Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Sweetening of America

These days, it seems like sweeteners have made their sneaky way into almost everything. From soup to nuts, it's apparent that there can be no enlightened trip to the grocery store---or even the health food store---without the very careful reading of ingredient labels. Manufacturers are simply practicing the wholesale sweetening of America, and whether we like it or not, our food supply is increasingly infiltrated with useless calories and unnecessary sweeteners.

What's most maddening to me personally is my utter disappointment when shopping at the health food stores where I am dedicated to spending my money. The manufacturers of so-called "health food"---including companies that have always been at the forefront of the healthy eating movement---have jumped on the sweetener bandwagon in recent years, and everything from crackers to canned soups seem to be tainted with evaporated cane juice, and those extra calories are just adding to the American waistline, whether the cane is organic or not. The presence of these sweeteners is often lost on many consumers, who pull items from the shelves without a great deal of thoughtfulness. However, even a savvy health food consumer like myself can erroneously bring home an item that perhaps was previously sugar-free but is now chock full of sugar, much to my dismay and annoyance.

Like salt, one becomes accustomed to sweetened foods over time, and going back, for example, to unsweetened ketchup can be a huge leap after years of consuming ketchup loaded with sugar. It's a matter of taste, of course, but oftentimes the unsweetened versions are just as tasty as their sugary counterparts (with, admittedly, many exceptions---like soy milk, in my humble opinion).

Most recently, I have been trying to avoid dairy in my diet, so I've been looking for an unsweetened non-dairy creamer to use in my green tea, decaf coffee, or hot grain beverage. Sadly, every creamer on the market seems to be sweetened with evaporated cane juice or some other form of sugar, and I simply cannot fulfill this desire no matter how hard I try. (Do I detect a new market niche and business opportunity for an enterprising soul?)

With a personal goal of losing a few pounds this spring and a general desire to keep my diet as clean as possible, fishing for unsweetened forms of many common foods is a continuous exercise in patience and conscious shopping. Luckily, there are many products that I can count on to remain unsweetened, healthy and as unprocessed as possible. Sadly however, I am consistently dumbfounded as heretofore reliable companies decide to dump truckloads of organic evaporated cane juice into their manufacturing processes. Cane producers (both organic and conventional) must be rubbing their hands together with glee as their factories pump out more tons of their products each year. Want a good stock option? Try sugar futures---it's the future of America.
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