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Eliminating high-fructose corn syrup

One of the toughest parts of my new diet is eliminating high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Sugar is fairly easy to spot and eliminate, but high-fructose corn syrup shows up in the strangest places — even in some supposedly “healthy” foods. Here is my (growing) list of foods that, surprisingly, contain high-fructose corn syrup:

  • Ritz crackers, Wheat Thins, and saltines. Strangely enough, several varieties of crackers contain high-fructose corn syrup. Also, watch out for it in breads, including some “healthy” wheat breads. Alternative foods: Find crackers/breads in a store near you that advertise “all-natural.” I found a line of Annie’s brand crackers that advertises itself as “totally natural” and does not contain HFCS. Other smaller brands typically do not contain HFCS.
  • Yoplait yogurt. Another bizarre place for HFCS to show up — not quite as unexpected as crackers, but strange for a product that bills itself as health food. Look for yogurts advertising “natural” or “organic.” I found Clover organic strawberry yogurt, which is about the same price as Yoplait. It’s definitely not as sweet, but it still tastes good and it does not contain sugar (except for the natural sugar found in the fruit) or HFCS.
  • Heinz ketchup. This one really stymied me. There are natural ketchups out there, but they do taste different and my body has adapted over the years to thinking Heinz=ketchup. For now, I’ve decided to stop eating ketchup — or to eat it in very small quantities when I do eat it. As I try out different ketchups, I’ll blog my results.

So why give up HFCS and sugar? Well, for me, it’s eliminated the crazy blood sugar highs and lows I had as a result of my hypoglycemia (as described in my previous blog entry.) Also, it’s forced me to really think about what I eat instead of just stuffing food into my mouth. As a result of my new diet, I have lost 3 pounds in the past month. Since I wasn’t overweight to begin with, 3 pounds was a significant change — people noticed and commented. I’m curious to know where a long-term application of this diet will put me in terms of weight.

I also feel I should point out that I do allow myself 1 dessert a week – typically on a weekend. It’s important to not feel completely deprived on a diet like this. I don’t want to develop a bitterness or a resentment toward how I eat. The 1 dessert a week allows me to reward myself when I want to, while keeping in mind that my overall strategy should be toward less sugar.

Here is a more complete list of foods containing high-fructose corn syrup. If you would like to remain healthy, I suggest you avoid these foods — particularly those where there is an easy substitute.

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And, on a completely different note…

Okay. Enough silly blog entries lately. Time for something more serious (and hopefully interesting.)

By now, most of you know that I have mood swings. Sometimes they are serious (crushing depression) and sometimes they are manageable. As I’ve grown older and gotten various therapy/help and read more about the subject, I’ve gotten them under control and they’ve become — not exactly a welcome part of my everyday life, but at least under control to the point where I can run a business well without burying my head underneath the covers every time the emotional parade comes around to visit.

And, me being me, I’ve read obsessively on the subject of depression, what causes it, and how to solve it. Although at various points in my life I have been tempted to see a doctor and get on antidepressants, I have not done so because I am convinced that I can solve this. This emotional craziness is my own doing, in my head, and I’m smart enough to figure it out.

The first step was getting hypnotherapy, which I did in July 2005, and which solved a lot of the older stuff…mostly the abandonment issues I had which stemmed from me being adopted. Since then, I’ve been a lot better… but I’ve still had days where I don’t want to get out of bed, and I’ve still been dealing with a lot of rollercoasters.

August, 2006 rolled around and finally I started noticing a pattern. Surprisingly (to me), the mood swings are based on time of day as much as anything else. I would wake up fine, then eat lunch and crash hard… sometimes to the point where I needed to take an hour-long nap because I had no energy and felt exhausted. 2 hours after eating lunch, I’d feel okay and start feeling better until it became dinner time. After dinner, I’d again feel awful for a couple of hours and feel better later on. I would be fine until I went to bed, at which point the whole cycle would start over again.

It finally dawned on me sometime last month that there might be a physical component to all of this. Specifically, the crashing-after-eating thing seemed to have a physical component (getting tired/sleepy) as well as an emotional component. And that’s when I started researching hypoglycemia.

Hypoglycemia is an interesting health problem because it tends to be highly emotional. Blood sugar levels directly relate to how you feel. If you have healthy levels of blood sugar, you feel rested, well, and ready to go. When your blood sugar levels dip dangerously low, you feel exhausted, dead, groggy, and grumpy. And when you spike your blood sugar levels by eating processed sugar or other processed foods, you get a temporary feel-good situation followed by a crash, which can be nearly impossible to manage.

I did the research and I had every symptom of hypoglycemia. If I don’t eat for more than 6-8 hours (or 12 hours when I’m asleep for most of that time period), I get shaky hands followed quickly by grouchiness. The grouchiness continues until I eat. Once I eat, I feel better…except if I eat trigger foods that cause a quick increase in sugar followed by a crash. That crash entails more grouchiness and, likely, a nap.

The good news is that medical professionals have already figured out what the trigger foods are for hypoglycemics. As a hypoglycemic, your diet must not contain alcohol, caffeine, or sugar. (An interesting side note is the link between alcoholism and hypoglycemia; studies have shown a proven link between alcoholism and hypoglycemia, as well as addictive personalities and hypoglycemia.)

Alcohol and caffeine were easy to eliminate for me since I had already effectively eliminated both from my diet (except for rare usage) due to the emotional rollercoaster of using either one (high followed by ugly crash.) However, the no sugar part of the diet proved to be trickier.

I knew the diet would fix a lot of problems for me, so I went cold turkey. I printed out the diet for hypoglycemics, put it on my desk at work, and proceeded to systematically eliminate sugar from my diet. I stopped drinking soda, stopped eating desserts, and changed my eating habits to eliminate anything with high-fructose corn syrup in it (which is a lot of stuff, from soda to Heinz ketchup to weird stuff like Spaghettios.) And I did it all in a matter of 24 hours.

It turns out that I was addicted to sugar. I was shocked at the overwhelming cravings I got… my body begging me for a “fix”. The first day I didn’t have cravings that badly, and I thought I was going to be okay. The second day I had moderate cravings, and I was able to eat some fruit (natural sugars such as pure fruit are okay under this diet) to get rid of them. The third day… whew. I thought I wasn’t going to make it. My hands started shaking. I thought my brain had a short circuit or something, because my only thought was SUGAR SUGAR SUGAR. Finally I got a whole pile of red raspberries and ate them all (no sugar on them). This didn’t completely cure the craving, but it helped enough that I was able to settle down and do other things.

Since then, the cravings have virtually disappeared. I stuck to the diet reasonably well even at Burning Man, declining everything from pancake syrup to rice krispie treats to icees. And boy, it really is a night and day difference. My moods feel more stable. I don’t have weird cravings. I eat less. And I no longer need to take naps after lunch.

On this diet, artificial sweeteners are okay, so my drinks mostly consist of Crystal Light and Propel. I can eat sugar-free pancake syrup (mmm…) and drink diet soda (although I don’t drink much soda at all.) Best of all, I’ve been on the diet over three weeks and am dropping about a pound a week, even though I eat whenever I want to. I’ve been making a concerted effort to make sure my meals are smallish and spread throughout the day, and I watch for signs of hand shakiness so I can ward off the grumpy feelings by eating as soon as my body warns me that it’s time to eat.

It’s important to note that I no longer believe there is a “cure” for my state. The fact is that I am an emotional being and I need to accept that. I have to accept that, even if I eat a perfect diet, I will still be a big bag of emotions. However, by eating right and remembering who I am and how far I’ve come in my life, I can maintain a more stable path and not be so depressed and weepy.

For the record, by keeping a record of my emotional state, I found that it had pretty much nothing to do with “that time of the month” or any hormonal cycles. While I appreciate that there are women out there affected by that, that’s not what is affecting me and I won’t blame any of this on hormones.

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