Tag Archives: lactose

Winners and Losers in the Search for Lactose Free Living, So Far

It’s been an interesting month or so since my wife and I discovered that our daughter was lactose intolerant. The most unfortunate side effect of finding out this fact is that a seven year old has developed some attachments to certain foodstuffs that she can no longer eat. Parmesan cheese anyone?

Many trips to the New Pioneer Food Coop have turned into treasure hunts for dairy-free or, at the very least, lactose free versions of foods you normally associate with the dairy aisle. Naturally, there have been some winners and losers sitting on the shelf.

Winners:

Vegan American Cheese—We do not really eat American cheese on anything other than grilled burgers and grilled cheese. It’s kind of a one-off menu item, but those grilled cheeses are damn important when it is six o’clock on a weekday and you do not have anything in the refrigerator for dinner. Granted, American cheese of the dairy variety seems to defy logic as a dairy product given its highly processed nature.

Soy Ice Cream—There was nothing quite like the look on my daughter’s face when she realized that she was not going to be relegated to fruit pops and those bizarre ice pouches. I think that we probably spent more than $20 picking up a sampler pack of different soy based frozen treats. It’s the little things that can really make a difference.

Vegan Carrot Cake—This is a New Pioneer Food Coop bakery item, so your availability may be limited. My daughter went nuts for this slice of carrot heaven. She is requesting this as her birthday cake in December.

Need Pizzeria’s Vegan Cheese Option—I do not know if it is soy or rice or nut based, but my daughter devoured a personal size pizza the other day at this new establishment. Located in downtown Cedar Rapids, Need Pizzeria will be getting my business due to the cheese option and a great selection of local beers.

Losers:

Vegan Cream Cheese—My daughter loves cream cheese and bagels. Instead of a sandwich in her school lunch she would like a bagel with cream cheese. The vegan substitute was just not working.

Still Looking:

Parmesan Cheese Alternative—Please, tell me there is something that I can use to replace the Parmesan cheese in my daughter’s diet. She may actually choose to endure the upset stomach in order to enjoy her yummy cheese.

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Learning to Live Lactose Free

There have been a few times over the course of the past seven and half years of being a parent that I have been completely floored with sadness. The first two times followed the death of my parents when I realized that neither would get to watch my children grow up.

The third was late last week when my daughter told me, “Daddy, my stomach does not hurt anymore.” How did I get to this point?

A few weeks ago my wife and I noticed our daughter would have an odd smell. Not like normal body odor, but really hard to place. I should have known better than to dive deep down into the well that is health information on the internet. Pretty soon you are at the worst case scenario which is almost always a rare terminal disease.

Not so this time. Between some internet research, conversations with a family member, and some good ol’ process of elimination we concluded that our daughter might be lactose intolerant. Without telling her, because a seven year old can be hyper sensitive, we cut out the lactose. In our house this is a major ordeal. We do not eat a lot of meat, but cheese is a constant. Four cheese baked macaroni and cheese is a fall staple. Baked potato soup is one of our daughter’s favorite meals in the whole world.

Within a week the odd smell was gone. Not better. Gone. It also led to the most brutal statement ever from my daughter to me. She said she did not know her stomach was not supposed to hurt because it always felt that way. Wow, I felt like the worst parent ever. Okay, maybe not the worst parent ever but I was completely floored.

I am also amazed at the way a seven year old can police herself better than most adults when it comes to consuming lactose. She has turned down ice cream—thank you summer camp counselor for finding a Popsicle—and tells us when a party might have pizza so we can make sure there is an alternative. Other times she just goes without eating the treat with nary a complaint. On the flip side, it makes me wonder just how much better she feels if this is the level of self-control she is willing to exert.

Food is so basic and woven through so much of our life that eliminating a simple and pervasive component like lactose becomes a challenge and a treasure hunt. Now the trips to the New Pioneer Coop have become exercises in what dairy free items we can find that day. Vegan carrot cake anyone?

The biggest challenge so far? Finding a suitable replacement for Parmesan cheese. My daughter loves Parmesan cheese. For the first few years of her life she referred to it solely as “yummy cheese.” She would eat slivers cut from the block and hoard them at dinner. When someone brought out a canister of Kraft Parmesan cheese she looked at it askance and said, “That’s not yummy cheese.” Please help internet, you’re my only hope.

Getting the Sugar Out

The modern American…er, Western diet is awash in sugar. It is estimated that Americans consume an average of 47 sugar cubes or 10 teaspoons of high fructose corn syrup per day. This compares with 39 sugar cubes in the 1980s or 34 sugar cubes in the 1950s. I do not know if those levels in the 1950s were healthy, as it is my sneaking suspicion that the health crisis related to sugar is really a story of post-war America which begins in the 1950s. Nonetheless, we eat too much god damned sugar.

All of this sugar—whether it is HFCS or table sugar or fair trade Turbinado or organic raw sugar from lowland plains of Maui—is killing us. Depending upon the measurement criteria almost 70% of Americans are overweight or obese. Almost 35% are obese and over 6% are considered extremely obese. The problem with our weight has gotten so bad that the U.S. military is concerned that the population is “too fat to fight.”

Our collective expanding waistline is just the first sign indicator of greater problems to come. If you think a lot of people being overweight is bad, just wait until those numbers translate into a lot of people having Type II diabetes. Diabetes and its related conditions are estimated to cost Americans over $250 billion per year and it is going to get worse as the prevalence of the disease increases. This is a direct function of our love affair with sugar.

However, these trends and statistics are not new. What has changed in the last few years is that focus has been put squarely on added sugar. This is a story about the sugar that we have put into processed foods making us sick. Any dietician will tell you that the fructose in an apple—chemically similar to HFCS and metabolically the same—is not the problem because you cannot eat enough apples to get the same deleterious impact as hammering home a Big Gulp full of Coca-Cola. It’s like trying to equivocate drinking a glass of wine with dinner to doing keg stands at a tailgate. There are some similarities, but the differences are what matter.

The easy answer is to make all of our food from scratch. I am sure that there are people with both the time and patience to pull that off. I congratulate them on their being awesome. I am not nearly as awesome. Sometimes I need a quick solution to hungry kids while I assemble dinner after working the entire day.

The go-to solution in my house to hungry kids is a cup of yogurt and a banana. The banana speaks for itself, but the cup of yogurt is a Trojan horse for sugar. I had never really thought about the sugar content until a few months ago. Guess what? You might as well give your children a candy bar if you are going to feed them most flavored yogurts. Compare the nutritional labels of a standard cup of national brand strawberry yogurt versus equivalent sized cup of strawberry yogurt from Kalona SuperNatural:

Yoplait_Original_Strawberry

The strawberry yogurt from Kalona SuperNatural has 104 calories for a 6 oz serving and 6 grams of sugar. The irony is that the Kalona SuperNatural yogurt has significantly fewer calories while having more fat. Where do you think those calories are coming from? That’s right. Sugar.

Damn. 18 grams of sugar versus 6 grams of sugar. The Kalona SuperNatural yogurt has two-thirds the sugar.

Things are not as clear cut as the math would make it seem. Nutritional labels are not required to show the sugars that are naturally occurring versus the sugars that are added. In yogurt this means that you do not get to see the sugars present as lactose versus the added sugars like HFCS or sucrose. Depending upon the brand and variety of yogurt a six ounce serving may contain anywhere from 13 grams of lactose to as few as 2 to 6 grams of lactose. It matters if the yogurt is fat free where more lactose is present to take the place of removed fats or if the yogurt is Greek in style which has lactose skimmed out. This is why reading the nutritional label is not going to always provide a clear answer. A Greek style yogurt may appear to have less sugar, but the reduction in sugar is really a function of having less lactose not less added sugar which is the component we are trying to avoid.

Assuming that these two yogurts were made in similar ways with similar base ingredients you can really start to see the difference in added sugar.

Children are supposed to only get approximately 12 grams of added sugar per day. A single cup of grocery store brand strawberry yogurt puts them nearly all of the way to the total. And that was supposed to be a healthy alternative. See what I mean about yogurt being a Trojan horse for added sugar? It’s literally a battle of grams and teaspoons when it comes to cutting out the sugar.

The moral of the story is that we can find better alternatives to the things that we feed ourselves and our children. In my house, we went cold turkey on a lot of sugar laden items. One day there was your standard strawberry yogurt and the next it was replaced by something with a lot less sugar. I think there was one complaint and away we went.

You Must Read—Sweet Poison: Why Sugar Makes Us Fat

There’s nothing wrong with being in the business of selling products that every human on the planet is hardwired to consume. The difference between sugar and tobacco is that the sugar industry has us all convinced it is our fault we’re fat, not theirs. [Page 192]

Sometimes you read a book and, while it is not particularly enjoyable, it leads you to another book that is truly profound. Recently, I struggled through Year of No Sugar: A Memoir by Eve Schaub. The concept was interesting, but the tone was liberal, privileged, and preachy. If you have ever watched an episode of The Goode Family you know exactly what I mean.

9780718179076However, that tome led me to David Gillespie’s Sweet Poison: Why Sugar Makes Us Fat. The author is an Australian lawyer, IT professional, consultant, and person who generally struggled with his weight following college like so many of us do. Working out and dieting did not work, so he set out to figure out what was structurally wrong with our food system.

Why is this a structural problem? If left to our own devices the human body will naturally tell us that we are full. However, we are very fat as a species and getting fatter. Why is such a beautifully engineered machine as the human body being subverted and making us fat? Sugar. More specifically, fructose. Our bodies, for some evolutionary reason, do not register calories consumed via fructose. Thus, we will continue to eat until we consume enough non-fructose calories.

Throughout most of human history this was not a problem because sugar was rare and expensive. The few pieces of ripe fruit, which also contain a lot of fiber, were not enough to upset the delicate balance our bodies orchestrate. Modern society has destroyed all of this by making fructose cheap and nearly ubiquitous.

Gillespie’s real triumph in this book is laying out the biochemical process in a clear, easy to understand way—trust me, biochemists and doctors are not known for writing accessible prose—that lays bare the fundamental failure of our modern food system.

You want to know how messed up the system is? We subsidize corn that is used to make high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) that is essentially killing us. If you live in the corn belt—like me here in Iowa—envision about half of the fields of corn being used to make HFCS. That is the scale of the problem. This is why it is a structural problem.

Furthermore, the problem is structural because foods that are not normally considered sweet—bread, cereal, etc.—have become veritable minefields of sugar laden pseudo-foods. Take a moment and consider the cereals we consider acceptable for breakfast. How are Lucky Charms, Trix, Fruity Pebbles, or anything similar considered anything but an occasional dessert instead of a breakfast cereal? No wonder we are fat. If you start the day off with one of these fructose bombs you might as well just schedule your trip to the endocrinologist for a diabetes checkup. It does not stop at breakfast.

The solution seems simple: cut out the sugar. In fact, the solution is that simple. In practice, it will be much harder but unless we want to look like the humans in Wall-E there is no other choice. Put down the Big Gulp. Now!

Left Hand Brewing Company

When I went to Colorado over the Labor Day weekend to visit friends in Breckenridge and Colorado Springs there were two breweries I was interested in seeking out: Left Hand Brewing Company and Great Divide Brewing Company.  Scheduling prevented me from actually visiting the physical breweries and tap rooms, but I was able to track down some of the beers I wanted to try in bottles.

Left Hand makes a sampler twelve pack.  Great mysteries are contained within:

The beers in the sampler pack are Stranger Pale Ale, Sawtooth Ale, Milk Stout, and Black Jack Porter.

Let’s look at the beers in order starting with Stranger Pale Ale:

I apologize for the quality of the images.  The dSLR did not make the trip to Colorado because I was trying to travel light to make room for two children’s stuff.

This is my favorite style of beer.  It’s a little lighter in body than the traditional American craft ale, but it has enough bitterness to balance that out.  There is enough alcohol (5% ABV) to know you are drinking beer, but not so much that after a couple you are wondering how to make the walk up 4 O’Clock Road.  Pale ales do not need to be overly bitter and strong to be successful.

Look who’s here…Cascade and Willamette hops along with their friend Centennial.  The two horsemen of the American craft beer movement.

Man, you can really taste the Willamette and Cascade hops used in this beer.  It’s not too powerful, but once you get used to looking for the particular flavor and aroma of these hops it is soooooo easy to point them out in a beer.  It is the signature of American craft beers.

That being said Sawtooth is a great example of American craft ale.  Since the arrival of Samuel Adams’ Boston Lager and New Belgium’s Fat Tire, the American craft ale has taken on a distinct form: medium amber color, Cascade and Willamette hops, long lasting head, and a strong mouth presence that lingers for a moment after swallowing.  Sure, there are variations on the theme but if you line the beers up those characteristics will be present.  It’s a good thing because it means that good beer is being made all over the country and the United States is developing distinct styles.

Milk stouts are an interesting breed of cat.  Like traditional stouts, a milk stout is a dark beer.  Also like tradition stouts, e.g. Guinness, milk stout will have the taste qualities of roasted malts and a rich mouth feel.  Where this variety differs from tradition is the use of lactose.  Lactose, a sugar usually associated with milk, is not fermentable by the traditional beer yeasts used in the production of most beers.  Thus, the sweetness of the sugar remains in the beer.

Left Hand’s Milk Stout is sweet, but not overly so.  The residual sweetness of the lactose gives the beer just enough to be noticeable but not enough to become sickly.  The beer is also amazingly light on the tongue for being 6% ABV which is something that attribute to the low bitterness (27 IBU).  Too often a strong beer is accompanied by a lot of bitterness from some serious hopping.  Not so with Left Hand’s Milk Stout.  This is a great alternative to the more well-known stouts available in the liquor store.

Last, but not least, is the Black Jack Porter

I drank the Milk Stout prior to pouring myself a Black Jack Porter because it was like stepping up a ladder on a progression.  The sweetness of the Milk Stout disappears and the alcohol (6.8% ABV) and bitterness (35 IBU) go up.

The dark flavors we associated with porters, chocolate and coffee, are present in spades but nothing is overpowering like a coffee stout.  The chocolate malt used in this beer is a great choice and an underappreciated ingredient in the beer universe.  Unlike actual chocolate or cocoa nibs added at various times during the brewing process, chocolate malt’s flavors get mellowed out over the process since the flavors are present from the first step in the brewing process.  It creates subtlety.

It’s pretty apparent from my notes on these beers that I really enjoyed what the fellows at Left Hand Brewing are doing in Longmont, Colorado.  I hope that I get a chance the next time I am out west to stop by the brewery and taste the liquid at the source.