Probiotic Prunes anyone?

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So, I wanted to write a blog post all about my recent trip to the Carolinas to visit my boyfriend’s friends and family. Thinking about what to base it on I came up with several options… the amazing array of candy, giant portion sizes and sightings of the Confederate flag to name a few. But I decided to use this post to highlight some of the differences between the UK and this part of America – some examples paint the South in a positive light and some not so much, but there is no judgement being made here just observations about a place I really loved!

Being a vegetarian in the South…

Comparing North and South Carolina I found quite a difference when we ate out. In North Carolina (NC) the options for vegetarians (at least in Boone and Asheville where we stayed) were many and varied; I don’t think I’ve seen tempeh on so many menus… even in London.

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However, when we travelled South there was a distinct lack of options. Many places listed meals that could so easily be vegetarian but had meat incorporated into the sauces, toppings and well, everywhere, including in bean dishes, salads and egg breakfasts.

One such example came towards the end of our trip when we went to a Baptist Church in Lexington, South Carolina, so that I could get a true Southern experience. They just happened to be having an anniversary BBQ after the service; amazing, I thought, the chance to sample real home cooking (and for free!). However, we seemed to have forgotten our previous experiences of hunting out vegetarian food and my excitement soon turned to laughter as we made our way down the trays of food past pulled pork, BBQ chicken, South Carolina hash (a blend of pulled pork, chicken livers and spices). I quickly spotted the bacon pieces scattered in and around the otherwise delicious looking BBQ beans and ended up with a plate of plain rice, coleslaw and pickles… not the most exciting of lunches but to their credit the coleslaw was crunchy and delicious and the heavily laden dessert table more than made up for it, complete with banana pudding, red velvet and hummingbird cake, coconut cream pie and more.

Does America know how to recycle?

Now I’m not saying that in the UK we’re exactly leading the way in reducing food packaging and plastic use, but at least the areas we went to in the Carolinas didn’t seem to be up to where we are just yet.

One example of over-using food packaging that shocked me was individually wrapped vegetables like the below sweet potatoes, which is entirely unnecessary. Maybe we have more outrage about this sort of thing (anyone remember the cauliflower steak scandal..?) but this seemed to be perfectly commonplace and not limited to just potatoes.

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As well as this nobody ever asked if we needed carrier bags or not and they were basically being thrown at us which is in stark contrast to the UK now we’ve introduced mandatory charges on plastic bags in all large retailers. Another distinct difference was the lack of on-street recycling which has almost become obligatory in the UK, meaning we often ended up carrying our plastic rubbish with us until we got home. The only place we did see recycling bins for everyday use was on the Appalachian State University campus, so at least some places are making changes!

I can never take off my nutritionist hat…

As confused as American food labels make me, mostly as they don’t list nutrition information per 100g – don’t get me started on how frustrating it is to not be able to compare foods easily – I do think it’s great that many food labels list the added sugar content of products.

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In the UK the definition of these kinds of sugars, which we call free sugars, is this: all monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, plus sugars naturally present in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices (so natural sugars present in milk and in the cellular structure of foods are excluded).

The States use the term added sugar which refers to basically the same thing except this doesn’t refer to 100% fruit juice as added sugars in the way that we do. If you’re wondering the reason we count fruit juice as free sugar in the UK it’s because of the high concentration of sugars in juices and that the fibre has basically been completely removed in juice which is part of the health-giving effects of fruit and veg.

As you can see from the above picture of probiotic prunes the term ‘probiotic’ is thrown around quite liberally in the states on products ranging from fruit and yoghurt to ice creams and drinks containing live cultures like komboucha. In the UK no food manufacturer can use the word probiotic on food labels or advertising as this is seen to imply a health benefit for which we don’t necessarily have evidence of currently. Clearly this is not the case in America and it’s quite interesting to see how widely the term is used… just to be clear the study of probiotics and health is new and vastly complicated so claims made are likely to be unsubstantiated.

Visiting new places and talking with people in different cultures to find out their views on issues that you care about is so invigorating. It’s a great way to appreciate different angles on things you might not have thought about and also to learn about yourself… something I’m not always the best at but am willing to try and be better.

For the keen readers and evidence-checkers amongst you:

Add a Pinch (2018). Southern Banana Pudding Recipe. Available at: https://addapinch.com/southern-banana-pudding/

BBC (2018). Marks & Spencer to stop selling ‘cauliflower steak’. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-42639479

Food Insight (2016). A Guide to Making Sense of Sugars. Available at: https://www.foodinsight.org/understanding-added-sugars-nutrition-facts-panel

Hill et al. (2014). The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics consensus statement on the scope and appropriate use of the term probiotic. doi: 10.1038/nrgastro.2014.66

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