Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Almond flour whole wheat berry pancakes

Sometimes we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place, or as the literary types like to say, between Scylla and Charybdis. Trust me, Odysseus, Aeneas, and Jason of the Argonauts all found this crucial spot. When we have to make a difficult choice or deal with dangers in our lives, having a hero who’s gone before us helps to handle these difficulties. Sometimes both choices might lead to a harm, although a different type depending on our choice. Then we have to “pick our poison,” as another saying goes. This applies to sweetening agents, either real or artificial.


“The best thing about pie is ice cream” is one of my family’s oldest mottos. Everything is better with a bit or a lot of ice cream on it. And don’t give me the fake stuff I “get to eat a whole pint” of that doesn’t feel right across my tongue. I want a little bit of real things infrequently, rather than a Lot of Not.

One concern about artificial sweeteners is they affect our body’s ability to gauge how many calories we consume. Some studies show sugar and artificial sweeteners affect the brain in different ways. The human brain responds to sweetness with signals to eat more. By providing a sweet taste without any calories, however, artificial sweeteners cause us to crave more sweet foods and drinks, which can add up to excess calories.

That is, if we stoke the flames of fire’s desire, but don’t give it fuel with zero calories diet food, we have to eat something extra anyway. Who among us hasn’t justified the extra cookies with the diet cokes we’ve swilled all day? I always drank black coffee so I could have apple fritters—for the fat, sugar, carbohydrate trifecta. Mind games!

At the University of California-San Diego, researchers performed functional MRI scans as volunteers took small sips of water sweetened with sugar or sucralose (Splenda). Sugar activated regions of the brain involved in food reward, while Splenda didn’t. It is possible, the authors say, that sucralose “may not fully satisfy a desire for natural caloric sweet ingestion.” So, while sugar signals a positive feeling of reward, artificial sweeteners may not be an effective way to manage a craving for sweets.

As we say in the Kitchen, That ain’t good. This means all our eating and drinking of artificially sweetened is just setting us up for the desire to have the real thing.


A 2011 statement from the American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association concluded that when used judiciously, non-nutritive sweeteners (including very low-calorie sweeteners, artificial sweeteners, and non-caloric sweeteners) might help with weight loss or control, and could also have beneficial metabolic effects. The statement also points out, however, that these potential benefits will not be fully realized if there is a compensatory increase in energy intake from other sources—ultimately saying that at this time there are insufficient data to make a conclusive determination about using non-nutritive sweeteners; more research is needed.


Using low or no calorie sweeteners with good judgement and in moderation for a short time duration might help with weight loss or control. However, if we replace our “saved calories” with “other calories,” we might cancel out all our good efforts. Since we can’t keep people in a managed food program and monitor everyone’s calorie intake and exercise expenditure 24/7/365, “more research is needed.” If only there were an alarm bell on the chocolate pudding cups in the ice box, I wouldn’t be able to sneak them out under cover of the dark of the night.

To date, the FDA has approved the use of six artificial sweeteners; each one is far sweeter than regular sugar. They include:

One natural low-calorie sweetener, stevia, has not yet been evaluated by the FDA.

• Stevia is a non-caloric sweetener made from the leaves of a shrub that grows in South and Central America.

• Stevia is about 300 times sweeter than sugar.

• A number of major soft drink companies have begun launching stevia-sweetened beverages, sometimes combining stevia with erythritol, a sugar alcohol.

• There are no long-term studies of the health effects of stevia.

Sugar alcohols
Erythritol and xylitol are sugar alcohols, a class of compounds that have been used for decades to sweeten chewing gum, candy, fruit spreads, toothpaste, cough syrup, and other products. Newer, cheaper ways to make sugar alcohols from corn, wood, and other plant materials, along with their sugar-like taste, are fueling their use in a growing array of foods.


Artificial sweeteners may damage blood vessels

I think everyone has at least one friend who will not eat carbohydrates or sugar in any form, as these are forbidden food choices on their meal plans.

Many modern PALEO and KETO diets all but ignore the foods studied in the science based random controlled studies (the gold standard). Some folks go whole hog any avoid anything white, just on principle. This will get you in trouble later on. Trust me. Hang in there.

THE SCIENCE PALEO DIET: The principal components of this diet are wild-animal source and uncultivated-plant source foods, such as lean meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, roots, eggs, and nuts. The diet excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, salt, refined sugar, and processed oils, all of which were unavailable before humans began cultivating plants and domesticating animals. Remember “White isn’t right?” And I said that would get you in trouble?

Notice the big food group avoided here—dairy. One cup of milk, a thick slice of real cheese, and a cup of yogurt meets your calcium needs. An 8 ounce glass of Almond Milk rings up 20% of your calcium, while cow’s milk has 30% RDA. Coconut milk has only 10% calcium. Or 2 1/2 Cups of almonds at 2,041 calories will get your RDA in. This is 5.9 pounds of almonds, or 2 giant bags from Sam’s Club for a whopping expense of $28 in one day.

Probably a stomachache bill the next day also, but this is just “Dr. Cornie,” talking. Remember, I’m not a real doctor—I only act like one when I’m teasing you about dumb diet tricks we all have tried in the past. Now we’ve survived, so we can laugh about it.

Observational studies of modern-day Paleolithic types of populations support a conclusion that a Paleolithic diet prevents obesity and metabolic syndrome. The main ingredient lacking in a Paleolithic diet is calcium, which must be supplemented to prevent bone mineral loss. (I would add also these people spend significant amounts of time in exercise to acquire their food, do labor intensive subsistence work to provide for their families and communities, and have few, if any modern transportation devices.)


One song with two verses got sung over and over again in the church preschool because the kids couldn’t get enough of it. In education, I learned to read with phonics, the next generation went to whole words, a few more theories came down the pike, and then phonics came around again.

The same cycle of thought has hit our nutrient groups, partly because we’re still building on the knowledge gained by previous generations. While our grandparents may have known enough to get through their world, they were eating out of their own gardens or bought food from those who brought it in from a local farm.

My grandmother’s laundry in the garage had a hand cranked washing machine with a washboard on it. We lived in the city and thought we were fancy pants because we had this tool. It replaced the old double wash tubs in the same building. I counted myself privileged when I got to stand on a chair to turn the crank in the cool darkness of the old place because I was big enough to help.

Now we have washers that look like they belong on spaceships. These can do intimates or work jeans with equal ease, and dry them in the companion contraption next to it. If only they were self loading, I would be in hog heaven. I can still remember hanging wet clothes out on the lines out back behind the garage when I was a girl. Just as our laundry chores have changed, research on food has come a long way.


We now know sugar, consumed in large amounts, increases the risk of a range of health concerns. Artificial sweeteners may also have similar consequences, but through completely different biochemical pathways. So, which is safest: sugar or artificial sweeteners? Is this the rock or the hard place?

1. Excessive sugar intake has been conclusively paired with obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease — all of which are now solidly tied to the overconsumption of sugar.

2. As sugar’s sweet reputation grew steadily more sour, artificial sweeteners took the opportunity to rise to fame. We now have evidence consuming large amounts of these chemicals could also lead to obesity and metabolic disorders.

But “all that glitters is not gold.” Increasingly, I read studies published that reject artificial sweeteners’ whiter-than-white image. I’m convinced enough by this evidence to begin reducing my own intake of Sucralose.

I’m not replacing it with any natural sweetener, just halving my use. I already limited my soda intake to a single serving per day for bone density health, so I won’t miss those. I’ve added decaffeinated herb teas to my iced tea mix for extra sweet flavor, so the less sweetener doesn’t seem drastic. If you decide to limit your intake, I suggest a tapering off, since you need to get your tastebuds adjusted to the new sensation. Also, your brain needs a chance to rewire itself.

Next week, I’ll take a fresh look at sweeteners. I hope you have a good week, friends. Love, Cornie


Party People Party Hearty 

Today is Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day. We Americans like to celebrate odd and unusual days, not because we’re just a party people, but because our DNA demands it. The first settlers wouldn’t have made it through their first year on their crops alone. The native population had to show them the bounty of the land. They had a party, the first thanksgiving. We will party at the drop of a hat, and if you aren’t a party person, well, you probably don’t like chocolate either. 

Sproutzels with chocolate and almonds

I went to our condo Super Bowl Party last night, ate a bunch of home made snacks, and then stayed up late talking to one of my neighbors. I woke up too late to eat ice cream for breakfast, but I might have it for lunch. Who says we have to follow this day as it is written? I’ve already managed my “beauty sleep,” so now this ten o’clock scholar is writing at noon, and I should get down to business. 

Spinach Basil Pesto with Mozzarella on Toast

One of the wonderful aspects of this presidency of drama all the time, versus the past years, and I include most of my long lifetime, is our presidents seem to be above the storms which swirl in this world. Our current occupant seems to be the source of the storm. Yet I always have hope, for the storms of life always pass, and there’s always a limit to the storms concocted by human beings. 

Lame Duck

Yep, I’m celebrating, for today is the anniversary of the ratification of 20th Amendment to the US Constitution. It shortened the time between the old office holders and the new ones coming in. With our modern world and 24 hour news cycles, our politicians are now campaigning as soon as they win, even before they take office. Midterm elections even now could change the face of the Congress: all 435 House seats and 33 Senate seats are up for reelection. 

How to celebrate Lame Duck DayLame Duck Day is best celebrated by researching the history of those people you support politically, and find out just how accountable they really are to their constituents. 

Have they consistently voted their conscience in the past, have they worked to promote the things they were elected to support? 

It is especially important to pay attention to that period following a re-election, a choice to retire, or when their office has been eliminated, it’s this time period where they will most clearly show their true colors. 

If they remained true to their principles during this time period (their professed principles, odds are good that they’ll stay true to their constituents when the hammer comes down.

Remember your middle school civics lesson: the American government works on a process of checks and balances, with powers and responsibilities given to Legislative/Congress, the Executive/President, and the Judicial/Courts. 

The things you learn at the kitchen table in your family home stick with you for a lifetime. All great leaders have a formal cabinet, but also informal “kitchen cabinets ,” the people they really listen to for advice and moral direction. Information might get provided in this first realm, but the inner circle, the informal and intimate space, this is where the real work is done. 

So it is with our hearts and minds: if we don’t retire to a quiet place every so often, we’ll never hear the wisdom of the great counselor in the midst of the storms. 

The people’s power is in our voice and our vote. You won’t hear our American churches endorse candidate, for we enjoy benefits for being out of the political fray. You will hear our churches speak up for the needs of the weakest and most vulnerable among us, and for the stranger who seeks to sojourn among us. Welcome to America, eat some ice cream and be glad! 



I got the notice from my doctor that my insulin resistance has moved to prediabetes. It’s not a crisis, but it means I get to make some lifestyle changes. My upper carb limit was 180g per day, but I was starting to gain weight on this even with 5 days of exercise. I knew something was wrong, but like most people, I didn’t want to face the music.

Of course, I was having to clean out CORNIE’S CLOSET to make room for some “girthier coverings,” an act which required a bit of retail therapy. I have a rule, if I can’t wear it after one year, I don’t keep it, but take it to the consignment store. Someone else should wear it while it still looks good and is in style.

Cleaning out the closet makes me think about cleaning out the kitchen cupboards and the icebox. I have a harder time here, for I was raised by Depression Era parents. My generation of children cleaned our plates and ate “druthers,” or leftovers. People were starving in China, so we had to eat our meals. It didn’t help the Chinese one bit, but we cleaned our plates. Leftovers were called druthers, as in “would you druther have this or that?” As a result, I only buy foods I need or small amounts of foods that are “off program.”

I was in a tizzy over the last weeks, for several friends were having meltdowns in their personal lives, ISIS was executing innocents on a mountain, schools and churches were gearing back up for the fall, and I had a commissioned painting to finish and a new sculpture to complete for an upcoming show.

When I hit my local Kroger, I somehow walked out of there with FOUR PINTS of hard core, first class, premium ice cream! Three pints of very dark chocolate (my personal self medication drug of choice) and a pint of pomegranate gelato. How the last snuck in my cart, I have no idea. It must have been cloaked or in stealth mode.

I did only eat one of these pints before I managed to come back to earth. Autumn comes around every year, this craziness happens every year, and every year I realize how much I miss my mother’s presence in the kitchen. September is the anniversary of her last illness and her homecoming.

Sometimes we need to change the way we’ve always done things so that we get a different result. In my case, I get to change again my eating plan once again. Each change “cleans it up” or in the spiritual language, “I get to change my wicked ways” so that I can stay as healthy as possible.

Also, another change I want to make is to celebrate my mother’s life, rather than to remember the struggle of her last battle with cancer. My mother was the one who taught me the joy of sharing love from the kitchen; the power of communion and community that comes from the cookies, cakes, and casseroles; and the hope and healing that comes from working together in a kitchen.

I’ll still be making cookies, but I will be sharing more, and testing fewer. I won’t be eating pasta as often either, but that means I get to be creative in the kitchen!

Luke 3:11
In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

The Siren Call of Ice Cream

Nine forty five at night. The freezer is calling my name. The fact that I had a delightful dinner out with friends earlier tonight means nothing. The ice cream hour is at hand. Nothing worth watching is on the television: I’ve already seen the morning coverage of the Tour de France and the British Open. Somehow “Fists of Iron” and “Burlesque” aren’t grabbing my attention, so I decide to read a book about a horse saved from the dog food factory. A little mix of Pink Floyd and my other recently purchased iTunes music will do for the background, for my classic rock station has grown so predictable, I know it will be Bon Jovi at 4:30 every afternoon. They need a new algorithm.

Why do I need ice cream at night, you ask? And at this particular time? It’s a family habit, for my Dad would ask “is anyone ready for a little ice cream?” And all us kids would answer as one, “make me some!” Dad would dish up heaping bowls and serve them as if they were on silver platters. We would eat them as if we had golden spoons, even if all we had was plain vanilla. After this, we put our empty bowls in the kitchen sink, washed our faces, brushed our teeth, and got our good night kisses as the lights went off in our rooms. When we got a bit older, we were allowed to stay up and read quietly before going to sleep.

Even when I went off to college, I needed a nighttime snack before bed. My dorm didn’t have a freezer for my ice cream stash, so I had to make do with a candy bar or cookies. These aren’t the same as that taste of ice cream before bed. Calories, yes, but not the texture or memories that come to the mind. When I was preaching, I ate large bowls of ice cream every night. That may have been one of the reasons I wore large clothes every day. That, and little exercise. I ate big because I was carrying big stresses. As a prediabetic, I have changed my diet and added more activity.

Now, I no longer serve a church as an active pastor: my ministry is in my art, my writing, and my kitchen. I still eat ice cream, just a coffee cup, rather than a bowl full. I’ve discovered that a 1/2 cup serving satisfies just as much as two cups does, and I don’t have regrets and remorse when I indulge. I can enjoy the smaller amount rather than deal with the recriminations and disgust I feel when this shows up on the scale. But having the connection to my family’s memories, of the time when we were all still under one roof and all of us were still living is precious to me. Perhaps that is why I answer the siren call of the ice cream when I hear it call my name.