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Food Substitutions

Posted Oct 22 2008 4:50pm
It used to be that when I heard about a lower fat/calorie/sugar food item, I'd be really interested to try it out. Special K cereal bars, BBQ crispy minis, C2, rice crackers, cup-a-soups, oatmeal-to-go and so on. Usually when you read the nutrition labels on these kinds of packages, they seem pretty decent. Sure, cup-a-soups are extremely high in sodium, but my mentality was generally that I don't put a lot of salt on my food, so where's the harm? There would be little fat and calories and the other percentages seemed relatively low so I'd try them out, enjoy the taste, and then start eating them on a daily basis.

I didn't really understand what the information meant. And if I cared to read the ingredient list, a lot of the time I didn't know what the various ingredients were but it sounded okay. Once I started learning more about ingredients, and started actually paying attention to the ingredient lists on packaging, I became rather horrified. Once in a while, sure, these foods won't do too much damage. But eating them every day? Every one of those foods was just empty calories with no nutrients.

That's why I'm trying to challenge myself by eating food with as little added ingredients as possible. That means real oats to make my oatmeal, fruits and vegetables as opposed to cereal bars, air-popped popcorn instead of microwavable popcorn or chips, and lots of milk and yogurt. We've got a breadmaker at home, too, so I've used that a few times to make my bread. Ultimately, it would be super awesome if I could cut down on processed foods completely, but I know that that's not realistic. I love going out to restaurants to eat and, of course, I need my chocolate fix from time to time!

But it's fun to challenge myself in this way- looking for ways to really decrease the amount of extra added ingredients. Even things like canned chickpeas and tomatoes can be found without any added salt. It's easy enough to add the salt on yourself after you've already cooked it, and that way you can a) have control of the amount of salt, and b) put a LOT less on your food than might otherwise be put in during the canning process.

I'd encourage anyone else to take up this challenge- start reading ingredient lists, and choose items with the least added ingredients possible. And watch out for "partially hydrogenated oil" on those lists, because thats trans fat (even if it says theres 0 trans fat on the nutrition label, there still could be some added in, so it's worth reading the ingredient list just to make sure). I find that eating the "real" version of food tastes a million times better. Oatmeal with organic cane sugar and cinnamon or blueberries on top is so much more delcious than a little packet of oatmeal with dried out pieces of fake apples, and popcorn topped with a little butter (try the Becel spray- it melts beautifully) and salt is a great snack compared to a handful of greasy chips. Absolutely no need for sacrificing flavour for health here! They come along hand in hand.

Let me know if you have any creative ideas for food substitutions that the rest of us could make use of!
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