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Just Eat the Real Food

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I’m so mad at myself. Some friends are coming over for dinner tonight, and I’m preparing beef stew…a big green salad…and a pear-walnut-ginger crisp for dessert. So I thought, What’s fruit crisp without some ice cream? But since most of my friends have become increasingly health-conscious and I avoid wheat, sugar and dairy, I thought I would try one of those coconut milk–based ice creams—no dairy and made with agave instead of sugar.

I vaguely remembered someone saying how good some coconut milk–based ice cream is. Good choice, right? Not so fast. I totally mixed up agave and stevia. Stevia is made from the stevia plant—it is super-duper sweet but essentially calorie-free and provides zero glycemic load, so it’s relatively healthy. Agave, on the other hand, has one of the highest concentrations of fructose of all sweeteners, making it extremely inflammatory and dangerous to the liver. So that was strike one—I picked a brand sweetened with agave, which is even unhealthier than regular ice cream. Strike two—it tastes terrible.

Lesson relearned—just eat the real food.

Experts say to shop the perimeter of the grocery store—that’s where the produce, dairy and meat are. Basically, the basics. Products in the middle of the store come in bags and boxes and often are filled with everything but the basics.

As an example, last week there was a new report about the dangers of sodium benzoate. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Sodium benzoate is a preservative used in many acidic foods including vinegar, shredded cheese and salad dressings as well as in toothpaste, mouthwash and deodorant. It turns out that while sodium benzoate has been protecting us from microorganisms growing in our food for decades, it also has been reacting with the vitamin C in certain products and turning it into a carcinogenic substance called benzene. In addition, it alters cell DNA and has been linked to hyperactivity in children. Preserve our food…kill our bodies. Hmmmm…

Sodium benzoate is just one of a seemingly endless list of preservatives, colorings, flavorings, texturizers, stabilizers and more that are added to products to make them last longer and look more appealing. Have you ever seen what dried fruit looks like without the sulfites that are added to them? They’re not so pretty. I recently had some very brown sulfite-free apricots—not much to look at, but they tasted great. And those “ugly” fruits don’t cause allergic reactions like the raisins, prunes, apricots, dried apples and more that  are treated with sulfur dioxide and other sulfites.

The truth is that real food tastes so much better and is so much more satisfying.

A recent podcast interview I did with Joel Fuhrman, MD, author of Eat to Live, really hammered home the importance of real, nutrient-dense foods and foods that do not have additives and preservatives. As he said, the more nutrient-dense your foods are, the more satisfied you will feel and the less you will crave low-nutrient, empty-calorie foods.

Want an example? Have you seen the ever-growing offerings in the gluten-free aisle? Just because they’re gluten-free doesn’t mean that they’re good for you. Much has been written about the nutritional wasteland of gluten-free foods, most of them sweet treats and simple carbs. Sure, they let someone enjoy a piece of birthday cake once in a while…key phrase being “once in a while.” For day-to-day replacement of wheat (when it’s not your birthday), there are many ways to cook potatoes and other delicious, satisfying grains that can be eaten instead, free from toxic additives and stripped-down nutrients.

In the end, I went back to the supermarket and bought another pint of vanilla ice cream. This time I got the real deal—cream, milk, sugar, eggs, vanilla. No additives…no texturizers. And just one bite of it was totally satisfying. That’s the thing about real food—you can feel it with every bite. It doesn’t tease your taste buds. It just tastes good.

Curious about what I made for dinner? Here’s the menu…

Grass-fed-beef stew. The recipe is from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook (this is my all-time go-to cookbook. Great basic recipes and tips on ensuring they come out perfectly). Onions, carrots, celery, potatoes, red wine and a beef bouillon base. Basic—but classic.

Green salad with lemon shallot vinaigrette, also from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, I prefer red and green leaf—they have a good amount of nutrients a soft texture and light flavor. And even though I hate chopping veggies for salad, my interview with Joel Fuhrman convinced me that I need to expand my diversity of colors and textures in my salads. That night, I included several types of lettuce, cucumbers, red peppers, several colors of carrots, purple Brussels sprouts and celery. Nothing exotic…but a variety of colors.

Pear-Walnut-Ginger Crisp, made with coconut sugar and fresh ginger. The recipe is from Eating Purely by Elizabeth Stein, founder of Purely Elizabeth. A bit of the ice cream was the perfect compliment. My favorite brand: Häagen Dazs. It just is.

And to drink: Hibiscus lemonade, made from hibiscus tea, fresh-squeezed lemons and sweetened with raw, local honey.

I usually am very critical of my cooking. But I have to say, tonight I enjoyed every bite.

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