Last weekend we stopped into a Mexican restaurant for lunch that had this big sign displayed next to the counter.
I was totally confused by this until another customer asked what it meant and was told Mexican Coke is Coca-Cola made with sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. Let me just say this was much better than the mental image I had of “Mexican Coke” – which really had nothing to do with beverages! But, it also surprised me that this difference was so important to people that the restaurant would have a big sign about it. Do people steer clear of drinking Coke, but make an exception when they learn it’s loaded with sugar instead of hfcs? I live my life consciously avoiding anything with high fructose corn syrup because if it’s on an ingredient label it’s a red flag that the product is highly processed. But, what happens when the manufacturers switch out the hfcs for sugar? Does it make it better, or less processed? Not really, it’s just another ingredient label trick to be aware of.
The main difference between the two sweeteners is that high fructose corn syrup comes from corn, and white sugar usually comes from sugar beets or sugarcane, in large doses they’re both bad for us. And Americans consume both in very large doses. Sugar is added to everything! According to Dr. Mark Hyman, “we’ve gone from 20 teaspoons of sugar per person per year to about 150 pounds of sugar per person per year. That’s a half pound a day for every man, woman, and child in America.” (Why You Should Never Eat High Fructose Corn Syrup). So, although the obesity epidemic has increased seemingly in lockstep with the increased use of hfcs, our consumption of sugar overall has also increased. Coke is a perfect example of this and whether it contains hfcs or sugar, it’s still full of empty calories (as well as phosphoric acid and caramel coloring).
The good news is there are so many easy ways to make refreshing beverages that don’t come pre-loaded with sugar. My kids love it when I freeze orange juice in ice cube trays and drop a few cubes into what they call their “bubbly” – which is just plain carbonated water. Another sweet, natural option that has me really excited are the stevia plants I just bought. My boys already love picking all the poor leaves off the mint herbs we have in our garden. When they discovered they could do the same with the stevia herbs they went nuts over the sweet tasting leaves and started making little sweet mint “sandwiches” by layering both kinds of leaves together and eating them. This got me thinking about what else we could do with these magical leaves. I tried sticking some in a glass of water with lemon juice to make naturally sweet lemonade, but just wound up with sour water. Then I read I could dry the leaves, crush them, and create stevia powder. BUT, this is way too much work for me. So, I pulled some leaves off the plant, rough chopped them, put them in a mason jar with some warm water and left it there for a day. The next day I had a jar full of super sweet water, or what my kids call our “secret potion”. Add a few drops to lemon water and voila! Sweet lemonade. You could also use it to make naturally sweet tea. I added a 1/2 cup of hot tap water to an 1/8 cup, packed, of chopped leaves and let it sit for 24 hours. Be sure to remove the leaves after a day or else it will start to turn bitter. Keep in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a year!