To McDonald’s / We do it all for you!" And then the tag: "A good time for the great taste of McDonald's!"

Here is the story, from February 1988:

It was a Saturday, sunny and cold. The mercury had settled out around minus 30º C. The air was clear, shimmery and sparkly as diamonds. We were headed for town as a family to do a much-needed grocery shopping.

It was one of those grim times in the life of the self-employed when Payables and Receivables were competing to see which could go higher without crashing; a time when Cash Flow was just a technical term in an accounting textbook. A cheque had come from somewhere, which we’d been able to cash personally, and I had also rummaged through all the coat pockets for any forgotten jingles.

The plan was to head for town by 9:30 or 10:00, get the shopping done, and be home in time for lunch. Heaven knows we couldn’t afford to eat out. But plans are one thing; execution another. The truck refused to start on this cold morning. It required an hour and a half of propane torches, stovepipes, methyl hydrate and so forth before we were finally rolling.

But finally, rolling we were: my husband, our sons (Ben, a long three, and Lindsay, not quite two), and I, eight months pregnant with our third. As we passed by McDonald’s, I noticed that Big Macs were on sale, two for the price of one.
“Hey,” said I, struck with my first great idea of the day, “let’s go to McDonald’s after we get the groceries.” I immediately had three agreeing votes. Our boys have understood about McDonald’s since almost before they understood anything else. Ben, long before he could talk, used to go all stiff and start to scream whenever we passed by there without turning in.

When I came out of Safeway, I had a second great idea. “Hey,” I said, “generic apple juice was only 79 cents a litre. Let’s just go through the Drive-Thru, get our burgers and a straw, and we’ll have our whole lunch for less than five bucks.”

Within minutes we were parked in the lot, unwrapping our burgers, passing our litre of juice back and forth. We had moved the boys from the back of the super-cab to sit between us. My husband, in anticipation of selling his truck, had just spent 80 precious dollars having the interior professionally cleaned. I wanted these burgers to stay under control.

It was a little cramped, elbow to elbow, four abreast, not to mention my soon-to-be-born baby resting awkwardly in my lap, but things went pretty smoothly for a couple of minutes. Then Lindsay started to squeal in frustration. As he had worked industriously at the front of his Big Mac, the meat patties had slid out the back. Now they lay on the floor in a little puddle of Super Sauce, the object of my little boy’s rage.

Deftly I scooped them up, got the whole kit re-assembled, and handed it back. With my clean hand, I groped for some of those extra napkins we had asked for.

I returned to my rapidly cooling McChicken, carefully fielding plummeting globules of mayo and wilting lettuce onto the napkin draped over my protruding stomach. Suddenly, for reasons known only to him, Lindsay squirmed sideways and reached for my clean coat with both greasy hands, one of which still clung to his half-eaten burger. I quickly pinned both wrists in one hand, grabbing for more napkins with the other. Meanwhile, Ben suddenly stood up and turned around to see something that was going on behind us. He was hastily straightened out by his father but not before leaving little mustard and ketchup tracks on the plush velour seat-back.

At once I realized I had broken out in a sweat. Excuse me, ladies: bloom. Little drops of bloom were springing out on my forehead below the edge of my wool hat. How could it be so hot in here when it was minus 30º outside the truck? Was it a rush of hormones brought on by Baby Number Three, in utero, or a direct influence from Numbers One and Two? It seemed there wasn’t enough oxygen in the truck for all of us. I fumbled frenetically at the window release and stuck my face out into the delicious bracing chill. As my head cleared, I became aware of Lindsay again, leaning way forward, intently working at something under the dash. I leaned down, too, to have a look. He was inserting the remaining half of his Big Mac into the tape deck.

It was then that I had my third and best idea of the day. “Let’s get out of here,” I said. As we mopped up and drove away, I pondered to myself just what would have happened if he had succeeded in pushing that burger all the way into the stereo set. As quickly as I asked the question, I knew the answer: it would have played “You Deserve a Break Today.”


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Saturday, February 9, 2013

49: Beloved Sleep

Just as absence makes the heart grow fonder, so sleep, when it becomes elusive, seems a very precious thing. So it was that I misunderstood a Bible passage 20 years ago, caught in the grip of insomnia and moving rapidly toward a nervous breakdown. It was one night while trying to go to sleep that I read a promise in the Psalms: “…so He gives His beloved sleep.” In my rest-deprived state, I thought God was calling sleep itself a beloved thing. It certainly is a blessing. With four small children and a strung-out, exhausted body, I had come to understand that sleep is not a right but a privilege. As far as God calling it “beloved,” however, I was mistaken.

He was referring to me as “Beloved,” as well as anyone else who might have ears to hear, telling us that He wants us to enjoys restful sleep, and so it is that He gave the first part of the verse: “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows.” Day after day of dragging yourself out of bed too early, staying up too late, and continually chewing over your problems and concerns will eventually put you in a state where you can’t go to sleep when you want to or, if you do, you can’t stay asleep more than half the night.

It was four years ago that my hormone doctor first told me, “You need to be in bed by ten o’clock.” And that means with the light out, settled down. How slow I have been to learn this! And I’m still learning: The later I go to bed, the harder it is to go to sleep and the sooner I will wake up. Yet getting to sleep before 10:00, I might sleep eight hours.

Several alternative health practitioners have told me some interesting things about sleep patterns. If you find you wake up between 1:00 and 3:00 a.m. on a regular basis, it often means your liver is bogged down and sluggish and that you would benefit from a liver cleanse or a supplement like dandelion root or milk thistle (silymarin). Waking between 3:00 and 5:00 consistently may mean adrenal problems.

For people prone to hypoglycemia, blood sugar dropping too low in the night can be a cause for wakefulness. I usually have a snack before bed. If I wake up in the night and feel I won’t be able to go right back to sleep, I get up and eat again. Avoid sweets, even fruits, for these snacks: aim to include three components: a complex carb, a healthy fat, and a good source of protein. That can be as simple as a half a piece of whole-grain toast spread with peanut butter or another nut butter. A rice cake or two, buttered (or not) with a piece of white cheese (avoid those fake orange colourings!) is another simple choice.

Before I have a snack though, I always have a glass of water with some sea salt in it. Adequate salt is important in regulating sleep, and if you’ve been under stress your adrenals may be fatigued and not controlling your salt levels properly.

For menopausal women, sleeplessness may be as simple as too-low levels of progesterone; then again, if it’s hot flashes and night sweats that are waking you up, you may also need some estrogen. With all the factors in our environment that are upsetting our hormonal balance, with or without menopause, we are fortunate in this day to have the option of hormone analysis and bio-identical hormone replacement treatment.

Over 50 years ago when my brother John was about four, he went through a time of sleep-walking. One particular night, when my parents were having a cocktail party, he crept downstairs to the edge of the living room, sound asleep. Then to the shock of the unsuspecting guests, he let out a war-whoop, hurtled into the room, and went springing from chair to chair. There were several doctors there in addition to my father: their consensus was that John needed a calcium supplement. Sure enough, that soon got him sleeping soundly through the night.

Calcium certainly is key for restful sleep, but we also need ample magnesium and Vitamin D with it. Interestingly, when we’re stressed, our calcium and magnesium levels drop. Then, ironically, when we’re deficient in calcium and magnesium, the body tends to get stuck in flight-or-fight mode, perpetrating the stress.

Make sure your bedroom is completely dark (or drape a dark cloth over your eyes), to enable your body to produce melatonin. And try taking a melatonin supplement.

Lying awake can be awfully frustrating, but don’t go there. To lie quietly, not with resignation so much as relinquishment, is a much healthier way to pass the time. Try praying. And even if you don’t believe in God, spend the time in peaceful, grateful reflection. As the psalmist said, commune with your own heart upon your bed.

Friday, February 1, 2013

48: Sweet but Dangerous

A few weeks ago I wrote to challenge my readers to “Stop the Pop.” I said then that I would write another article to explain more about the dangers of high-fructose corn syrup (labelled “glucose/fructose” in Canada). Soda pop is the most prevalent source of HFCS in the North American diet, but be warned that other commercial products are full of it: baked goods, sweet snack foods, ketchup and barbecue sauces, fruit-flavoured yogurts, sports drinks, breakfast cereals, candy, fruit drinks that are not “100% juice,” ad infinitum. Especially foods that are aimed at children and teens are loaded with this questionable alternative to sugar. Please take note, before we go any further, that about 85% of the corn grown in the US today is genetically modified, so there should be concerns about any corn product from the get-go.

From comes this list of five ways in which HFCS can negatively impact our health.

1) A Princeton University study found that when HFCS was fed to rats, they gained weight three times as fast as those fed equal or larger amounts of sugar derived directly from fruit. In particular these rodents gained abdominal fat, a hallmark of obesity.

2) Consumption of HFCS increases the chances of developing diabetes.

3) “There is a strong link between the irresponsible consumption of high fructose corn syrup and elevated triglyceride and HDL (bad cholesterol) levels. Together, these can cause arterial plaque build-up and lead to heart problems including hypertension, heart disease, and even stroke.”

4) HFCS is “especially destructive to your liver. When combined with a sedentary lifestyle, permanent liver scarring can occur. This greatly diminishes the organ’s ability to process out toxins and, over time, can lead to an expansive range of other negative health concerns.” Studies link HFCS with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and cirrhosis.

5) High fructose corn syrup can contain mercury: In various studies, between 30 and 50% of samples of HFCS contained this toxic metal. (The mercury comes from a compound, caustic soda, used in separating the cornstarch from the kernel. Some caustic soda is made using mercury-free technology; other is not.)

The producers of HFCS originally promoted it as a “natural” sugar; however this claim had to be dropped when there was a tremendous hue and cry from the sugar lobby, including lawsuits charging false advertising and demanding financial compensation. Far from being natural, the corn-based sweetener is highly processed, made by chemically altering the starch molecules that occur naturally in corn. Fructose is then added, in varying percentages. Says “As a result of the manufacturing process for high-fructose corn syrup, the fructose molecules in the sweetener are free and unbound, ready for absorption and utilization. In contrast, every fructose molecule in sucrose that comes from cane sugar or beet sugar is bound to a corresponding glucose molecule and must go through an extra metabolic step before it can be utilized.”

In this way, fructose behaves differently in the body from sucrose (white sugar). It uses a different metabolic pathway, in that it skips glycolysis (normally the first step in breaking down sugars). The Princeton University research team concluded that this omission of glycolysis is why excess fructose in HFCS is being metabolized to produce fat. Glucose, on the other hand, is largely being processed for energy or stored as a carbohydrate, called glycogen, in the liver and muscles.

Another characteristic of fructose is that it does not stimulate insulin secretion or require insulin to be transported into cells, as do other carbohydrates. Also, fructose ingestion is linked to insulin resistance in rodents, suggesting that human physiology may respond the same way.

One of the truly alarming things about HFCS, especially as it relates to obesity, is its effect on the hormone leptin. According to, “Leptin tells your body to stop eating when it’s full by signaling the brain to stop sending hunger signals. Since fructose doesn’t stimulate glucose levels and insulin release, there’s no increase in leptin levels or feeling of satiety. This can leave you ripe for unhealthy weight gain.” Also, fructose does not suppress ghrelin, a hormone that works to increase hunger.

The Corn Refiners Association continues to make the (false) claim that our bodies can’t tell the difference between sugar cane and their own product. The cat is apparently out of the bag, though, regarding health concerns of HFCS, as reflected by a serious drop in demand in the past couple of years. The Association has been doing PR damage control, seeking permission from the FDA to change the name of their sweet gold mine to “corn sugar.” And although the ruling is still pending, they are freely using this misleading moniker in their advertising.

* * * *

This was the end of the article as I submitted it to the Pipestone Flyer. Then coincidentally, very early the next morning, there was a new post from Health Sciences Institute in my inbox that caught my eye. I've copied it here verbatim.

Last year, the FDA told the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) that food packaging could not list high fructose corn syrup as "corn sugar."

No way around that, right? CRA's long-standing request hit the FDA brick wall. End of story.

Well... No. Hardly.

Turns out, it's the FDA with hands tied. Not CRA.

You might have noticed that CRA is still running TV commercials that call HFCS "corn sugar."

How do they get away with it? Easy. The FDA doesn't regulate commercials. That's the FTC's job. And so far, the FTC hasn't called out CRA on their easy use of the phrase "corn sugar."

According to The Consumerist, the agency isn't likely to rule on this issue anytime soon. Two reasons...

1) The ads use "corn sugar" almost as if it's a slang term. Nobody is saying it's the "official" designation for HFCS.

2) HFCS isn't a product. You can't go to the store and buy a jar of HFCS. So the ads aren't trying to sell you "corn sugar."

But something is for sale. The ads are trying to sell all of us on the IDEA of corn sugar.

So when they show a handsome farmer dad and his adorable little girl out walking in a cornfield, stay strong! Resist the rise of warm-n-fuzzy emotions!

All they want to do is get inside your mind and plant the simple deception that "corn sugar" is the same thing as cane sugar.

It's not. Don't buy it.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson