Friday, July 18, 2008

Eating the real thing

In our quest to get the lowest point treat as possible, we sometimes overlook the obvious. We can have the real thing. In fact, the real thing might be better for us for a few reasons. One, it's less likely to have mystery chemicals in it. Two, it might satisfy us better than having a copycat. Three, it's likely to be cheaper.

Consider the humble fudgsicle. I realize it's not the epitome of a nutritionally sound food, but it is a treat that I often crave. On one side of my grocery store's freezer are the "diet" offerings. Laughing Cow, Breyer's sugar-free, and so on. On the other side, the real deal. To get my frozen fix, I naturally gravitate towards the diet side. “Diet” foods have less calories in it, so they must be better for me, right?

And then I started comparing ingredients. My intestines are extremely sensitive to sugar alcohol (think bomb squad) and so out of consideration to Mr. Trim and my cats, I avoid it wherever possible. Unsurprisingly, just about every one of these treats had some form of sugar alcohol or mystery ingredient in them.

Now I know that sugar alcohols have been deemed "safe" but they haven't been out all that long. The advisablility of the "ols" aside, it's the other ingredients that raise my eyebrows, too. What are these things? Manmade, likely. Unpronoucenable for sure. And where would these chemicals wind up in my body? Just how much was I trading in points-value for health?

That's when a wild and crazy idea popped into my brain. Why not have the real thing? How bad could it really be? So I picked up the regular fudgsicle box and was surprised to find that it wasn't all that bad at all. In fact, it was only 1 point more than its sugar-free counterpart.

On one hand, I could have a smaller "fake" fudgsicle for 1 point, more money, and a slew of chemicals. Or, I could have the real mccoy for 2 points, less money, and less chemicals. (The other obvious choice is not to have it at all and avoid the sugar, fat, and chemicals altogether. But that's not terrifically fun.)

I’m not saying that all specialty “diet” food is bad, either. They do have their place. If it keeps you from binging, all the better. If pre-portioned packs are more convenient and help you with portion control, by all means. I myself can't be in the same room with an open bag of chips; it has to be preportioned or you'll find me hiding a crumpled and empty bag in short order.

In the end, I wound up getting the box of real fudgsicles and enjoyed every one of them more than any of diet treats I've eaten in the past. They felt like a real treat, both physically and mentally. A nice cool fudgsicle from my youth on a hot day just satisfies. Mind and mouth.

The next time you're in the store and find yourself reaching for the diet food, indulge in a bit of detective work. Pick up the real thing and really look at it. Nutritional information, ingredients and all. You might just be surprised by what you find. Not all “bad” foods are that bad.

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