Friday, October 23, 2020

Grocery Shopping on a Special Diet: Soup, Crackers, and So Much Candy

Welcome back to my autism-aware shopping trip through the grocery store.  Week by week, I'm showing you what the store sells, prune down the selection to what's safe for me (because autistic people can have very sensitive systems) and point out various gotchas the store tries to make you buy stuff you didn't come for. 

As a reminder, I shop with the following conditions in mind:

  • dairy-free
  • low sugar
  • avoid ultraprocessed junk
  • avoid food coloring
  • conditional vegetarianism
  • avoid high histamine foods
  • awareness of gluten-free options and sugar-free options
Last week we met the pasta, "world foods," and sauce aisles, and found out my grocery store thinks "world foods" means snacks.  So many snacks.  With the occasional cooking staple thrown in for spice.  I guess if you want actual ethnic food, you're better off hitting up an ethnic food store.  We also learned sauces are sugar bomb traps.  Pasta sauce especially, but BBQ sauce and salad dressing, too.  

Onward to the soup and crackers!


Unlike weeks prior, I'm literally going to walk the whole way down one side of this aisle, then come back for the other side.  There's no continuity between one side and the other, so it makes the most sense to do it this way.


Maybe fittingly for someone that makes stuff from scratch a lot, we start with broth and stock.  There's a dozen varieties of chicken broth and beef broth.  Why, I have no idea.  It's pretty basic stuff.  Notice what's missing, by the way?  Beef and chicken are major meats, but... we're missing pork products here.  Ham stock is a thing, but you can't buy it here.  Or most anywhere in the US.  Why?  I'm not 100% sure, but I'd bet the pet food industry is a factor.  

I always opt for the third option presented here, by the way: vegetable broth.  It definitely doesn't have the same flavor in soups and such, but it's not that big of an adjustment in recipes.  


Into your basic canned soups.  Most soup is off limits to me, because the base is often chicken.  If not chicken, probably beef.  I still eat tomato soup, and cheese-based soups are also a thing, but both have their failings (high histamines and dairy, respectively).  Cream of ____ is also not a good plan, because more dairy.  


Yep.  The soup aisle comes with its own snack section.  This isn't even the only snack section in this side of the aisle.  I'm sure the manufacturers would style these "lunch options" or something that doesn't contain the word "snack" but.  Come on.  These aren't big or thick enough to be a whole meal, and they certainly don't have enough vegetable content.  Beyond the convenience bit, more canned soups.  Soup isn't that hard to make, but cracking open a can is even easier.  You have your choice of brand, too.  


The soup section tapers off into this.  "But we were already in the pasta section last time!" you might protest.  Yeah, I don't know either.  Anyway, here's the ramen.  Friend of budgeteers everywhere, this stuff will give you calories... but it has basically no nutritional content.  The ones that say chicken and beef and whatever, though?  They definitely have chicken or beef content, so those are out for me.  

On the far right side, Snacks the Second, with the Cup O' Noodles type of packages.  Add hot water, stir after a couple minutes, and consume.  You pay extra money for that packaging, though, and of course it goes right in the trash when you're done, and then into the landfill.  


This is actually more Snacks the Second, rather than Snacks the Third.  I guess one section of convenience soups wasn't sufficient.  These are actual cans, but they have an easy-open top, so you don't need to retrieve the can opener.  The options here vary, but they're all Italian-influenced ones.  Canned ravioli seems kind of gross in theory, but if you're hungry enough, it's tasty.  

I get to skip this section almost entirely because of the meat and dairy content.  


Speaking of meat content!  Did you know canned chicken is a thing?  I don't know how you're allowed to call something fresh if it's been canned, but uh.  This exists, at any rate.  I associate that can shape with tuna, not chicken, but I guess it serves either way.


The tuna fish still exists, naturally.  Along with sardines, shrimp, salmon, and mackerel.  The fishing industry has apparently responded at some point to the fears of heavy metals in their products, because there's no reason to name your brand SafeCatch otherwise.  Also, see at the top right there?  Snack tuna fish.  


You may also have Spam, corned beef, and canned chili (with or without beans).  I have never knowingly ingested Spam, and I probably never will.  I'm told it's an acquired taste.  For something like this, "acquired taste" means, to me, "this is bad and you have to trick yourself into believing it's good."

On to the crackers, which are the other side of the aisle.  So many crackers.


So hey, remember how there's a snack section in basically every aisle so far?  We're now reaching the actual snack aisles.  I'll try to be more specific than just stating that everything is ultraprocessed...

For example, Cheezits.  Tasty.  Low sugar, even.  Dairy, though.  Same with Goldfish crackers.  Like almost everything in this aisle, not gluten-friendly.  


I made sure to get a picture of this section specifically.  Triscuits and Wheat Thins are two brands you can consume with less worry about your guts afterwards.  Both have used whole grains in their production processes from the beginning.  If you absolutely have to serve crackers and your party-goers aren't sensitive to gluten, either of these will do in a pinch.  


If your party-goers are gluten-sensitive, though, here's your section.  I'm sorry to say I haven't tried most of these, but at least they exist.  


Saltines.  Someone once told me saltines are only eaten when you're sick because if you can't keep them down, you haven't wasted food you care about.  Apologies to anyone who does like saltines.  Note the brown version in the middle.  I say "brown" because it actually says nothing about the whole grain content.  And of course all saltines are made from wheat flour, so...  


Extra-snacky crackers and cookies, packaged in small containers for your convenience.  I'm actually not sure why cookies are sneaking into this aisle, except that I guess it's the same packaging setup.  Little plastic sleeves with sandwiched crackers and cheese paste, or cookies with frosting paste.  Favorite grab snacks for events and lunches, in my experience.  Again, it's ultraprocessed, nutritionless, and sometimes even sugar bombs.  


Are graham crackers a cracker or a cookie?  They're sweet, so I kind of want to say cookie.  Regardless, here they are.  You may have your choice of five basic brands, plus shaped snack versions because this is the US and we must have our snacks.  Watch the sugar content on the snack versions, it tends to be higher to appeal to children more.


And last but not least for this aisle, cookies.  Yes, cookies are now crackers.  Don't look at me, I don't know.  Anyway, we have now shed any pretense of healthiness.  These are unrepentantly sugar-bombs, with some "sugar free" exceptions.  

There's a type of cookie that's a layered bar shape.  They're often chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry flavored, and intensely sugary.  These come in "sugar free" varieties, if you look closely.  They're sweetened with aspartame, which gives me headaches.  If you recall from the baking aisle section, it's on the "best avoided" list.  I didn't check every package of sugar free cookies, but most listed one or more of those substances to avoid.  

Again, if you want to avoid sugar in your food, look for stuff sweetened with erythritol, stevia, and monk fruit.  Aspartame is not your friend, and neither is sucralose.  

Also, how many varieties of cookies does a person need?  All of them, apparently.  


Next, snacks!  Nuts, ice cream fixings, granola bars, and candy.  Just... so much candy.  


Chocolate syrup and ice cream fixings.  I'm not going to bother taking pictures of the calorie counts and sugar levels of these products.  You know they're bad.  I know they're bad.  You only eat these because you're treating yourself.  Sugar bombs, but at least they're honest ones.  


Snack nuts.  Mostly peanuts, but there's some mixed nut options and specifics like pistacios as well.  Tree nuts (note: not peanuts) are a common allergen, but they're very good for you.  Protein and aminos in one convenient crunchy package.  It's a shame nuts are high histamine foods...  

This is actually not the only section of nuts in the store, but the other is located quite far away and we'll get to it near the end of this series.


Applesauce.  Note the staggering variety of "snack" options.  The brighter and more colorful the package, the higher the sugar content.  Gotta poison those kiddos early.  When you buy applesauce, look for the no sugar added option, because that's the only way this isn't sugar bombs.  


Convenience canned fruit.  I'm most fond of the mandarin oranges, but I rarely get them.  The 100% juice versions are a trap: juice is just sugar water with vitamin C, and it's not even going to be the same juice as the fruit in the cup.  Notably, some of these options are "no sugar added" and some are even sweetened with monk fruit, so there are actual semi-healthy options here... you just have to look really hard for them.  The plastic cups are awful for the environment though.


Right next to the fruit: pudding and jello.  Yeah, because the canned and sugared up fruit wasn't snacky enough.  More terrible plastic cups, of course.  I can say this, at least: there are dairy-free puddings and gelatin-free jellos (they use carageenen instead).  So there's options here for me if I want to buy something unrepentantly snacky.  Nothing sugar-free that isn't horrifying, though, so my mother, with her allergy to cane sugar, is out of luck.  


Continuing the massively unhealthy trend, fruit snacks.  Make no mistake.  These are candy.  The pitiful amount of vitamin C in these can't hope to make up for the sugar, artificial colors, and calories they contain.  I'm personally fond of Gushers but they are truly awful for me, so I rarely get them.  


As an aside?  This is one of two sections in the store where aisles connect in the middle, and it's because this is the heart of the store.  That is, this is the candy aisle, and the break here leads to the chips.  We'll meet the other pair of joined sections soon.  


Speaking of candy, here's a shot of basically half an aisle... and it's all candy.  Mints, chocolate-covered etc, gummies, hard candies, compressed sugar candies, dozens of types of candy bars, gum...  the US appetite for variety in candy is practically limitless.  I didn't bother getting more than one picture here because although they're honest sugar bombs, they're still sugar bombs.  Often sugar bombs loaded with artificial colors.  I typically don't even go into this aisle because of all the things I can't have here.


We now begin our foray into the other candy bars: the ones that pretend to be healthy.  We start with something significantly more honest...


Marshmallow and cereal treats are pretty unhealthy and most folks know it.  Let's look at the calories, sugar, and serving size.  90 calories, 8 grams of sugar, for 22 grams of marshmallow treat.  That's kind of awful, but again, at least it's honest.  


Now let's compare to an offering from Nature Valley, clearly touting itself as healthy and nutritious... 170 calories, and 9 grams of sugar, for 35 grams of granola bar.  That's... worse.  Significantly worse.  Sugar bomb!


Wait, why is everything dessert flavored?  Seriously, my pictures are a random sample of what's available, and everything is brownies and chocolate and peanut butter with the faintest hint of fruit, maybe.  

90 calories, 7 grams of sugar, for 24 grams of granola bar.  That's about on par with the marshmallow treat.  


Oh look, one for kids.  Brand: Rx Kids.  Surely this one will be healthy and full of nutrients?  

Nope, 130 calories, 10 grams of sugar, and no nutrient levels worth mentioning, in 33 grams of granola bar.  The doctor that wrote this prescription should be sued for malpractice.  This is just another cleverly marketed (and morally devoid) sugar bomb.  


What about the fancier brands?  KIND is supposed to be good for you.  160 calories, and 11 grams of sugar in 40 grams of granola bar.  Sorry KIND, I don't think your amaranth, millet, rice, buckwheat, and quinoa can make up for the fact that you're the worst by far.  Or perhaps you're only KIND to yourselves, by padding your wallets on lies?  


As disgusted with this aisle as I am, I did find a couple options that weren't completely hideous.  The reduced sugar variety of Chewy is still high on the calories (90) but only poisons you with 5 grams of sugar.  That's still far too much, but it's... an improvement.  


And then there's this, which is the very best I could find in the aisle.  100 calories and 3 grams of sugar for 25 grams of granola bar.  I actually bought one of these.  They taste okay, but they're tiny and don't have a very strong flavor.  The texture also leaves something to be desired... but that's compared to sugar bombs, after all.  

I typically don't take pictures of the endcaps/impulse buys... but this was too much to stomach.  So, bonus horror, found by the spice aisle:


Did you know Family Time means sugar bombs?  I didn't realize family time needed to involve poisoning myself.  Thanks for clearing that up, grocery store!

That takes care of aisles 10 and 9.  Remember, granola bars are sugar bombs (shop very carefully!), and I'll see you next time for the other half of the snack aisle (chips!) and various refreshing drinks.  

Monday, October 19, 2020

Reading the Research: Autistic Wiring

Welcome back to Reading the Research, where I trawl the Internet to find noteworthy research on autism and related subjects, then discuss it in brief with bits from my own life, research, and observations.

Today's article builds on the understanding that autism is a brain condition, not a medical disease.  

I do find the hope of having a singular treatment to "repair" the autistic wiring more than a little shortsighted.  There's a difference between improved functioning and "cured" which is kind of the vein "repaired" goes into.  One more for the folks in back: I am not broken.  I am different.  The fact that y'all built a society that excludes people like me is not my fault.  

While reducing my suffering and the suffering of other autistic people is a noble goal, take care not to decide my differences should be eradicated.  The mental illnesses I developed from trying to fit into society are suffering.  The spikes of painful sounds in everyday living, like alarms and sirens, are suffering.  The gastrointestinal issues I have are suffering.  

The fact that my brain is more specialized and less social?  That's not suffering.  It's human diversity.  

Setting that aside, I learned from LENS that there is no one true brain layout.  When you muck around in brain connections, you quickly find out there is no "normal."  The size and strength of parts of the brain vary.  The strength of connections varies.  Trying to shoehorn one person's brain to be like another's is stupid at best.  

Rather than try to make some kind of wiring diagram to make autistic brains adhere to, it's more reasonable to figure out how to prod our brains into functioning best as compared to ourselves.  That's the process that was done to me in LENS, and even  on a crap day like today, I'm still doing better now than I was basically every day in college.  

Should these researchers stop what they're doing?  No.  But an attitude adjustment is definitely in order.  Also: mouse models.  It's always mouse models.  

(Pst! If you like seeing the latest autism-relevant research, visit my Twitter, which has links and brief comments on studies that were interesting, but didn't get a whole Reading the Research article about them.)

Friday, October 16, 2020

Autism Research Program (2020 Edition)

 It's that time of year again.  Despite my having served in this program for three years and that usually being it, they called on me for the fourth year to fill in for someone who had to drop out.  

The TL;DR of the program is: "When the US isn't at war, X amount of military money gets put into various research programs to support the troops and the US public.  The ARP is one such program, and there's another for breast cancer, and like three dozen more.  Unlike most research programs, the ARP and others include members of the public in their rating panels.  This is so the approved and funded research is not only scientifically valid, but also useful to the community.  

This inclusion of people affected by the condition is not the norm, by the way.  Typically they ask scientists, and only scientists, what research is worth funding.  It's a trend that's shockingly forward-thinking for the US government, and one I hope to see more in years to come.

This year, unlike previous years, everything was done over video and voice calls.  Typically this program involves needing to fly to near Washington DC to meet with everyone in person, but because of the coronavirus mucking everything up, that wasn't an option.  

I have nothing positive to say about being on a Zoom call for 5 hours a day, but we did, at least, get the work done.  I have to say, I much prefer the in-person experience.  It's easier to get people to see you as a fellow human and recognize the validity of your experience if they have to look at your face.  

The in-person experience also makes people more able to function as a team, in the main because there's usually time at meals to chat and mix.  In the past I've sought out a particular bioethicist because of her outstanding insight into not only the ethics, but also the needs of the community.  There was no opportunity for that this year.  It was a pity.  

Still, the support staff handled the difficulties of the all-virtual conference with grace and zero lost tempers.  All the work got done.  As usual, I was Opinionated and more critical than most people in the room.  I like to think my lack of rose-tinted lenses makes the discussion more objective, and I suppose the fact that they keep inviting me back at least lends itself to supporting that opinion. :3

Anyway, the official press release is below.  I took great satisfaction in amending their suggested "he/she" to "they" as befitting my gender of "no thanks."  They can't stop me, and it's more accurate anyway.  

------------------------------------

SCIENTIFIC PEER REVIEW OF CONGRESSIONALLY DIRECTED MEDICAL RESEARCH PROGRAMS’ AUTISM RESEARCH PROGRAM FOR THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

The Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs’ (CDMRP), Autism Research Program (ARP) consumer advocate Sarah Frisch recently participated in the evaluation of research applications submitted to the ARP. Sarah was nominated for participation in the program by Autism Support of Kent County, in western Michigan. As a consumer reviewer, they were a full voting member, (along with prominent scientists) at meetings to help determine how the $15 million appropriated by Congress for Fiscal Year 2020 will be spent on autism research.

Consumer reviewers are asked to represent the collective view of patients by preparing comments on the impact of the research on issues such as diagnosis, treatment, and quality of life. When commenting on serving as a consumer reviewer, Sarah said, “It's a challenging and lengthy process, but highly rewarding.”

Consumer advocates and scientists have worked together in this unique partnership to evaluate the merit of research applications since FY07. COL Sarah B. Goldman, Director of the CDMRP, expressed her appreciation for the consumer advocates’ hard work. “Integrating consumer perspectives into our decision-making process brings energy and focus to our research programs. Patients, caregivers, family members, and advocates help us keep our efforts centered around what is truly important to those impacted. We very much value this critical input from our consumers who help ensure that CDMRP’s work remains critical and relevant,” she said.

Scientists applying propose to conduct innovative research that advances the understanding of autism spectrum disorders and leads to improved outcomes for Service Members, their families, and the American public. The ARP fills important gaps not addressed by other funding agencies by supporting groundbreaking research while encouraging out-of-the-box thinking.

More information about the CDMRP’s ARP is available at the website: https://cdmrp.army.mil/arp/default.

______


Media Contact: 

Kate Poindexter
Public Affairs Specialist
Ripple Effect
Supporting the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs,
USAMRDC
301-619-7783
Kathleen.poindexter.ctr@mail.mil

Monday, October 12, 2020

Reading the Research: Gameifying Mental Health

Welcome back to Reading the Research, where I trawl the Internet to find noteworthy research on autism and related subjects, then discuss it in brief with bits from my own life, research, and observations.

Today's article is likely a look into the future of mental health support tools.   These days, video games appeal to a fairly broad audience.  That's because they have structure, pacing, and celebration of achievements built into them.  Real life kind of doesn't, once you get out of school, in my experience.  

For example, in video games you typically have a statistics sheet you can reference at any point.  This sheet tells you important information about your situation and yourself.  For example, you might have a species (human) and a class or job (writer).  It might list your most prominent skills (pattern recognition) or your affiliations and reputations with various entities (unknown cat level supporter of ASAN). You might also have physical statistics, like an intelligence score or a strength score.  The sheet may also tell you whether you're suffering from conditions, like the the flu.  It may even tell you how your stats are affected by that condition.  

All of this info is highly useful and lets people plan more precisely for future challenges.  And while I've tried to make real life examples during my explanation, there is no equivalent in real life for a character sheet.  The closest thing I can think of is a resume or a CV, and those are as much about posturing as they are about reality.  

I've tried various apps for mental health at this point, and I can attest to the "sky-high attrition rates" mentioned regarding most mental health apps.  In plainspeak: people tend to start with mental health apps, but don't keep using them day after day or week after week, which is what you kind of need to do if you're going to change habits and benefit in the long term.  

In my particular case, it was either that I wasn't seeing anything new or useful come out of my efforts of using the app, or I simply forgot and continued forgetting as time went by.  I have a bachelor's degree in psychology and have been in therapy for like 5 years, so it's not like the information conveyed in most of these apps is going to be super new and riveting.   But, there is always room for improvement, so it's not out of the realm of possibility that I'd benefit from these apps.  

At any rate, I gave the one in this article a try, after realizing it's kind of weird to find your mental health apps by way of scientific research.  It's based around the Big Five theory of personality that's popular now, but it tries to teach you how to communicate better.  Which is valuable, since, y'know, I'm autistic over here.  

There wasn't enough app to make a proper Friday review of it, but I can safely say that I would have kept playing if I hadn't run out of content.  Actually, I burned through all the content in a single afternoon.  So I guess I need more pacing in my life anyway.  It would have been smarter to play a level a day or something like that.  

(Pst! If you like seeing the latest autism-relevant research, visit my Twitter, which has links and brief comments on studies that were interesting, but didn't get a whole Reading the Research article about them.)

Friday, October 9, 2020

Grocery Shopping on a Special Diet: Pasta, "World Foods" and Sauces

Welcome back to my autism-aware shopping trip through the grocery store.  Week by week, I'm showing you what the store sells, prune down the selection to what's safe for me (because autistic people can have very sensitive systems) and point out various "gotchas" the store tries to make you buy- stuff you didn't come for and don't need. 

As a reminder, I shop with the following conditions in mind:

  • dairy-free
  • low sugar
  • avoid ultraprocessed junk
  • avoid food coloring
  • conditional vegetarianism
  • avoid high histamine foods
  • awareness of gluten-free options and sugar-free options
Last week we met the baking aisle and the milk and cheese parts of the dairy aisle.  We learned there about eleventy billion types of sweeteners, and most of them are bad for autistic people, found two different "snack" sections in the dairy section, and yet another in the baking aisle.  Sensing a trend?  

Onward, to the pasta, "world foods," and taco aisle!


I like a lot of things in this aisle, at least in theory.  


As promised, the pasta section.  Many brands, many types of noodles, decision paralysis central.  Almost invariably this is all ultra-processed.  Whole grain noodles exist, but on account of them having a stronger flavor than the typical ones, there isn't as much demand or selection.  


There are some alternatives if you're health conscientious or gluten-free, but I have yet to have really good reports on any particular type of wheat noodle substitute.  At any rate, at least there's something available.


Tortillas and taco kits, and also my finger at the top there. Oops.  Tortillas and taco shells, like pasta, mainly come in nutrient-deficient varieties and in various sizes.  A couple whole grain options are available, but again, you may not be able to get exactly what you were looking for.


Next, assorted taco seasoning packets and sauces.  You always want to check the latter for their sugar content, because unfortunately that's where the sugar sneaks in.  Imported items typically have less sneaky sugar, but it's always smart to check.  


How many kinds of refried beans does a person need?!  But this is also pickled peppers, bags of rice, and cans of whole beans.  Notably, many of these varieties of refried beans have lard (an animal product) mixed into them for extra flavor.  I have to buy the vegetarian type.  


Aww, but we were doing so well...  Hello, sugar bombs!  Coca Cola from Mexico (ie: sweetened with cane sugar, not high fructose corn syrup), and various less US-recognizable sugary drinks.  To my great and abiding disappointment, the peach nectar drink up there has very little to do with actual peach juice.  As I mentioned during the first installment of this grocery store exploration, juice is also sugar bombs.  But, I have a soft spot for peach juice because I drank it every morning when I visited Greece for a couple weeks in school.  Every day there was an adventure, and so I miss the flavor.


Cheese products (spread, sauce, or perhaps "ooze") plus many kinds of canned salsa and guacamole.  Maybe it's because I lack imagination, but I'm pretty happy with a mild salsa, and if I want something fancier I'll make it.  I dunno.  At any rate, many brands, many options.  


Back to the pasta side of things: it's the choice paralysis-inducing selection of red sauce.  Off my picture, I can count 14 brands of sauce, and I'm pretty sure there's at least 6 more down the way.  You'd think red sauce would pretty much just be savory, right?  




Yeah.  Red sauce is sugar bombs.  Depressing.  

The good news is that there's still some you can find in this vast sea of options that are low sugar.  You just have to hunt really hard for them.  I try to get mine with 3 grams of sugar per serving or less.  


Apropos of literally nothing, here's the gluten-free section.  Why the pasta aisle?  Why right in the middle?  Is it to make gluten-free people grumpy because they have to walk by so much gluten to get there?  I have no idea.  

The section is mostly snacks, which is even worse... but down at the bottom you can find the Cup For Cup brand baking mixes, which I used to make a pretty okay pie crust from this year for my gluten-free black razz pie.  You'll also note some extra pasta options, "bread crumbs," and premade pie crusts and cake mixes.  


Right back to the pasta stuff without batting an eye.  I really don't understand the logic in these arrangements, but here's the parmesan cheese and extra fixings for your pasta sauce.  Including canned mushrooms.  Ew.  Also on the lower shelves, pizza options.  Pizza sauce, pizza kits, and premade pizza crusts, including a gluten-free cauliflower option.  

What's that you say?  There weren't enough snacks in this aisle?  Don't worry, the powers that be agree with you!





Ahem.  So, this is (I guess) the rest of the world foods section.  We had the sugar bomb drinks earlier, but now we also have various British and pan-European snack options.  It's just as well I wasn't hungry when I took these pictures, because I've had several of those Stroopwaffels on airplanes and now I kind of want some.  

The first picture is more pan-Asian snacks and convenience foods, including sugar bomb drinks at the bottom, wasabi peas, Pocky, and savory snacks.  

It doesn't matter.  It's all ultraprocessed and nutrient-free.  


Bleeding into the pan-Asian snacks is the Asian sauces section.  No particular care is given to what part of Asia was involved with which sauce, as teriyaki sauce (Japanese) is just a single shelf down from kimchi (Korean) sauce, and just a few more shelves down is Indian curry of various types.  Slightly more care is given to these things in Asian food stores in the US, but not much.  On behalf of my entire country, I apologize for our incredible ignorance of the differences between Asian countries.  


And because we definitely didn't have enough snacks on our trip through this aisle, here's some imported candy, sweets, and just enough pantry essentials to let the store pretend it's offering things besides snacks.

Based on the matzos and latke (potato pancake) mix, I guess this section is meant to serve Jewish cooking needs as well, though I'll have to keep an eye out for anything in the meat section calling itself kosher.  Nothing comes to mind, to be perfectly honest.  


Next aisle: canned and bottled stuff!  Beans, pickles, canned veggies.  Also salad dressing, ketchup, mustard, BBQ sauce, etc.  


Canned tomatoes of many varieties, with and without flavorings.  Diced tomatoes, slices, stewed chunks, and sauce.  You can find versions with Italian herbs mixed in, or Tex-Mex versions with seasonings and even jalapeno pepper chunks.  Tomatoes are either a high histamine food or a histamine-releaser food... and either way, I mostly avoid them.  You're going to hear me talk about histamines a lot in this aisle.


Canned vegetables.  The number of options here is a little dizzying.  Industrial canning unfortunately tends to destroy some of the nutritional content of vegetables, so my mother tended to use fresh or frozen versions rather than these.  But I've had canned green beans in hot lunch at school.  Ick.  Canned vegetables are also higher in histamines, which means I'm better off avoiding them.  I think the only exception to my blanket "nope" for this aisle is canned corn, which I'll use if fresh isn't available.  

Corn isn't a vegetable, by the way.  It's a grain.


Beans.  Protein source for vegetarians everywhere.  I only recall eating kidney and refried beans growing up, but that's most likely because I didn't pay attention.  There are a staggering variety of beans.  This last year or so I've learned to appreciate cannellini beans, but there's still great northern beans and pinto beans and a lot more.  Baked beans are typically sugar bombs, by the way.


Vinegar.  This is a very high histamine food, and so is pretty much anything made with it.  It also wrecks my spouse's guts, so despite all the interesting flavors on the left, we just keep walking.  My mother says you can substitute lemon juice for vinegar in many recipes, and it's much kinder to the gut.  I've yet to try this trick, but it seems potentially valuable.  


Pickles.  Again, a high histamine food.  Histamines make me feel like I'm dying, a bit.  And the foods high in them taste bad to me, so I typically avoided them anyway.  It's a shame because fermented foods can be really good for your gut.  They can help restore a balance of bacteria, or even introduce new beneficial bacteria.  


Gravy type sauces.  I actually have no idea how difficult it is to make gravy from scratch because I typically only see gravy packets and such, like these.  I also don't eat gravy much because it's almost invariably full of inhumanely handled animal products.  It's definitely tasty when I do get to have it, though. 


Hot sauce, steak sauce, barbecue/barbeque sauce, ketchup, and mustard.  Watch the sugar content on the BBQ sauce and the ketchup.  Even a couple grams in a tablespoon serving adds up very fast in meals.  


Bread crumbs.  Yeah, there's a whole section just for bread crumbs.  Including gluten-free ones.  What can I say? USians love our breaded and fried foods.  


Rice!  Everything from the typical nutritionless, fiberless white rice to brown rice and wild rice, or mixed varieties.  It's mostly white rice, because that's the staple and people aren't used to rice with actual flavor.  

Did you know there's hundreds of types of rice?  I can name Jasmine and Basmati rice but there's also Jata, Kebo, Gharib, Ariete, Hieri, Murni, Khushbu, and a ton more.  There's types used to make rice wine, glutinous and non-glutinous types, red and black rice, aromatic rice...  Rice also comes in long grain, short grain, and medium grain varieties.  While all the varieties I named above are from other countries, even the US has dabbled in creating rice varieties.  

You can only find a few kinds of rice here, but it's enough to serve most USians.  On the far side of this section and at the top: convenience rice meal starters.  Basically, rice package with seasonings and/or sauce powder.  Toss in a protein and a heaping helping of vegetables and you basically have a meal.  


The convenience rice section bleeds right into the convenience pasta section, which is the same sauce powder/spices deal, but with noodles instead.  Obviously, your options for gluten-free are limited... although they're not nonexistent.  The other thing to watch out for here is cheese.  We love dairy in the US, and cheese features prominently in this section.  If it's not parmesan or cheddar, it's some kind of cheese ooze (Velveeta) or similar ideas.  

I actually don't hate Velveeta, as it's much lower dairy content than most of what's in this aisle.  It's relatively safe for me and my spouse (who is lactose-intolerant) to consume, so we keep some onhand.  

The problem, of course, is that like white rice, regular noodles convert very quickly in the gut to sugar, so eating noodles is nearly as bad for you as eating sugar straight.  Which is why these meal starters, while comforting to have around, are very firmly in the "sometimes treat" territory.  


Honorable mention to the several feet wide section for the health-conscientious-but-still-likes-Mac'n'cheese crowd.  The stuff here ranges from organic (eh) to goat cheese or pseudocheese (for dairy-sensitive people) to gluten-free noodles.  


Suddenly, salad stuff!  Croutons and salad dressing.  Mostly the latter.  Croutons, bacon bits, onion bits, and etc. are fine, but I never bother with them.  Salad dressing, on the other hand...  is a trap.  People eat salads because they want to be healthy, right?  Yeah, now look at the calorie counts on these.  


Two tablespoons of this, and you might as well have just had bacon crumbled over your salad.  Also, dairy!  This ranch isn't sugar bombs, but let's look a little further...

Yep, there it is.  90 calories for 2 tablespoons, but 8 grams of sugar.  Yikes.  Literally the first ingredient is sugar.  


Happy medium?  130 calories and 4 grams of sugar for 2 tablespoons.  Also this dressing seems to be full of vinegar and pickles, which is a bad plan for me and my histamine issues.  

So, if salad dressings are a trap, what do you do instead if you don't like the flavor of greens?  

I typically opt for olive oil, salt, and pepper, honestly.  Olive oil is noted to be good for you, and the salt and pepper adds enough that I don't get offput by the bitterness of the arugula or whatever else.  

That's aisles 12 and 11!  Next time, soups, crackers, nuts, granola, and we inch ever closer to the actual snacks aisles.  Because, y'know, there weren't enough snacks in the rest of the store.