It’s been several years since we reviewed and praised Fed Up, a documentary film narrated by Katie Couric, on America’s sugar addiction. Fed Up made clear to this mindful eater that determination and self-control is not enough for many people to lose excess bodyweight.
Shockingly, this persuasive film makes the strong case that a sugar addiction, as powerful as an addiction to drugs like cocaine, has taken control of the eating habits of too many humans. One eye-opening detail of many: to burn off the calories in one 20 ounce bottle of soda, a 110 pound child would have to ride a bike for 75 minutes proving that “move more, eat less” is not the simple answer.
Controlling sugar consumption is a difficult task for anyone since as Michael Pollan has pointed out, it is often a “hidden” ingredient in processed food. Even more troubling is Pollan’s point, spotlighted in his Food Rules, An Eater’s Manual (a reference book, worthy of renewed reading from time to time), that all types of sugar, without distinction, are placed in the same “avoidance” category. His guide post: Avoid foods that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three ingredients.”
In explaining that sugar is sugar, Pollan makes no exception for honey or maple syrup or molasses. He notes that there are now some 40 types of sugar used in processed food, “including barley malt, beet sugar, brown rice syrup, cane juice, corn sweetener, dextrin, dextrose, fruicto-oligosaccharides, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, sucrose, invert sugar, polydextrose, sucrose, turbinado sugar, and so on.” That so on likely includes honey, molasses and maple syrup.
Nonetheless, although Michael Pollan’s main advice to Eat Food (as distinct from processed food), Mostly Plants, Not Too Much, has stood the test of time for this mindful eater over the past decade, some exceptions to an absolute No Sugar rule are yet in order. One exception is the appeal of an occasional sweet treat made with maple syrup, a uniquely North American ingredient, spotlighted in our review of Katie Webster’s Maple, 100 Sweet and Savory Recipes Featuring Pure Maple Syrup.
Cookbook writer Webster notes that maple syrup has micronutirents (riboflavin, calcium, zinc & potassium) and points out several times that less of this sweetener can be used in recipes than white sugar (3/4 cup of maple syrup instead of 1 cup of sugar). Similarly, less honey than white sugar is used in recipes. Honey and maple syrup are used in the same interchangeable amounts in recipes. For example, a delicious recipe for Maple Walnut Pumpkin Muffins requiring 1/2 cup of maple syrup was recently tweaked to make Honey Walnut Pumpkin Muffins using 1/2 cup of local honey.
Furthermore, purchasing maple syrup from a local sugarbush (or honey from a local apiary) keeps your consumer dollars local to recirculate in the local economy, at least if you live in the Greater Northeast of the U.S.A. and Canada.
And now there is another reason to carve out a little more of an exception to the No Sugar rule. As reported in the Harvard Health Letter (November 2020) in Got a cold? Try some honey, BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine recently reviewed 14 studies of almost 1,800 people with upper respiratory infections being treated with either honey or usual methods (antihistamines, expectorants, cough suppressants, and painkillers.) The advice in this health newsletter after the review of the 14 studies: If winter brings you a sore throat and coughing, a spoonful of honey can be quite soothing. And it might even reduce symptoms from an upper respiratory tract infection.
Why is this so? The explanation: honey has antimicrobial properties. Good news to share as we head into winter: honey appears to improve symptoms (especially cough frequency and severity), and in some cases shortens the duration of symptoms by a day or two. Ergo, a teaspoon of sugar may make the medicine go down, according to Mary Poppins, but a teaspoon of honey seems to have medical benefits of its own.
(Frank W. Barrie, 11/5/20)