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Sugar is good for me (no, really)

I was at a birthday party last week at a fancy bar/lounge. Someone was walking around taking official party pics, and she sent them to me yesterday. I was captured on film precisely once out of dozens of photos, and here it is to the right. I’m the one in the pink. (The other is Joe, mentioned in an earlier blog.)cake!

Hey, what’s that in my hand? That’s right. Cake. It’s no surprise that’s how I was captured, since I was rarely without a giant plate of chocolate the entire night. God damn it, I love me some cake. To be fair, the cake was interspersed with the occasional bite of crab rangoon and glass of whiskey. Crab rangoon, whiskey, and cake is quite possibly the greatest combination of foods on the planet, but I digress.

I have a major sweet tooth. I eat a ton of cereal, because it’s sweet but still maintains that veneer of healthiness. I’m good, too — I stay away from the Lucky Charms and the Count Chocula in favor of Special K, oatmeal, shredded wheat, or my absolute favorite, Trader Joe’s Very Berry Crunch, which is about as close to crack in a bowl as a food item can legally get. I love cereal so much I once hijacked an article about pottery painting to focus on my weird obsession.

I know you’re wondering where I’m going with this. Nowhere. Sorry to ruin it for you, but it’s only fair you should know.

I was at the grocery store the other day shopping for a new cereal. Since I eat so much of it (breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner…snack), I thought I should see which of the overwhelming number of brightly colored boxes contained the least amount of calories.

I checked out a favorite, Special K with some kind of yogurt-encrusted fruit things. Special K has a “weight loss challenge” that sounded promising, but being a true Skepchick, I ignored the marketing and zeroed in on the nutritional facts on the back. I was about to take a guess at remembering how many calories were inside, but I decided to do a quick fact check on Kellogg’s web site. If you click here you’ll see the informational page for that flavor. I clicked on “nutritional information,” and the photo to the left is what I got.
huh?

Luckily, I eventually figured out how to zoom in, and so I am reminded that there are 120 calories in 3/4 cup of cereal. Turns out, that’s a good deal more than the other Special K brands, which I guess is why the weight loss challenge is conspicuously absent from this particular flavour. Damn.

I checked a number of other cereals, and all hovered at about the same level. Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds was my next choice, with 126 calories per 3/4 cup. I went with that one, since I had never tried it before. The box says it is a “good source of whole grain!” According to the Kraft web site, it also has • Zero trans fat, is cholesterol free, and provides 9 essential vitamins and minerals. Great!

As I made my way out of the aisle clutching my Honey Bunches of Oats, I noticed Cookie Crisp. Good old Cookie Crisp, with the cunning thief and his screw-up good-for-nothing dog. So many cereal ad campaigns rest on the common theme of someone trying and failing to steal the cereal. What’s up with that? Anyway, Cookie Crisp, a “cereal” based on a bowl full of tiny chocolate chip cookies. Nutritional facts? 120 calories in ONE whole cup. Game, set, match. While Googling for a Cookie Crisp nutritional data site just now, it is telling that the first page was almost all fan sites.

Nutritiondata.com allows you to check the facts and compare foods, so I tested Cookie Crisp against Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds. Here’s the side by side comparison. Cookie Crisp is listed as MORE nutritious, better for optimal health, and has a higher “completeness score,” whatever that is.

Okay, so maybe Cookie Crisp contains twice as much sugar as Honey Bunches of Oats. But really people, just because we’re good critical thinkers doesn’t mean we have to get so hung up on statistics, right? Right?

Excuse me, I’m off to enjoy a nice, healthy bowl of cookies.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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14 Comments

  1. Carbohydrates (sugar or complex carbs) are 110 calories per oz. (4 calories per gram)

    Protien is 110 calories per oz (4 calories per gram)

    Fat is 250 calories per pz (9 calories per gram)

    Alcohol is 7 calories per gram.

    So if the cereal is all carbs or protien(or a mix) then it is 110 calories per oz. Cup is a volume measurement and thus not a good way to determine calories in cereal. (eg Grape Nuts vs Puffed Wheat, volume is different for the same weight) Most cereals are 110 calories per oz. (some do contain fats such as those with nuts)

    Knowing these facts you can make some pretty good guesses as to how mamy calories are in a plate of food.

  2. Calories are not the only issue in cereals though, scubajim. Nor are they handled the same during digestion.

    Complex carbs are more slowly digested thus do not stimulate the same insulin jump as sucrose when eaten. The more insulin produced, the quicker calories are stored and the sooner you are hungry again, (oversimplified version). In addition, whole grains and other nutrients deserve consideration in bread and cereal choices.

  3. Very Berry Crunch – crack in a bowl. Yes, I have seen scattered empty boxes scattered on Rebecca’s apartment floor. Rebecca in a VBC stupor with a Homer drool, priceless. A rumor still wafts through coastal New Hampshire about Rebecca and a maple cake in a breakfast joint.

  4. You are absolutely correct Skeptigirl. Being a type 2 diabetic I am very familiar with what you stated. If I have let my blood glocose get too low bread takes too long to get it normal. A little pure sugar or fruit juce (or Sugar Smacks) will correct it quickly.

  5. Of course, then you have reports like
    [url=http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060301/ap_on_he_me/diet_glycemic_index] this one[/url] that aren’t looking at the same thing and confuse everyone. You can’t eat massive calories and expect nothing to happen because they were all slowly digested.

    There is research that some bodies are sensitive to the insulin overproduction cycle. I eat too many calories. My pancreas produces insulin to manage it. The next time I don’t eat too many calories, my pancreas doesn’t slow production on cue. Now the extra insulin I conditioned my pancreas to excrete lowers my blood sugar enough to fool my brain into thinking I’m hungry. Fortunately, exercise can get things back in whack.

    The ‘glycemic’ index has a different impact. If I have that donut for breakfast, I’m going to be hungry before lunch. And as scubajim says, if I need a quick fix for a minor OD on injected insulin, I need sugar to get through that intestinal wall quickly, not one that dallies with the juices first.

    So one issue is short term blood glucose effects and the other is long term or total caloric intake. Leave it to the news media to get it all muddled and tell everyone on the South Beach Diet it’s hopeless so just give up. ;)

    Actually, my advice is get a dog you have to walk everyday then eat what you want. :D

  6. One of these days I’ll figure out the darn code for these blogs. Everyone else gets urls and italics to work, what’s wrong with me?

    url=http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060301/ap_on_he_me/diet_glycemic_index

  7. Damn, Rebecca. I forget about this blog for a few days and there's a whole book to read. How do you do it? I wish I could get my act together to post on my blog everyday and find something interesting to say! sigh.

    Donna

  8. I think the compleatness ratio is a multivariate statistical thingy. I do some work with morphometrics (principle component analysis, to be precise), and the rose diagram is telling. Also, Eldrich and Gould found a way to convert multivariate morphology to one axis.
    Okay, I got technical I guess….But the gist is that the number is a measure of all nutrients (that that person chose to measure). The higher the better.
    Take a class on stats once, and you see them everywhere………

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