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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Why to avoid fake food 

I am not generally a big proponent of "diet food," but on the last weight loss attempt before this one (last year), I did make some forays into the diet food world. One of these forays, Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches, was actually pretty good, though I remain suspicious of what exactly is in them. Most of the other things I bought I never even tried.

Fast forward to last night. It's 9:30, I'm at home in my pajamas, and I have an undeniable chocolate craving. Unlike some people, this doesn't happen to me very often, but when it does, it is all I can think about or talk about until it is fed. I ransack the cupboard, looking for something. I am incredibly saddened to find we do not have any of the best brownie mix in the world (Ghiradelli Triple Chocolate, for the uninitiated). What we did have, hanging out in the back of the cupboard, was a No Pudge! fat-free mint brownie mix. Just add 2/3 cup of nonfat vanilla yogurt. Hrm. Well, in the absence of a better option, it's worth a try, right?

Wrong. So, so wrong. I don't know what the product of what came out of that box+2/3 cup of incredibly yummy Stonyfield non-fat french vanilla was, but it was certainly not brownies. I was trepidatious when I tried to lick the batter off the mixer paddle and it stung my tongue, but I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt--maybe it would cook up fine. It did not cook up fine. The cooked result seemed to be a plastic product of some sort. Even moltenly hot, it kept its shape--never a good sign in a brownie. And it tasted like Mr. Clean. Seriously.

Here's the part I don't get, though. The worst thing about these brownies was their complete and utter artificial flavor. It was nearly impossible to believe they came out of my own oven, not a factory. And yet, according to the label, there are no artificial ingredients in the mix. Somehow, the makers of No Pudge! have taken real food products and put them together in such a combination as to make them taste like artificial diet food. Which is, I wager, exactly why they are popular--like Snackwells before them, they taste so artificial that the dieter eating them is easily able to make the distinction between them and something "naughty." Something full of fat and calories. Something real.

The take-home message is the same as always: diet food is a bad idea. The first premise of healthy eating should be to eat food that remembers where it came from, or at least food that came from somewhere you can identify. More that all of the fat and calories and sugar in the world, we should be afraid of food that isn't made out of food. And given this experience, I'll add that we should also be suspicious of food that does seem to be made out of food, but doesn't have the properties food should have. In the case of brownies, those properties rightly include both fat and calories. And that's the way it should be.

Cross-posted at What If No One's Watching?.

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