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Hey, Gang -
Happy New Year! Don't know about you, but I'm a bit relieved to have the holidays over with, and be back to my - I was going to say "normal" life, but the word "normal" is one that has rarely been used for me, so I'll say - just back to my work.
We had a nasty virus around here for quite a while - I had it for a couple of weeks, then my poor husband had it for 2 ½ weeks. All told, it was Sick Bay around here for over a month, and it was not pleasant. However, it retaught me an old lesson - just how much I hate feeling anything short of terrific. People often think that I have killer willpower, because I can walk past cookies, candy, ice cream, doughnuts, cake, whatever, without blinking. But it has nothing to do with willpower, and everything to do with my total and utter impatience with ill health. I don't care how good something tastes - heck, it could taste like a date with Tom Cruise and winning the lottery in the same day - if it makes me tired and cranky and potentially makes me ill, I don't want it.
But we're well again now, and charging ahead into the New Year. Hope you, too, are full of that spirit of new beginnings!
Read on -
Work Out Your Body, Not Your Credit Card!
I'm guessing that there are more than a few of you who have, like me, resolved to get into better shape in 2002. I'm also guessing that there are more than a few of you who, like me, are feeling pretty darned broke. So I have this mental picture of you, watching those ubiquitous infomercials for exercise equipment, going back and forth on whether or not you should actually shell out just 5 easy payments of $49.95 for a chance to get in shape in the privacy of your own home.
Hey, I'm one of you. I actually enjoy exercise equipment infomercials, not to mention exercise equipment, and practically every machine I see, I want! However, unless you have a much fatter wallet than I, I cannot recommend that you call that 800 number and order the latest Miracle Machine. You know and I know that there are dismayingly good odds that said Miracle Machine will become a high priced clothes rack by March - the dreaded Post Purchase User Neglect Syndrome. It's bad enough to kick yourself for not following through with the exercise program. It's far, far worse to kick yourself for paying hundreds of dollars for the privilege.
Does this opinion mean that I don't have any exercise machines, and don't recommend their use? Not on your life! I have a houseful of exercise equipment - I own a Total Gym, a "rider" machine, a rowing machine, a ski machine, a mini-trampoline, a few choice exercise videos, and a modest assortment of dumbbells. And I actually use the stuff, though certainly not all of it every day.
But I have learned a very useful economic lesson (learned, I might add, the expensive way): Five years ago's hot exercise machine is this year's drug on the market. If you just think back to the infomercials of yesteryear, you may remember that at the time, you were simply dying for a Health Rider, or a Nordic Track, or a Soloflex, just as today you are convinced that an Ab-Doer or a Bun-and-Thigh Rocker or Tony Little's Gazelle are the answer to your fitness problems.
Guess what? Health Riders and their knock-off cousins are now $10-$25, used, and widely available - my Cardio Rider cost me $10, and I had a choice at the time of three similar machines in my local area. Nordic Tracks are now so passe that my local Play It Again Sports says they can't even sell them; surely you're going to pay far less than the $200 - $600 that folks were paying ten years ago.
Yet all these now-unfashionable machines still work just as well as they ever did. So long as a machine is sturdy, with smooth action, and you find it agreeable enough that you will actually use it, your body does not care if you're working out on a Health Rider or a Gazelle. Trust me on this. Yes, some machines may have an edge over others - certainly the more muscle groups a given machine uses, the faster it will burn fat - but overall the important thing is just to get moving and to keep moving. And virtually any well made exercise machine will let you do that
Which leads me to another point: when you're buying an exercise machine on a budget, there's a temptation to buy a cheap model. But anything that's going to bear your weight and has moving parts had better be well made if you're planning to use it for very long. Good exercise machines have more comfortable seats and smoother action, are sturdier, and far quieter. Really cheap exercise machines are a total waste of money! They're annoying to use, and fall apart quickly. I once bought a cheapie stairstepper - just two pedals with little hydraulic cylinders - thinking I could use it in front of the television. It was terrible. The pedals had different degrees of resistance, and moved differently. Oh, not terribly different, but enough to make it uncomfortable to use. Also, the pedals slammed down at every step, jarring my whole body and making a loud thunking noise. I used it about twice, and that was it. For that matter, I found one of those "E-Z Glider" ski machines at a yard sale - very heavily advertised at the same time that Nordic Track was hot; E-Z Glider was the cheapo knockoff - and it was a total piece of junk. I bet no one ever used it more than once.
When you shop for second hand exercise equipment, suddenly you can afford the good stuff. That crummy little stepper, new, cost me twice what my Cardio Rider cost me used. The Cardio Rider is silent, has smooth action, is fun, and uses the majority of muscles in my body - arms, legs, back, and abs, even a little chest. What a bargain! For that matter, I recently saw the infomercial model of the Total Gym - which runs about $1200 new, and which I bought for $700 used, through Ebay - advertised in the classifieds for a big $250, nearly as cheap as the model sold at K-Mart and Wal Mart. (There are several features of the expensive model Total Gym which make it considerably more versatile than the cheap model.)
Another plus to buying used exercise equipment is that you can afford to have more than one machine. I have little doubt that one of the reasons this stuff ends up holding clothes or gathering dust is that people get bored with using the same machine, day after day. When you pay a fraction of the original price, you can afford to have a variety of equipment, dramatically reducing the boredom factor. I've used all of my machines within the past year or so - I tend to use one a lot for several weeks to a few months, then switch to another when I get bored. This is also a way to get around the problem of diminishing returns - my trainer buddy, BJ, assures me that after a couple of months, your body adjusts to whatever sort of workout you're doing, and you start to get less and less benefit from it. Owning a modest variety of equipment lets you cross-train, and progress steadily toward greater fitness.
One final advantage of buying second hand equipment - if you discover you simply loathe a particular machine, you can generally get your money back by selling it to somebody else. You can't do this with new stuff - because once you've used it, it's used stuff, and you're going to get used prices for it. For instance, I discovered, after paying price for a spiffy new Nordic Track and using for a month or two, that I didn't really like the thing much, and furthermore, it was too noisy for my tastes. Do you think I could sell my now-used Nordic Track for the price I paid for it? Not a chance. But would someone else be willing to buy my Cardio Rider from me for the same $10 I paid for it? Sure, not that I'm interested in selling it.
So get in shape the smart way - harness other people's Post Purchase User Neglect Syndrome! Keep an eye on your local classified ads, browse at Ebay (although packing and shipping some of these things can cost you), check out Play It Again Sports (or any other local used sporting goods stores), when spring rolls around go to yard sales. Try out a machine or two, and see what appeals to you. Put together a cool home gym for a very modest amount of money, and your body - and your wallet - will thank you for it!
Here's a list of the stuff I've gotten used, what I paid, and how I like it:
* Mini-trampoline - tons of fun, and good even for those who are quite out of shape. Originally around $200, I paid $10 at a yard sale. Picked up another one for my mom, at another yard sale, also for $10.
* Dumbbells - cast iron, 10 lb. size. $1 at a yard sale, would cost at least $20 - $25 new.
* Dumbbells - the kind with removable plates, complete with plates totaling 18 lbs. each. Free! Found them in the basement of a house I was renting, left behind by the previous tenant. Don't know how much new, but pretty certain they'd cost more than nothing.
* Heavy Hands hand weights, for use while walking and during other aerobic exercise - Free, given to me by a friend who wasn't using them. These, sadly, are no longer made, but they were running about $25 at the time. I adore these, and would gladly endorse them if they were still being made.
* Exercise videos from The Firm, the absolute cream of the video crop - $3 - $4 apiece, from a local Blockbuster that was clearing them out of their collection. Videos by The Firm are currently running about $15.
* Body Flex breathing exercise videos - $8 apiece at Play It Again Sports. I was very skeptical about breathing exercises, and wasn't about to pay "As Seen On TV" prices for these tapes, but I was so impressed with the results that I then paid retail for two other breathing exercise systems, Oxycise! and Life Lift. Body Flex is currently on sale at Home Shopping Network for $31.20, plus $5.95 shipping and handling.
* Karen Voight's Strong and Smooth Moves video - $1 at a yard sale. And just as well, too; I don't like this tape. Think I can get my buck back when I hold a yard sale of my own?
* Cardio Rider - $10; I found it listed in the local classified ads. When these things were new, they were a couple of hundred bucks a shot. I like this machine a lot, and find it particularly good for getting the blood moving while wasting time in front of the TV. It's absolutely silent, a quality that I greatly admire in exercise equipment, sturdy, stable, and uses the vast majority of the muscles in my body.
* Total Gym - $700, including packing and shipping, for the infomercial model with all the bells and whistles. I bought this off of Ebay. Had I bided my time, I could have gotten one cheaper, but I don't feel ripped off having paid as much as I did - which is still several hundred dollars less than it would have cost me new. The Total Gym is a terrific piece of equipment. It can be used to both strengthen and stretch virtually every muscle in the body, it is sturdy and well-made, it's fun to use, and it practically saved my life after my car accident, because it let me gently stretch out all my traumatized muscles. The updated infomercial model - as always, advertised by Chuck Norris and Christie Brinkley - is currently running $1200.
HUGE SALE ON PROSLIM PASTA, ONLY $3.29 A BOX!!
That's up to $1.20 cheaper than our competition! We got a GREAT deal so we're passing it on to you! "WHILE SUPPLIES LAST"
Plus, try our fantastic Sinfully Low Carb Bread! It's flying out of here! And you low carb bakers will want to try our Low Carb Chef's Chocolate Chips!
Recipes!! We Still Need Recipes!
We've now received more than twenty recipes from readers to go in the new low carb cookbook, and we have a team of crack recipe testers testing every single one. But we need more! MORE, I say!!
This is your big chance for low carb immortality! If we use your recipe, you will be credited in the cookbook, and low carb dieters the world around will know your name, and thank you in their hearts! So send those recipes in!
In particular, we need recipes for fish and seafood, vegetables, and soups.
For guidelines for writing your recipes down:
New Year's Resolutions
It's that time, again - time to recommit to self improvement, to slaying our own personal dragons, to kicking down the fences that hold us back. I'm a fan of New Year's Resolutions. I know folks who have completely given up on them, because they don't keep them. I have, from time to time, kept a New Year's Resolution or two - for instance, the year I was in massage school (1986) I resolved to walk at least one way, to or from work, every day that the wind chill factor was above -15. I kept that resolution, with the help of a big, puffy, warm coat and some good snow boots, and since it was a four mile walk, and I carried five pound hand weights with me to boot, I was in some pretty killer shape come spring.
But I believe in resolutions even if you end up not keeping them. Why? Because, folks, if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Because it's good to give some thought to which way we want to head, even if we only make it part of the way. Because moving ahead beats sitting still, even when we fall short of our goals. And because even when you drift away from the path, some of that resolution sometimes sticks. So what if you don't succeed in your resolution to be perfect? Even if you become a tiny bit better, it was worth it, wasn't it? Heck, if you learn something, about yourself or about the world, it was worth it.
So I have a few New Year's Resolutions, and since you guys are 11,000-odd of my dearest friends, I'll share them with you:
1) To once again try to become a bit more organized. Specifically, to actually use this year's Daytimer, making To Do lists daily, checking off things as I do them; checking it when I get up in the morning so that I don't space out appointments (guilty!), remembering to write down deductible expenses, and in general acting a bit more like the Responsible Grownup I've been pretending to be. Since I am pathologically disorganized, this is Resolution is going to be the hardest to keep.
2) To unsubscribe from my internet newsgroups until the day that my cookbook manuscript is in the mail to my publisher. If I'm going to complete this project on time, and do the sort of job on it that I want to do, I'm going to need every second of working time that the next 8 weeks can offer. I'm a very gregarious person who works alone at home, and my newsgroups were eating far too much time. I unsubbed from them yesterday morning, and it felt like cutting off my arm. This resolution is far and way the most uncomfortable for me, but unlike the others it has a time limit - I won't have failed when I resubscribe in March.
3) To get back in shape! Specifically, to go back to doing my aerobics-with-weights videos from The Firm, every other day to start with, and at least five days a week once I've gotten past the getting sore stage. Some people yo-yo diet. I eat right virtually all the time (okay, there was some Chinese food on New Year's Eve which I'm quite certain was loaded with cornstarch and sugar, and for which I'm still paying), but I yo-yo exercise. Over the years, I've gotten into some pretty fierce shape, cardio and muscle-strength wise, only to have something knock me off track - an illness, an accident, whatever. And I was, indeed, in pretty good shape when I was in a car wreck 18 months ago. While I was not badly injured, I have had ongoing trouble with my right leg, in the form of the shooting pains known as sciatica. Both my chiropractor and orthopedist told me to go very easy on the exercise while waiting for the sciatica to go away, and of course, I lost both strength and stamina. I've tried to step up the exercise a few times over the past year, and have been rewarded with an aggravation of my leg pains.
I've finally decided that the stupid sciatica just isn't going to go away, and I'm tired of getting weaker while I wait for it to fade. I've decided that if I'm going to have sciatica anyway, dammit, I'm going to have sciatica while being in shape. I hate feeling weak, and I'm not going to put up with it anymore. So it's The Firm for me, along with my usual breathing exercises and a few yoga poses. I should be stronger soon.
(For those of you who don't know about The Firm - I've written about their videos before - they're utterly superb exercise videos which combine aerobic and strength training. I think they get me into shape faster and better than anything else I've ever tried. They're also not terribly dance-y, which makes them easy to follow for a klutz like me. Here's a link to a back issue which contains a review of a whole raft of The Firm tapes, written by reader Carol Vandiver, who has tried considerably more of them than I have: http://www.holdthetoast.com/archive/010404.html - you'll have to scroll down a bit to find the review. If you, too, have Resolved to get in shape in 2002, these tapes are one of the very best ways I know to do it.)
I have one more Resolution, but it's going to have to wait a couple of months. You see, I've been in the process of proving that you can, indeed, put on a few pounds eating low carb food if you just eat enough of it. I'm writing a cookbook on a very compressed time schedule, so I'm cooking - and eating - far more rich food, and far more low carb treats that do, indeed, contain at least a few grams of carbohydrate, than I normally do. As I result, I'm up about five pounds since I started recipe development in earnest. Don't worry, this doesn't mean that if you buy my cookbook and use the recipes you will gain weight - unless you're planning to make and eat five recipes a day from it for a couple of months straight!
Anyway, here's Resolution #4: When I've turned the manuscript in, I'm cutting back to Induction levels of carbs, and eating just enough to not feel hungry, and no more, until those darned extra pounds are gone. This is the Delayed Reaction Diet Resolution.
So them's the Resolutions. And I'd love to hear yours! If you have a New Year's Resolution that you think would interest your fellow Lowcarbezine! readers, send it in. We'll print the ones that we think will help folks!
A very Happy New Year to you all, and here's hoping that 2002 is, er, a lot less interesting than 2001. May you all be healthy and prosperous, and keep your Resolutions!
Reader Review of How I Gave Up My Low Fat Diet and Lost Forty Pounds!
The best diet book ever!
This book is a wealth of information describing the different types of low carb dieting. With this
book you can choose your own dieting program and learn some great tips about what or what not to eat. This book was a joy to read and will make you laugh! A must for a low carber.
Laura Sands from Fort Worth,TX
Thanks, Laura! Check out the first chapter of How I Gave Up My Low Fat Diet and Lost Forty Pounds! at http://www.holdthetoast.com
See what other readers had to say about the book - and order it! - at http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0966883101/lowcarbohysoluti
You can also order How I Gave Up My Low Fat Diet and Lost Forty Pounds through
You're Lucky You're Overweight
You may not think so, but it means that you've got enough to eat, and millions upon millions go hungry. You can help them without leaving your computer, and without spending a cent. Just go to the Hunger Site, and click on the "Give Free Food" button. The Hunger Site will donate
food for hungry people for every click they get -- and you can click once every day! Then go to Stop the Hunger, and click to donate money to hungry people in the USA. It's the easiest thing you've ever done to help your fellow human beings. Check out the ways you can actually give more to hungry people with each click -- still without spending a cent!
Go to the Hunger Site NOW, and click to feed those less fortunate than you! http://www.thehungersite.com
Go to Stop the Hunger, and click to donate food to hungry Americans:
And tell your friends!
Low Carb Sweetener Rundown
A reader wrote me after I sent out the cookie recipes, wanting to know what stevia is, and I figured some other folks might not know. Also, there is a new player in the low carb sweetener arena. Accordingly, this seemed like a good time for a quick rundown of the various low carb sweeteners.
* Splenda - Currently the sweetener of choice around here. Splenda, approved by the FDA just a couple of years back, hit US grocery stores in 2000 or so. Splenda is the trade name, the substance that makes it sweet is called sucralose. Sucralose is actually made from sugar, by chemically patching in another chlorine molecule. For some reason that I don't pretend to understand, this has two effects: It prevents your body from recognizing sucralose as food, so that, at least for the very most part, you don't digest or absorb the stuff, and it makes sucralose much, much sweeter than the sugar from which it is made.
In order to make Splenda measure like sugar (a property which greatly simplifies adapting recipes), the manufacturer "bulks" sucralose with maltodextrin. Maltodextrin is, indeed, a carbohydrate, and a rather high-impact carbohydrate, at that. However, even with the maltodextrin added, Splenda still has only 1/8 the quantity of carbohydrate that sugar does - a half a gram per teaspoon, versus 4 grams.
Still, in recipes which call for a lot of Splenda, those carbs can add up - a cup of Splenda contains 24 grams of carbohydrate. For this reason, many of us are waiting anxiously for liquid Splenda to become available. Liquid Splenda will not have carbohydrates added, and will, therefore, be carb free. It seems to be taking remarkably long to hit the market, but it is indeed in the works. Watch this 'zine for notification when we find it's available!
Splenda tastes remarkably good - I find it really does taste like sugar, with no bitter aftertaste or strange chemical flavor. Splenda also stands up to heat, and therefore can be used in baking, or in anything that is going to be cooked, even if it will be heated for a long time - for instance, I've used Splenda to make "looing" sauce, a Chinese sauce for stewing meats that usually contains sugar. Even after cooking all day in a crockpot, the sauce tasted great.
The drawbacks of Splenda are that it does not provide any of the textural effects that sugar does - it does not caramelize, cause browning, or make foods moist or chewy the way that sugar does. Still, it's a vast step forward in the world of artificial sweeteners. Splenda also does not give the same volume as sugar, so the yield on cookie recipes and the like will be slightly less than with sugar. One final drawback is that since it is still under patent, Splenda is pretty pricey. Worth it, in my book, but still, not cheap - I pay between $4-$5 for a box that is the sweetening equivalent of 2 lbs. of sugar.
I've had readers inquire about possible health effects of Splenda, in particular about thymus gland shrinkage and kidney swelling. I looked at the FDA papers regarding the animal tests on Splenda, and it is absolutely true that sucralose caused these effects in lab animals - in quantities that are equivalent to a 150 lb. human being eating 17,586 teaspoonfuls of Splenda a day. In doses that equal a 150 lb. person eating 8,793 teaspoonfuls of Splenda a day - still a ridiculously large dose - no ill effect was noted. Since the average American is eating 45 teaspoonfuls of sugar a day, it's hard to see how even your most enthusiastic Splenda user would consume more than 100 teaspoonfuls a day or so (which, by the way, would contain 50 grams of carb, so you shouldn't do it). So I wouldn't sweat it. After all, eating those 45 teaspoonfuls of sugar a day is killing people through heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. It's important to keep these things in perspective.
* Saccharine - Best known under the trade name Sweet 'n' Low, saccharine is the granddaddy of artificial sweeteners. It's mostly used to sweeten beverages, and rarely used in home baking and the like. This is largely because saccharine has a bitter, chemical flavor if used in any quantity - at least to many people. It turns out that the ability to sense a bitter aftertaste from saccharine is genetically mediated - some people taste it, and some people don't. If saccharine tastes okay to you, you may as well use it in your coffee, tea, or iced tea - I also sometimes use it to sweeten yogurt. It's quite inexpensive. By the way, if you're going to keep saccharine around the house, it's good to know that, like Splenda, the powder form of saccharine is bulked with maltodextrin, and so contains at least a trace quantity of carbohydrate, whereas the liquid in the dropper bottle is carb-free.
Oh, there is also a "brown sugar" version of Sweet 'n' Low available. Save your money. Tastes nothing like brown sugar. Your best bet for a good, brown sugar flavor is to combine Splenda with a small amount of dark molasses.
You should know that the FDA has removed saccharine from the list of carcinogenic substances; if you find a package that still has a cancer warning on it, it's old. Use saccharine without fear.
* Aspartame - Best known as Equal, aspartame quickly took over the artificial sweetener market when it was introduced in the 1980s, but I confess I never could figure out why. I didn't like the taste of, say, aspartame sweetened soda as well as I did the saccharine sweetened stuff. Further, you can count me among the folks who feel that consuming a large quantity of aspartame makes us feel weird in one way or another, although minor quantities don't bother me. Doc Atkins claims that aspartame interferes with fat burning on a cellular level; I don't have the expertise to evaluate this claim. I do know that the FDA has had more complaints about aspartame than about any other food substance in its history.
A major drawback of aspartame is that it breaks down if it is heated for any length of time - you can use it to sweeten your coffee, but if you put that coffee in a Thermos and keep it warm for a while, it won't be sweet. And aspartame sweetened soda breaks down and loses its sweetness over time, as well. This means, of course, that aspartame is not a useful sweetener for cooking with. If you like it in your coffee or soda, it is inexpensive now that there are generics out there, but that's about all it's good for, if you ask me. Many of the packaged products - sodas, pudding mixes, gelatin mixes, etc - that have been sweetened with aspartame for the past 20 years are switching over to sucralose.
* Acesulfame-K - Also known as ace-K, or sometimes by the trade name Sunnette, acesulfame-K has never really caught on. Oh, you see it around, and in a few products here and there, but it's certainly not in really wide use. I've tried it, it tastes okay, but I prefer Splenda. It's cheaper than Splenda, though, if you're on a budget and don't like saccharine. Because of my limited experience with it, I can't really tell you much more about it.
* Stevia - Stevia is half of the Latin name of a South American shrub, Stevia rebaudiana. Known in its native land as "sweet leaf", the leaves of the stevia shrub have been used by the native people of South America as a sweetener for centuries. More recent is stevia extract, a white powder that is fiercely sweet - several hundred times sweeter than sugar. While the leaves of the stevia shrub no doubt contain at least a tiny amount of carb, in the quantities needed to make foods sweet, stevia contributes no carbohydrate to your diet.
Stevia does have the advantage - if you consider it an advantage - of being an all natural product. Personally, I'm not terribly impressed by the word "natural". Sugar is natural, and it's deadly. Tobacco is natural. So is cocaine. Rattlesnake venom. Death angel mushroom. None of which is meant to imply that stevia is dangerous - on the contrary, I've heard of no ill effects associated with stevia at all. So far as I can determine, stevia is totally, utterly safe. I'm just not convinced that it's hugely, wildly better for my health than artificial sweeteners, that's all.
In Japan, I hear, stevia is widely used to sweeten the same stuff we put aspartame in here - sugar free soda and processed foods. In the US, the FDA has finally - after a whole lot of stonewalling - made it legal to sell stevia, but not as a food product. The folks who sell it have to call it a "food supplement" instead. As a result, very few packaged products sweetened with stevia are available in the US (although I do get an excellent stevia-sweetened vanilla whey protein powder, under the name "Show Me The Whey".) However, if you want to use stevia as a sweetener at home, it's now available in most health food stores.
There are, however, some problems with using stevia; those problems are worst with the actual cut stevia leaf, less with the white powder, but generally apply to all forms of stevia. First of all, stevia is so sweet, that adjusting recipes becomes a hit-or-miss sort of a deal, and it's easy to get too much. Many people who use the white extract powder make it a little easier by mixing a standard solution - usually 2 tablespoons of water to one teaspoon of stevia powder - and putting it in a dropper bottle. I've read that mixed this way, one drop of the liquid is the rough equivalent of a teaspoon of sugar.
However, even diluted this way, stevia isn't the easiest sweetener to use, because it has some aftertastes. The straight stevia leaf has a flavor to it that is reminiscent of licorice, and the extract often has a bitter flavor if used in any quantity. I have found that stevia works far better in some things than in others. For instance, I like it okay in protein shakes, but I tried making a chocolate cheesecake with stevia, and it was so bitter it was inedible - it went straight into the trash.
If you're wary of artificial sweeteners, stevia is definitely worth checking out, but you'll probably need to experiment to work out recipes. It's a good idea to buy a cookbook of recipes specifically for stevia. Here are links to a couple:
The Stevia Cookbook: Cooking With Nature's Calorie Free Sweetener:
Stevia Sweet Recipes: Sugar Free Naturally
* Fructooligosaccharides: Don't bother trying to pronounce that word; just say "FOS". FOS is, indeed, a form of sugar. It occurs naturally in small quantities in a wide variety of plant foods, from garlic to bananas to artichokes. But FOS is interesting because it fills the same niche in the sugar world that fiber does in the starch world, which is to say that it's a sugar that is so big that your gut can neither digest nor absorb it, making it an okay choice for low carbers.
But it gets better - because the healthy bacteria in your gut - the acidophilus and bifidus bacteria - can eat FOS, so getting some FOS in your diet will actually improve your health. Furthermore FOS has a nice, naturally sweet taste, and will hold moisture in foods the way that sugar does.
So why haven't you heard of it yet? Well, ignoring the fact that since it's a natural, unpatented product no big corporation has a huge financial stake in selling it to you, there are also a couple of drawbacks to FOS. First of all, it's expensive. I mean, really expensive. I spent $12 on 2 ounces of the stuff when I bought it straight. I don't know a whole lot of folks who can afford to use something that steep in any quantity.
Secondly, FOS is only half as sweet as table sugar. You'd think you could simply double the quantity, but along with the question of price, there's also the little matter that eating a large quantity of FOS will do to your gut exactly the same thing that eating large quantities of any indigestible carbohydrate will do to your gut - cause gas and diarrhea.
So while FOS has some useful properties for us, it is not going to become the day-to-day sweetener of choice.
* Stevia/FOS blend - Some genius worked this one out! Since stevia is way too sweet, and FOS isn't sweet enough, you can now buy the two of them blended together. This combo is still sweeter than sugar, but it's a whole lot easier to use than straight stevia extract, and tastes better besides - the FOS mellows the "edge" on the stevia flavor. If having a natural sweetener is important to you, this is the sweetener of choice.
I particularly like the blend for sweetening plain yogurt. I buy stevia/FOS blend under the name SweetLeaf, which comes both in shaker, or in paper packets. Unless you're planning to carry it in your purse or pocket, I recommend the shaker. Not only is it cheaper, but it keeps better. You see, FOS is powerfully hygroscopic, which is to say it attracts water. As a result, the stuff in the paper packets tends to cake after a while, and once it's caked, it's very, very difficult to dissolve. If you buy the packets, and aren't going to use them up quite rapidly, I'd recommend keeping them in an airtight container.
A few of my recipes call for this stevia/FOS blend, since I've had requests for stevia recipes from readers. Also, some of the stevia cookbooks include recipes for this blend.
* Polyols - Also known as sugar alcohols, you'll find these listed on product labels as maltitol, lactitol, sorbitol, xylitol, etc. If the name of the sweetener ends in "tol", figure it's one of these. Polyols are carbohydrates, but again, they're very long chain carbohydrates which are hard for you to digest and absorb, so they cause little-to-no blood sugar elevation or insulin release. There is some evidence that different folks' bodies deal with these differently; if you get a blood sugar crash or are hungry an hour or so after eating something sweetened with polyols, you may be digesting more of them than most people do.
Polyols are the sweetener of choice in a wide variety of low carb and sugar free specialty products for the simple reason that they taste good, and will give all of the textural effects that sugar does - they'll make a brownie chewy and fudgy, make brittle toffee, gooey marshmallows, etc. However, it is important to limit how much you eat of products made with polyols. As mentioned above, carbohydrates that you don't digest and absorb will cause gas and, in larger amounts, diarrhea. Half a sugar free chocolate bar is enough to make me socially offensive several hours later - I wouldn't eat one if I had an important meeting later in the day - and a dozen sugar free taffies were enough to cause my husband a half an hour of considerable pain on our low carb cruise last year.
Personally, I really appreciate this quality of polyols. Why? Because they give us sweets of truly excellent quality that absolutely enforce moderation. To my mind, that's a beautiful thing.
A couple of good things to know about polyols: While these are, indeed, carbohydrates, because they are not, for the most part, digested and absorbed, low carb specialty food manufacturers generally subtract them from the carb counts of their foods - this accounts for some of the accusations of low carb products having far higher carb counts than listed on the label. I don't really have a problem with the practice, but it's good to know that companies that make sugar free candies for diabetics generally use polyols, but list their carb counts. This makes it appear that these candies are far higher in carbs than the products aimed at the low carb market, which is not the case. For instance, most of the big name candy chains - Fannie May, South Bend Chocolate Company, etc - have some sugar free candies made with polyols. Although they are not listed as low carb, there is no reason not to eat these instead of low carb specialty brands.
Also, a cautionary note: A friend of mine started taking Beano with her low carb candy, so it wouldn't cause gas. It worked, but it apparently worked as it does with beans, by making those indigestible carbs digestible. My friend started to gain weight. There's no getting around the in-built moderation enforcement of polyols - and again, I think that's a good thing. These should be an occasional treat, not the focus of your diet.
Polyol sweetened products are, for the most part, truly superb in quality. I can't tell the difference between high quality sugar free chocolate - Ross, Carbolite, Pure De-Lite, Darrell Lea, and the like - and the sugary variety. However, so far as I have been able to determine, polyols are not available for home use.
* Kiwi Sweetener - This is the new kid on the block, and I haven't tried it yet. Being marketed as "Ki-Sweet" and "Trutina Dulcem," this sweetener is apparently a very low impact sugar derived from kiwi fruit. I find this interesting, in light of the fact that kiwi fruits themselves have a fairly high glycemic index for a fruit - but that does not mean that they don't contain a low impact sugar. All I have been able to gather about this sweetener so far is that it is about 15 times as sweet as sugar, that it is, indeed, a sugar itself, but apparently one that doesn't derange blood sugar much, or cause much insulin release, and that apparently it will, like the polyols, give most of the textural effects of sugar - moisture, caramelization, all of that. The folks who sell Trutina Dulcem also claim that it has a thermogenic effect; I have seen no other information on this.
Oh, I've learned one more thing - so far, it's hard to get, and expensive. One website I found where you could actually order the stuff wanted $18.95 for 3.5 ounces, another wanted $12.50 for 100 grams, and would only take orders of 3 containers or more. Still, the stuff sounds promising, and I may well cough up the bucks to try it sometime soon. If I do, I'll report back to you, of course.
* Lo Han Sweetener - This is a sweetener derived from a Chinese fruit, and it sounds a lot like stevia - extremely sweet, and occasionally bitter. Interestingly, the Lo Han fruit is apparently known as "the longevity fruit," and is a traditional Chinese remedy for coughs and chest congestion; it is also used as an analgesic.
* SommerSweet - I've heard Suzanne Sommers talk about her new sweetener on television, but darned if I can find any info as to what is actually in it, and it's not on the market yet, so far as I can tell, so I have no idea what it will cost. On the Rosie O'Donnell Show, Suzanne was saying that SommerSweet gives all the textural effects of sugar, so I'm wondering if this is her brand of the kiwi sweetener?
Happy New Year from CarbSmart!
To help you jump start your low carb lifestyle, CarbSmart is offering the following specials for orders over $100 for the month of January (no coupon required!):
* Free Shipping for orders delivered within the 48 contiguous states (a $9.99 value!)
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So what should you order? How about Dasklides Belgian Gourmet Sugar Free Chocolate Bars? Six delicious flavors! Or Walden Farms dips, sauces, and salad dressings! Check out our full line of protein powders and bars, low carb books, nutritional supplements, and more!
And don't forget to read CarbSmart magazine while you're there!
That's it for this issue! See you in two weeks!
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