It was plan C. We had planned to drive five hours to Mammoth Mountain to ski. Raising my children in Southern California, I was shocked when I realized that our school would not host a weekly ski program. There would be no half-days before the students were whisked off to ski. I’m not sure how I could justify my surprise, since the closest mountain is a two-hour drive. Having been spoiled by our beloved JISP program in Windham County, we made the commitment to make sure our children didn’t just ski, but skied well. So, we decided to play hooky and forge our own ski program! We would drive up on a Sunday to avoid crowds (yuck) and would ski two days, returning late Tuesday night. It was a foolproof plan. How could it fail?
The first blizzard brought nearly 10 feet, forcing us to push our plans a week. Eastern Sierra Mountain highways are often closed and chains are required on the hazardous roads. So when the second blizzard arrived just before our plan B went into effect, I pictured people lined up on the side of the road, unable to get on or off the highway and my stomach jumped a little. My husband was set on going. So, we went. When we were little more than an hour away, we saw a sign that it had happened. They had closed the road. There were, however, no snowflakes to be seen.
We were so close to the mountain and in 50-degree weather, a bright blue sunny sky with snow-capped mountains in the distance. How could it be blizzarding mere minutes up the road? We decided to wait. When in doubt, go dine out! We stopped for lunch at a diner that reminded us of the Townshend Dam Diner: full of character, locals and good food. Traveling with a 2-year-old and 7-year-old, an order of pancakes is inevitable at most meals. Our waitress brought the carafe of syrup and I could tell it was anything but real by the way the congealed substance climbed up the wall of the container and remained there.
Its ingredients flashed before my eyes: high fructose corn syrup, artificial maple flavoring, preservatives ... the list went on and on. I requested real maple and was shut down, so I ordered honey. Even if it was that processed stuff from China, it had to be better than that fake maple stuff, right? Arguable, perhaps, but you pick your battles.
Oh sugar, sugar
There are so many sugars — every which way. Because we know what sugar does to our health and weight, many of us have switched to artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols. As time goes on, more studies are being done on the safety of these substances. Unlike honey, maple syrup and even sugar, little is known about their zero-calorie counterparts.
This week, a study published in Nature Medicine sponsored a frenzy of arguments across social media platforms and among colleagues. Many took it to mean everything, as some took it to mean very little. Regardless, the study is out there, pointing to the fact that future studies are essential to determine that this zero-calorie sweetener, erythritol, is safe.
Erythritol is everywhere. This sugar alcohol is naturally occurring and is in many foods including grapes, peaches, pears, mushrooms, cheese, beer, sake, soy sauce and even wine. Our bodies produce low levels of erythritol during glucose metabolism, but much of the sweetener used today is commercially produced using corn starch, making it an ultra-processed food. We find it in low sugar and keto foods like diet ice creams, low-calorie drinks and even protein powders.
The study linked erythritol to cardiac arrest, stroke and ultimately, death. Many things with this sugar alcohol remain unclear, but it is reported to be excreted by our bodies unchanged, which is why it has no calories. It’s almost as if it’s sugar incognito. Sugar in disguise!
The study spurred much conversation because of its subjects. A group of about 4,000 people who were undergoing cardiac assessment, all of whom were nearly 60 or over, made up the participants. The study linked use of erythritol to stroke because, according to the Cleveland Clinic, the results seem to show that erythritol made platelets easier to activate and form clots.
Additionally, sugar alcohols were shown to remain in eight people’s bloodstreams for days after they had eaten ice cream containing erythritol. (Naysayers rightfully call that number to issue).
These outcomes beg the question: “Should we ingest erythritol?” European countries demand studies to show that a substance is not harmful before they add it to their food sources. In America, we do the opposite. We use it until it is proven, beyond a doubt, that it is not only harmful, but deadly.
This news is enough for me. Erythritol is used in sweeteners like monk fruit to make it sweeter. It’s found in many, many products, so check your labels for its presence. Given the fact that older people with chronic health conditions like heart disease, diabetes and a predisposition to stroke may seek to lower their sugar, thereby using erythritol or other sugar alcohols, the findings of this study would stand.
Many people came at me when I outed these findings on my Instagram account. My question is, what foods containing erythritol are you so attached to that you would risk your health to eat them? What is more important than health?
Try this recipe to curb a sweet tooth. Real, natural sugar to satisfy you!
Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies
2 ripe bananas
1½ cups rolled oats
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Mash bananas and mix in oats, coating well. Add vanilla and stir.
Fold in chocolate chips.
Form into small cookie shaped discs (they won’t spread, so make the shape you want to have once they’re baked).
Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until bottoms are golden brown.
Allow to cool and snack on them when you’re craving a sweet!