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Thursday, May 28, 2009

real food for real women

If you want to see me get angry ask me how I feel about low-fat yogurt.

Not only does it frustrate me that women are targeted with low-fat yogurt commercials as it being a "guilt-free" snack, but most of it tastes like cardboard.

I don't think food should ever be associated with guilt, which is difficult as a woman constantly being plagued with diet products that are supposed to make our lives easier.

The truth is, a product packed with chemicals and artificial sweeteners will not make your life easier. In fact, it will generally fill your body with things that aren't good for it and leave you unsatisfied.

Fat does not make you fat. Eating the wrong foods in large quantities does. It is sad that many people would feel more comfortable reaching for a 100-calorie Doritos snack pack than an avocado because of the fat and calorie content. We forget how good real food can make us feel and the long-term effects it has on our bodies and minds.

Food is one of life's greatest pleasures and our bodies are the best thing we've ever been given. Shouldn't we enjoy the two harmoniously?

This is a subject close to my heart as I want all women, and men, to get the most out of food. It's too good not to. I have gone over some basic foods that misrepresent themselves and have offered up some healthier options. I asked Meredith from Pursuing Balance, who is finishing her studies to become a dietician, to put her two cents in.

Low-fat Granola Bars vs. Larabars
low-fat granola bars

While some granola bars seem like a great snack option because they're low in calories and have ingredients like granola in them, they may not be your best choice. Most granola bars sold in grocery stores have extremely long ingredient lists including corn syrup and mystery ingredients you can't pronounce. I generally try not to buy anything with over five ingredients and was very excited when I discovered Larabars. These bars usually contain three or four or natural ingredients like dates, nuts and coconut. They are high in fiber and healthy fats and are a life saver to carry around with you. While they may have double the calories and be higher in fats, the calories are coming from all-natural ingredients that will energize your body, satisfy your taste buds, and carry you further through the day.

Meredith says: It is so important when looking at nutrition label to not only focus on the numbers (calories, fat grams, etc), but also on the ingredients themselves. You would be surprised at how many non-food products are listed as ingredients in processed food. High fructose corn syrup is in everything -- bread, ketchup, fruit preserves, granola bars, cereals, salad dressings . . . and it's been linked to obesity, type II diabetes, and fatty liver. Next time you are in the grocery store, try to find a bread that does not contain HFCS. It takes a while, doesn't it? And goodness was I surprised when the only fruit preserves I could find without it was the "low sugar" variety! Even Fiber One bars, which seem like a great, healthy option, contain HFCS. I much prefer Lara bars, which have short, completely recognizable lists of ingredients that I feel comfortable putting in my body.

Light Salad Dressings vs. Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar
bottled salad dressings
olive oil and balsamic

I've seen many fridges are stocked with a bounty of bottled dressings. I've dabbled in a few and while some are tasty enough, the ingredient list tends to be outrageously long. As someone who loves food and is crazy about vegetables, it seems a bit of a shame to pour all of these things over something that's perfect as it is. It takes just as long to drizzle a small amount of olive oil, which is great for your skin and body, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. If you want to take your salad a step further you can reduce your balsamic vinegar into a syrup on the stove, or throw in some crushed garlic and mustard for an extra kick. It is always a shame to see bottled dressing on the table when it's so much fun-and a more natural alternative-to go gourmet and make your own. I say toss the bottles, pick up some great olive oil and balsamic vinegar and taste the difference.

Meredith says: Here is an ingredient list for a lite dressing. : HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, WATER, VINEGAR, SOYBEAN OIL, CORN SYRUP, SALT, CONTAINS LESS THAT 2% OF MODIFIED FOOD STARCH, PAPRIKA, CITRIC ACID, XANTHAN GUM, POLYSORBATE 60, DRIED GARLIC, VITAMIN E, NATURAL FLAVOR, YELLOW 6, YELLOW 5. Now, keep in mind that ingredients are listed by weight, so the HFCS is what makes up the majority of this dressing. Instead of buying into this science experiment, I like to make my own lite dressing of balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and rosemary.

Diet Coke vs. Sparkling Water
diet coke

I have a confession: I love diet coke. I grew up on it and spent a long time kicking the habit. While there can be nothing better than a chilled pop on a hot day...there actually can be something better. Diet coke tends to leave a strange film on my teeth and leave my head and stomach in limbo afterwards. Drinking Perrier or San Pellegrino with a squeeze of lemon quenches my thirst just as well, or better, without throwing unnecessary chemicals into my body. As a cheaper alternative I'm also a big fan on the poor man's Perrier, club soda with a squeeze of lime.

Meredith: Some studies indicate that artificial sweeteners (found in many diet foods, such as yogurt and soda) can lead to an increase in caloric consumption. Basically, your body presumes that when you are eating something sweet, it will also be a high energy (calorie) food. In the case of artificial sweeteners, however, the body becomes confused because that sweetness does not equal energy (calories). This makes you more likely to overindulge later because your body has trouble regulating the amount of calories being consumed and signaling satisfaction. Additionally, artificial sweeteners have been shown to slow metabolism in laboratory rats. These factors can lead to weight gain.

One thing I do want to point out about aspartame is that according to the American Dietetic Association and a global panel of food safety experts, current aspartame consumption (4-9 mg/kg/bw/day) is safe. The acceptable daily intake level is actually about 50 mg/kg/bw/day -- about 20 cans of diet soda per day. The studies that indicated cancer involved pumping lab animals just full of the stuff, and as you know, too much of anything is bad!

Low-fat Yogurt vs. Full-fat Plain Yogurt
low-fat yogurt
plain yogurt

And last, but not least, the great yogurt debate. I once asked a young man in the grocery store where the Mediterranean yogurt was. "You mean the one that's 10% fat?" "Yes, that would be the one," I replied. Some people have told me not to get them hooked on the stuff because of the fat content. But it is more than worth it. It is rich in good, natural fats and probiotics and tastes like heaven. Unlike liquidy, sweet low-fat flavored yogurts, it is rich and full and you only need a small bowl. It is wonderful with a drizzle of honey or maple syrup and terribly satisfying. Any time I've had low-fat yogurt I've needed at least two or three portions to feel remotely full and I never feel satisfied by the taste. I'd much rather have the taste of a rich and creamy indulgence in my mouth than aspartame and chemicals, which will end up making me eat more in the long run.

Meredith says: Most processed foods (diet or not) contain large amounts of phosphorus. In excessive amounts, phosphorus can inhibit calcium absorption, causing a detriment to our bones and teeth. This is an excellent reason to limit processed foods in the diet.

"Eat food. Though in our current state of confusion, this is much easier said than done. So try this: Don't eat anything your great-great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. ...There are a great many foodlike items in the supermarket your ancestors wouldn't recognize as food (Go-Gurt? Breakfast-cereal bars? Nondairy creamer?); stay away from these."

— Michael Pollan, Unhappy Meals, New York Times Magazine

*Here is another helpful link on how to navigate the grocery store


Blogger Jennifer J said...

Three things -
1. Fage 0% is amazing yogurt, creamy, no metallic aspartame aftertaste, no cholesterol (which is why I go for fat-free yogurts)
2. I was just studying this at work this week, here's an article on "The Death of the 100-Calorie Pack" and how people were binging on the packs and also realizing it's a lot of excessive packaging
3. Here's a hilarious video about how yogurt ads target women, I love the part where she points out how the women are always wearing grey hoodies, the "I have a masters but then I got married" look

12:18 PM  
Anonymous Eiffel Tower Suzy said...

Great information, Gillian!

I'm far from a perfect eater, but I try to shop the perimeter of the grocery store only. That's where you can find your four basic food groups in their purest form.

1:03 PM  
Blogger RICHARD PARKER said...


what a great post. i totally agree with you. but a question: what about super fat obese people? should they really eat the 10% fat yogurt, or should they pick the one low in fat.
to be honest, we're both skinny girls. i've got no problem eating an avocado a day.. but what about those trying to lose weight? or who are extremely weight conscious but don't want to work out (even though they should). what do you suggest they do?

miss you! dreamed i made those cookies last night. i could have sworn i woke up to the smell of them, but alas! that was all a dream!

ps. granola bars - totally assuming here, but: unhealthy people generally don't know where to go to get healthy food. where can they find those bars? are they expensive? (anywhere in TO you recommend?)

oo can i request a post? can you blog about where to find inexpensive healthy and easy-to-find food? as in, grab-and-go sorta snacks. not celery sticks and carrots cos we all know how to prepare that, but fun treats that are healthy too.


4:33 PM  
Blogger Gillian Young said...

Thanks for the great comments!

Jenn J- I forgot to mention that no fat plain yoghurt can be all natural and completely delicious! Thank you for reminding me, and I'm dying to try the fage brand although recently I've cut out dairy to a bad intolerance for it.

The snack packs are a huge waste of packaging and goes against trying to learn to portion control mindfully by your appetite, not what's in front of you.

And we are on the same page- I linked to that video in the intro to this post!! So funny! Guess you missed it!

Richard Parker- I would totally recommend full fat yogurt and avacados to someone trying to lose weight. I would however recommend smaller portion sizes, say a couple tbsps of yoghurt on oatmeal or cereal and 1/4 of an avacado on a salad. To lose weight you need to cut calories, not fat, and by choosing good whole foods you can stay full longer on less!

Larabars are sold in most health food stores and more and more grocery stores. They are around 2$ each but cheaper at bulk health food places.

Many food bloggers have been making their own for cheaper! Basically you just blend dates, nuts and the ingredients of your choice! has some great recipes!

For the most part I get by buying bulk! Bulk sections are great for stocking up on nuts, dried fruit and dark chocolate chips to make your own trail mixes. You also save wasteful packaging and can re-use your bags! I'm most recently hooked on almonds and carob chips, which don't spike my blood sugar like chocolate!!

Kensington and St.Lawrence have awesome bulk shops!!

5:04 PM  
Blogger Gillian Young said...

And I would love to do a post about it! Thanks Renee!

5:10 PM  
Anonymous Meredith (Pursuing Balance) said...

Thanks for letting me give my 2 cents! This is definitely an informative post, and it's nice to see someone like you who is passionate about eating real foods :)

6:56 PM  
Blogger Gillian Young said...

Suzy- I'm not a perfect eater but do my best, and that supermarket rule is great!

Meredith- Thanks for your two cents, I have my own ideas on things but it's great to have a professional opinion!

7:25 PM  
Blogger Jennifer J said...

:) That's hilarious, I totally missed the repeated link (was reading on my little screen en route to work), great minds think alike!

8:38 PM  
Anonymous Annie-Rose said...

I completely agree, and to many people this seems like common sense, but a lot of people out there still don't have a clue how to read a nutrition label, and don't even think about reading the ingredient list!

Hopefully the blog world will help to spread the word about eating whole foods. :)

On a side note, I've been reading your blog for awhile now, and just started one of my own. I love your writing style and the subjects you write about are inspiring!

I was just in Vancouver over the weekend with my boyfriend and while we were driving (promise I'm not a stalker!) I saw you walking on the side of the street. Small world :)

9:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think someone is trying to tell me something! I keep reading similar blogs, my sister ALWAYS talks about whole food AND I just picked up that book "In Defense of Food". Right now I have some bad foods in my house... but I'm trying to leave them alone and focus on the good stuff. I love the "no more then 4 or 5 indigedient" rule, it makes SO MUCH sense to me.

That being said... I LOVE my Source yogurt! And to be honest... I can't seem to find a good "real" yogurt in the grocery store.

I would also LOVE a post about how to eat healthy and CHEAP. And I would also love a "week in the life" of what you eat, exercise, drink... I know it's a lot to ask, but I envy your body and your self control and the fact that you eat sooooo well!

Thank you!!

10:40 PM  
Blogger Gillian Young said...

Annie Rose- Thanks Annie! Your blog is wonderful and I loved your Vancouver pics. Where was that wonderful sounding crepe place? And where did you spot me? That's hilarious!

Anonymous- Try out the Astro plain yogurt (red with picture of a cow on it) if you get a chance, or a small organic plain yogurt. Drizzle some honey on it and let me know what you think if you get a chance!

A healthy and cheap blog is on the way and I will get to work on a week in the life of! I am by no means a perfect eater and enjoy a glass of wine or two so will be as honest as possible :)

2:37 AM  
Blogger emilydh211 said...

Hey girl! Thanks so much for visiting the blog and commenting. I love your blog, its so cute!

To answer your question, I buy most of my tops from the store that I work at (50% off!) it is called MaxRave. The stuff we have isnt always the greatest, but we do get some pretty cute stuff in most of the time.

P.S. I totally love diet coke too. There! I said it! haha

4:00 AM  
OpenID amandalaird said...

Hi Gillian -- I'm Ashleigh's cousin, we met at the Whychwood Barns a couple months ago and I've been creeping around ever since. However, The Great Yogurt Debate is enough to bring me out of hiding!

I'm with you, I hate hate hate low-fat yogurt and it's warped marketing towards young women, moms and children. I used to eat low-fat yogurt by the gallon, until I realized that it was basically a cup full of chemicals. I now enjoy plain yogurt with an ingredient list that is easy to read and understand: milk, bacterial culture.

What makes me the most angry about yogurt marketing is advertising new, active bacterial cultures in yogurt. Um, hello, this is what yogurt has always been about.

Last thought, I like Mark Bittman's approach to selecting what foods to eat; if you don't know what it looks like, don't eat. Who's ever actually seen guar gum outside of an ingredient list?

6:47 AM  
Blogger Gillian Young said...

emily- Thanks! Don't think we have that store in Vancouver unfortunately but I love them!

amanda- Advertising a yogurt that has bacterial cultures is pretty hilarious. Love the activia yellow arrow letting you know what will go down when you eat them! I'm currently reading Bittman's Food Matters, and am pretty in love with the man. His cookbook How to Cook Everything is also the best you'll ever find!!

10:12 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Just wanted to add on to the rest of the supportive comments...

well said! I couldn't agree more! And I'm not supposed to eat dairy either because of an intolerance but sometimes I cannot resist full fat yogurt with banana... yum.

Do you mind if I link to this post on my blog? I've been trying to convince people I talk to about this stuff for ages. Also I can't get away with eating MSG, preservatives or food colouring and so I've had to abstain from eating processed stuff... and feel a lot better for it. :)


7:02 PM  
Blogger Gillian Young said...

Megan- I would love you to! Thanks!

11:14 PM  
Blogger Dorothy said...

This is a great blog I found you on musings of a pastry case which I found from Boondock babble..hope you'll visit my blog although it's not like usual as we're getting ready to re launch and make some updates.

Great blog wonderful information I'll be bookmarking you and looking for the lara bars as my husband is an ultra marathon cyclist and he thought the bars might be good when he crews for RACE ACROSS AMERICA in June his crew is men over 75 whole race 3000 miles from California to Maryland non stop in 9 days or less.

Regards, Dorothy from grammology

5:05 AM  
Anonymous Annie-Rose said...

Hi again! The crepe place is called La Bretagne Creperie and it's on Jervis Street. The owners and the people who work there speak French, so it kinda takes you back :)

I saw you somewhere around Granville Island--I was on the way to the train station. So funny!

2:11 PM  

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