Halloween is an annual Category 5 sugar storm followed by an upsurge of confectionery consumption associated with Thanksgiving and Christmas. King Cakes and Valentines Day keep the drive alive until the last chocolate bunny of Easter takes that roller coaster ride down the esophagus into the alimentary canal.
No single day is associated with more candy sales than Halloween, a high holy day for the sugar and processed junk food cartel. Just as the oil industry has been a major player in destroying our Louisiana coast, mass food processors play havoc with our metabolism. Coastal erosion costs us land and hurricane protection; sweetened processed foods are costing us our health. The sugar industry has even had its own levee failures.
Molasses flooded Uptown New Orleans back in 1911. According to press reports of the day, the Sugar Planters’ Storage and Distributing Company stored blackstrap molasses in a 20-foot tall brick vat, the world’s largest molasses holding tank, covering more than a city block. Its steel and concrete reinforcement was just as ineffective as whatever supported the London Avenue Canal walls 94 years later.
A loud roar signaled the collapse of the retaining wall. A 15-foot tall rush of dark molasses flooded houses and businesses as it rolled down St. Thomas Street. People were trapped in their houses; animals were stuck in the muck. Ten inches of the goo covered Magazine Street, a third of a mile away. The evening saw a new invasion: “It seemed like every fly in prolific Louisiana had gathered in this inundated section and had decided to stay there.”
“Don’t be too hard on the Louisiana sugar industry,” says Dr. Keith Perrin, a seasoned pediatrician who recently traded in his stethoscope for an administrative office. “Yes, we do have a childhood obesity epidemic, but I think it’s less related to the sugar cane industry than to corn producers. The federal government supports corn growing with expensive subsidies, allowing the food industry to buy corn at a discount. They supplement all sorts of food products with cheap and sweet corn syrup.”
In Louisiana the road to crystalized white sugar or sucrose begins with crushing sugar cane stalks to extract the juices. With successive boilings and extractions, out comes molasses, which is further refined to yield granulated sugar. The same type of process works with beets. Corn syrup, on the other hand, starts with cornstarch, a single chemical reaction away from sugar. High fructose corn syrup has essentially replaced cane sugar as the sweetener used in processed foods and candies. Cheap corn syrup as a food additive enhances flavor and gives low quality food products a longer shelf life. Coca-Cola made the switch to high fructose corn syrup about 30 years ago, while its bottling plants in Mexico mostly still use real sugar.
“The childhood obesity problem is multifaceted. You can’t blame Louisiana-made sugar. And since Katrina, local school recreational programs have suffered. I hear ‘We don’t have time for all that physical activity during the school day anymore,’” says Perrin, adding that some school children drink up to 10 soda drinks a day fueled by machines selling corn syrup beverages at schools as a profit center.
Is there a way to consume all that Halloween candy and stay trim? The Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge recently published self-described “cutting-edge research” findings on childhood obesity. They studied some 6,000 children from all over the world to tease out three major behavioral risk factors related to excess weight: lack of moderate to vigorous physical activity, too much time in front of the boob tube and insufficient sleep. The Nobel Prize nominating committee is unlikely to be pouring over these discoveries. Small print at the end said the Coca-Cola Company paid LSU for this research.
For decades food police dittoheads have preached low calorie diets, reduced fat and exercise. The pendulum swings. An editorial in the British Medical Journal, published the same month as the Pennington Coca-Cola piece, debunks these hallowed testimonials. Caloric restrictions and exercise recommendations rarely have any longterm effect on obesity. Ignore calorie and fat content calculations. Simply eat healthier foods.
Avoid carbohydrate-laden food products, refined grains and giant-sized soda drinks spiked with corn sweeteners that induce insulin surges, a more important causative factor in body fat accumulation.
Simply decreasing carbohydrates and other overly processed foods give the pancreas a stay at home vacation that helps ward off both cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.
Gobble down a handful of walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts, or indulge in four Tablespoons of olive oil each day. At the expense of insulting Californians and Mediterraneans, pecans are my favorite nuts, but I’m a big fan of olive oil from across the pond. Even my dogs get a Tablespoon a day mixed with their food to keep their summer hot spots at bay. We may well see a hunk of cheese or a handful of pecans displacing grits and toast as standard breakfast fare.
So, back to those witches and goblins ringing your doorbell on trick or treat night. Give them a really heart healthy food snack; a handful of roasted pecans. Tell them about the Mediterranean diet. Ask them what variety olive oil their mother uses. And fear not, the childhood brain doesn’t forget such offerings. Next year you’ll not have returning treat seekers. You might as well post one of those old Board of Health signs: “This premises is infected with smallpox and no person shall leave or enter under penalty of $25 fine.” Meaningful food intake changes will take decades to develop.
Simple dietary changes for a fast cardiovascular makeover
“Dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids led to a clinically and statistically significant reduction in fatal cardiovascular events in another group of heart attack survivors. Adding Vitamin E did not help.” (Italy, 1999)
“Heart attack survivors randomly told to eat fatty fish had 29% fewer deaths than a control group after two years. These changes first became apparent within months, not years.” (England, 2007)
“A Mediterranean diet with added extra-virgin olive oil or mixed nuts reduced heart attacks and stroke occurrences beginning at three months and reaching a 30 percent reduction by five years. The study participants, 55 years or older, had diabetes or multiple cardiac risk factors such as hypertension, obesity and smoking. Exercise and caloric restrictions were not a part of this study.” (Spain, 2013)
Source: “It is time to stop counting calories, and time instead to promote dietary changes that substantially and rapidly reduce cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.” (British Medical Journal, August 2015)