Archive for the ‘food’ Category

Sweet’N Low

Sweet’N Low (1957- ) is a sweetener made out of saccharin that comes in little pink packets. It is sweeter and cheaper than sugar and does not make you fat. But it leaves a strange, bitter, metal kind of taste in your mouth – something you do not notice if you put it in tea or coffee.

It is a white, sweet powder. It passes right through your body, which is why it does not make you fat – but neither does it make you feel full like sugar does. It can sit in a box for a long time and is not destroyed by cooking. It is safe for your teeth.

There are currently three main sweeteners in America that do not make you fat:

Sweet’N Low



Splenda tastes more like sugar than Equal and Equal more so than Sweet’N Low. Equal is made from aspartame, the sweetener in Diet Coke. Splenda is made from sucralose, which is sugar changed so that it passes through the body, just like Sweet’N Low.

None of these causes cancer according to the current science.

From 1977 to 2000 it was believed that saccharin caused cancer. When rats in Canada were fed huge amounts of saccharin some had strange growths in their bladders. It was outlawed in Canada but in America the food companies fought it, so they only had to print a health warning.

It was in those years that Equal and Splenda came out.

That was not the first time saccharin got into trouble. In 1911 it was outlawed in America, but when war came it was allowed again: sugar is hard to come by in time of war, but saccharin can easily be made from coal – a fact discovered by accident in Germany in 1879.

In 1957 Ben Eisenstadt made saccharin into Sweet’N Low. During the Second World War he ran a diner across the street from the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York. The war ended and the diner failed. So he bought a tea bag making machine to sell tea in bags.

Then one day his wife complained about the mess sugar makes in a diner. That was how he came up with the idea of putting sugar in little packets. He put other things in packets too, like soy sauce. Yes, that was his idea. But he did not patent it, so he never saw any money from it.

Instead he made money by thinking of new things to put in packets. Like sea monkeys. And Sweet’N Low.

He thought he would sell Sweet’N Low mainly to hospitals and those with diabetes. If you have diabetes sugar is dangerous but Sweet’N Low is perfectly safe.

It became much huger than that: ideas of health, food and beauty changed in America in the 1960s and 1970s. Women wanted to be as thin as possible – but eat their cake too. That is how Sweet’N Low became a part of American life.

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The Graham Greene diet goes like this:

  • breakfast: drink tea and read Graham Greene
  • lunch: drink tea and read Graham Greene
  • dinner: eat whatever you want

If you get hungry in between, then drink tea and read Graham Greene.

You can eat any food that anyone offers you, like at a Christmas party.

I will start off by reading “Orient Express”.

As far as I know Graham Greene never wrote a diet book. He liked writing about spies and faraway places instead. He was, after all, a British spy who went to faraway places.

The Graham Greene diet is just something I made up. I name it after him because his books are what makes this diet different from all the others.

I will keep the diet for at least two weeks to see how it goes. I will record my experiences here to complete this posting.

Here is my weight day by day in pounds (divide by two to get rough-and-ready kilos):

  1. 197 – Saturday December 15th
  2. 197 – Sunday December 16th
  3. 198 – Monday December 17th
  4. Tuesday December 18th
  5. Wednesday December 19th
  6. Thursday December 20th
  7. 195 – Friday December 20th
  8. Saturday December 21st
  9. 196 – Sunday December 22nd
  10. 196 – Monday December 23rd
  11. Tuesday December 24th
  12. Wednesday December 25th
  13. Thursday December 26th
  14. 197 – Friday December 27th

Day 1 and 2 went fine.

On day 3 I ate lunch! Grits, Coke, Fritos. The important thing was not to beat myself up about it but just brush myself off and get back on the horse.

On day 4 there was quite a bit of Christmas food on offer at work. That is allowed according to the diet. I scored some baklava.

On day 5 I did not get a chance to eat dinner.

On day 6 nothing much.

On day 7 we had a pizza party at work. That is allowed under the rules.

On days 8 and 9 the Christmas food continues to flow!

On day 10 I had some milk that was going bad. Use it up and ate some grits with it. Yet more Christmas food!

On day 11 more Christmas food – cakes and chocolate.

On day 12 was Christmas! I was completely stuffed after Christmas dinner!

On day 13 nothing much.

On day 14 day last – almost no Christmas food.

My weight is just the same as two weeks ago!

Maybe you think that means the diet does not work, but given that my weight held steady despite all the Christmas food and Christmas eating, that is something of an achievement. Two years ago when I last recorded my weight daily I gained six pounds during these two weeks!

But to be fair, I need to practise the diet for at least a month after the holidays. So that is what I will do. I got three Graham Greene books for Christmas, so I am well supplied.

I will continue the diet till either the end of January or when I finish my five Graham Greene books, which ever comes first.

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In “A Nice Cup of Tea” (1946) Orwell gives his 11 golden rules for making a good, strong cup of tea. Here they are in short. I put the measurements into metric and added some Notes of my own along the way:

  1. Use tea from India or Ceylon (Sri Lanka), not China. Tea from China is cheaper and you can drink it without milk, but it is not as strong. It does not make you feel wiser, braver or more hopeful. Note: unless the box says otherwise, tea is a mix of different teas from both India and China as well as other parts of the world. English breakfast tea, however, is mostly Indian.
  2. Make tea in small quantities: a litre at a time in a teapot made of china or earthenware – not enamel or metal, not even silver (though pewter is not bad).
  3. Warm the teapot beforehand.
  4. Make the tea strong: use six rounded teaspoons of tea for a one-litre teapot. One strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. Note: Orwell says that two ounces of tea (60 grams) should make 20 good, strong cups of tea (5000 ml). That comes to 12 grams a litre or 3 grams a cup (250 ml). An American tea bag has 2 grams of tea. Orwell’s tea is a third stronger than what Americans are used to. Well, more than a third:
  5. Put the tea straight into the pot. No bags or anything to keep the tea from properly mixing into the water. Drinking in tea leaves will not hurt you.
  6. Pour in boiling water. Bring the teapot to the kettle and pour the water into the teapot.
  7. Give the pot a good shake – or at least stir it. Afterwards let the leaves settle to the bottom.
  8. Drink out of a good breakfast cup, not a tea cup. A breakfast cup has sides that go straight up and down. This makes it deeper and keeps the tea warm longer.
  9. Use milk, no cream.
  10. Pour the tea into the cup first, then add milk. This lets you put in the right amount of milk.
  11. Do not add sugar! It destroys the taste: you will be tasting sugar, not tea. Why not just drink hot water with sugar instead? Tea, like beer, is supposed to be bitter. That is its taste. If you think you do not like the taste of tea by itself, try it without sugar for two weeks and see. Then you will understand how sugar is destroying the taste and will probably not want to go back (I agree).

I tried making tea this way. It is much better and stronger than the sort of tea Americans are used to. It makes American tea seem like dirty dishwater.

Orwell’s tea has three times the kick of Coke and twice that of Mountain Dew, but without getting you hooked on it, like with coffee.

Postscript: You can get something pretty close to Orwell’s tea this way:

  1. Put a plain old bag of Lipton tea (2.0 g)  in a covered tea cup (pictured).
  2. Fill it with water (230 ml).
  3. Microwave it as long as you can without it boiling over and making a mess. With the lid on, that might be like a minute and a half (two minutes with no lid).
  4. Add milk (10 ml), no sugar.

This is how I have made my tea since at least 2008.

Tip: Use a Chinese tea cup, one with a lid (pictured above). Your tea will stay hot way longer.

– Abagond, 2007, 2016.

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My strange medical condition

I am one of those sorts who never misses a day of work. But for the past year I have missed three days of work – all from the same illness. That it keeps coming back makes me think it must be more than just some passing thing.

Last May it put me in the hospital. They did all kinds of tests – they were afraid it was some kind of heart trouble. They even took pictures of the inside of my heart. But they found nothing beyond a strange case of food poisoning.

It feels like a pain in the back – the kind you get when you sleep too long or too long in the wrong position. But it does not go away. It gets so bad that it becomes hard to think straight. It always comes with another feeling — a sick feeling in your stomach like you ate something bad.

Ordinarily when I eat something bad I get diarrhoea, which quickly sweeps it from my body. But in this case, even though I run to the bathroom, little happens, though sometimes I throw up. After an hour of nothing happening, even though it always seems like it is about to happen, I fall asleep. When I get up an hour or so later I am well again. The pain lasts for about four hours.

If I eat something right after I feel better, especially chocolate, it comes right back. I must wait about six hours to eat again.

The pain seems to come about six to eight hours after eating too much – like at a party, on my birthday, when a friend asks me out to eat. On most days I do not eat dinner, or if I do it is the only meal of the day. If I keep to that, I feel fine.

Since my university days I have had a “delicate stomach”. When I eat at an unfamiliar place or some place I have not eaten in a long time, I often get diarrhoea. My stomach gets used to certain food from a certain place. It can get used to new food from a new place, but not without a case of diarrhoea first. It is like sleeping on a new bed.

So it happens when I go to another country. It happens if my mother or my wife have not cooked for me in a long time and I start eating their food again.

This food poisoning, or whatever it is, seems to be a severe case of the same.

My medical knowledge is limited, but I think it is a bad case of heartburn. It has nothing to do with the heart, but with the stomach producing so much acid that it starts to burn the passage leading down to it.

If so, then the next time it happens I should take whatever it is the pharmacy sells in a box for heartburn. And something for pain. We shall see.

Yes, once again, better living through blogging!

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high fructose corn syrup

High fructose corn syrup (1975- ) or HFCS is a sugar made from maize (Zea mays, called corn in America). It is just as sweet as ordinary sugar but in America it is cheaper, so it takes the place of sugar in nearly all soft drinks and in many processed foods.

Coke in America, for example, does not have ordinary sugar like it once did (and still does in Mexico), but HFCS.

The really bad thing about HFCS is that it makes you fat without making you feel full. It is a man-made sugar that your body does not recognize as food, so you keep eating. And yet more of it is turned into fat than ordinary sugar.

In 1970 HFCS did not even exist – it was invented in Japan in the 1970s. Yet today it accounts for half of all the sugar that Americans eat. This helps to explain why they are fatter now than a generation ago. Some say it also causes diabetes in old age.

In Europe HFCS is rare. In Japan it accounts for a fourth of the sugar eaten.

Four companies make most of the HFCS:

  1. Cargill
  2. Archer Daniels Midland (ADM)
  3. Staley
  4. CPC International

They make a fortune off it.

ADM, whose advertisements you see on Sunday morning
political talk shows in America, gives money to both political parties.

That is no surprise: HFCS is a creature of government. It would not be so much cheaper than ordinary sugar if the government did not:

  1. Give money to maize growers.
  2. Limit the amount of foreign sugar that comes into the country and add high tariffs to its price.
  3. Cut off trade with Cuba after it fell to the communists.

Because of the last two, table sugar costs a lot more in America than it does in the rest of the world. Because of the first, maize is cheaper than it should be. All this helps HFCS.

Still, HFCS has more than just a price advantage over ordinary sugar:

  • It is easier to transport because it is a liquid.
  • It is easier to mix into food and drink.
  • It lasts longer, especially in soft drinks.
  • America can grow far more maize than sugar cane, even without government help.

HFCS is made by breaking down the sugar in maize and purifying it so that it is mostly fructose. You need the high levels of fructose to make maize sugar as sweet as ordinary sugar.

Fructose is a sugar found in fruit and plants. It is two
times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose), but it is harder for the body to take in. Fructose for the most part has to go through your liver first. This makes it good for those with diabetes, but too much of it can give you stomach trouble.

When a lot of HFCS is given to test animals, horrible things have happened, even death. But it has been hard to prove the same results for humans. Nevertheless many believe that it makes people fat and can lead to diabetes.

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Sugar looks like salt but tastes sweet. It can take different forms: as a brown, thick liquid it is called treacle or molasses. As a fermented drink it is called rum. Powdered sugar can be white or brown.

Sugar is added to food and drink to make it taste better – and to sell more of it.

The demand for sugar in Europe led to the growing of sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum) in Brazil and on the islands of the Caribbean. At first poor Europeans worked the land, but they died off too quickly from disease. Growers then used slaves from the Guinea coast of Africa instead. This is how black people first came across the sea from Africa.

The poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and others in the early 1800s stopped using sugar till the British stopped using slaves to produce it.

In the 1600s Britain and France fought one another for control of the sugar islands of the Caribbean sea. They made more money out of these islands than from the rest of North America.

Sugar can also be made from sugar beets (Beta vulgaris). The French found this out in the time of Napoleon when the British cut them off from the sea.

Three common kinds of sugar:

  • sucrose – ordinary table sugar
  • fructose – the kind found in fruit
  • glucose – the kind the body uses

Fructose is two times sweeter than sucrose, but is harder for the body to take in.

Sucrose is made out of fructose and glucose put together. High fructose corn syrup is mostly fructose with some glucose. It is made from maize. In America it is cheaper than ordinary sugar and takes its place in Coke and many other processed foods.

Your body breaks down food into sugar, fat and some other things. The sugar is put into your blood and this in turn feeds the rest of your body.

When you eat and drink too much, a lot of it passes through your body, but almost all of the sugar remains. What sugar you cannot burn in the next few hours gets stored as fat. It turns the fat back into sugar when needed. The body is built this way to get through times of little food.

This is why the only way to lose weight, short of medical treatment, is to eat less and exercise more. This uses up the fat the body has stored.

The part of your body that controls the level of sugar in your blood is called the pancreas. It does this with a substance it makes called insulin. Insulin carries glucose through the blood.

If your pancreas goes bad then you will get a disease called diabetes. Some just have to watch what they eat, but most have to take insulin. Unchecked, diabetes in time will make you go blind and even kill you by the damage done to your heart, nerves and kidneys by high levels of blood sugar.

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My case of food poisoning

On Saturday I got a case of food poisoning. The last time I got it was in May when it landed me in the hospital. The doctors did all kinds of tests but found nothing beyond simple food poisoning. Because of the way it shows itself, they were afraid it was some kind of heart trouble. But it was not. My heart is fine.

So in case I get it again, I am leaving myself some instructions about what to do and what to expect.

Please note that I am not a doctor! I do not even play one on television. Just because it worked for me once does not mean it will work even for me again..

Anyway, here it goes:

  1. When you come home at night and see some food that has been sitting out that has meat in it, do not eat it.
  2. If you do eat it (why did you do that!?) and the next morning you have a terrible dull pain in your back, and a lesser one in your stomach, this is what you should do:
    • Go to the bathroom. Do as much as you can, which will not be much. But do what you can. Bring a book. Vomit if you can. You will feel so much better.You will break out in a cold sweat and your skin will be pale. You will want to lie down in a cool place, but wait. Not yet. Otherwise you will find yourself going back and forth.
    • When you are done, find a cool place to lie down. You will want to keep changing position, but it will not do you any good. It will only make you feel worse. Instead, lie on your right side and move as little as possible and try to sleep it off. By the time you wake up an hour or more later, you will feel fine.
  3. Avoid eating anything for a while — especially chocolate! Tea and rice are good. They are one of the “BRATT” foods: bananas, white rice, applesauce, tea and toast. Things with milk and oil are bad.
  4. Tell your wife as little as possible about it. Since it will be something she cooked, she will take it personally and think you are making it up or accusing her. You will get no help from her – just arguments. She will not let it rest there but bring it up again later that night or maybe even the next day. Keep her out of it.

When I got it in May it was at work and no one wanted to take any chances since the pain was near my heart, my blood pressure was high and I was pale and sweating. That is what landed me in the hospital. The doctors ran all kinds of tests, even a CAT scan, but found nothing. I went to my family doctor the next day. He checked me out and said I was fine too.

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