Weighty Matters

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Processing Alternatives

on February 22, 2014

A younger co-worker/friend of mine doesn’t have a car at the moment. Since she more or less lives on my way to or from work, I try to give her a ride as often as possible. We have great conversations during the drive. She follows a vegan food plan, often eats raw and seeks out foods that undergo the least amount of processing. I’m learning a lot from her.

No, I’m not giving up meat. I am way too much of a carnivore. My love of prime rib and lamb chops aside, as you know I am trying to eat healthy and make better choices as much as possible.

I regularly eat Greek yogurt. Usually, I buy the single serving containers of 0% fat yogurt with fruit. These are a good portion size for me at lunch and they’re easier to transport. However, I read a few articles recently that pointed out again that those fruited yogurts have more sugar. The articles recommended buying 0% yogurt and mixing in fresh fruit. I told B that I was doing that and she applauded, then she told me something really interesting that I hadn’t considered. She said that if I’m buying the fat free vanilla flavored yogurt, I’m still getting a more processed version with more sugar than I need. “You know, Mary, you can always buy the plain yogurt and add your own vanilla extract.”

Color me with my jaw dropped. I never considered that alternative. Doesn’t it sound sensible, easy and obvious? I still have some vanilla yogurt to finish up, but when it’s gone, I’m going to try her suggestion. Plain, 0% yogurt with vanilla extract and fresh fruit added should equal a perfect snack or light meal. If I find I need a little extra touch of sweetness, I am also trying some natural sweeteners that aren’t a colorful packet of chemicals.

Last weekend did I mention how I experimented with making a lower fat but still tasty bleu cheese salad dressing? Greek non-fat yogurt mixed with reduced-fat mayo, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper and, of course, bleu cheese. I even used reduced fat cheese. I was delighted with the delicious results.

I’ve long heard the suggestion that when cutting calories, read the labels on products and don’t use anything where sugar is higher than 6th place on the list of ingredients. I’ve noticed that sugar ranks near the top on a lot of products that say they’re “light” or fat free.

Next week I’m invited to dinner with a group of friends. One couple is cooking the main dish and dessert. I offered to bring salad. I’m planning a little mobile salad bar so that people can mix in whatever ingredients they’d like to add. I thought I’d start with a base of mixed greens and then offer the bleu cheese dressing. Since not everyone likes bleu cheese, I also have a delicious creamy Caesar recipe. I can also pack regular olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

The creamy Caesar has a mayonnaise base. Now, I could go with the reduced fat mayo again, but there’s more of it in this recipe than in the bleu. I’ve decided that I’m going to try to take this one step further. I’m going to attempt to make my own mayo. It will be a garlic aioli, to be exact. I’ve read several recipes and, frankly, this doesn’t look like a big challenge. I even found one that uses mostly olive oil which is a “better fat” oil. If I can produce an aioli that tastes good enough, then I can easily incorporate it into the Caesar dressing.

I’ve been trying to eat more vegetables each day, including a salad at either lunch or breakfast. I brought a salad for lunch every day this past week and I was very careful to measure out the amount of dressing that I brought with me, specifically so I wouldn’t negate the positive effort with an overload of dressing calories.

Peanut butter is one of my favorite foods. I like it as a snack and it’s a good protein source for me, particularly when I just need a snack to get me going before a bike ride, etc. The thing with peanut butter is that most of it is loaded with sugar and many brands also have big amounts of palm oil included.

Palm oil and palm kernel oil are present in countless upon countless products — from foodstuffs to cosmetics. It is increasingly more difficult to find products that don’t contain it in their list of ingredients. What is my objection to this oil? It’s so popular that it is a huge cash crop. The establishing of palm plantations to produce this oil is the major cause of deforestation of rainforest habitat in Indonesia and Malaysia. In turn, this impacts endangered species including the Asian elephant, tiger, Sumatran rhino and the Sumatran orangutan. I’m not going to turn this post into a giant soap box. However, even thought I’m only one person, if I can reduce my consumption of palm oil then I help reduce demand and maybe that, in some tiny way, helps those species. (Particularly if a lot of individual people do the same thing.)

Anyway, I’m delighted that I can easily find a reasonably priced organic peanut butter that not only doesn’t contain palm oil, but it doesn’t have any added sugar either. In fact, its only ingredient is peanuts! I shared that with B and she again applauded. Smart young woman that she is she also pointed out that, since I own a food processor, I could actually grind up peanuts and make my own peanut butter if I want. I don’t know if I’m ready to try that yet, but it could be on my horizon. In the meantime, I’m pleased with the alternative I’m buying.

In my quest to cut back on sugars contained in pre-mixed products and finding alternatives to some of the processed foods I would normally consume, I know that bottled salad dressings are one category of foodstuffs that I can replace with homemade concoctions. It is within my reach to make things that are big on flavor but lower in sugar and non-healthy oils/fats.

Since I know it’s possible, it only makes sense to try, don’t you think?

Are there any more natural, healthier, less-processed foods that you’ve tried and like?

5 responses to “Processing Alternatives

  1. Marti91257 says:

    We’ve also been cutting out processed foods, we eat very little meat, as much organic food as possible (ShopRite has a fantastic selection of their own brand of organics from rice, beans and salad dressings to cereals, milks, eggs and meats).
    Give Tahini dressing a try, if you haven’t already! It’s so simple and flavorful, especially on Kale salad – just tahini, garlic and lemon juice.
    You may also want to give Veganaise (vegan mayo) a try – I prefer the flavor of their organic variety the best, and you really can’t tell the difference!
    Another great fat substitute is Earth Balance Buttery Spread (again, their organic variety) – it is as good as butter but without the guilt.
    And then there’s tofu… I’ve come to love that humble little squishy brick of whiteness, it’s so versatile – you can use it in sauces, panko’d and baked, fried, as a replacement for ricotta (I’ll often mix half ricotta and half tofu for the flavor) and it picks up the flavor of whatever you cook it in. Christen’s friend made an incredible “buffalo tofu” a while back – that’s what really sold me on it!
    I have a bunch of great recipes on Pinterest if you’re looking for ideas 🙂

    • Mary Stella says:

      Fortunately, my cholesterol is in really good shape and I don’t use enough mayo to worry too much about the egg content, but I’m intrigued to see how the Vegenaise mayo works in a homemade salad dressing.

      We don’t have Shop Rite in the Florida Keys but Publix is growing their organic line too.

      Tahini. Love it!

      Thanks for the suggestions, Marti.

  2. Skye says:

    In our household, we eat Adam’s no-stir peanut butter. It uses an oil (peanut maybe?) as a stabilizer, but other than that is all natural, no sugar. It’s great.

    We go back and forth on processed foods. We do eat Amy’s frozen meal bowls, but I trust Amy’s (I should probably look at the ingredients, just to make sure, but they are organic). We could eat more vegies and fruit. I think of all processed foods I could get rid of, bread would be the hardest one.

    I think your work to decrease processed foods is terrific. It’s a great idea for all of us and I also think “d’oh!” about adding vanilla extract to plain yogurt.

    My only question is this: are you getting enough good fat in your diet? Like, have you talked to a nutritionist specifically about that? So many people are going so low fat, yet we need it for a lot of things, including our brains. I know I get too much of it oftentimes, but even when I have my diet in a healthier place I still eat regular peanut butter and full-fat Greek yogurt. (I do top out my organic milk at 1% though.) It’s just a thought.

    Please keep sharing! I can definitely incorporate a lot of this. And keep sharing the taste results, too!

    • Mary Stella says:

      I’ll look for that peanut butter, Skye. Sounds delicious.

      Yes, even with my low fat choices, I get enough good fats from nuts, olive oil, etc. I still also get not so good fats since I use a little butter and half and half.

  3. Hope says:

    Reduced fat is usually just another way of saying “lots and lots of added sugar.” :p Fat makes things tasty, so when companies cut it out, they usually more than make up for it with a lot of extra sugar. Fat is also really satisfying, so sometimes the full-fat version of something is actually better in the long run. I would rather eat full-fat yogurt without added sugar. Just as tasty, way more satisfying.

    Allison and I gave up junk food until June. We’re not drinking any soda (diet or otherwise) or eating any pre-packaged food/bars/etc. It’s been tough, but I also feel great.

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