Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Good & The Bad: Diet Trends

Are you ready for this? Ok. I... I don't believe in gluten-free or vegan diets. There. It's official now, since I've announced it on the internet. 

I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise; I am French, after all. Naturally, I am all for eating in moderation. For instance, I had a pastry and coffee for lunch yesterday and that is all I had. That being said, I think it's important to mix up your diet and eat non-wheat grains and animal-free meals from time to time. As many of my readers will point out, I've even posted vegan recipes.

However, I'm also slowly losing faith in the trend of substituting sugars and fats for other sugars and fats. See, it even sounds dumb. This article, itself, was inspired by the coconut sugar I discovered at Trader Joe's this week. Same amount of calories as table sugar but tastes less sweet? Well, that means I'm just going to use more of it!

Our bodies are programmed to crave certain foods, especially those high in calories. That's why cheese, pastries, and, let's not kid ourselves, McNuggets taste so good. When you deny yourself those foods, of course you're going to try to replace them with something else. Usually, fats get replaced with sugars and vice versa. When you take both out, most food companies just replace it all with salt, or even worse, fake sugar and mystery chemicals. Do you know what my brain does when I consider going gluten free? It's starts thinking about all the gluten-free foods I can eat, like french fries, potato chips, hash browns, and milk shakes. None of the foods I just mentioned are really part of a "balanced" diet now, are they? 

Anyway, my point is that people are going about it all wrong, especially those people who think it's going to help them lose weight. Instead of focusing on whole foods that are naturally vegan or gluten-free, we are convinced by marketing and even our own treacherous bodies to replace the foods we cut out with easily-accessible, processed substitutes. I've tried to avoid getting into the politics of it, since everyone chooses their diet for different reasons. There are people reading this who have to eat gluten-free or vegan for sometimes very serious health reasons. This article is not directed at you. And for those of you like my friend Katherine it is your concern for animal welfare that has led you to this lifestyle. This article is not directed at you! I respect your choice. But for those of you who think some trendy new diet is your magic ticket to weight loss, you've got another thing comin'!

I've compiled a list of the good and bad aspects of vegan and gluten-free options and the trendy substitutes you find at Trader Joe's.


Soy cheese is an atrocity
Can we say PROCESSED?? Toffuti contains 16 to 19 ingredients including preservatives and 3 forms of soy (we'll deal with soy later), and to top it all off, they're not even sure what oils they use in each batch. Plus, it tastes like gas station food and contains about 100mg more sodium than a slice of good, old cheddar. If you're allergic to dairy or feel strongly about animal rights, then just skip the cheese. Both you and the earth will benefit.

Coconut Butter
Frequently used as a (delicious) substitute for butter, it has more calories and almost twice the amount of saturated fat (12g versus 7g). Combine that with almond flour in a batch of paleo cookies and you've got a recipe for a stomachache. For instance, one of these cookies has almost 3 times the amount of calories as a regular chocolate chip cookie. 

These are not paleo, but they do contain delicious coconut butter!

Gluten-Free = Sugar & Fat 
Store bought gluten-free options are quite frequently a bad idea. Take for instance this "Totally Healthy" cake. 33g of fat in one small cake and almost as much sugar as a can of coke! Like I mentioned above, you're best off just making your own food at home and trying to forget things like cookies and cake, except on special occasions. The goal of going without gluten should be about health, not about trying to get your sugar fix from some other source!

Bye, bye B12
Vitamin B12 deficiency is actually a really serious health risk, especially for children who are on vegetarian and vegan diets. It can lead to pernicious anemia, neuropathy, and if left untreated, even brain damage. Please read this medical study review and if you're a vegan, try incorporating kimchi into your diet, as this can be a good source of the bacteria that creates B12.

Sugar Alternativs
Like I mentioned above, is coconut sugar really such a good replacement if it has just as many calories but doesn't taste as sweet? Honey and maple syrup, while delicious, have glycemic indexes comparable to table sugar (58 and 54 respectively). And don't you even think of touching those chemicals known as artificial sweeteners!

Soy is not your friend
Soy is in everything nowadays. It's in junk food, it's in health food; it's in cheese & meat substitutes, chocolates, cereals, infant formulas, fish sticks, yogurts, salad dressings and it was the last meal of the chicken that made the egg for your Cobb salad. So why are people not having as many reactions to soy as they are to gluten? On top of the over-exposure, soy is also a source of estrogen-mimicking compounds known as isoflavones. They acts as exogenous (external) hormones, which can reduce fertility, upset development in children and adolescents, and even trigger cancers (source). Oh, also, we're cutting down the rainforest to grow it, so if you think that soy patty is saving animals, it's not.


Coconut Butter
First off, this stuff tastes sooo good. It adds a hint of the tropics to any dish you're cooking. I'd also like to point out that your body needs fats and the fatty acids found in coconuts are reportedly very good for brain function. So go ahead and get your fat from the amazing coconut, just don't go crazy. Make fewer batches of cookies and use a little less on your toast.

Mixing it up is good for you
Eating gluten-free or vegan a few times a week can help you avoid allergies and makes life a little more interesting. Cutting out meat when possible is also good for the earth. So go ahead and make those paleo cookies, because they're probably gonna taste awesome, but don't eat them every day! Also, check the book called VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00. The idea is that you eat a healthy, homemade vegan diet for most of the day, and then, after 6pm, you eat whatever you like. Sounds doable, right?

Gluten-free = Coeliac awareness
My friend, Abi, from England has a pretty serious intolerance to gluten. It's not life-threatening, but it does make her life pretty miserable when she eats it. The first time she came to visit me in 2007, the gluten-free options were few and far between. And expensive! With the gluten-free trend, the amount of foods labeled coeliac friendly has skyrocketed. For that, I am thankful. Especially when it concerns people who are deathly allergic to gluten and wheat. People are now more knowledgeable and understanding (with the exception of one self-inflicted dieter I had the pleasure of serving once).

Sugar Alternatives
We eat waaaay too much sugar in this country. Really, we should be eliminating it instead of replacing it. Coconut sugar has a much lower glycemic index, so if you need your sugar fix, it's definitely a better option. Agave nectar is also a good option. It's delicious and has a glycemic index between 11 and 30, depending on the brand. 

Soy is delicious
It tastes great in my latte and in the form of edamame. That's about it.

Alright. That's my piece. I've opened the flood gates, I know, but I'm ready for it. What's your take?


Linda said...

I've recently cut back on processed foods. I've started making my own bread. I try to buy as minimally processed foods as possible. I feel a lot better and my grocery bill is a little smaller. I call that a win.
I'm interred in reading Bitman's Vegan Before 6. It does sound doable.

Keit said...

I've never been a diet kind of gal, because I've always been a skeletor, but this post actually made me think. There is a lot of useful information here, thanks a thousand for sharing this. I have a friend who's on a gluten free diet right now, she's gone a little crazy to be honest...All she thinks about is GLUTEN FREE this, GLUTEN FREE that...I'm going to show her this post :D

Kitsune-kun said...

Did you mean a b 12 deficiency is dangerous? The article you posted states the vitamin is important, and not having enough of it is what leads to those health problems. Your wording made it sound like he actual vitamin is dangerous?

Unknown said...

Thank you for catching that! The word 'deficiency' must have gotten deleted when I was doing some editing! Yikes!

Lubka Henry said...

You only made me hungry with this post :) And I was thinking to skip the snacking today... oh well!

Lu ❤

Monikiki said...

Great article! I think I should lay off those Splendas I put on my coffee every morning...and afternoon...and some evenings! lol

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