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From Protein “Pancakes” to Cluck-less “Chik’n” : How Do You Feel About Food Fakes?

Posted Sep 27 2012 12:36am

That’s definitely a bad food substitution. But an awesome autocorrect. This site makes me cry laughing.

Protein pancakes. Protein cookies. Protein ice cream. Protein muffins. Protein bars. Protein pudding. And everyone’s favorite – the ubiquitous protein cookie dough balls.  What is up with all the bastardized baked goods? Well, like all good things it’s starts with guilt and a craving.

If you’ve been into health/fitness for very long you probably already have some hefty protein guilt. We hear numbers bandied about like “eat 1 – 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight if you want to build muscle!” We see ripped bodies at the gym slipping powder into their water bottles like it’s Studio 54 but with really bright unflattering lighting. We read the advertisements selling protein supplements, the magazine blurbs touting more protein to help you stay satiated, the research studies showing that people on high protein diets lose more weight. (For the record: I’m not saying any of these things are wrong or untrue. Protein is great. You need it to live. Although I’m not convinced it’s as crazy awesome as many people say it is.) And yet, while a nice juicy steak is delish what people crave most of the time are warm, fluffy, sugar-coated carbohydrate concoctions – all the stuff that basically has no naturally occurring protein in it. (And no naturally occurring nutrition either. Sadly.)

So we manufacture substitutes for our favorite foods. Love peanut butter cookies? Eat them guilt free with this low-carb, gluten-free, protein-packed recipe! Ice cream junkie? Whirl together some ice, non-dairy “milk”, protein powder, gums and sugar-free flavoring for a cold conscience-soothing confection!

The upside to food substitutions:

- Sometimes they taste really good. (Confession: I went through a huge protein ice cream phase and some of the recipes out there are freaking amazing. The secret, as told to me by Deb the Smoothie Girl, is in the guar and xanthan gums.)

- It’s nice to eat something “guilty” that doesn’t actually make you feel guilty for eating it.

- It’s also touted as a great way to help people make the transition from junk food to clean eating – which, let’s be honest, can be a huge adjustment – by letting them continue to eat their favorite foods but still acquiring a taste for whole grains, less sweetness and, duh, protein powder.

The dark side of food substitutions:

- Sometimes they taste like utter crap but then you feel like you have to eat it anyhow because you made it and probably used a lot of expensive fancy-pants ingredients. Remember my disaster healthifying banana bread ? And my turd cookies ? And my liver and heart casserole ? (Wow, that just made me sound like Hannibal Lecter. It was a COW liver and heart. Just the recipe was mine.)

- Sometimes you feel guilty anyhow. There’s no “perfect” recipe and if you get caught up in trying to make every food nutritionally perfect you’ll drive yourself mad.

- Depending on the food, the substitution with all it’s fake, chemical, processed ingredients may end up being worse for you than the real food. (See: artificial sweeteners are not our friend .)

- You can end up eating too much of the substitute because it doesn’t quite hit the spot whereas you might have only needed a bite or two of the real thing to feel satisfied.

- Sometimes food substitutions can turn into a crutch, keeping you in the mindset of eating less healthy foods rather than teaching you to find enjoyable, delish recipes that don’t have to pretend to be something else to be edible.

It’s this last point that I’ve heard a lot lately. Gurus from paleo to vegan and everything in between have been telling their acolytes to just ditch the substitutions already, that it’s holding them back from committing to the lifestyle and embracing the health principles behind it. In addition, die-hard foodies will tell you to stop wrecking good food – if you want chocolate lava cake then by golly find the best chocolate lava cake you can and enjoy the heck out of every bite.

From a personal standpoint I can tell you this: If I never see, read about or eat frozen banana “soft-serve ice cream” again it will be too soon. First of all, that stuff only resembles soft-serve in its texture, and even then it’s melty soft-serve. With a weird aftertaste. And no matter what you put on it, it will still taste like bananas. I hate bananas. I especially hate frozen whipped bananas with mint extract and cacao bits, which was the darling of the fit-o-sphere not too long ago, mostly because it reminded me that there is real mint chocolate chip ice cream somewhere in the world and yet it is not in my bowl. And to make sure I offend all camps, I also detest fake meat products. I like tofu. You don’t have to press it into flavored bricks, bread it and call it “Chik’n” to make me eat it. Not to mention processed soy gives me enough gas to clear an entire gym in 5 minutes.

I didn’t used to feel this way. As a vegetarian and vegan, for years I ate so many “burgers” and “chik’n” and “sausage crumbles” that I personally kept Morningstar Farms in business. Then when I got into weightlifting I made every single one of those “protein” recipes I listed at the beginning. And probably more that I’ve forgotten. Protein powder was such a staple in my diet that I began to think of it as the 5th required flavor – the umami of meatheads.

These days, other than bananas and Chik’n (which I clearly have strong feelings about), I’m not exactly sure where I stand. When I started doing Intuitive Eating, one of the things I liked best about it was that you ate what your body really wanted. There was no trying to “trick” yourself into thinking you were eating a cookie when you weren’t. Our bodies are smart, y’all. They don’t like being tricked. Slowly, and without giving it much conscious thought, I stopped with all the weird diet dopplegangers. I still ate healthy – that’s how my body feels best, it turns out – but I ate healthy food that was what it was. And when I chose to have a treat, well it was what it was too – and I enjoyed it. But now that I’m dairy free (and still loving it! Seriously it’s been over a month now and no panic attacks!!!) I’ve inadvertently stumbled back into the twilight zone.

It started innocently enough with ice cream. I’ve always loved ice cream but once I connected it with my diarrhea, projectile vomiting, stomach cramps and crying spells it was more than easy to let it go. But I still want a cold, creamy treat once in a while. So I discovered coconut milk ice cream and it is good. Really really good. (I believe one of you commented on a previous post that coconut milk ice cream is so good that you wonder why people ever eat the real stuff. I agree. Although price might have something to do with it – that stuff is crazy expensive.) But it doesn’t always go so well. My other dairy love was cheese – Brie and a loaf of French bread was better than a serenade from Justin Timberlake – and yet fake “cheez” is nasty stuff. I’ve eaten it in the past but this time around I haven’t even bothered with it. It’s so far from the real thing that it just makes me sad. It’s easier for me to avoid cheese altogether than to eat pretend cheez.

So what’s a health conscious girl to do? How do you feel about food substitutions? Do you have a favorite one that you love? Any that you particularly hate?


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