My mom asked me a while back, is a little sugar bad for you? My opinion… a little sugar is OK. The problem is that it’s too easy to eat a lot of sugar, and not even realize it. In the US, the average adult gets 13% of their calories from sugar, kids get 16%. How can this be?
Here's how: Chris (yes, I'm making this all up), is an engineer, trying to be healthy and train for a ½ marathon. Chris works long days, but makes a point to avoid the free soda’s at work, donuts and other sweets that show up in meetings, and hits the gym after work at least 3 days a week. A typical day … Breakfast was a bowl of granola (and since granola is pretty dense, only a ½ cup, way less than the normal serving size of normal cereal), a ½ cup of blueberries and vanilla soy milk. And coffee, black. Lunch was brought in to a meeting at work (budgets are tight, so it was from Subway), so she had a Black Forest Ham Sandwich plus Sunchips. Chris was good and didn’t have a brownie or a Coke, but instead an apple brought from home for dessert. Mid-afternoon (knowing it would be well after 5 before getting to the gym), she had a strawberry yogurt, one of the "healthy" snacks from the vending machine. On the way home after the gym (now 7pm) Chris thought Chinese food would be good as she hadn’t had much in the way of vegetables, so a quick stop at Pei Wei was made for chicken lettuce wraps and Kung Pao chicken. It was a big serving, so she only had about ¾ of it. Not a bad day, right? Total calories for the day was about 2200 (about right for her size and activity level). But (and this could mean a big gut), the added sugar this one day is about 90 grams.. that’s almost ½ a cup of white sugar. This is not counting the sugar in the fruit, or the lactose sugar in the milk. It comes to about 16% of the total calories. This is not a little sugar, and this is avoiding some big and easy adders (had she had the coke and brownie, that could have doubled the amount of sugar for the day. And while there is on-going debate on the role of saturated fats, meats, salt, and fewer vegetables in our diets, every study about “modern” diets includes shows that huge additions of simple refined carbohydrates like sugar is the constant factor in increased rates of tooth decay, diabetes, and heart disease. National Geographic has recently done a great article on sugar, here's the link.
Unfortunately, it’s a lot of work to get food that is low in sugar. You need to read labels, check restaurant web sites or use other calorie counters (I used MyFitnessPal to get these numbers for the about story). It’s helpful to cook food yourself so you know what is going into it. You need to ignore the advertising that makes sugar filled foods sound healthy.
I cook most of my food, and carefully watch things like bread and make sure I buy “unsweetened” versions of things like yogurt and soy milk. But I don’t completely shun sugar, because I think a little is OK, at least for me. Most days it’s a little granola on my morning yogurt, and often a square of dark chocolate for dessert. And once in a while, I’ll go all out and make cake!
This is my current favorite cake… Lemon Olive Oil Pound Cake. It’s inspired by a recipe in Olive and Oranges, by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox (a pretty fabulous cookbook). I like this because its simple and I almost always have the ingredients around to make it. Although I don’t normally have crème fraiche around, I do recommend getting some (Trader Joes has it) for serving. And only 2 tablespoons of added sugar per serving.
Lemon Olive Oil Pound Cake
1 cup flour
½ cup white whole wheat flour (or just use more regular flour)
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 cup of sugar
¾ cup plain low-fat yogurt
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons
¾ cups extra virgin olive oil
For serving (optional)
Fresh berries (add a teaspoon of sugar and let sit for an hour or so to help release the juices)
Heat oven to 325F (or 300F convection bake). Very lightly oil a 9” cake pan (or 9” deep dish pie pan). Cut a round of parchment paper to fit into the bottom, stick it down with the oil, and add a touch more oil to the top.
Mix together the dry ingredients in a small bowl.
Beat eggs and sugar in a large bowl on high speed for 5 minutes. The mixture will get pale and thick. Add yogurt and zest, mix until blended. Then add oil in a steady stream with the mixer on medium speed. Add dry ingredients and mix on low until just blended.
Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 40 to 45 minutes, cake should be golden and center springs back to the touch. Let cool for a couple of minutes in the pan, then put on rack to cool completely.
Serving suggestion… Top with a smear of crème fraiche and a spoonful of berries.