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My Food Post

UPDATE: Seeing how I almost never read a post before publishing, there were a bunch of spelling errors and randomness. I cleaned it up a little.

I’ve been wanting to write a post about my take on food for awhile. As someone who loves to eat, drink and learn about food, I spend a decent amount of time going to restaurants, cooking at home and reading about food and traveling and I think I have some useful insight. I’m by no means an expert, but again, this is a blog. You’re reading this on the internet. I promise it isn’t worse than anything coming out of CNN or MSNBC or Fox News and I think, it is a lot better. But you decide.

BTW – This is a LONG post.

For a country so obsessed with eating healthy, we sure are fat. Everywhere you look, there is low fat this, low carb that, 100 calorie “snack packs”, 300 calorie “lean cuisine” meals, omega 3 rich fish and eggs, vitamin-c infused milk, calcium-infused orange juice, organic vegetables, free-range chicken, grass-fed beef. It is all generally confusing to the consumer. You want to eat healthy. You want to save the planet. You want your food to taste good. What do you buy? What do you EAT?

I LOVE to eat. Having a beer or wine with a meal? Even better. They compliment each other. I can’t tell you how much happiness I derive from a meal, especially shared amongst friends. And I don’t eat junk. I don’t buy anything marketed as low fat, low calorie or low anything (except low sodium broth – but that’s only because I want to control the amount of sodium in what I make, lest things come out too salty). In our fridge you will find real butter, whole milk, whole milk yogurt, heavy cream, several bottles of wine, real beer (not light beer), eggs, whole milk cheeses, bacon (or some other pork fat),  and orange juice.

We make regular use of all of these products and with all the stuff you hear on TV (especially on the “news”), we should be huge. I mean, how do we not put on 30-40 lbs without going on low-carb or low-fat diets, drinking low-fat milk and eating chicken breasts without an ounce of fat?

I think Kelly and I are pretty healthy individuals. It might be easy for you to write kelly off and say she’s an Asian, marathon runner. She can eat whatever you want. And I would agree with you somewhat. She certainly has a better metabolism that I do. But, that wouldn’t explain me. I have constantly battled my weight. There are only a few times in my life where I haven’t felt fat or chubby and generally unhappy about my weight. And now I don’t and I believe this is because I have found a happy coexistence with the foods that I love and dispelled a lot of myths that most people have about food. This post is not about finding the right “diet”. It is about coming to an agreement with food, a lifestyle.

This is my thinking on food. I thought most of this before reading “In Defense of Food” and “French Women Don’t Get Fat” but these two books in particular certainly proved a few thoughts or provided some helpers. If you haven’t already, I would read the first and just listen to me about the second. It’s not worth whatever they are charging for it.

Michael Pollan writes to “Eat food. Mostly Plants. Not so much” in “In Defense of Food” and that is pretty good advice. The fact is, most people don’t eat food anymore. They eat nutrients. They buy things based on how many calories, how much fat, how much vitamin-c and omega 3 is in something. This is a horrible way to shop. As the book explains, we don’t actually know much about nutrition. Vitamins, minerals, fats, etc are all handled differently by the body based on their context with other vitamins, minerals, fats, etc. It’s almost impossible for scientists to break this all down into a manner where we can see on a piece by piece basis what does what in the body. To buy foods based on whatever the latest “health” craze is silly because even the experts aren’t even sure what is healthy. For example, we don’t really know if smashing up a little vitamin C and putting it in your milk (which is basically what they do with the vitamin-enriched milk) has ANY effect on your body.

Remember butter? Everyone used to use real butter. Then, the experts decided saturated fat was bad. So, kraft along with other companies who weren’t making anything off butter showed off how margarine, without its saturated fat, was so much better for you. They even made it easier to spread to boot! Win win! The clincher was they got The American Heart Association to tell everyone to eat margarine because of the health benefits.

Except now we know margarine WASN’T better for you. It was much worse because they used partially hydrogenated fats to extend the expiration date and keep it easier to spread. Oops!

But don’t worry. There’s a NEW butter substitute from kraft now. No more trans-fats! Made from corn or soybean oil! Do you know how they make corn oil? Of course not. BTW – They don’t just press the corn like an olive and viola, corn oil appears. It’s much more complicated and the only reason it makes any financial sense is because corn is heavily subsidized by the government.

I grew up on margaine. It IS easier to spread than cold butter. Neat. but what does margarine taste like? Nothing. It just makes your bread taste a little less dry.

I remember the first time I remember having real butter. It was at an IHOP in Phoenix. My pancakes came out with a scoops of real butter on top. I didn’t understand why it tasted so much better than the pancakes at home until I realized we always used margarine at home. And we used Aunt Jemima “maple” syrup, which isn’t maple syrup at all. It’s corn syrup with maple flavoring. Doh!

Quick secret. Want to make delicious pancakes at home? 3/4 of the battle is using real butter and maple syrup. Try it. You can even used boxed pancake mix if you like because it is generally just flour and baking powder anyway (but check the label to be sure).

But I digress. The point is that when you start replacing real foods with processed foods, it becomes an endless cycle where the experts (who are generally funded by companies like kraft) are constantly telling you what you now eat is unhealthy and you should switch to something newly discovered to be healthy. And BTW – saturated fats are no longer considered bad. You have to have saturated fats to survive: Cell membranes are made of saturated fats, many viatmins and minerals aren’t absorbed by your body without saturated fats. Oops again!

In my opinion, the biggest thing you can do to get your eating going in the right direction is to start by cutting out the refined sugar. It is everywhere. Especially in replacement foods. Once you cut out refined sugar, all the real food tastes better and strangely enough, the processed foods do not taste good at all.

I first started cutting out sugar when my friends Barb & Michael went on the “brown” diet, which basically requires you to only eat whole grains and no refined sugar. This seemed a little crazy because I LOVE bread and pasta so I didn’t go extreme like them, but I did start with cutting out corn syrup. If you can cut that out (just look at the grocery store on how many things have high-fructose corn syrup in them), you’ll be 3/4 of the way there.

This means cutting out coca-cola. I’m sorry. I know a lot of people are heavily addicted to soda, having one to three sodas a day. I think you already know soda isn’t good for you. Hopefully you understand diet soda isn’t much better. The problem with soda is that it provides this consistent sweet sensation. When you’re eating and drinking this much real and fake sugar, your body gets used to it. Things like fruits don’t have the same appeal. They don’t taste sweet anymore. You’re basically dulling yourself to real, natural sugars.

The nice thing about all of this is that once you get yourself off of refined sugars (and yes, it takes a little bit of time), fruits DO taste sweet again. Really sweet. And soda tastes pretty nasty. I can’t finish a whole can. It just tastes like sugar syrup. And no, diet or zero isn’t any better. The only time I can finish 12ozs of soda is when I cut it with Jack. 🙂

I’m not talking about getting rid of dessert (yes, most desserts are made of refined sugar). I love dessert. I love creme brulee and apple pie and ice cream. You can eat all of that, but buy the good stuff. Buy a Hagen Daaz pint instead of a Dreyer’s gallon. Once you get off refined sugar, you actually won’t want to eat more than a scoop because it is so sweet.

Which brings me to another point. When you replace whole foods, people generally eat a lot more of the replacement foods because they don’t taste as good. See above.

To make this post not too crazy long, I’ll just summarize a few more things.

– Orange juice is SUPER sweet. Even when they claim it is “not from concentrate”, it is still reduced, making it like pure sugar. Have you ever juiced an orange and got something as thick as Tropicana? Or course not. I’m not against OJ, but don’t drink so much in the morning. It’ll just make you hungry earlier in the day because of the sugar spike and crash you get from it. Cut it with mineral/fizzy water. I think it tastes better this way too, but I understand not always having fizzy water around. Another trick is to..

– Start and end your day with a glass of water. You dehydrate while you sleep and wake up thirsty. If you drink a glass of water first, you’ll suck down less OJ.

– I love yogurt. Plain, whole milk yogurt. It is probably the best hangover cure I know of as well. I start most days with it and it is especially useful when traveling and you’re eating a bunch of new foods. It helps your stomach stay happy. If you’re used to a lot of sugar, add some honey and granola to it to make it a bit sweeter. I go back and forth with those two additions. If you have fruit, add that too. And don’t buy low-fat yogurt or flavored. Flavored is just loaded with sugar and with low-fat they generally use stabalizers like corn-starch to try and provide a yogurt-like consistency. You should enjoy your yogurt and what are you saving? 30 calories? This is why people hate diets. They go all or nothing and they eat nasty low-fat, zero taste crap and then they hate it and go back to what they were eating. Don’t fall into this trap.

– I ❤ coffee. I drink it black and you probably will too if you drink GOOD coffee and get off refined sugar elsewhere. If not, I don’t think it is horrible to add a packet of real sugar. I stay away from things like Splenda. Ugh. If you like lattes, then get one. Financially, i call it a bad move on a daily basis, but physically I don’t think it is horrible. Just get a short or tall at the most. You do know that a venti just has 2 more cups of milk, right? It is generally still just two shots of espresso. It is like flavored milk. Get a double short. I know coffee makes you dehydrated so,

– Drink water. Drink fizzy water, still water, whatever. I’ve always loved water, but for some of you, I know it is tough. Again, and I know I’m harping on this, it tastes and makes you feel better once you’re off processed sugar. Spike it with lemon or lime. If berries are in season (and somehow in NY they are ALWAYS in season), crush a few black or raspberries into a glass of fizzy water.

– From IDoF, anything marketed as healthy, generally isn’t. ’nuff said. Most vegetables and fruits don’t come with labels promoting their vitamin this or that levels, yet they are the most healthy things in the store, which brings me to…

– Vitamin and “health” bars aren’t. Just because a Cliff Bar is made from organic ingredients and spiked with vitamins and minerals doesn’t make it “healthy”. They are still just candy bars. As I’ve mentioned above, your body probably can’t process much of those things anyway and all you’re doing is giving your body a high dose of sugar and fat. Unless you’re hiking for several hours or climbing mountains, you shouldn’t be eating these things.

– Do you like chocolate? Then eat REAL chocolate. Why do you eat “milk chocolate” with is mostly sugar with very little real chocolate? I keep a high percentage cacao chocolate bar in the freezer that I steal little nuggets from every once in awhile. It tastes 10 times better than some Snickers bar. You let the chocolate dissolve slowly in your mouth because it tastes so good. Yes, it costs 6 times more than a Snickers bar but it lasts 8-10 times longer.

– I drink whole milk. I only buy whole milk. I’m not sure on the benefit one way or the other. We do know that the fats on whole milk help you process the calcium in milk and the flavor and consistency is much better with whole than the milky water in skim. Does that make up for the extra calories? To me, Yes. There isn’t that much of a calorie difference anyway. in a cup, 70 calories. That’s it. I don’t drink a ton of milk though. If you drink like 5 cups a day (and you probably are if you’re ordering venti lattes), maybe you should rethink this?

– Vegetable oils. These heavily processed oils like soybean and corn are generally bad for you. Why don’t you know this? Because those oils are cheap (both heavily subsidized by the government) and have big lobbying forces behind them to make sure this type of information is not publicized at the government level. Coconut and olive are generally better for you. Of course we know this and you’re probably thinking “I don’t eat soybean oil anyway”.

Aha! But you probably do. Check ingredient labels. Mayo and store bought salad dressing comes immediately to mind. I’m no tin a grocery store right now, but I’m guessing even at Whole Foods, 90% of the salad dressings there are primarily made of soybean oil. Even the ones claiming to be vinaigrette and olive oil. Check the back label to be sure. We always make our own salad dressing.

Also, I like to fry things, so what do I do? Make sure the temperature is high enough so that your food absorbs as little of the oils as possible (the steam created from the food helps keeps the flow one-way, out of the food instead of being absorbed)

– Try to buy vegetables and fruits that are in season. They just taste better and they also tend to have more vitamins and minerals inside.

– Try to buy organic, local, free-range. I’ll write something else about this later. I know it is expensive. I’m a cheap-skate and I have a hard time with this. The only thing I can say is that it tastes better and is more forgiving during the cooking process. If you over-roast a crappy chicken, it tastes, well crappy. I’ve over-cooked good chickens and they have still come out juicy and tasty. It’s also good to support your local farmer and sustainable farming. I don’t think any of us really want to put tons of chemicals in our body.

– Whole grains and oats are good. Even the whole grain pastas. I don’t eat exclusively whole grains, but I do like the taste and can tell the difference ion my energy level when I do. It is consistent and I don’t get hungry so soon after. No, I’m not giving up baguettes and fresh pasta and ramen and neither should you.

– When eating, try not to eat in front of the TV. Make your meal an event. If you prepare a meal and sit down at a table to eat, have a couple glasses of wine and separate the courses onto multiple plates you’ll focus more on that you’re eating, engage in more dialog with your friends and family and create structure in your house (if you have kids – this is especially good). You’ll also probably eat less and enjoy food that much more. This is SO unAmerican. I know. But life is good with long meals and conversation. And really? what are you missing? The newest CSI:Omaha? If you really don’t want to miss a show, TIVO it. Or go to hulu.com or Fancast.

– Two glasses of wine (or beer) with dinner is OK (one for women, generally). You can drink at every meal! One trick from FWDGF is to buy a half bottle, drink it and from then on, every time you open a new bottle for just the two of you, pour half of the new bottle into the half and immediately seal it.  This prevents you from accidentally drinking 3-4 glasses a day. Wine helps make dinner a little more special.

_ You don’t always have to finish with dessert. Try some cheese. Buy 2-3 cheeses and eat some of them for dessert along with some preserves or honey. It is a nice finish.

That’s all for now. I hope that is useful. At least it gets it off MY chest. 😀

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4 Responses

  1. Wow… fantastic. Nicely done.

  2. agghhhh! check, check, check…that’s all my bad habits and then some.

    i just learned so much from this. going to change my latte order tomorrow and also see if i can go without diet coke. that would be a good start.

    think i need to pick this book up too.

    thx for taking the time to write this up, tim…

  3. i thought i would pass along my favorite brand of yogurt–it’s always refined sugar-free, sweetened only with honey, and it’s so good! it’s called “nancy’s” and you can find it at any whole foods store. also, nice section on cutting out sugars! i love to read that more and more people are thinking about sugar–you’re right, it’s in just about ALL processed foods!

  4. Though I’m not a big soda drinker, I saw this post today and thought of you.

    What are your best alternatives to soda?
    http://lifehacker.com/397378/what-are-your-best-alternatives-to-soda

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