Monday, March 8, 2010

Today's Lunch: Glycemic Bomb

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Cheap carbohydrates are the favorite foods of school districts across the country. What's wrong with carbs? Unlike protein and fat, carbohydrates turn into sugar (glucose) when you eat them, which signals the body to produce insulin. A powerful hormone, insulin is responsible for storing fat in the body and has also been implicated in an all-too-familiar complex of modern diseases: obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis.

Teachers complain that kids are out of control after school meals. The high doses of sugar and other carbs could be an explanation. Kids get an initial jolt of energy from this type of meal, but typically the body overcompensates with insulin: After eating so many carbs, you will soon be feeling lethargic and hungry again.

Consider this meal served last week at my daughter's school. The entree is a highly-processed version of chicken nuggets, but you can't see the chicken under all the breading (carbs). Next to the chicken nuggets is a big blob of sugary barbecue sauce for dipping (pure carbs). The baked beans are all starch (carbs) swimming in a sugary sauce (more carbs). The macaroni and cheese is mostly refined pasta (carbs).

So far this meal is perfectly acceptable under the rules that govern the federally subsidized meal program. You've got protein in the chicken and a little bit of fat in the cheese, plenty of grain (no kidding) and the beans. Instead of a vegetable, we have fruit: a cup of diced peaches. Healthy, right? Well, maybe, if you don't count all the sugar in those peaches.

And as a beverage with this meal the kids were served orange juice rather than milk. I checked the ingredients on the carton. A 4-ounce serving contained 12 grams of sugar, about the equivalent of three teaspoons.

Truly, this meal is enough to send anyone's blood sugar through the roof.


  1. Ed - enjoying reading your stuff, but please don't forget that carbohydrates are not evil :) Fruit and vegetables are primarily carbs as are grains. Maybe "simple" or "complex" identifiers would be helpful. And yes, milk is probably a better choice in this meal, but even it contains sugar.

  2. Anything eaten to excess is not good, and carbohydrates are no exception. Human health declined noticeably with the advent of agriculture and grain consumption, for the reasonns stated above. Some people are more sensitive to others. But our current food pyramid, with grains and other carbs forming the base, is a recipe for bad health. There are only two macro-nutrtients essnetial for human survival: fats and protein. Carbohydrates are a bonus. Most of the carbs that you recognize now were never available for human consumption during two million years of evolution. We simply consume too many of them, and now we face a true dilemma as animal protein sources as identified as a source of global warming. My advice is to avoid starchy foods as much as possible (not just sugar and other "simple" carbohydrates) and stick with green vegetables, and alliums and root vegetables that are low-carb, such as turnips. Fruits are okay in moderation, and definitely stick with whole fruits. Avoid fruit juice.

  3. Ed - sorry but not sure I agree with everything you say. Don't think we can or want to compare our health with that of paleolithic man. But yes, evidence does point to their eating carbs - vegetables and fruits. It's grains that current evidence indicates was absent from their diets. Also, I think we're looking for more than just "human survival" when you speak of essential inputs of fats and protein.

    Let's just say that I'm not an absolutist and get my back up a bit when I hear something leaning that way. Most nutritional advice given today is based on what we now know - the key word being now. Your advice to "avoid fruit juice" strikes me as absolutist. E.g. If I have access to no fresh fruit, is this still your advice? I would hope it would be, "that given a choice, fresh fruit is healthier than fruit juice because of the fiber and in most cases, additional nutrients one gets."

    Many people will reject advice if given in an absolutist way. I would like to caution against doing this.

  4. My wife sometimes accuses me of being an absolutist, but I'm not really. It's the gross excesses that are a problem. In fact, most of the fruits we know today did not exist in their current form until recently. They've been bred to be much sweeter than nature originally designed, and available everywhere year 'round. Kids (and adults) are simply exposed to far too many starchy and sugary foods. Fruit juices should be served occasionally, not every day. Today I visited my daughter in the cafeteria for lunch and sat across from an obviously overweight 10-year-old girl who had a strawberry-flavored milk with 28 grams of sugar in it on her tray (provided by the school) as well as a bottle of orange drink she'd brought from home containing another 27 grams of sugar. That's 13 teaspoons of sugar in just those two beverages, to say nothing of the starchy gravy that was on her luncheon turkey, the sugar in the "baked apples," and the incredible amount brown sugar in the canned yams. Altogether, it was a sugar disaster. You cannot simply look at one item in isolation--that's exactly how you arrive at the lunch disaster I saw today at my daughter's school.

  5. Ed, what school is this picture from??? And the breakfast as well?? I need this info for the hearing tomorrow. Thanks!

  6. H.D. Cooke Elementary School, District of Columbia