My Dark Secrets

January 17, 2008 · 54 comments

shhh

Yes, even though I’m passionate about feeding my family healthy meals, I’m coming out of the pantry with a few of my lingering issues…

  1. We’ll get my most shameful secret out of the way first: I’m a sweets-aholic. I often sneak chocolate chips when the kids aren’t looking, and I order dessert in restaurants almost every time I go out. Thankfully I love to bake, so usually what I’m indulging in is something made with things like healthy fats (NO trans fat which is in most purchased baked goods), whole wheat organic flour (freshly ground here at home), regular sugar (NOT high fructose corn syrup), and more and more I’m experimenting and using Agave Nectar and other natural sweeteners in my baked goods. (Future posts will cover more on which sweeteners to use in which recipes.) ***Note added later: you may not want to use this product now – read the comments from Anna below. She has researched Agave Nectar extensively and shared some interesting information. She recommends organic evaporated cane sugar as a sweetener, or grade B maple syrup, but only in very small quantities.   UPDATE – As of now, 5 years later, I can honestly say that I don’t struggle with this as much at all!  I think once our bodies are more nourished we don’t crave the bad stuff as much.  I do still love sweets and indulge now and then, but not too often!
  2. I even compromise when feeding my kids sometimes. (Gasp…) As much as I know I should be totally rid of boxes and bags in my kitchen, I still might throw in a Jack’s frozen pizza now and then (no MSG, high fructose corn syrup or trans fats) or cook up a box of mac and cheese – but it is the Simply Organic brand, because that’s the only healthier one I found that is close enough to Kraft to fly with the kids.   UPDATE:  I have since been convicted on this one. I’m always saying to others, “What is more natural?”, and the powdered cheese just can’t get through my filter these days! So I started thinking it wouldn’t be THAT difficult to make a little cheese sauce and stir in some cooked whole wheat organic pasta, for a homemade stove-top mac & cheese. Funny how we can resist some things for years, then when something in you “clicks”, it just doesn’t seem like such a big deal anymore. The question is whether or not my kids will eat it. (Posted later: it was a hit! Check out my stove-top macaroni & cheese recipe.  OH, and also I’ve moved from Jack’s pizza to organic pizzas once in a while, but mostly we make homemade pizzas now, it’s so easy!  See, I’m still changing all the time, too!)
  3. Cheese. I’m lazy about my cheese. Especially with my home daycare, we eat a lot of it, and I want it shredded or sliced or already into little sticks when I buy it. I want to pull it right out of the fridge or freezer (yes, you can freeze cheese) and have it ready to eat. Here is some of that lazy-American mentality showing up in me. (Although I NEVER buy “processed cheese slices” or anything close, only the “natural” cheeses with no extra weird ingredients on the label.) As much as I spout off about shortening the distance from the farm to the table, I really need to get over this one. I think I’m getting closer, but I’m not there yet. I can probably get some good cheese right from the farm at the Amish store I often buy food from, and then cut or shred it up…I always laugh thinking of my friend, Anne, when I told her why I didn’t like buying cheese in big chunks. She said, “For goodness sake Kelly, get a knife!” UPDATE 10/18/08: My new BOSCH has changed everything! I buy my cheese in big hunks now (MUCH more economical) and easily shred it myself – no more worries about burning up my food processor motor trying to shred cheese (it happened to me before), this machine can handle anything!
  4. Whether or not my coffee is a compromise is debatable, of course, as is every topic out there. Some research shows coffee is good for you in moderation, others say no way. Truth is, I’m not THAT big of a coffee drinker, it’s a “treat” I have 2-3 times per week, and I don’t like anything in my coffee, a fact I’m very thankful for, as I don’t need anymore sugar in my life. But I do loved the flavored coffees. Hazelnut and vanilla are my favorites – these just have a hint of flavor, no flavorINGS – big difference. One thing I should look into is buying organic flavored coffee, but just haven’t gone there yet. My healthy habits continue to grow here and there, even as I write. (Also, I bring my own stainless steel cup into my favorite place, Frenz coffee, so it’s only $1 each time I indulge.) UPDATE: Recently Sally Fallon personally told me I should give up my coffee! Oh no!  I’m now a daily coffee drinker and LOVE the stuff.  See this post:  Redeeming My Morning Coffee.
  5. Because of the high cost of organic foods, I don’t buy every single thing organic, and I don’t always buy the best organic brands there are. (Some organics are not much better than conventional when it comes to their nutritional value – it all depends on how it was raised or made, I often call the companies and ask for information.) It depends on availability and on the price. We all have to pick and choose and do the best we can. One example for me is chocolate chips – I do not buy those organic because the price difference is so great and the ingredient list on the conventional chips doesn’t cause me to hyperventilate like some ingredient lists do. Besides, you’re getting sugar either way, which isn’t great for you whether it is organic or not. (By the way, there is no high fructose corn syrup in the chocolate chips or I would NOT buy them.) UPDATE: non-organic chocolate chips have GMO’s! Now I buy those organic, too, unless I’m feeling cheap.
  6. We do not eat out often, and if we are thinking about fast food, I try to limit it to Subway (they have some sandwiches that aren’t too bad, check their website for which items have no trans fats, etc.) or maybe Taco Bell (their cheese only quesadillas aren’t TOO bad for the kids), but we only eat fast food once every 6 months or so. (Unless my sister is visiting and she takes the kids to McDonald’s as a treat…take a breath Kel…) Kent & I will eat at a sit-down restaurant now and then, and if we’re really feeling like we want to drop some cash and not enjoy or taste any of the food, we’ll take the kids with us. At those times, believe it or not, I try not to worry TOO much about nutrition. Within reason though. I still discourage fries (“poison sticks” as we call them) and ask if they have applesauce or another fruit instead. If, heaven forbid, there is a corn dog on the menu and my kids see it, I grit my teeth and say, “Sure honey…” I try to get away with water for them to drink, but my teenager usually wants a pop and we don’t make a big deal of it. We try to walk that line in feeding our kids healthy, but at the same time not being too bullheaded about it, in fear that when they move out they’ll go wild with junk food and never want to eat healthy again. We also still order in for pizzas every so often, and I try not to think about what trans fats or high fructose corn syrup might be in them. (Another update:  Thankfully I’m way over the Taco Bell thing and haven’t been there in years – the stories I’ve heard about their food have scared me away for good!)
  7. Another compromise is one most of you might not think is much of a compromise at all because you may have never even heard of it, but because I know what is better nutritionally, I know it is one: it involves grains and how they’re prepared. For example, for optimal nutrition when I make pancakes and waffles, I start the recipe the night before using certain ingredients, and finish in the morning – by doing it this certain way, the phytic acid is broken down in the flour so all the nutrients in the pancakes and the big glass of raw milk we drink with it can be assimilated. The problem is, I don’t use that process in all my baked goods or breads yet. I’ve experimented some, and just need to get back to it again. (More on all this in future posts, or it’s also discussed in the books on my recommended reading page.) UPDATE: Read all about properly prepared grains!
  8. At Meijer this morning it was irritating trying to find fruits and vegetables grown in the U.S.A. It’s bad enough that I know I really should only be buying produce that is in season and local, preferably organic. But if I did that, we wouldn’t eat many fruits or vegetables all winter, since I’ve not gotten into canning yet like I should. So as nutritious as fruits and vegetables are for us, in the winter I compromise by at least trying to buy those grown in the states. Well, this morning I needed some grapes for a yummy salad recipe I’m making Saturday when my family comes for our daughter’s birthday. All they had there were grapes from as far away as Peru or Mexico – I couldn’t stand having to buy those, and thankfully I rarely have to!

These are all things that I continue to chip away at through the years, as I keep learning more and modifying how we eat. I often think of a quote from Jeannie Weaver (a board member from the local Weston A. Price chapter) in a local newspaper story about eating healthy: she said that her family tries to go by the 80/20 plan – they eat healthy 80% of the time, and don’t worry so much about the other 20%. Mostly though, I don’t want to be a freak about it. Although many of my close friends and family surely believe this is already a lost cause. :)

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    1 Kelly January 21, 2008 at 10:12 am

    This message comes from LISA, she tried leaving a comment but it didn’t work for some reason.

    “Have I got a great chocolate tip for you! I purchase Santi Falcone

    2 Bryan - oz4caster January 25, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    Kelly, I used to be a chocoholic sugar addict, but since I have changed my diet, I make a chocolate breakfast smoothie most mornings. I gently blend raw milk, raw cream, raw unsweetened organic cocoa powder, and raw egg yolks. Delicious and nutritious! :)

    The lactose (natural sugar) in the milk makes it sweet enough for me. I add no sweetener. You can play with the amounts to taste and appetite. I usually use about 3/4 to 1 cup milk, about 1/4 cup cream, about 2 tbsp cocoa powder and three egg yolks. I sometimes add one or two of the raw egg whites.

    3 Kelly January 25, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    Hi Bryan,

    Won’t my kids think I’m Supermom when I surprise them with that as part of their breakfast soon! Thanks for the tip!

    For those of you freaking out about drinking raw egg yolks, relax. If you buy eggs from a farmer you know, who raises free-range chickens and doesn’t feed them junk, then you can do this. The eggs are so nutritious with the enzymes still intact, and when we’ve added them to fruit smoothies, I don’t even notice they’re in there). Don’t try it with grocery store eggs!

    Bryan, do you have a post at your blog telling how/when you began eating healthier? Mine SHOULD be in my archives under “food conversion”, but labels are still acting up in Blogger. There’s also a link for it at the bottom of this post.

    Thanks again for commenting!

    4 Bryan - oz4caster January 26, 2008 at 10:06 am

    Kelly, you can get raw unsweetened cocoa powder on Amazon. The two brands I like best are Rapunzel and Ahlaska. It’s cheaper to buy in quantity and to take advantage of the free shipping on orders over $25.

    I do use eggs from pastured chickens as much as possible.

    It looks like you found out about alternative health ideas before I did. Oddly enough, in December 2005 during the holidays, I decided to look on the internet to learn about what might cause floaters in the eyes and how to get rid of them. In this search, I ran across alternative health web sites that quickly led to WAPF and Dr Mercola. These were the two web sites that I found most convincing in arguing against conventional dietary and medical advice. It was the WAPF article The Skinny on Fats that finally convinced me. Today, I still think it’s a classic :)

    It took several weeks for the information to soak in before I decided to change my diet and to quit taking statins. Although, I did very quickly switch from diet soda to coffee for my caffeine fix and quit eating any aspartame or sucralose and began minimizing sugar to break my sugar addiction. I was already on a fairly low-carb diet trying to lose weight, but I hadn’t lost much weight because I cheated too much, especially with sweets. By mid-January 2006 I quit taking Lipitor, which was my only prescription drug. I lost about 15 pounds in three months. Initially, I began taking a lot of dietary supplements, under the influence of the Life Extension Foundation. I found the Yahoo Native Nutrition health discussion list in March 2006, when I went to set up a web page for a family time-share cabin, discovered Yahoo Groups, and searched it for Weston Price. That’s also about the time I broke my caffeine addiction and managed to find a raw dairy source. It was discussions on NN, especially with Chris Masterjohn, that led me to look into getting good nutrition from food and dropping the supplements. I started making my own kefir in July 2006. The only supplement I take now is high vitamin CLO.

    I feel much healthier now than a couple of years ago, but I still have some floaters :)

    5 Kelly January 26, 2008 at 11:38 am

    Bryan,

    Very interesting, you should post something similar on your site! (Maybe you did and I haven’t seen it.)

    I knew the name Chris Masterjohn sounded familiar, I did a search and remembered he’s written articles in the WAP publication, Wise Traditions.

    Right now I have to go spend another few hours re-writing my whole raw milk part 2 post (on its safety) that I had all done, and Blogger lost it somehow……….have you ever had that happen??????

    Thanks again for your comments.

    6 Anna January 28, 2008 at 10:03 pm

    Hi to Bryan – 4ozcastor – I seem to run into him many places these days.

    A heads up about agave syrup/nectar, which is currently the darling of the no refined sugar, no HFCS crowd. I am seeing it in all sorts of products in my local “natural” food supermarket (a local clone of Whole Foods). But I have been avoiding it like the plague now that I know more about it.

    Agave syrup/nectar has been recommended to me many times because of its low glycemic index (meaning that it is relatively low in glucose, therefore does not immediately raise blood sugar as much as other concentrated sugars and does not provoke as much of an insulin response). Despite being a fairly normal weight (5’4″ and about 125 pounds), I am prediabetic (minimal first phase insulin response and overactive second phase insulin response) and have to carefully watch my sugar and starch intake to keep my blood glucose in the normal range. By being careful I am able to avoid medication, at least for now. But having had gestational diabetes in the past and some other indications, I have a strong chance of developing full blown T2 diabetes if I don’t watch it.

    So I check out everything related to glucose. And I was very concerned with what I found about agave syrup. According to Wikipedia, agave syrup is very high in fructose. Depending on the brand, it can be as much as 92% fructose, which is much, much higher than the 55% fructose in HFCS or refined table sugar – sucrose- which is 50% glucose and 50% fructose. It is even higher in honey, which is another high fructose item (though it occurs in nature). Concentrated fructose is just as bad, if not worse than high amounts of glucose. other than an occasional honey indulgence, early humans just didn’t have access to very hgh concentrations of fructose. Fruit, even if abundent, jsut doesn’t have a high concentration of it. And prior to agriculture, fruit wasn’t so sweet and big or plentiful.

    People tend to think that fructose is a benign sugar, because it is named for fruit (because it was first discovered in fruit). But fructose is only one of the sugars in fruit and it occurs in rather small quantities, very unlike the high concentrations of fructose found in any manmade refined sugar (and IMO, even the raw, unheated agave syrups *are* processed and refined, as they are processed with enzymes and not found in nature, nor are they something that previous generations would have made).

    Fructose in high concentrations or frequently ingested in high amounts, is very damaging to the body. First, if it isn’t burned immediately for energy, it goes to the liver, where it is converted to triglycerides, the very same fats in the blood associated with heart disease if chronically at high levels (and also accociated with the small lipoprotein particle size, also not considered good). High amounts of fructose on a constant basis can contribute to Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) which even children are getting now from all the fructose in their diets.

    Secondly, the excess triglycerides are often stuffed into the fat cells, increasing insulin resistance, thereby increasing insulin production to very high levels, and contributing to the development of diabetes in a “back door” fashion.

    Third, and worse, is that fructose contributes greatly to AGEs (advanced glycated endproducts), which are proteins that have inappropriately attached (without enzymes) sugars (wikipedia has great info on this plus one of my husband’s colleagues researchs glycation). Fructose is the worst for this. It sort of gums up the proteins so that the cell is damaged (sort of caramelized) so the cell can’t properly function (it literally ages faster). This is the cause of much of the damage in diabetic complications. Ironically, diabetics have been advised to use fructose for sweetening simply because it doesn’t directly cause a glucose or insulin spike. But indirectly, it does massive damage. But I won’t go on an ADA rant right now :-).

    Anyhow, I would recommend caution, for anyone, not just those with diabetes or potential for diabetes, with the use of agave syrup/nectar products as well as any highly concentrated sugars of all sorts (honey, maple syrup, any cane sugar or beet sugar product – refined or not. While humans do have a sweet tooth, they do not have a physiology that can handle constant access to concentrated sugars and frequent indulgence ; it is slowly causing damage at the cellular level.

    One thing I have learned is that with my greatly reduced sweet consumption (of all sorts), my tastebuds are now more sensitive to natural sweetness in foods, even things like brussels sprouts and broccoli. I never could have tasted the natural sugars when my sweet receptors were being bludgeoned by sugars. Most sweetened foods now taste too sweet to me.

    But like I tell everyone else, don’t take my word for it on agave syrup, look into for yourself (from credible sources that are not selling it!). Concentrated fructose from any source (raw, unrefined, organic, etc.) is something to approach with caution.

    7 Kelly January 29, 2008 at 6:59 am

    Anna,
    Thanks for the great in-depth info! I always love it when someone does some major research on a topic and it’s not me! Since you’ve delved into this one, here’s my question for you: I know we shouldn’t eat many sweets, and I am trying to cut back, honest! BUT, if I’m making cookies, I’ve been experimenting with using the Agave Nectar more because A. The low-glycemic index issue, which you discussed, B. I have seen it mentioned on the WAPF site, so took that as another hint that it was an OK thing, C. I understood that it was a natural sugar from a fruit in…South America I believe (yes, that’s far from “local”, I know), and D. At the worst, I figured it was better than regular refined sugar in a recipe, since I’ve not had good luck with other natural sugars in baked goods. So based on your research, if you were making cookies, would you then recommend using the Agave Nectar, or a refined sugar? I know neither are ideal, since too much of any kind of sugar isn’t good, but which is the “lesser of two evils” in your opinion? Thanks so much for your help!
    Kelly

    8 Anna January 29, 2008 at 8:18 pm

    Hi Kelly,

    Sorry I jumped right in and didn’t even properly introduce myself. I can see we have a lot in common in lots of ways. http://www.againstthegrainblog.com

    I do have rather strong opinions about sugars. :-)
    Between a gestational diabetes experience 10 years ago and my doctors completly missing my current glucose intolerance situation, I have spent a lot of time researching this to make sure that I am not damaging my body further and that I am feeding my family in a healthy way. I probably have a genetic defect with insulin production or beta cell regeneration (there are about six defect identified, but more are suspected), but it is quite common (20% of T2 diabetics are not overweight, for instance, which is probably genetic, expressed by environment (diet & lifestyle). There are epigenetic issues as well that may play a role, too, i.e., (gestational, environmental, high fructose in the food supply, etc.).

    My interpretation of agave syrup info is that it is far worse than HFCS and any granulated sugar, because of the extremely high fructose content (exceeding the fructose % of any other sugars I have researched). And I don’t accept that agave syrup is a whole unprocessed food, because it is not traditional, and is formed by enzyme hydrolyzation, even though it is not heated.

    But in general, I think that all sugars are used too liberally by most people, whether following a traditional whole foods diet or the Standard American Diet. In very small, infrequent amounts, for healthy people, I don’t think it much matters which is chosen – agave syrup, table sugar, or any other sugar. But the key is small, infrequent amounts, which is not the typical pattern in modern times.

    I don’t make cookies or any baked grain foods very much anymore due to my own glucose issues and my aim to keep that stuff somewhat minimized for my son (who because of genetics and his epigenetic exposure during my gestational diabetes with him, has a higher risk of diabetes later). I tend to make baked custards (lots of egg & cream), cheesecakes (with homemade ricotta) with nut crusts, and non-grain desserts (chocolate truffles) when I make sweet stuff (and not as often as in the past). We eat very dark European chocolate (70-88%), perhaps a bit too often :-). But nearly everything I make is much, much less sweet than the original recipe or commercial products. I use a glucose meter to keep track of my glucose levels.

    I have a fairly low sugar cookie recipe using coconut flour, 1/2 cup of sugar, and a bit of stevia on my website if you want to see what I make these days. It’s based on one of Bruce Fife’s coconut flour recipes. I can eat a few of these without blowing my glucose levels to smithereens.

    So to answer your question, I do use a bit of sugar, though far, far less than I would have a few years ago. I tend to get the organic evaporated cane sugar or the Grade B (dark and flavorful) maple syrup that Trader Joes sells. The bottle of agave syrup languishes in the cupboard (i am too cheap to throw it out but cannot bring myself to use it). But I am under no illusion that these sweeteners can be used with abandon just because they aren’t white table sugar. In the body, glucose and fructose do their thing no matter how organic or “unrefined” they are. I also have been experimenting with using half or less of the indicated amount of sugar and a bit of stevia, with generally good results.

    I also use a tiny bit of grade B maple syrup for my son now and then (a couple teaspoons). I don’t ban al sweetness for him, but I am trying to promote a low “need” for sweets. It’s a delicate balance and a work in progress. :-)

    My husband is a research biochemist, though his area is apoptosis (programmed cell death), not nutrition or sugars. But he has some colleagues that do basic research on glycation and glycosylation (attachment of sugars to proteins in the body) and when I asked them about this after I became concerned, they convinced me that high concentrations of fructose are to be avoided (btw, all of my husband’s colleagues in glycobiology at his institute tend to keep their sugar and starch intakes low). Scientists love it when non-scientists ask about their work at cocktail parties and banquet dinners. :-)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fructose

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agave_syrup

    Some time ago I bought some agave syrup on someone else’s recommendation. I used it in ice cream at the recommended amount and couldn’t eat it because it was so sweet. So the bottle of agave syrup sat in the cupboard. Then I saw agave syrup showing up in some raw, nut butter spreads at my local “natural” food store (that won’t sell lard, ever, even at customer request) and later at Trader Joe’s and my curiosity was aroused. So I started looking into it. In small, infrequent amounts, a person with no glucose issues, weight issues, liver issues, or nerve damage issues might not have any problem with agave syrup, same as sugar. But I know that human nature being what it is, that some people think “oh, a better sugar option” and they pour it on, all the time. Not good. IMO, *all* sugars are to be infrequent and in small amounts, as that is what we had until very recently in human history.

    Ok, I probably want into this way too far (this little comment window makes it hard to see what I have typed). But I greatly enjoyed what I have seen of your blog and I think you have some terrific ideas about traditional food, nutrition, and feeding the family.

    Cheers,
    Anna

    9 Kelly January 29, 2008 at 9:13 pm

    Hi again Anna,

    Thank you so much for sharing all your knowledge here! Don’t you love it when you know people are benefiting from all your work?!

    While I’m thankful you shared, I’m bummed at the same time, because the Agave Nectar worked so good in baked goods, now I know why – too good to be true!

    I understand that you’re recommending as a replacement grade B maple syrup OR organic evaporated cane juice (only in very small quantities) – would that be like a Rapadura type sugar? Or would the lighter colored evaporated cane juice sugars be OK in your opinion? (I’ve not had good luck at all with Rapadura in recipes – works great with cinnamon on buttered toast though!)

    Also, I printed out the yummy sounding chocolate truffles at your site to try! And I plan to order some of the chocolate from the store recommended up in the first comment.

    Thanks again!
    Kelly

    10 Tamara June 13, 2012 at 9:33 am

    http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2012/06/sugar-intake-and-body-fatness-in-non.html
    I think it’s important to not demonize sugars, grains, or anything else. As this culture shows, with it’s %40-60 diet and lean bodies, there’s more to the jigsaw puzzle than just avoiding sugars.
    Just my 2 cents.

    11 Anna January 30, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    Hi Kelly,

    I’m not sure it matters much because it is the amount of sugars that is more of an issue. If I *had* to rank sugars, sure, I would put organic ones that have remaining minerals at the top of the list (the amount of nutrients remaining is truly minimal). So that list would include maple syrup, evaporated cane syrup, Rapadura, molasses, perhaps honey, but perhaps not in any particular order, since they each have different characteristics that are better suited for some purposes than others (flavor, liquid, etc.). That said, I don’t think they are a whole lot better than ordinary white table sugar. There just aren’t enough nutrients to justify large amounts of any of them. And there are ample reasons to limit sugars. Once in the body, they all break down into their simplest sugar constituent.

    I just sort of find it comical (as well as worrying) that people are choosing to avoid HFCS, and instead using agave syrup, which is even higher in fructose %.

    By the way, I didn’t mention that when the body metabolizes glucose in the body (not sure about fructose or other sugars) it uses up/needs more of the B complex vitamins. The same is true for Vitamin C. So there is an argument that scurvy is not a Vit C deficiency unless there is an excess of refined carbohydrates in the diet (such as there was in the long-distance sailors’ diets during the New World exploration). The flip side is the Inuits, who consume very little carbohydrates, yet also need little Vit C. Lots of reasons to reduce sugar intakes.

    Gotta run to son’s guitar lesson. I’ve looked at some of your other posts and like your approach very much. Let me know how you like the truffles!

    12 Kelly January 30, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    Anna,

    Wow, we have a lot to learn from you! So far I’ve gone back into my posts where I’d suggested Agave Nectar, asking readers to check out the comments here first.

    Now, what to do with the 2 big bottles of Agave Nectar in my storage closet…?!! I have to say, that is one of the really annoying things about trying to eat/cook healthy – when you find out something you thought was good (and that you spent money on), isn’t good after all!

    Thanks again, Anna!
    Kelly

    13 Bryan - oz4caster January 30, 2008 at 7:23 pm

    Anna, my sentiments exactly (deja vu) on the sugars! I’m glad I waited for your response :)

    Kelly, I think the most important keys on usage of even the better sugars (I agree on Anna’s list) is a person’s weight and insulin sensitivity. If your weight is normal and you have no insulin issues, then occasional sweets are not likely to cause problems, especially if consumed in small amounts after meals. If you start gaining weight or showing signs of insulin problems as mentioned by Anna, that’s when you really need to be careful that you’re not addicted. Binging on sweets is a bad sign – I know from personal experience :)

    14 Anna January 30, 2008 at 7:33 pm

    If you don’t have any sugar issues that you know of (hypo or hyperglycemia), then perhaps use up your agave syrup in dribbles and drabs until it is all gone. It keeps forever, one of the reasons food chemists like fructose for sweetening. Or go through it fast (for a party?) and get it over with, then start anew? I hate to toss stuff, too (and agave is pretty expensive).

    15 Kelly January 31, 2008 at 4:07 am

    Thanks Bryan & Anna,

    I don’t know if I’ll be able to use the Agave I still have in even small amounts – I’ve told people to avoid HFCS like the plague, and since I now know from you that it’s even HIGHER HFCS, I think I’ll end up tossing it all out!

    One other question though: I wonder why the Agave has a lower glycemic index if it’s so much higher in fructose? Does the fructose level not play a part in that?

    What an interesting topic!
    Thanks,
    Kelly

    16 Anna January 31, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    Kelly,

    The Glycemic Index measures how much a glucose in a food raises blood glucose (as measured in a test using young healthy, non-diabetic test subjects). So only glucose is measured, not other simple sugar molecules such as fructose (there are more simple sugars, too). Insulin is directly raised by rising glucose levels, but not by rising fructose in the blood (excess fructose goes to the liver and is converted to fat (triglucerides). Long term high triglyceride levels are not healthy. Indirectly, over time, high fructose affects blood glucose control and insulin resistance but that is a rather complex process (I can recommend some reading if you want).

    Bryan mentions using weight and insulin sensitivity as a guide to how much sugar it is ok to consume. I agree with insulin sensitivity, but how many people even know what that is or how sensitive their cells are to insulin? I can tell you that is it hard to get a doctor to investigate insulin sensitivity unless a diagnosis of full-blown diabetes is being considered. And most doctors won’t test beyond fasting blood glucose unless a patient is obese. Fasting glucose is one of the last indicators to become abnormal, and the damage is already well under way at that point.

    Weight is a trickier guideline to use for sugar consumption because about 20% of people with T2 diabetes are not even overweight. I am a good example of that, about 126 lbs at 5’3″. In my teens and 20s I was rarely over 108 and I could eat anything I wanted. At 29 yo of age my weigh rapidly went up to 125-130 for no apparent reason. By 42 yo it was 140 lbs. Overweight, but hardly obese. But I had gestational diabetes when I was 37 and they should have been checking me even afterwards, but they didn’t because I wasn’t overweight enough, I guess. In 2004 I went back to the kind o f low carb eating I had done to control the gestational diabetes and I lost the excess weight, though I never reduced to my “ultra-skinny” weight. As long as I keep the sugar and starch low I stay in the mid 120s (I have gotten down to 118 but that has been hard to maintain). Additionally, if I didn’t watch my sugar and starch intake I would be headed for T2 diabetes or already there.

    I won’t bore you with the details, but I am convinced that the typical glucose screening tests that most doctors use (FBG) don’t detect abnormal glucose issues until they are extremely abnormal and a lot of damage is done. They rarely suspect glucose issues unless a patient is very overweight or obese, which is a dangerous bias. I had to insist on another GTT test and I’m sure my doc thought I was nuts, but he later apologized when the results came back.

    17 Kelly January 31, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    Anna,
    Maybe I’m more nuts than everyone already knew, but I happen to think all this is SO interesting! You’ve spent a lot of time here educating everyone, and I really appreciate it!
    Kelly p.s. My Agave Nectar is officially outahere!

    18 Kelly February 5, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    Anna has written more interesting information on this topic over at her blog, check it out (you’ll have to cut and paste this web address, it won’t let me do links in the comment section):

    http://web.mac.com/gandasalvesen/iWeb/Site/Blog/A17C4A83-15A8-4C4A-AADF-8CE344F87446.html#comment_layer

    19 Lynn Cameron February 14, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    Hello Kelly,

    wewantorganicfood.com has pointed me in your direction to comment on the agave issue. First of all, I wouldn’t throw it out, especially if it worked for you in recipes. My husband of 23 years has been a diabetic for 50 years and small amounts of organic blue agave nectar do not spike his blood sugar. I sub half the amount of the sugar called for in the recipe; I make sure that there is plenty of good butter or lard in the recipe to bind the sugar somewhat and keep it from ‘dumping’, and I bake sweets very seldom. My own personal preference is for Grade B Maple Syrup which definitely does lead to high sugar no matter how much fat it packs.
    Agave syrup comes from the agave cactus & used to mainly go to the tequila trade until the health foodies found it – no good recommendation, I know. But, to say it is WORSE than super refined hybridized GMO high fructose corn syrup raised on chemicals in worn out soil and sprayed with toxins is undeserved criticism at best. I learned a lot about corn & syrup & fructose in Michael Pollan’s books, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food.
    In my 3 decades in an organic kitchen and one-third of that using Sally Fallon’s and Mary Enig’s excellent resources at Nexus Magazine and at WAP and with study of recent in vivo research from the other side of both oceans with LAB (lactobacillus bacteria), I’ve concluded that the most important food to consume for health on this planet is whole unprocessed cultured milk products from grass-fed ruminants. Since 80% of our digestion depends upon wee lactic acid beasties’ perfect proliferation, their nurture has become my daily kitchen event. I know you all utilize WAP’s excellent and accurate dietary precepts, so this is familiar territory for most and a jumping off place for your readers new to it.

    Kelly, it sounds to me like you’re doing really well by your family with your enthusiasm and dedication to quality nourishment in this difficult age. I have to say, though, The Handbook of Fermented Functional Foods from CRC Press gives a more complete meaning to the far-reaching effects of ‘beneficial bacteria’ and their crucial human interface than I would have ever believed.
    Sincerely,
    Lynn

    20 Kelly February 15, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    Hi Lynn,

    Wow, between you and Anna, we’re learning a lot here. So I’ll ask your opinion on this then: which is the healthier option in a recipe (cookies for example) if these were the only two choices: Organic Agave Nectar or Organic Cane Sugar?

    Thanks!
    Kelly

    21 Anna February 17, 2008 at 11:07 am

    Yes, Lynn is absolutely right that Agave Syrup (or any fructose based sweetening product) in won’t generally cause blood glucose spikes the way regular table sugar (50/50 glucose to fructose) or high glucose (dextrose) products will or even HFCS (usually about 45-55% glucose to fructose) or maple syrup.

    Granulated fructose has long been recommended to diabetics because without glucose, it doesn’t directly raise blood glucose levels. And people have associate fructose with fruit, so it seems better. But fructose is only one of the many sugars in fruit, and concentrated fructose is not the same as eating the sweetness of fresh fruit.

    Agave Syrup is made with an enzymatic process that separates and reduces the amount of glucose in the final product, leaving a high fructose concentration instead (as much as 56-92% fructose and 8-20% glucose, depending on brand). So if the only issue of concern was blood glucose levels, then agave syrup might seem honky-dory.

    But there are now concerns that high concentrations of fructose in the blood do a lot of silent and hidden cellular and liver damage (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or as I like to call it, human foie gras) that is not reflected in blood glucose levels. That’s propably what was happening to Spurlock’s liver in the Super Size Me movie from all the HFCS he was consuming in the fast food meals, not the saturated fat in the meat (there are a lot of recent blog posts on a recent Swedish study that denomstrates this effect). One of my favorite diabetes info websites has a great section with references on fructose for those with diabetes: http://www.phlaunt.com/diabetes/15877514.php Scroll down page at that link to find fructose.

    http://www.wikipedia.org also has some great info on Agave syrup, fructose, and AGEs (advanced glycation endproducts).

    So if agave syrup has even more fructose than the dreaded HFCS, and high fructose blood levels increase insulin resistance, is turned into fat in the liver, and inappropriately bonds to cellular proteins creating damage, it’s hard for me to see it as something good to consume with abandon just because it doesn’t spike my BG, despite the labels saying it “may be a suitable sweetener for diabetics”, etc.

    And the claims that it is superior because it is raw and made without the use of heat seem a bit hollow to me. From my perspective, agave syrup is just another industrially processed product, even if it isn’t heated, as it is created with enymatic hydrolysis, hardly a traditional production method.

    However, used in extremely small amounts, infrequently, and very judiciously, as it sounds Lynn does, it probably isn’t more of a problem than any other sweetener. The problem as I see it, is that most people don’t use sugars judiciously.

    In the last year, I have seen agave syrup presence increase incredibly. More stores carry it, not just health food stores. More processed foods list it as an ingredient (organic junk foods). From my conversations with people who have recommended agave syrup to me (friends, store workers, blogs, recipes, etc.), there seems to be a focus only on the low glycemic aspect so they think it has all the goodness of traditional sugars without any downsides. Merely substituting agave syrup for HFCS, table sugar, raw sugar, maple syrup or whatever, in a high sugar diet, just doesn’t seem good to me and as I have said before, could be far worse with the high fructose concentration. In fact, one friend of mine had been convinced that it was so superior to other sugars that she used it with abandon throughout the day, actually increasing the sugar content of her family’s diet. Just about everyone would be better off reducing their sugar intake, no matter which sweetener they use.

    I think it will be interesting to see how “wonder sweetener” plays out in the next few years. Food manufacturers bend over backwards to create new food substances to address whatever the current concern is (fat, sugar, carbs, coloring, etc.). I think that’s what is happening with agave syrup now that people are avoiding white sugar and HFCS. But just like with the fake fats (hydrogentated, esterified, etc.) and other substitutes, we usually learn the whole story much too late, unless we make a huge effort to learn about everything we consume from sources other than the people who profit from the sales. Sometime it is very tiresome. Sometimes it is empowering. It’s always time-consuming :-) (though I have found that my increasing skepticism has helped me to resist more and more “product claims” until I can check into them first.

    22 Lynn Cameron February 17, 2008 at 9:18 pm

    Anna, very, very interesting about the agave, and I do use it sparingly. I definitely will keep my head up and eyes open on this issue thanks to you and Kelly.

    30 years married to a diabetic turns all carbs into a double-edged sword. As Jim says, “I’m balanced all the time on the edge between joy (high BG) and disaster (low BG)”. The insulin pump over the last 4 years has literally been a lifesaver – we have some of our life back again.

    I couldn’t agree more with you about the fads and the follow the money to get the true facts agenda.

    Now, to answer Kelly’s question. In my kitchen, the criteria to choose between organic brown sugar and agave syrup for baking depends first on who

    23 Kelly February 18, 2008 at 3:55 am

    Lynn,

    One more question I just thought of after re-reading your comments: what’s the difference between organic BLUE Agave Nectar and the plain organic raw Agave Nectar? (I doubt I’ll use it now, but I’m guessing that the blue kind is better, since I have 5 jugs of the other downstairs!)

    Thanks,
    Kelly

    24 Kelly February 18, 2008 at 3:46 am

    Anna & Lynn,

    I honestly doubt that all this great information is available in any one place ANYWHERE on the internet, and I’m thankful to you both for sharing your knowledge! Lynn, if you could leave another comment with the link to your info on Simple Sugars when it’s posted, that would be great!

    Kelly

    25 Anna February 18, 2008 at 8:01 am

    Kelly, wikipedia lists several varieties of agave used in syrup making:

    Agave tequilana (also called Blue Agave or Tequila Agave), and the Salmiana, Green, Grey, Thorny, and Rainbow varieties. There are differences in fructose/glucose content from brand to brand, so contacting the manufacturer might give you information so you could chooose which you prefer. I have two bottles languising in my cupboard. One says it is Blue Agave and the other just says agave (that one also says Natural Fructose Sweetener).

    Lynn, I took a very quick look at your wewantorganicfood.com site. Very interesting with lots of good articles that are right in my interest zone. I’ll be sure to take a longer look (after I get some cat food made, the kitties are having hissy fits right now). I’m very interested in learning more from your experience combining WAPF principles with dietary requirements for diabetes. Since I don’t take diabetes medications, diet is crucial for keeping my BG in a very tight normal range.

    26 Lynn Cameron February 18, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    Kelly,
    Your ‘5 jugs in the basement’ made me laugh. Anna answered your question with info that I didn’t have at my fingertips.
    Goodness knows, having been involved in nutritional passions since the early 70s, I’ve swallowed my share of rocks (mineral supplements), but I think the main thing is to get as much food as possible from a local source that you know (or know someone who knows) and keep it as close to the field as you can – WAPF basic principles. I’ve come full circle back to grandma’s food – see my article on WWOF

    Anna, you are so on the right track by not taking meds. Most important is that the person with the issue must take their own responsibility for personal well-being – which you are doing. It’s more difficult to direct another in that task when the condition addresses such a basic process as glucose metabolism – there’s such a hormonal cascade that many other things other than just ‘what’s for dinner’ come into play. Of course, it helps to BE the one shopping and food prepping when ordering ‘do it MY way’. Keep on keeping on – success is within your grasp. My regards to your husband and/or family – I could write a book on diabetic support personnel.
    Lynn

    27 Anna February 19, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    Back to the raw eggs comment (I think by Kelly) that I just saw again at the top of comments. Yeah, we go through a lot of raw egg yolks, too. Not egg white so much, though I do mix them into smoothies, ice cream, and mayo. I get my eggs from a local “hobby” farm run by a couple that raises their own food and sells some off to make it pay for itself. The chickens aren’t organic or entirely on pasture, but they do live a good life scratching around outside as they should. For raw use, I inspect for hairline cracks and I wash the shells well with hot water before cracking them.

    Sure, I suppose there is some risk of food poisoning even with these eggs. But I balance that with the risk of food poisoning from industrial foods and that doesn’t look very safe either. I’ll take my chances with food produced by people I know, food with a very short and direct farm-to-table route (therefore easier to trace in the event of a problem), and food with integrity (real food that has long been consumed by humans, produced in a traditional and humane manner).

    28 Kelly March 5, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    I’ve been e-mailing with Kelley Herring, who has more interesting comments and information to add to this discussion. She has allowed me to share her comments here:

    “Throughout this thread on agave, there is no mention of the agave’s chemical structure or the word ‘inulin’.

    This is very important!!

    Just last week I was visiting my good friend, Shane Ellison– “The People’s Chemist” (www.thepeopleschemist.com ) who is not only a biochemist, but also owner of HealthFx nutraceuticals company. We discussed the uniqueness of agave.

    In short, much of agave’s fructose is bound up as inulin–an indigestible fiber that has minimal effect on blood sugar. Inulin is quite amazing as it has a sweet taste, increases the healthy bacteria in the gut and also boosts calcium absorption. Because normal digestion does not break inulin down into monosaccharides, it does not elevate blood sugar levels.

    Therefore, noting agave’s harmful effects due to fructose is biochemically incorrect.

    The amount of inulin in each brand of agave nectar will vary, therefore affecting the glycemic index and the glycemic load. Also in your blog, I saw no mention of “glycemic testing”. Independent companies (like Glycemic Solutions) test products for GI & GL. These are clinical trials, and quite expensive to conduct (about $8,000).

    Sweet Cactus Farms Agave Nectar has been independently measured using the universally accepted testing protocol developed by Dr. Jennie Brand-Miller of the University of Australia and found to have a 19 GI. http://www.sweetcactusfarms.com/

    Another brand, Blue Agave nectar, was tested by Glycemic Solutions and found to have a GI of 27 and a GL of 1.6 http://www.blueagavenectar.com/glycemictestingofagavenectar.html

    I hope this sheds some light on the chemistry of agave and helps to put some of the misinformation to rest.

    Kelley Herring, CEO, Healing Gourmet (www.healinggourmet.com)”

    29 Anonymous March 13, 2008 at 6:25 pm

    Kelly,

    Just wanted to give you my moms simple mac and cheese recipe. Cook and drain your macaroni. Put back in the pot along with a small amount of milk (Mom never measured just poured in about enough to cover the bottom of the pot by about 1/4-1/2 inch). Top with cheese (again Mom never measured and often used different kinds of cheese – shredded, presliced, sliced off the block over the pot – cheddar, colby, swiss, etc, or ussually a combo). Place the pot on low and cover just until cheese melts. Stir. Add pepper and salt to taste. This is the only recipe I have ever used. It is quick – on the table in under 15 minutes, uses only 1 pot – a plus for busy Moms, tastes great and can be made using healthy ingredients. Hope this helps.

    Mischele

    30 Kelly March 13, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    I LOVE that recipe and can’t wait to try it. I’ve posted my own stove-top recipe since I wrote this post (under recipes-main dish, then scroll down a ways), but I like this one-pan recipe much better!
    Thanks for sharing,
    Kelly

    31 Kelly March 14, 2008 at 3:26 am

    ANNA was unable to get the comment form to work, so I’m adding her comments for her (thanks for always sharing more great information, Anna!):

    Interesting twist on the agave inulin, Kelly. For a variety of reasons I still have my reservations about agave syrup, though, but I certainly will keep my eyes on the lookout for more information that will provide more definitive clarity.

    I spent some time online tonight looking up info on agave plants, agave inulin, and agave syrup and how it relates to inulin and how that pertains to all we have been discussing. It was hard to find truly informative sites because of all the commercial and promotional sites.

    Yes, it is clear that the agave plant in its natural form is rich in inulin (inulin is how the some plant stores energy, instead of in starch and humans have no enzymes to break apart inulin chains – our gut bacteria does it for us to a certain degree). But what I found seemed to indicate that when the inulin is processed and hydrolyzed to release the fructose in the making of agave syrup, so the fructose is no longer bound to inulin to any great degree in the syrup (or at least this is the way I interpreted it). I do need to look more into what hydrolysis does to the inulin to be sure, though.

    So I was really unable to come up with much that really cleared things up for me – perhaps others know more and will post. I need to spend more time to find better information about the actual processing of the agave inulin into agave syrup, I guess. I didn’t find that tonight, at least in a clear enough description that answered my questions.

    For the most part, what I found were lots of promotions of agave syrup as a sweetener for consumers and food chemists and agave inulin as an additive for processed foods. With Kelloggs, Nestl

    32 Julie March 19, 2008 at 4:29 am

    Dear Kelly and all the others with information on agave syrup. Thankyou. I had recently bought a bottle of agave syrup at the store after hearing that it doesn’t spike the glycemic index, and also the positive report on it containing inulin, But, I will be careful in my usage of agave nectar until I hear more about it. I use it to sweeten tea, and I am not a big tea drinker, so I am not using it too much. Thanks again. I imagine we should all just stick to fruit and get the added fiber which benefits in so many ways.

    33 Jessica March 24, 2008 at 10:33 am

    I’m interested in what you all think about using stevia as a sweetener. I have heard mixed reviews, mostly positive.

    Jessica

    34 Kelly March 24, 2008 at 11:12 am

    Hi Jessica,

    I’ve heard only good things about Stevia, but haven’t used it myself. I had always heard it was a good choice for sweetening coffee or tea, but I don’t like sweet coffee or tea! My sister tried it in her coffee once and she didn’t think it sweetened it much. Others think it’s great. I’d love to hear from others how they use it and what they think, though!

    Kelly

    35 Lauren March 30, 2008 at 8:36 am

    After trying and discaring many products, IMO the healthiest and best tasting natural sweeteners–NuStevia (by NuNaturals… other brands have that weird aftertaste) and erythritol (brand names–Z-Sweet and I think Organic 0). Both have close to 0 glycemic impact and calories. And most importantly, both are found in nature! Best used in a combination for sweetening. Switching over to these from sugar (and then Splenda!) has been one of the best lifestyle changes for me. No more sweet cravings or sugar high and lows! Your tastebuds become way more sensitive to the natural sugars in things like bell peppers and broccoli. Good luck with your health journey! :)

    36 Kelly March 30, 2008 at 7:08 pm

    Hi Lauren,

    Thanks for the great info! I’m excited to try the brand of Stevia that you recommend.

    As I got into some reading on Erythritol, I found so much that I wanted to share, I decided to do a post on it. Watch for it soon!

    Kelly

    37 Bamboo April 18, 2008 at 7:43 am

    Kelly,

    Regarding your sister trying stevia in her coffee once and not think it sweetened it much… I literally put *1* drop in my cup of coffee. I find that it doesn’t sweeten it but rather takes away the bitterness. Right now I’m searching for a non-dairy powder creamer that is not partially hydrogenated oil… I found some somewhere when I rabbit-trailed from one of your links but lost it; but that’s another topic :).

    Question: What’s the difference between Grade A and Grade B Maple syrup? Is it quality/processing or personal preference?

    Thank you all for sharing your knowledge.

    Beth

    38 Kelly the Kitchen Kop April 18, 2008 at 10:33 am

    Hi Beth,

    I’m pretty sure I have this right: grade A is milder, and it usually flies better with kids because it tastes closer to the nasty fake syrups in the store (the ones full of high fructose corn syrup). Grade B is a darker, richer maple syrup, my favorite! (It’s not always as easy to find though, and it’s a bit more expensive.)

    Regarding the non-dairy creamer without trans fats – why not just use real cream? It’s so much tastier and so good for you! (Read my post on fats/oils and the one on healthy milk options if you’re not convinced – scroll down through the topics in the blue section to the right.)

    One more thing: you mentioned Stevia taking away the bitterness in coffee…have you tried other coffees? I can’t stand Starbucks because of it’s bitter/acidic bite, but on the other hand, certain good coffees are so smooth and mild, I never use sugar or cream.

    Thanks for your comments! :)
    Kelly

    39 Bamboo April 18, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    Kelly,

    Thanks for clearing up my confusion about the maple syrups!

    This sounds goofy, but I just like the powdered creamers better! When I use real cream or even the soy liquid creamer they bother my digestive system a bit (although I love the true cream flavor and consistency). As far as the coffee bitterness, of all the fancy brands I like the cheap store brand the most. It’s not really bitter coffee, but I guess I’m not ready to go no-sweetener yet. Thus the one drop of stevia, lol. Which coffees do you like that you don’t use sweetener or cream?

    Thanks,
    Beth

    40 Kelly the Kitchen Kop April 18, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    Hi again Beth,

    I love flavored coffees. Not coffee with flavorINGS, but vanilla or hazelnut coffee – just a touch of flavor without being overpowering…

    Have a great weekend!
    Kelly

    41 Kelly the Kitchen Kop May 29, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    I met with Crystal today, a very experienced Naturopath, and she wanted to let me know that after reading all this, she still uses Agave Nectar (not much though, it’s still a sweetener!) because although it has a high fructose content, its glucose content is much lower than other sweeteners.

    Kelly

    42 Barb Schmidt July 18, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    Hi, Kelly, I was rereading your blog entry “Dark Secrets”, where you talk about drinking coffee. Well, here’s a site I found:
    http://www.highergroundstrading.com
    They are based in Traverse City, with a booth at Sweetwater Local Foods Market in Muskegon. They offer organic fair trade coffee in partnership with Catholic Relief Services.A portion of their profits goes to CRS, along with other worthy causes too. Oh yeah, it’s good coffee too! My thinking is it’s a great way to support a habit and a good cause at the same time!

    43 Kelly the Kitchen Kop July 19, 2008 at 8:21 am

    Great scoop, thanks Barb!

    44 Kelly April 24, 2009 at 1:19 am

    Hey Everyone, if you’re still getting updates when a new comment shows up here, look for a new post about all this in the morning!

    45 Ginny October 8, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    I’ve read that you have to be careful with Stevia (esp. liquid) b/c it is often processes with chemicals, I want to say hexane? I think I read in “Eat Fat, Lose Fat” (Sally Fallon, Mary Enig) that the Stevia powder that is still green is the kind to use.

    46 Dina March 22, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    Hi Kelly,

    I just found your site and I love it!!!!!!!! How do you tell if a food has Hmo in them. I just flecked my chocolate chips and I can’t figure it out. Thanks. I can’t wait to continue reading.

    47 Dina March 22, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    Sorry: GMO

    48 KitchenKop March 22, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Hi Dina,

    I’m glad you found your way here!

    As far as GMOs, I buy almost everything organic and one of the biggest reasons is to avoid GMOs. Also, just remember that the biggest GMO crops are canola (which we don’t touch anyway), soybeans (ditto), and sugar beets, and we use coconut sugar or cane sugar. Oh and corn is the other big one.

    Kelly

    49 KitchenKop April 8, 2014 at 7:13 am

    Hey all, this post specifically has been slammed with spam lately, so I’m closing comments for now because I can barely keep up with deleting it all. :(
    Kelly

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