La Dolce Vida and the Examined Life

“I feel like I have a hangover,” my girlfriend said the next morning, although she’d had no alcohol to drink the night before. Instead, we attended a “bring a dessert” dance. We drank coffee and ate as much dessert as we wanted and danced the night away. Her sluggishness and headache the next morning were due to a high sugar intake the night before.

A life of sweets, candies, sugary drinks, white flour breads and cakes can add pounds quicker than any other ingredient. Sugar turns to fat, sugar feeds cancer, sugar is addictive, and sugar is a killer. It doesn’t really matter how you take your sugar: honey, agave, white refined sugar, fructose, fruit juice, white rice, just to name a few, sugar should be eaten sparingly. Lately, I’ve allowed a little slippage and that is not good. I will need to reign in my sugar monster and put her back in her cage.

A good way to begin cutting back on sugar is replacing it with fruit. Fruit has a lot of natural sugar in it but it also has a lot of fiber which slows the process of sugar absorption, and that reduces the likelihood of the body storing the sugar as fat. Smoothies made from frozen fruit and almond milk with a little nut butter can be a healthy substitute for ice cream. Healthy Girl’s Kitchen blog has a cookie recipe made from bananas, dried fruit, and rolled oats. These healthier choices taste great and will not put weight on us like sugary drinks and desserts.

When we discover a few extra pounds, we examine what we’ve been eating that might have contributed to the weight gain, and then we revise our diets. Our spiritual health can be the same. When we find ourselves thinking negatively, it may be time to revise our spiritual diets.  Anxiety, worry, fear, and other negative thoughts are combated by prayer and scripture. The New Testament is not called the Good News for no reason. The message of Christ is so beautiful, so uplifting, so incredibly full of loving kindness from God to us, that fears and worries melt away. We are reassured by the loving words of Jesus Christ in the Gospels, and reading the epistles or some of the Psalms helps to bring perspective to our thoughts. Giving praise to God in our prayers for all we have been blessed with turns us away from negative thoughts and into people of gratitude who find joy and contentment in life. Christ encourages us to examine our ways, our thoughts, and our relationships and consider whether they give glory to God. There are many concerns throughout the day, but rest assured that God can help with each and every one of them.

Cast all your anxieties upon Him because He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

 

Sugar and Plain and Simple

vegetables

Eat more vegetables and less sugar.

“Sugar feeds cancer,” she wore a kind of frank-looking expression, a sum-it-all-up in a few words kind of expression. I’d not heard her words of wisdom until after I’d already been treated for cancer, but they struck me to the quick. Sugar, I thought! Not my good friend sugar! Yes, in every form sugar feeds cancer. It could be refined white sugar so prevalent in processed foods, raw cane sugar, agave, honey, even fruit and  fruit juice. Sugar is actually bad for most things: cancer, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, depression, obesity, lethargy, blah, blah, blah. So, plain and simple, it is a wise thing to reduce our overall sugar consumption.

We tend to make getting rid of sugar in our diets very complicated. We use substitute sugar replacements or some type of natural sugar like honey or agave. Stevia is the new sugar substitute that has some positive health claims. However, using these “better options”  does nothing for reducing our appetite for sweet foods, and sometimes can even make it worse. Sugar substitutes tend to rev-up a taste for sweetness.

The recommended daily amount of sugar for adults is about twenty grams or nine teaspoons which is not very much. Just one sugary drink can put us over this limit. Replacing what we eat on a daily basis with foods very low in sugar can reduce our overall dependence on sugar. Choose to eat more vegetables than fruits. Skip white rice, bread, and pasta (our bodies process sugar from these foods) and eat greens and beans and a smaller portion of whole grain foods. Use unsweetened almond or soy milk in smoothies instead of fruit juices or milk and yogurt (these contain milk sugars). Instead of using sugar and sugar substitutes, use fabulously sweet fruits like dates, bananas and mangoes to sweeten smoothies and desserts, and healthy fruit juices like carrot juice for soups. It is still sugar but our bodies are so much better at processing natural sugars and it reduces our desire for bakery foods and other sweet confections that are best saved for special occasions. Withdraw symptoms from sugar are miserable: headaches, stomach huger feelings, digestive discomforts, dizziness, a weak and shaky feeling and/or just an overwhelming malaise. It’s the body’s way of saying, “This is hurting me.”

The same sick feelings and even the same diseases we attribute to too much sugar occur with too much stress. Stress is the flight or fight feeling we get when we are under pressure and at its foundation is fear: fear of failing, fear of losing a job, fear of getting mugged, fear of losing our friends, fear of divorce, fear of consequences, fear of dying, fear of blah, blah, blah. We fret and worry over things we have done and said, over disappointments in life, and outcomes of our reckless actions. We mess up time and again–even over the same stupid stuff, or we watch the people we love suffer from our own bad choices. We get to the point where we just can’t function as well as we used to under this constant stress and guilt. God tells us to “fear not” and “cast all our anxieties on Him” but can we?

Those feelings of fear and worry, of guilt and self-reckoning though are not brought on by our own wisdom. When we actually see how far we fall from perfect, it is a gift of discernment from God. It is the kindness of God that leads us to where we can see that we have messed up. We know something is wrong. It occurs at the beginning of repentance and trust. It is the proud and guiltless person who is lost, not the one who sees his error and is sickened with fear, worry and anxiety. Those humble folks who know they will never measure up are the ones that belong to Him. God is calling us: It is a simple as that. God has made us this way, plain and simple but we make ourselves very complicated. Forgiveness is not something we earn; it is a gift and it starts with that sick, I’ve-really-messed-up-this-time feeling. It is like the little boy who falls and suddenly sees he’s made of flesh and blood because it is pouring out of a wound, that jumps up and goes running to his father for comfort.

“Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. I didn’t come to invite good people to be my followers. I came to invite sinners.” — Jesus, Mark 2:17

Candy for Body and Soul

The prize I liked best at the weekly Saturday night fair.

The prize I liked best at the weekly Saturday night fair.

“I want number 14.” I gave her the sweaty nickel in my hand. The 24 yellow rubber duckies floated in a large tin at the Saturday night festival. Each held a candy prize. This was my favorite stand. There was no loosing at this stand. Behind me, a lively band played yet another Polka tune on the stage  and the night was warm and wonderful with smells of french fries, perogies, sizzling burgers, and hot dogs. Every ducky held a prize and my eye was on the little set of six wax soda bottles filled with colored sugar-water. She lifted ducky number 14 and handed me a pixie stick instead. I had two more nickles and two more chances to guess which ducky held the prize I wanted but I didn’t care much if I didn’t guess the right one, it was the sugar I was after. Children love candy. In fact, children have far more sugar taste buds than adults do and so they tend to like their food sweeter. Cereals for kids are loaded with sugar because the makers of these products know this. Ready made lunches like Lunchables, have tons of sugar and even come with candy and juice–both replete with sugar. The favorite dinner food for most kids is pizza, a product made of white refined dough, sugary tomato sauce, and fatty cheese. However, these extra sugar taste buds on a child’s tongue are to draw children to more fruits and vegetables and not for candy. Growing up, Saturday night was the time I could find the sugar I craved, but today children are bombarded with sugar at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The early onset of type II diabetes rates soar higher and higher so that the medical community is faced with learning how to care for these young people and in time, how to care for people with forty or more years of this disease. This is a new a problem and it is caused by one little ingredient: sugar. Since I am around children all the time as a teacher, I see the effects of sugar on them. Tired, unable to concentrate, frequent stomach aches, and extra weight take the sparkle out of kids. When I walk through the cafeteria and see what they are eating, I feel like it is an uphill battle trying to get them to eat right. Schools complain that when they offer kids a choice, they rarely choose the food that is good for them and go for the high sugar foods instead. Of course they do, they’re kids, they want sugar. Why do we even give them a choice? Children need to be taught how to eat and learn to eat whole foods, real foods, foods that give their bodies the nutrients they need. We often choose Christianity the way kids choose food. The promise of heaven, the promise to live forever, the promise that we will see our loved ones again, all draw us to a yes for Jesus. The promises of God through Jesus Christ fill us with hope but these are just “sugar coatings” of the real promise, that is, to be with God not only after death, but in this life as well. When we look at Jesus Christ we see a man who could have ruled the world but chose to serve it instead. We see a man strong and healthy who chose to touch the leper and heal the sick. We see a man who could have been the richest person in the world but chose to live a modest life without riches and dwell and teach among the common people of his day. We see a man who could calm a storm but faced the storm of hatred to save us. When we look at Jesus we admire him and wonder at his gentleness and power. This is the God we seek. He is the one, the glorious and excellent man who was God. He is with us now, He is here and He is near. The afterlife and heaven may look good to us when we first consider committing to Christianity, but God is the real food, the one who will nurture our souls and give sparkle to our lives. If the fear of hell or the promise of heaven has drawn you into Christianity, take time to look at Jesus, at what he did, and how he lived because he is the best view of God that we have.

When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.

1 Corinthians 13:11

Fed Up and Failures of the Heart

“I feel so tired every day. My head hurts, my stomach hurts. I just want to lie down.” My girlfriend had been thin most of her life but in her forties she started gaining weight easily. Her energy level dropped to an unmanageable level and she looked to me for compassion. So I answered her truthfully. “Stop eating sugar. Stop eating white bread, white rice, white pasta, and processed foods. Eat more greens, fruits, and vegetables. Choose only whole grains, and cut way back on animal protein.” After lunch I saw her again and told her about the new movie out, Fed Up. “Go see it. Make yourself go and you will learn a lot from it.”

I remember how tired I felt at 40 and the first nutrition book I read advised me not to eat butter or white bread. I nearly threw the book out. “How am I supposed to do that?” It seemed impossible to me. I served it at every meal. I even made my own bread right out of my new bread-making machine. I loved buttery roasted garlic bread, toasted bread with cinnamon and sugar, warm white bread with salted tomatoes and mayonnaise, bread at dinner with gravy, bread for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for my kids. Please! I will cut out desserts but let me have my white bread.

In the movie, Fed Up, people try to lose weight by choosing “diet” processed foods, exercising more, and starving themselves by cutting way back on calories, then getting on the scale and not losing a pound, sometimes even gaining weight. How can that be?

Here’s why. The movie explains that sugar-laden calories like soft drinks turn immediately to fat while nutrient-laden calories from vegetables turn to energy we use now. If we cut back on calories but we still eat sugar, our bodies are still making fat. Sugar hides in processed foods and white refined grains. It is hard enough to stay away from candy bars, sodas, and pastries where the sugar is easily recognized but all processed foods? That really cuts into our food choices, our quick-cooking shortcuts, and our fast-food and drink options.

I have a real-life example. I went to the ballgame yesterday where fat-laden hotdogs and hamburgers on white buns, white potato fries, funnel cake, lemonade, sugary frozen yogurt, and sausages were the only food options. It was lunchtime, a hot day, and I was thirsty and hungry along with hundreds of other spectators. I ended up buying bottled water and eating peanuts for lunch. Later I went to another event and helped set up for a celebratory dinner of more hot dogs and hamburgers on white buns, chips, cake, and soda.

We are literally starving ourselves with empty calories. If I opened up a salad bar at one of the stadium food stalls, would anyone come? How about a roasted vegetables stall? Maybe a green smoothie stall? What do you think?

With movies like Fed Up, the word is getting out. The truth about our food is starting to shine through all the lies that manufacturers of processed foods swear by in order to protect their profits. In the movie, I watched folks from large corporations testify that their processed foods do not cause obesity and are actually healthy for us, that pizza sauce is a vegetable, that soda is actually a viable liquid to replace the recommended eight glasses of water a day, and that sugar-laden foods are not addictive.

The Word of God states that faith comes through hearing the message. In the case of scripture, the message is Christ, but knowing the truth about processed foods and what it is doing to our young people is a message we need to hear too. Our food industry is deeply rooted in our economy and culture. Profits and stocks from investments fuel the fire of fear in all of us. But financial ruin in the form of health costs is sure to follow if we don’t stop now. These talking heads from big food industries lie until they believe it themselves. They don’t want to lose the money or lose the jobs they have and provide, and yet to see these young people on the screen struggling to free themselves from obesity and early disease is heartbreaking. It is a failure of the heart of our nation and the only way we can face it is to hear the truth in movies like Fed Up and in books like Salt, Sugars, Fat, over and over again until we have the power to say, “Okay, I’ll give up the white bread and butter.”

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people (read: nations) eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. — 1 Timothy 6:10

Sugar and God’s Sweet Spot

Have you heard that sugar is bad for us? Of course you have. I’ve heard it was bad for my teeth since, well, since I began having teeth. It is also bad in many other ways, most importantly for me is that tumor cells need sugar to grow. Other bad boy results from sugar are insulin problems, added fat because our bodies convert sugar into fat, and its very acidic, just to name a few.

Fruit has lots of sugar in it but it is served to us in fiber which slows the digestion of the sugar by our bodies, eliminating the sugar spike that raw sugar, honey, and all those other so-called healthy sweeteners cause. Eating fruit is good for us and some of it is very sweet. A ripe persimmon can taste like candy. Dates have lots of sugar with the added benefit of being dense enough to use in dessert crusts, cookies, and yummy gooey fillings. Bananas can be frozen and made into a delicious type of fake ice cream with a little almond milk and nut butter. Dried fruits like raisins, mango, and pineapple can also be a tasty sugary treat that will not harm your body but still satisfy a sugar craving. Be sure that the dried fruit you buy does not have some form of sugar as an additional ingredient in the ingredient list.

Sugar is such a bad boy that it has a variety of names that can fool us. Anything with an “ose” at the end of the word is sugar. Examples are fructose, dextrose, and sucrose. Malts and syrups are sugars. It doesn’t matter where the sugar comes from, it really doesn’t make it any healthier. What is bad is that the fiber has been taken out of it, i.e., it has been processed, and is therefore poisonous to our system because it is coming to us in a highly concentrated form causing a sugar spike that our body needs to “fix” with insulin.

God must have a sweet tooth too because His word talks a lot about a land flowing with milk and honey. God’s own words are described as being sweeter than honey. But unlike honey which can cause illness and promote bacterial growth (eww!), God’s word is “better than” honey. How sweet are the words in the Bible that describe God’s faithful love for us regardless of our actions, sins, and hard-heartedness towards Him. In fact, God’s love is so enduring and so genuine that He has sacrificed the apple of His eye, the very love of His life, for us. But I don’t think Jesus Christ is God’s sweet spot. I think you and I are God’s sweet spot. We are the ones He loves and cares for every day. He listens to our complaints, our grief, our suffering, and He suffers beside us. Give Him your heart today and He will put you in a spiritual land of milk and honey, a very sweet spot, where He is always present to us, and never faraway.

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! — Psalm 119:103

Nutritarian Public Enemy #1: Sugar

A school project showing the amount of sugar in beverages.  Knowledge is power at any age. Choose wisely.  (Facebook: Inspiration For Mind Body)

A school project showing the amount of sugar in beverages.
Knowledge is power at any age. Choose wisely.
(Facebook: Inspiration For Mind Body)

Sugar is poison to our bodies. A new study shows that high fructose, fructose, and sucrose are directly related to type 2 diabetes. Dr. Lustig’s video explains the reasons why we should avoid these sugars that are so toxic and why consumption of refined sugars can cause a host of health issues.

A recent New York Times article, “It’s the Sugar, Folks,” preps us for some very interesting upcoming activity concerning the government regulation of these sugars, an ingredient that is found in almost all processed foods at a quantity that is now known to be toxic. Processed foods use high doses of salt and sugar to cover the lack of taste in processed food, foods that we sell worldwide. In addition, a new study also from the NY Times, reveals that the Mediterranean Diet is very beneficial for those with heart disease.

As more reliable and true nutritional information falls into the hands of the public, we are faced with some very big decisions. Let’s have faith that we will work together to create nutritionally sound food supplies, especially for low and moderate income families. Right now cheap food is often processed food.  Good nutrition takes time, money, and will power when all around us we see tasty sodas, salty snacks, and sugar-laden desserts. We are at a turning point when demand for healthy food may well take precedence over our addictions to sugar and salt. Health-oriented markets like Whole Foods is a reflection of a more health conscious society.

Eating is often social. Nothing beats a good meal with good friends and family. The same is true of spirituality. We were made to worship with others. The Christian Church is the bride of Christ, that is, we who worship together are the Lord God’s most beloved and intimate relationship.  The meal that reflects the deep love that Christ has for his church is the bread and wine given to us the night Jesus was taken to be hung on a cross.

Creating a spirituality out of solitary prayer and study is like eating a meal of Twinkies. It tastes sweet but it will not get us through the day. We need each other, we need to love and be loved. We were not created to be alone, but to serve one another with holy reverence and respect in the arena of Christ’s holy church. So many times we get our feelings hurt or we feel ashamed of what we have done or not done, and we give up before we can realize the power of forgiveness and healing. We limit ourselves when we avoid committing to a church for whatever reason (and there are many reasons) when it would ultimately generate authentic Christian relationships for us, including a more authentic relationship with Christ. As Benedict J.  Goreschel in Spiritual Passages writes, Christ’s last discourse to His disciples makes clear that in a divine way He thought it better to love (His church) and lose than not to love at all.

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy

— Ephesians 5:25