Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Real Food: Breaking it Down to the Components

This seems so simplistic, but it takes a while to decode the modern diet and wrestle past the long laundry-list ingredient labels heavy on the preservatives, fillers, high fructose corn syrup and processed sugars, isolated soy protein, fake or altered fats, colorings, and synthetic flavorings. "Enriched" is a mild misnomer for these things.

I can't believe I bought into the advertising for so many years of my life. Maybe it's evidence of how much we've simplified, even though it doesn't really feel like we have sometimes because we still have a lot of ways in which we need to keep improving...but now when I see the aisles at the supermarket devoted to targeting children and dieters, I find the claims SO insulting to our intelligence.

Are we really THAT stupid?

Case in point...I'm not picking on one product in particular, but at random. I saw an advertisement recently for a popular label Instant Breakfast Drink. Here's how the nutrition stacks up if it's mixed into 1 cup of fat free milk (the thought of which turns my stomach presently since we have come to love pure real milk in the rare event we buy milk these days). Anyway, here's the supposed "nutrition" that's supposed to be an entire breakfast for a "healthy person"...

1 Packet Breakfast Drink (36grams) plus 1 cup of Fat Free Milk = 350 calories. That's if you drink one 8 OUNCE cup. (Double that for a standard size drinking glass, which would render the calorie count 700)
But ok, let's go with the 8 ounces. Here's my beef with this as a meal of any sort.

First, it's a liquid. Where's the chewing, the fiber, the REAL FOOD? From whence doth liquid chocolate breakfast drink hail? Is this really what we think of as FOOD?

Secondly, let's get a peek at those ingredients. The two main ingredients are...drumroll...powdered milk and SUGAR. TWENTY GRAMS of sugar in the drink mix alone. That's 4 heaping teaspoons per small teacup, not to mention the natural lactose in the milk, which is a sugar. Then there's a list of vitamins that mysteriously have been added in, and some percentages of their values based on a 2000 calorie daily intake. Adding the drink powder column values with the milk column values leads one to think that they're getting nearly their entire daily nutritional requirements of most of the important vitamins and iron and such if the label's accurate.

Plus, with all this you get an expensive portion if you break it down to money per ounce and you get the flashy packaging, which obscures the meager contents. And it's touted as being just the thing for the person with no time who wants to BE HEALTHY.


One thing I've learned is how much we have been programmed and really dumbed down, yes even us adults. Or should I say ESPECIALLY us adults, since we're the ones with the bucks.

I've not done the cost breakdown of one of my smoothies, but it would be worth trying it sometime soon just to compare it to the nutrition supposedly in one of these instant breakfast drinks.

Here are the ingredients that went into today's green and berry smoothie:

1 blenderfull of fresh organic raw spinach leaves.
2 cups 100% juice cranberry juice with whatever other juices are in the blend.
2 Tablespoons raw chia seed
3 Tablespoons raw flax seed
Surprise ingredient of the day...large handful fresh-picked and washed clover...yep, field clover leaves and stems, high in protein

Blend till everything is liquid...it blends down to 1/2 of a blender full. Add to that:

Frozen blueberries, nearly to the top of the blender.
Stevia to taste.
Water, a bit, to keep things easily blend-able.
Blend all and then pour up. Yields 2 quarts.


Here's the thing. I'm stinking full after drinking my smoothie. I sip it a bit at a time usually and both Jack and myself have a quart apiece...a quart! And it's like the most wonderful and delicious cold drink/dessert you can imagine, better than anything bought at a juice bar or smoothie takeout. Our bodies actually crave the ingredients in a way we never have craved 8 ounces of powdered milk sweetened with table sugar and enriched with a list of vitamins.

But that's not all...we eat cheap, and we eat WELL cheaply. We do not eat as cheaply as I used to in my totally broke days of Ramen Noodle perdition, but I can get really creative with ingredients. Man cannot live on 99cent doublecheeseburges at McDonald's alone, not without getting some major deficiency and imbalance before too long. We buy chuck steaks and I slice those up thinly, and we are into root veggies and the pumpkins and squashes that make up admirable replacements for a lot of empty carb starches we were used to before. And adding in some of the "whites" in combination with the other diversity of roots and tubers and squashes still keeps the balance and variety nutritious...sometimes rice or white potatoes or a homemade roll or seedy nutty cookie. Salads don't have to be lettuce plus a radish...they can be all the good veggies grated, chopped, tossed with this and that, or as simple as sliced things in season. Salsa is my favorite "salad"...enough of this bounty and the white foods fit nicely in their place, not as the bulk of the meal.

We've rediscovered fruit, and nuts, and seeds, and honey. These are the things that make foods sing! Spices transport the flavors or just serve to highlight them at their best.

I propose REAL fast food. Buy it once a week, as locally and fresh and diverse and frugally as possible. Fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, honey, legumes. A bit of good meat. Use every bit of it. Water water water for drinks...tea, maybe coffee. Get a bar of real chocolate.

What's wrong with farm fresh eggs and whole grain toast or pan seared veggies, fruit chopped small (all kinds)drizzled with honey if desired and maybe a few favorite nuts? This is a breakfast. Seriously, does it take longer than getting that instant breakfast drink going..what, maybe two, three minutes more? And yeah, I mean with a skillet and everything...time the egg, it's the ultimate fast food in its own portable packaging.

Have to have a liquid meal or want a dessert with all those laundry lists of vitamins and minerals? A smoothie full of greens and berries. It takes me 3 minutes at the most to make, one minute to wash up.

A plain glass of REAL milk, no additives, delicious. Want chocolate milk? make the real thing with real chocolate...8 ounces of that IS a treat. Fast food snack? Popcorn made in a skillet right on the stove, sprinkled with sea salt? Takes me less than 4 minutes, tastes incredible. Fresh peach, pear, out of hand...oh YUM. Bit of oats, some nuts and seeds and touch of molasses or honey...bake it and it's granola, moisten it and heat and it's hot cereal. No 8 ounces of powdered milk compares.

Or let the veggies "get naked"...one of my favorite ways to fix em and forget em...chop and put in a roasting pan with maybe some herbs or maybe not, drizzle with some splashes of olive oil if you like and sprinkle with sea salt. Place in hot oven and let it do its thing. Voila! Same with braising, searing veg in a skillet, my favorite way with asparagus and zucchini. Sear it till fork tender and its brightest most intense color, tiny dot of olive oil and some sea salt and tossing it about...done! Perfection in less than a minute. What's faster than that?

Honestly, these things take LESS TIME than driving through a drivethrough and all the way home and cost less especially considering the gasoline.

I look at all the things touted as "healthy" and wonder at the idiocy. Has anyone out there really truly tasted a pear that's in season and perfectly ripe, so juicy it dribbles down your chin when you eat it? There is no artificial Little Debbie that compares. Even making your own chocolate sheet cake with flour and sugar and chocolate is better than all the artificial colorings and preservatives boxed up in that "convenient" boxed cake mix...and honestly, it takes maybe 5 extra minutes tops to assemble the ingredients from scratch for most basic recipes.

I'm not the sort who feels all warm and womanly the more time I spend chained to a sink full of dishes and stirring up dainties on the stovetop. I do feel good, though, actually knowing what's about to go on our plates and knowing the reason I don't have to read a label is because what I see is what I get. The APPLE is an APPLE, the ONION is an ONION.

A skillet is a magic thing. So is a baking dish. So is a crockpot. So is a blender. Any one of the four of these basic tools can hold an entire dinner. A dinner can be made in ten minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour...and it will be fuller than an 8 ounce teacup and be more real than a packet of powdered milk and flavorings mixed with nonfat milk.

I believe obesity occurs, and I speak from experience, from believing there's a short cut shorter than the short time it takes to make real food. From believing that FOODLIKE THINGS are a replacement for FOOD.

Slow food doesn't have to be impossibly slow. It CAN take as long as we let it, but there are still ways to put REAL meals on the table meaningfully and efficiently to the degree where we actually sit down together, have forks and knives and plates, look at our family members, and have something nutritious and with real flavor to chew.

It takes doing it to get into the rhythm. I wish I'd had someone teach me. It helps me being able to buy a few things in quantity to have on hand and then making shorter trips throughout the month. I multitask when I cook and cook beyond the quantity of that particular meal so that some of the foods can be reincarnated as other dishes later in the week. Honestly, now I can say it's not difficult and you get spoiled to the real tastes that are so different than chemicals in processed foods.

I wish I had done this more when I was rearing my daughter. We were the chicken nugget generation household. Nary a green got crunched.

I watched Jamie Oliver's recent school lunch episode on Hulu, and I'm so glad this issue is being raised. For some of us, we are having to regain lost ground in our own households. Jack and I still need to get more serious about losing the weight, even though we have made great progress in the area of nutrition. I feel less and less in touch with what's in the supermarkets since about the only two sections I visit now are the produce and meat sections. But boy are there a lot of aisles in between.

It's my guess we can't have it both ways. There are limited $$ and either they can buy produce and meat, or all the processed stuff with nutritional additives and boxes with plastic superheroes. I'm waiting for the day little kids throw tantrums in public over why there are only two variety of potatoes to choose from, or about who gets the eggplant rather than the newest neon frootloop. ;-)


Jamie @ Woodside Gardens said...

My husband gets so frustrated with me when we go grocery shopping. I hit up the meat and produce sections and completely ignore all the center isles unless I'm looking for something very specific. He likes to walk every aisle. He understands why I am shopping like I do, and it has gotten to the point that I do the shopping alone now most of the time so that he doesn't fill the cart up with junk. It ends up being a big budget saver as well! I am in charge of food in the house so I just feel like it is my responsibility to offer something better.

Wendy said...

I don't really have anything to add to your discussion, but I did want to say "hear! hear!" to all that you say. "Fast food" isn't really fast. It's much slower than what we call slow food, in fact. It just seems fast to us, because it's already in the box. The trick is to get people to start thinking ahead and making their own "fast" food.

A few weeks ago, after reading about the high levels of BPA in canned foods from the grocery store, I stopped buying canned tomatoes (which was my last hold out - especially this time of year when my home canned stores are all used up, and the new crop hasn't even been planted). What I do, instead, is buy several pounds of locally grown hothouse tomatoes, cut them up and boil them down. Then, put them through the food processor and pour them into jars to store in the freezer. It takes about twenty minutes of my time cutting and putting through the food processor. It takes about a half hour of cooking time, but that's just an occasional stirring from me. Twenty minutes is less time than it would take me to go to the grocery store, and for my trouble, I have REAL tomato sauce with no additives and no preservatives - just pureed and ready to be added to my sauces and stews.

Ha! I guess I did have something to add ;).

Robbyn said...

Jamie, wow you're in Alaska, I can only imagine how much things must cost up there. I just popped in to your site and saw you have a lot of seedlings going...they look great!

Wendy, I didn't know about the canned goods and the BPA though if I stopped to think about it I should have (knowing that canning jar lids have it). I don't like the taste of things in metal containers anyway, but yes there are still some holdouts in our pantry. That's a good idea with the tomatoes. I might wait for some good deals on the small cherry tomatoes since I really hate those pasty tasting larger varieties. Tomatoes are probably THE veg (or fruit, to be a purist)I think of as the garden backbone since homegrown are a whole different experience in eating than the storebought. Thanks for the tip!