See that cake up there? That was my breakfast. No one, including me, should try to tell you that cake is a nutritious option for breakfast – there is plenty of butter and sugar in there, after all, and those two aren’t exactly nutrient dense. Strangely enough, however, despite my rather non-nutritionally-stellar breakfast, I haven’t “crashed” this afternoon (fiber in whole grains delays absorption of simple carbohydrates and prevents spikes in insulin), I have managed to perform complex mathematical equations (because “grain brain” is pseudoscience bullshit), and I have not become a ravening slave to the addictive power of wheat & sugar (see: pseudoscience = bullshit).
I finally watched Fed Up the other day. It appeared on Netflix, and that way I could watch in 15-minute installments while rage-eating black jellybeans and sputtering random science-y exclamations like, “Correlation doesn’t equal causation!” and “There are absolutely no data that show this!” The movie is so frustrating, because it does make some solid points: yes, our food system is broken. Yes, processed food, no matter how you dial up or down the fat, salt, and sugar, is crap. Yes, the USDA’s primary mission is to promote US agricultural products, which runs in direct opposition to its other stated mission of improving nutrition and health for Americans. Yes, the demonization of dietary fat in the 1980’s has a lot to answer for, and is a big reason that the sugar content of so many processed foods has increased dramatically in the last 30 years.
So, if there are so many good points in the movie, why the angry handfuls of black jellybeans stuffed into my gullet? Pseudoscience. Intimidation. Fear-mongering. And worst of all, exploiting obese children to sell the idea that sugar is toxic & addictive, calories don’t matter, exercise doesn’t matter, and that nothing you can do personally will affect your weight because Big Ag Is Out To Get You.
The first time I flat-out yelled at the screen came early in the movie, when they plotted the rise in gym memberships over the last 30 years (because we all know how buying a gym membership automatically means that you actually go to the gym and exercise) with the rise in obesity rates. Must we revisit the correlation does not equal causation rule? Again? Even to imply that increasing rates of exercise correlate with increasing rates of obesity is absurd. And unconscionable.
Other rage-inducing moments included interviews with Mark Hyman and Robert Lustig, both well known MDs who have jumped on the “sugar is evil” bandwagon. You can’t have, on the one hand, Marion Nestle in your movie, telling us to “follow the money” and not to trust any conclusions from a study that is paid for by Coca-Cola, and on the other hand, include as your medical experts doctors who make money (sometimes lots of money) peddling the idea that sugar is toxic and addictive. Lest we forget, Mark Hyman wrote the foreword for the new book by Food Babe, Queen of Chemifear & Woo, and is an advisor to Dr. Oz, King of Pseudoscience & Woo. Robert Lustig, on the other hand, has done some interesting research on leptin, insulin, and the hypothalmus’ role in obesity; I believe that he believes that sugar is truly toxic and that he is not just selling snake oil. Whether he is correct or not in this belief, most reviews of the data to date conclude that while it may be intriguing, it is too early to tell. Frankly, I have a hard time taking medical advice from a man who claims that orange juice is no different than Coke.
Possibly the most ridiculous thing about the movie? They debunk their own assertions within the movie itself. They claim that sugar is toxic and addictive and all by itself is the cause of the obesity crisis. They claim that calories mean nothing and energy balance (calories in vs. calories out) means nothing in terms of managing body weight. They show kids crying about not being able to lose weight while eating cheeseburgers & fries, Nutella and potato chips, microwaveable and processed everything. The first time you even see a vegetable comes 90 minutes into the movie when one of the obese kids, Brady, and his family go on a a “sugar detox” to lose weight.
Do you know why sugar detox programs work? Because it’s almost impossible to find a single processed food without sugar. So a “sugar detox” is basically a “processed food” detox. And what do you replace all of that processed food with? Real food. Vegetables, grains, meat, fruit: raw ingredients that you cook. At home. And because almost no one has the time or ability to produce at-home versions of Doritios, Coke, potato chips, cookies, cake, crackers, Hot Pockets, etc., etc., ad infinitum, eating food that you cook at home almost always translates to eating fewer calories. And it did work: Brady lost 27 lbs. His parents lost 100 lbs between them.
I cannot say it enough: sugar does not make you fat. Fat does not make you fat. Wheat, grains, legumes, gluten, dairy, soy, GMOs, and “chemicals” do not make you fat. Eating more calories than you burn makes you fat: end of story. So: eat cake for breakfast. Then go for a nice long walk, OK?
Adapted from Strawberry Yogurt Cake
- ¾ cup (about 3 ½ oz) whole white wheat flour
- ¾ cup (about 3 ½ oz) whole wheat pastry flour
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 6 tbsp (3 oz) butter, softened at room temperature
- ¾ cup (about 5 oz) raw sugar, + extra for sprinkling
- zest of 1 large Meyer lemon
- ½ cup milk, buttermilk or yogurt (I used sour milk for extra tang here)
- 1 large egg
- 1 tsp lemon extract
- 1 lb blueberries, rinsed & thawed if frozen (I used a mix of wild & conventional blues)
- powdered sugar, for serving
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 10-inch pie pan (or a 9-inch deep dish pan). In a small bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, cream together butter, sugar, and lemon zest, beating on high with an electric mixer for about 3 minutes. Add milk, egg, and lemon extract; blend until just combined. Gradually add flour mixture and beat just until smooth.
- Spoon batter into prepared pie pan and smooth with a spatula. Sprinkle berries evenly over top, pressing down lightly to even out the top of the cake. Sprinkle raw sugar lightly over the berries.
- Bake cake in the 350 degree F oven for 10 minutes, then lower temperature to 325 degrees F and continue to bake until the middle is firm, the top is golden brown, and a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 60 to 75 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack. Decorate with a dusting of powdered sugar and/or serve with whipped or ice cream.
- Meyer lemon makes this something special, but of course, substitute regular lemon if Meyers are out of season.
For up to two days at room temperature, loosely covered with a clean kitchen towel.
Spring & summer.