Friday, January 1, 2010

¡Stop That! List and Love Your Food Again

Truly delicious food is chosen with care, prepared with love, if not actual expertise, and deserves to be consumed with gratitude and joy. Junk food is chosen quickly, prepared mindlessly and deserves far less, if any, of your attention.

Here are five things that you can change this year that will achieve long lasting change to your health and your lifestyle.  Just one will make an appreciable difference in the way you approach food and will remind you how delicious real food can be.  Start with just one and soon you may find yourself ready to tackle the others too.

This year stop feeling guilt about food and learn to savor and enjoy it.  Nothing is more depressing at a meal with friends than hearing someone bemoan their choice and look for back-handed support. Do your friends a favor, don’t feed the fire of group support and if you are the offender don’t ask for anyone’s blessing to make you feel better.  Pick something real and don’t fuss. Do your part to bring joy back to the table.

Soda, Diet Soda
When I was growing up, soda was served like champagne.  That is, only on very special occasions like birthdays, Christmas, and the 4th of July. In it’s flat state a few ounces were served to assuage the symptoms of an upset stomach. (Perhaps stemming from the days when ginger ale was made from ginger and colas were made from, well, you know.) Now we have all but replaced milk and water in our diets with soda. More seriously the diets of our children include soda on a regular basis.  It's not the inclusion of soda so much its displacement of more nutrient-dense beverages that may be causing the real harm for children.

This year we learned that diet sodas may contribute to our bodies misinterpreting hunger signals. Is soda really bad for you? Perhaps not. Should it be consumed in the quantities to which we have accustomed ourselves? Also, perhaps not. To those women who tell me that they only have one diet soda per day, but they must have that, I encourage you to rethink this food’s hold on you. Author and journalist Michael Pollan, shared some recent findings about the health of vitamin takers in his book What to Eat. It may not be the taking of vitamins that does us good but being the kind of person who takes vitamins since those people are found to have other healthy habits. Conversely, being the kind of person who needs to drink soda may not the person you want to be next year.

Sugared cereals
What do single-gram servings of sugar look like in the overall day of a child?  There are just over four grams of sugar per teaspoon. The World Health Organization recommends 12 grams of added sugar per day for adults who consume 2,000 calories daily. (The FDA has proposed 10 grams). That’s just about a tablespoon of added sugar per day. Those are adult levels. A single serving of a typical children's cereal is in the double digits. Making a change here will be significant. There are cereals out there that are low in sugar but they can be hard to find. This year, sample some new cereals and add your own sugar to taste. Chances are you will sprinkle on less than you were consuming before and you can make minor cutbacks over time to re-adjust your taste buds to a less sugary potion.

If you like hot cereals like oatmeal, farina or grits switch to plain versions and garnish with your own dried and fresh fruits plus honey or maple syrup.  Maple syrup has fewer than 3 grams of sugar per teaspoon and honey has 3.8 grams per teaspoon. Beware of individually prepackaged hot cereals with sugars and flavors added.   Make your own “instant” by briefly running the grain through a food processor.  Measure out individual portions in re-sealable (and reusable) plastic bags and use them just like the pre-packaged type.  You can even add a teaspoon of sugar and dried fruit.  Include your children in the creation of a house-brand of oatmeal and they will reward you by eating it.

Look-Alike Dairy Foods
I love low-fat dairy products and am glad to see choices like skim milk, low-fat cream cheese and low fat cheddars available at every supermarket.  However the oxymoronic fat-free half ‘n half and textured skim milks give me pause.  It is frankly alarming to select what one hopes is a healthier alternative only to read the ingredients in tiny letters on the back of the package and discover that many low fat, low sugar foods replace texture or flavor with artificial ingredients.  Give yourself time to accustom yourself to actual skim milk and you can skip the additives.  Enjoy the real thing in moderate portions and discover what feeling satisfied is like again.  A shot of real cream once a week will not kill you.  A daily shot of fillers and extenders may not be as kind to your system.

Flavored Yogurts
Although in the dairy category, yogurt gets its own special “stop that” section.  Yogurt is a wonder food that we have adulterated beyond recognition but somehow still believe is a healthy for us.  This year, stop eating flavored, sugared yogurts with extra additives and get to know the real thing.  Low-fat, no-fat and whole milk varieties can still be found though they are being elbowed out by “creamy” versions, enhanced and tarted up beyond the danger point.  Plain yogurt is a base food in many cultures from Greek yogurt dips like tzatzkiki made with cucumbers and garlic to Indian marinades like the one used to make tandoori chicken with lemon, coriander, cumin and other spices. Yogurt dips and plain yogurt take the edge off the heat of curries and other spicy dishes and are a great way to get your dairy and pro-biotic needs covered.

As a teenager in France I enjoyed plain yogurt for gouter (afternoon snack) with a sprinkling of sugar that provided a wonderful crunchy contrast to the fresh yogurt base.  Don’t be afraid of adding some sweetening to unflavored yogurts.   Maple syrup and dried blueberries are a great combination.  Also try mixing in an all-fruit jam.  And if you want pudding, have pudding.  Sugared yogurts that sound like desserts have too many “extras” and you might as well go ahead and enjoy a bowl of real chocolate pudding.  Same amount of sugar and the benefits of milk. Real yogurt, without gelatin and thickeners has a texture that is uniquely its own.  Light on the tongue and slightly tart, it is that quality that makes it such a good blend with so many flavors both sweet and savory. Last, stop spending your hard in cash on enhanced yogurt products—the real thing already has plenty of good digestive bacterial cultures already.

To wean yourself off “dessert yogurts” and back to the pleasures of real yogurt, try a Greek-style yogurt which are strained and have the whey removed.  Greek yogurts remind me of sour cream.  While I still prefer the taste and texture of plain unstrained yogurt, I love Greek-style on baked potatoes or anywhere sour cream goes.  Not bad with a touch of honey either.

Years ago a friend introduced me to a very different way to make New Year’s resolutions.  Instead of a no list, she had a yes list with things to try doing differently, try for the first time and try again.  (Martinis showed up on her list for several years.)  While the ¡stop that! list may at first appear to be a no list, look at it as a yes list too.  This year, try other beverages over soda, try a new hot cereal with some gorgeous fruit, try using real cream in something indulgent, try to make a curry with a yogurt dip on the side and above all try to enjoy yourself, your family and your friends around the table.

The post's photo was taken at Love Park in Philadelphia and shows Robert Indiana's iconic sculpture.