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Hidden spoonfuls of sugar lurk

by: submitted photo,

Lake Oswego resident Carolyn Heymann reminds us to read - and heed - food labels.

Her e-mailed letter reads: 'Recent public health debates over childhood obesity rates and fluoridating water overlook the smoking gun. Parents have unwittingly accepted high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in their children's lunch bags, school snacks and drinks. The ubiquity of the sweetener will surprise even the most health conscious parents. Labels on the front packaging such as '100 percent Natural,' 'All Natural Ingredients,' 'Excellent Source of Whole Grains,' and '99 percent Fat Free' coexist with labels on the back packaging listing HFCS as a primary ingredient by weight or volume.

'Our unwitting consumption of high fructose corn syrup starts at the breakfast table and continues throughout the day. That whole grain Orowheat 100 percent whole wheat toast has HFCS, as does the Smuckers 'all natural ingredients' Concord grape jelly on top. A 99 percent fat-free Yoplait yogurt would seem a good option but HFCS is the fourth ingredient behind milk, sugar, and modified cornstarch. And what soccer mom hasn't bought the team Quaker or Nature Valley granola bars and a Capri Sun drink for snacks after the game? We'd like to feel good about providing 'all natural' snacks that contain 'no artificial ingredients or preservatives' but we've just double dosed the team with HFCS,' Heymann explains.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) refers to corn syrups that have undergone enzymatic processing in order to increase their fructose (sugar) content and are then mixed with pure corn syrup to reach their final form. Typically HFCS can be found in baked goods, soft drinks, sports drinks and most all processed foods. Read it again - it is a processed food.

HFCS is somewhat cheaper than natural sugar, due to the relative abundance of corn, farm subsidies and sugar import tariffs in the United States. It is easier to blend and transport because it is a liquid and gives products a longer shelf life.

It is no secret that Americans consume far more sugar (in all forms, sucrose, dextrose, HFCS) than we need, and much of what is consumed is done so blindly. Those hidden spoonfuls of sugar are directly linked to obesity and type two diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholestrol, stroke and dementia. The USDA classifies HFCS as a 'natural' product, because it is made from corn.

'Local communitites have shown the power to regulate public health concerns ahead of federal mandates,' Heymann continues. 'Restrictions of secondhand smoke in public buildings started as grassroots movements before becoming national initiatives. Recently, artery clogging transfats have been banned in local municipalities. Publicly held companies like Starbucks, McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Dunkin' Donuts have made adjustments as a result. High fructose corn syrup is flying under the radar because it can still hide behind the 'all natural' label. Our children's waistlines are expanding as quickly as the list of products containing HFCS. How long will we be able to accept this unwanted guest in our food pantries?

'Beware the power of label reading soccer moms,' Heymann concludes.

Amen, Carolyn. Thanks for the reminder to read and understand the labeling on our food. Americans consume on the average 60 pounds of HFCS each year, so if you are thinking we aren't talking about the foods you buy, please read those labels again.

You have a choice of what kind of foods you feed your family. If a label doesn't represent what you want to serve, leave it on the shelf. Join Carolyn and other label reading moms in spreading the word and affecting changes on our grocery shelves.

On a lighter note, let me introduce you to Cliff Newell. He is one of our Review and Tidings ace reporters and an all- around good guy, as well as a budding epicurean.

Cliff has expanded his culinary skills this past year and surprised us with homemade treats on Valentine's Day.

His valentines were homemade brownies with nuts, cut with a cookie cutter into heart shapes. Perfectly cut. Perfectly delicious. The whole plate of them was gone by 10 a.m.

Cliff often e-mails me with a culinary question or stops by my desk for a little cooking advice. We've talked about roasting chicken to perfection and lately he has been experimenting with fish and fresh dill. He is turning out some fine meals.

Not long ago he was talking about his mother's Hot Chicken Salad. He said it was a recipe she got from late-night TV talk show host David Letterman's mother. I am unclear on whether they are old friends but I like to think of Mrs. Newell and Mrs. Letterman chatting about their sons' lives. The dish sounded like good old fashioned comfort food, and I asked Cliff if he could get a copy of the recipe for me.

Cliff walked in this week with a book under his arm. It was the Letterman's mom's cookbook, 'Home Cookin' with Dave's Mom,' with the Hot Chicken Salad recipe bookmarked.

Cliff and I are happy to share one of Mrs. Newell's standards, Dorothy Letterman's Hot Chicken Salad.

Bon Appetit and Eat Locally!

Hot Chicken Salad

Makes 4 servings

1 cup cooked rice

1 cup cooked diced chicken

1 cup chopped celery

1 can cream of chicken soup, undiluted

3/4 cup mayonnaise (light OK, not fat-free* read above section on HFCS)

1/4 cup sliced almonds or water chestnuts

2 tablespoons chopped onion

Crushed cornflake crumbs

Butter

In an 8-inch square baking dish, combine all ingredients, except cornflake crumbs. Top with crushed cornflakes, dot with butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Adapted by Catherine Newell, from Home Cookin' with Dave's Mom by Dave's Mom, Dorothy.

Randall welcomes your questions and food research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811 or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.