The other day a friend and I got together to catch up on old news. The two of us had been away at different universities for the entire year so getting together meant that there was plenty of new news to share – what courses we had taken courses, how exams had gone, our plans for the summer, our plans for next year. We chatted for quite some time when suddenly my friend jokingly mentioned that she was starting a new diet. “You’re what!?!” I thought to myself. “You’re starting a DIET?!?”
Now please don’t get me wrong: I think that ‘healthy’ eating is one of the most important aspects of living life to its fullest (and enjoying everything in the process). If there’s a choice between some fresh fruit or a can of pop, I’ll definitely choose the fresh fruit. And if there’s a choice between brown and white rice, well, it’s generally going to be brown.
But a diet? a DIET!?! When I think of diets, I think of the more radical, fad type diets characterized by temporary torture that is sometimes accompanied by temporary weight loss. Not to say that all diets are ineffective or have the ultimate purpose of losing weight. Many people, for example, choose to cut out some or all meat products (vegetarians), or all animal products including eggs and dairy (vegans). What baffles me though is the sheer number of people who actually commit to any genres of selective or restricted eating habits.
Now, back to my friend.
Curious, I asked her exactly what type of diet she was planning on following. “A substitute-free one!” she said with a big grin on her face.
Atkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers, Detox, Vegetarianism, Veganism. I’ve known at least one person who has followed every one of these mainstream eating styles. But ‘substitute-free’? Now this was one diet I had never heard about.
“So what exactly IS substitute-free eating?” I asked my friend. Her answer made me smile.
It turns out the previous night she’d eaten out. She had gone to a house and been served lasagna for dinner and ice cream cookie sandwiches for dessert. These, however, weren’t exactly your typical lasagna with lots of tomato sauce and gooey cheese and ice cream cookie sandwiches full of rich cream and sugar. Rather, this had been a substitute-rich meal consisting of such wonders as unmeltable soy cheese and lactose-free ice cream. Yum? Well . . . she didn’t think so.
These days it seems that there’s some sort of substitute for everything. Soy cheese, soy margarine, soy yogurt. Tofurky, TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein), nut-free peanut butter. Veggie burgers, veggie hot dogs, veggie chicken strips, veggie breakfast sausages. Sugar-free, aspartame-rich, fat-free, zero calories. I wouldn’t be surprised if there WAS a soya bean-free tofu. The point is, nowadays many of the foods we so willingly consume have lists of ingredients that are quite nearly a kilometre long.
Take, for example, the list of ingredients for Yves Meatless Beef Burgers: Water, Textured Soy Protein, Vital Wheat Gluten, Expeller Pressed Canola Oil, Onions, Cornstarch, Natural Falvours, Fruit Powder (Pear, Apple, Plum), Modified Vegetable Gum, Malt Extract, Salt, Hydrolyzed Corn Protein, Spices, thiamin hydrochloride, riboflavin, Nniacinamide, pyridoxine hydrochloride, cyanocobalamine, calcium pantothenate, reduced iron, zinc oxide. To be quite honest with you, I have difficulty pronouncing let alone describing what half of those ingredients are.
There are a variety of concerns that surround soya-based products and the many other substitute-rich foods that mainstream diets promote: genetic modification, excessive vitamin addition, indigestible vegetable-based proteins. Some even suggest that feeding a baby soya formula can be equivalent to putting five birth control pills worth of estrogen into their small body every day, an occurrence possibly linked to the increasingly late onset of puberty in males or possibly even homosexuality (http://www.wnd.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=53327).
All of the theories aside, it only seems like common sense to seek out foods that are as fresh and pure as possible. Consider your options for drinking ‘milk’. There’s actual dairy milk (2 ingredients – milk and vitamin D), or a multitude of milk substitutes (almond milk, grain milk, oat milk, rice milk, soy milk… and the list goes on… all with over 10 ingredients each). Those who are lactose-intolerant will likely opt for the latter (although lactose-free dairy milk is also now available). All others, however, can choose between the substitute-free or the substitute-rich. Really, why not just eat the REAL thing?
A second matter regarding what seems to be common sense is the new trend of ‘limited’ or ‘zero-calorie’ beverages and foods. Think: the new Coke Zero or those 100-calorie Kit Kat bars, Hershey’s Choclate Chip Cookies, Oreo Thin Crisps or Cheese Nips that typically reside in the checkout aisles of grocery stores. Isn’t the purpose of eating generally to replenish your energy, and thus consume calories? Again moderation becomes an issue.
So it turns out my friend’s substitute-free diet may have some sense after all. No tofurky, no unmeltable cheese or no lactose-free ice cream. I’m not complaining.