I’ve always had what I would consider a healthy relationship with food. As a kid, I wasn’t picky and pretty much ate whatever was given to me. Sweets, sodas, and snacks were moderated and while we had our share of good ol’ Southern fare, fried foods were balanced with healthier options. In high school, I started learning self control (driven by vanity, not by health) and would allow myself one candy bar out of the vending machine at school per week. I definitely consumed more fast food than I ever had due to a busy schedule and the freedom that comes with driving myself. College was when I first started preparing meals. I use the word meals very loosely here. There were lots of casseroles, microwaved burritos, and cheap beer. When my life changed in 2008 (read more here), the first step was taking a more active role in the foods I ate.
I think I was probably wandering through Sam’s when I saw a brightly colored book with large photos of two burgers on the front that caught my eye. The title was “Eat This, Not That” and the premise was easy enough to grasp. It showed readers easy switches to make at restaurants to save on calories, fat, sodium, and sugar. If you usually get this at McDonald’s, order this comparable but slightly more healthy option instead. I thought it would come in handy as a reference point when I went out to eat, so I scrounged up the $20 and bought it. What I didn’t realize was that the first few pages of this guide would permanently change my outlook on food and the industry surrounding it.
Call me naive, but I never knew how many random ingredients were thrown into our food to make them prettier, crunchier, long-lasting, and who knows what else. The authors of the book use the word “frankenfood” to describe these concoctions that are lab-created and passed on to us disguised as nourishment. For instance, the average fast food chicken nugget consists of 27 ingredients. I couldn’t come up with 27 ingredients to make a homemade chunk of fried poultry if I tried! The next shocker is just how bad some of these foods are for you. I knew that I was splurging if a ate candy bar, but I never would have thought that a Twix bar had the same amount of saturated fat as 11 strips of bacon (stats from 2011). The third revelation is the trickery of restaurants. For instance, you think you’re being good and ordering soup or salad, but these should-be good for you choices are often worse than that burger you really wanted. For example, a bowl of hot & sour soup at P.F. Chang’s has the sodium equivalent of 136 Saltine crackers (4,500 mg) and the TGI Friday’s Santa Fe chopped salad (no longer on the menu) had the same number of calories as 12 Taco Bell Fresco Crunchy Tacos (1800 cal). The list goes on and on. It’s crazy and actually quite frustrating. It’s one thing to enjoy an indulgence and be aware of it. It’s another to try to make good decisions only to later learn that you failed. It’s no wonder that the US has an obesity crisis with children being an equal target.
If you are a newbie at eating healthy, I highly recommend this series. They are easy reads with lots of photos and great reference points. Since we don’t go out to eat a ton, I more frequently use their supermarket shopping guides as well as the Cook This, Not That cookbooks. I think I own almost every book from the series now. That actually reminds me that there is one for kids that I don’t have and should look into (squirrel!).
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