real food for real women
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
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
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
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
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