Deception Lurks

Looking at two products, Swiss Miss Classics, Milk Chocolate Flavor and Swiss Miss No Sugar Added, Milk Chocolate Flavor, at first glance one might figure that the former would be sweetened with sugar, while only the latter contained artificial sweeteners.

One would be wrong.

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Are We in the Jerk Store?

The only customer in the shop, I stood waiting for the nice lady behind the counter to fill my meager order: one white creme-filled donut and two glazed cinnamon twists.

Behind me, the donut shop’s front door swung open with a resounding “ding” and in stepped a graying man, sharply dressed, with two small children flanking him.  Also wearing their Sunday best, they rushed passed him, straight for the counter.  Their dress shoes skidded across the slick vinyl floor.

“Now, remember, one dollar each,” he called after them.

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Fighting Attention Problems

We have stopped using the TV at our house on weeknights. Well, let me back up a step. We do not turn on the television before our son goes to bed.

Baby steps, people.

This is part of our effort to hit our son’s attention deficit disorder (ADD) from the environmental angle. Included in that is controlling things in his diet like artificial colors and added sweeteners (natural and artificial). I’m not saying we have completely cut those things, but when even my wife is reading ingredient labels before purchasing, I know we’re making progress.

After just one week, his bedtimes already have gone more smoothly.

I am proud to say, also, that the few times he has emerged from his bedroom this week to use the bathroom, he has looked down the hallway to catch us reading and playing Solitaire, not watching TV. It surely must be easier to enforce a rule when you yourself follow it.

Easier, too, when favorite shows like “Downton Abbey” and “Breaking Bad” are not showing new episodes.

It isn’t that we planted our son in front of the television or stuffed him with Skittles prior to these intiatives. On the contrary, he always prefers playing with friends in the neighborhood over anything else, and rarely eats candy. Sometimes, however, we would allow television after school if he had all his homework done and there was nobody available to play with him. From the food angle, I was surprised at some products that use artificial colors.

I also don’t want to come across as saying that TV causes attention problems, although there are conflicting rather than consensual reports on that claim. This seems to hinge on what age the television watching begins. I certainly believe it can aggravate what’s already there, and that for some children (and adults!) it is an unhealthy reprieve from real life. It’s one thing for an adult to use it as an occasional escape, versus letting children camp out in front of it before they have developed reading comprehension and social skills.

I had read at least 10 years ago that watching television stimulates the brain in ways that are not always conducive to calm behavior. Between then and now I also saw studies on artificial colors causing problems for those already predisposed to attention deficit, not to mention the potential cancer-causing effects. We decided to eliminate TV on school nights after a friend did the same and saw positive results in her ADD-afflicted son. Similarly, we started paying more attention to food labels after more than one friend saw fewer attention problems in their children.

We may not be trailblazers, but at least we try to be picky about whom we follow.

That brings me to whom the United States should follow. Why not err on the side of caution, as do many European countries? For one, Kraft Mac & Cheese in the United Kingdom is sold without artificial colors, but in the United States it is loaded with them. Likewise with M&M’s. If they consume these products in other countries, then what makes manufacturers think Americans wouldn’t?

Some companies are responding to consumers’ health concerns — sort of. For one, PepsiCo, already not using brominated vegetable oil (BVO) in Gatorade sold in Europe and Japan, has decided to pull the ingredient from that product in the United States. Sadly, however, they are replacing it with another artificial ingredient (sucrose acetate isobutyrate) that presents its own problems. That doesn’t impact our family because we don’t use Gatorade, but it is a good example of how hard it is to convince companies to go all the way with their efforts.

Aside from using only fresh ingredients and making everything from scratch (just not going to happen in our home), controlling what our family ingests is difficult, and I believe that companies already selling products without artificial ingredients in other countries should do better in the United States.

As far as television viewing time? That is strictly up to parents.

We’re just taking both of these problems day by day.

Further Reading:

Artificial Colors Linked to Behavior Problems in Children (2011)
http://technorati.com/women/article/artificial-colors-linked-to-behavioral-problems/

F.D.A. Panel to Consider Warnings for Artificial Food Colorings (2011)
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/30/health/policy/30fda.html?_r=0

Food Dyes Suspected of Causing Behavioral Problems in Kids (2012)
http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2012/02/27/food-dyes-suspected-of-causing-behavioral-problems-in-kids/

PepsiCo Will Halt Use of Additive in Gatorade (2013)
http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/25/gatorade-listens-to-a-teen-and-changes-its-formula/

Fixated by Screens, but Seemingly Nothing Else (2011)
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/10/health/views/10klass.html

There Is No Meaningful Relationship Between Television Exposure and Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/117/3/665.short

Study Finds Link Between Television Viewing And Attention Problems In Children (2004)
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/04/040406090140.htm

Don’t Steep My Tea in Controversy

Sometimes it’s the simple things in life. I’m not the first one to say that, but I’m the one writing it at this moment. Thanks to the ease of finding information in today’s world, those simple things can get complicated very quickly.

In the case of sweetness in a beverage, my tastebuds perhaps never will mature. In fact, the only two plain drinks I enjoy are milk and water. Anything else — carbonated, extracted, brewed, aged in barrels, must be sweet either by the way it’s made or with an additive. There are a few hard ciders I enjoy that don’t actually taste sweet, but that contain enough sugar to drown out whatever it is that I normally don’t enjoy in beer.

Most of my adult life, I have been disappointed when I enjoy the aroma of a flavored coffee being brewed, or or an herbal tea being steeped, only to have the flavor come nowhere near its equal. It’s normally so far off the mark that I must add sweetener to either, and milk to the coffee.

That’s why I was pleased when I discovered a tea that tastes as delicious as it smells without my adding any sweetener: Celestial Seasonings Cinnamon Apple Spice Herbal Tea. It is caffeine-free and its ingredients are cinnamon, hibiscus, chamomile, natural cinnamon and apple flavors with other natural flavors, roasted chicory, orange peel, and roasted carob.

I thought I had found the perfect drink for me. It’s the parenthesis after “other natural flavors” that caught my eye. It says “contains soy lecithin,” an emulsifier.

Further research revealed that Fooducate, another blog, already had asked Hain Celestial (makers of my new favorite hot beverage) why they use soy lecithin, and whether it is a genetically modified organism (GMO). To sum up, the company answered that it “keeps the ingredients smoothly blended together and prevents clumping,” and also that it “is not from a GMO source.”*

I wondered, though, why ingredients already locked together inside a tea bag need any assistance from an emulsifier. Would “clumping” prevent boiling water from penetrating in the recommended brew time? Wikipedia’s entry regarding soy lecithin states that it “helps complete dispersion in water.” That still doesn’t quite clear it up for me.

Regardless of the answers, I will continue drinking the tea, as it does not contain soy protein, a somewhat controversial ingredient on health-food blogs, whether GMO or not.

I also recommend that you try it if you like cinnamon. If you make it with 8 oz. of boiling water, as suggested, and steep it for six minutes, you can make a very tasty cup of tea. Like mine, your co-workers or family members might ask, “What smells so good?”

* Source: http://blog.fooducate.com/2011/12/07/why-is-there-soy-in-my-hain-celestial-tea/

Dental Donuts

Sometimes, putting your foot in your mouth makes you look more human and approachable. At least, I hope that was what it did.

This time, riding bicycles was completely off the table, both because of time and because it was raining. My son and I were running late for our usual weekly trip to the doughnut shop. Unsure whether they closed at 11 or 12, I rushed us out the door at 10:54.

While he finished buckling up, I plugged the accessory cable into my iPod Touch.

“Daddy, can you play that ‘Set Fire to the Rain’ song?” He’s eight, but his mother plays music any time they’re in the car together.

“No, son, I don’t have that on my iPod.”

Instead, I left my player on shuffle, prepared to skip any inappropriate song it might decide to play. Space-like sound effects emanated from the car’s speakers.

“Hey, that’s cool,” Benjamin said. He’s very into sci-fi.

Then the crunching guitars kicked in.

“Whoa, I love this song,” he said.

That’s my boy. Keep those music tastes eclectic, and you’ll be happier throughout life.

It was “Light My Way,” by Audioslave.

“This is one of my favorite bands, and they started it from members of two of my other favorites.”

“Cool.”

We pulled into a parking spot at 10:58, and someone inside the doughnut shop was sweeping the floor. The neon “Open” sign still glowed red and blue in the big plate glass window. I urged Benjamin to hurry out of the car.

The doorbell dinged as I pulled open the door. The young lady sweeping looked up. “Good morning,” she said in her thick Korean accent through her blinding white smile. I am always amazed that she and her sisters who also work there are so thin.

“Good morning,” I said. I turned to Benjamin and pointed at the refrigerated case. I wondered exactly why I still do that, as after nearly seven years of coming here he knows the drill.

He walked past the sodas, fake fruit drinks, and flavored waters, to grab his half pint of white 2% milk. While he made his way across the shop to our usual spot at the bar against the wall, I stepped up to the doughnut case. All of this has become an unspoken ritual in the routine trip.

The young lady who had been sweeping walked over behind the counter, quickly washed her hands, then grabbed two floral plastic plates. As she laid wax paper across them, she asked, “For here, right?”

“Yes, for here,” I said.

Having moved so much before we landed in Texas, and eating out only sporadically, I was not accustomed to having anyone make assumptions whether I was going to eat in or take out.

We don’t always get the same thing, but we don’t shake it up much. Benjamin jumped down from his barstool and scampered — cowboy boots clopping, to the fresh, sweet pastries under glass. He leaned down and pointed at a row of glazed sour cream cake donuts. “I’ll have that one, back there, with cinnamon on it,” he said. I ordered a plain glazed twist.

She carefully set our donuts on our plates and then added several doughnut holes from a rack of freshly-fried goods. They do that for the regulars occasionally.

Benjamin dutifully counted the holes. “Seven,” he said. He furrowed his brow, probably trying to figure out how to ask if he could have four.

“You may take four of the holes if you want,” I said.

He relaxed. “You sure I may?” We have been working on “can” vs. “may” when asking for something.

“Yes, that’s fine.”

After we finished, Benjamin stacked up our plates and our trash and put them in their usual spot.

“Hello,” said a voice from behind me.

I turned to see the younger sister of the girl who had sold us our doughnuts. She was behind the counter, smiling and waving to Benjamin. Her teeth, also blazing white, looked like they were missing something.

“Hey there. When did you get your braces off?” I said.

“Oh, about two years ago,” she said. Her accent was less pronounced than her sister’s.

“Wow. I can’t believe we’ve been coming here so long, and I didn’t even notice.”

“Yes, I was a senior in high school when I got them on, and now I’m a senior in college.”

“Really? That’s great. Where?”

She told me.

“Good for you. What’s your degree?”

“Biology.”

“Ah, yes, I took zoology, but then I changed my major. I was pre-dental until then,” I said.

“I am pre-dental, too,” she said. Her smile widened.

“That’s great. My dad’s a dentist. Well, he’s retired now.”

She pointed to her sister. “She is starting dental school soon.”

“Really? Where?”

“New York.”

“Oh, right. That’s where you went to college, isn’t it?” I said.

“Yes,” she said.

“Did you hear that, Benjamin? She’s going to be a dentist, just like Papa.”

“Cool,” he said.

I went on. “Except, she won’t have the big belly and the gray beard.” I mimed those last two parts, as if someone listening might not understand English, and regretted it instantly.

The older sister smiled and said, “Well, I might.”

We all laughed.

In those two minutes, I learned more than ever about the family who has served us doughnuts since the summer of 2005. Oddly, I still don’t know their names.