Sugar Blues


This one’s a personal anecdote, reflecting on the differences between my diet when I was growing up and the food I’m eating these days.

My mother was aware of the importance of breast-feeding, but had trouble doing so. So my siblings and I were weaned early, away from breast milk onto a formula made up of sweetened condensed cow’s milk. From there, I went on to eating the standard American diet, based around eating high-sugar processed foods.

Breakfast was cereal such as Lucky Charms, Fruit Loops or Sugar Frosted Flakes, served in a bowl with milk. We started out using whole fat milk, but later changed to using the “healthy” low-fat kind (then still later, milk substitutes made from soy). 

The cereals were made from sugar, highly processed wheat, corn, rye, artificial flavors and colors, and, sometimes, an additional coating of sugar. I poured it in the bowl, added three or four teaspoons of table sugar to the cereal, and dug in.

My parents both worked, so didn’t always have time to cook breakfast. When they did, we’d have things like Bisquick pancakes with margarine (which was cheaper and supposedly healthier than butter) and Aunt Jemima syrup, with a big glass of Florida Orange Juice on the side. Again, the main ingredients were sugar, wheat, artificial colors and flavors, fructose from the orange juice, and more sugar.

Lunch was Wonder Bread and baloney sandwiches, slathered with Best Foods Mayonnaise, and (maybe) a thin leaf of iceberg lettuce.  On the weekends, we’d have grilled cheese sandwiches (made from white bread and American cheese) with a bowl of canned tomato soup. On school days, my sack lunches included a white bread sandwich, a container of chocolate milk and a candy bar. Now and then we’d have Spam for lunch as a treat, fried up in crisco and brown sugar.

Snacks were candy bars, Nabisco Vanilla Wafers, cookies and Ding Dongs. Mom tried to get us to eat fruit, but we weren’t interested, so she’d buy packages of Sunkist Raisins and dried apricots for us to snack on. (Our teeth filled up with cavities very quickly. Every dental appointment turned up two or three new ones.)

Dinner consisted of hot dogs or hamburgers in white bread buns, canned vegetables, dehydrated mashed potatoes preserved with BHT. Now and then we’d have roast or hamburger or other meat to go with the mashed potatoes, and have a little iceberg lettuce salad on the side (with Kraft salad dressing, made from soy oil and artificial colors and flavorings, and sugar).

For dessert we had canned and sweetened fruit cocktail, some cheap brand of ice cream (or ice milk when the low fat craze hit), brownies, fudge, and cakes made from Betty Crocker cake mixes.

Our meals, all in all, were horrific. They were lacking in vitamins and minerals, full of artificial flavors and preservatives, lacking in phytonutrients, high in carbohydrates, low in protein, full of unhealthy fats like soy and corn oil and hydrogenated fats, full of sugar and (later) artificial sweeteners.

For me, not surprisingly, this diet led to health problems. I was skinny as a kid, then started getting fat as an adult.  Some health problems kicked in early. I felt weak with hunger in school. I could barely hang on till lunch, then was starving again by the time the school bus took me home. I stayed indoors during recess because I had no energy to run and play on the playground. My teeth were full of mercury-based fillings. By the time I was a teenager I was battling depression. I was chronically stuffed up because of a wheat allergy, yet wheat was in almost everything we ate, so I depended on taking nose drops to be able to breathe. I carried a bottle with me at all times.

After getting out of high school, I started learning about nutrition. I switched to eating organic food, eating real meat instead of processed meat. I gained muscle and had lots of energy. I ate lots of fruit and vegetables (organic whenever possible), drank organic milk, ate brown rice, and also ate some beef, pork, fish and poultry.  My health improved rapidly as a result. I’ve tried a number of different diets in the intervening years, but never gone back to eating a “Standard American Diet”, and my health has never been as bad as it was in those bad old days.

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