Don’t forget to read the label…

Tonight was one of those oddball nights where our routine was completely thrown off. I was heading to a focus group for a local company and that left dh in charge of the entire dinner. Our meal plan – designed for ease and speed – was a mish-mash of Chinese-like substances. We planned for rice, baby corn and some frozen chicken that’s pre-breaded and sauced to be a reasonable approximation of General Tso (aka General Gao). By the time I got home, the kids’ tub was already running, and dh was about to usher them off to splashyland, but I hadn’t yet eaten, so I made up a plate of the leftover rice and corn, plus some of the chicken from the freezer bag.

As I took my first bite of the chicken, I realized – THIS TASTES WRONG. It tastes…icky. Too sweet. High fructose corn syrup, maybe? I finished my dinner (I was hungry, after all), and when I brought my plate into the kitchen, I opened the freezer and took a look at the back of the chicken bag. The fourth ingredient in was indeed HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP. Ew.

Now, I know HFCS has gotten a bad rap lately and that folks like the Mayo Clinic have said it’s not so much HFCS as it is all overdone sugar intake. Fine. I get that. But we’ve been trying to rid it from our pantry as much as possible, so when it turns up like a bad penny, I’ve now got my tastebuds trained to recognize it right away. Their reaction, in a word: VILE.

Funny thing is, this is a semi-new reaction for me. I have this general reaction to any non-sugar sweetener; I hated saccharine, I never got the hang of aspartame (aka Equal), and sucralose (aka Splenda) just makes me wrinkle my nose in revulsion. It’s sugar – or nothing. This is one of those few cases where I just can’t substitute; I’d rather go without or do strict limiting.

Our efforts to get HFCS out of the house have been semi-successful. It’s probably still in the soda that we replenish only infrequently (I primarily drink water, coffee, tea or chai). However, we were able to find not one but two (!) versions of our favorite ketchup that come in forms without HFCS. The taste difference is subtle but nice – ketchup tastes like it used to, now. I stumbled to find an egg nog that didn’t have HFCS in it (the only one I found locally was the Lactaid brand – none of the store brands, nor the two local commercial milk brands’ versions, were HFCS-free). Still, where we rid it from our house, we feel better.

All of this prompts me to issue a reminder that’s just a generally good principle. If you’re not someone who can put together the resources, time and effort to make your own…everything…then you should make sure you’re reading the labels. Check the ingredients lists and don’t be lulled into complacency by the brand name; our ketchup mysteriously had HFCS in it one day and we didn’t realize it until we looked at the label and practically threw it out in frustration. A barbecue sauce that I really love will never again be purchased for our house because it has HFCS in it. I knew it was too sweet for a reason…sigh.

So, check that label. Feel free to demand real sugar from the manufacturers whose food products you purchase. I know I do…

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