My old doctor from years ago had some disheartening food advice for me.
“If it tastes good, spit it out,” he said.
I don’t think I took him seriously. I’ve since learned that many other doctors, wise guys at heart, have issued that same advice to other people trying to figure out how to eat more healthily–but still enjoy their food.
That kind of advice is probably truer than anyone wants to believe–at least on the surface. We Americans have been conditioned to love sugar and fat. It’s in everything. I myself always considered them to be two of the indispensable food groups.
Potato chips that leave stains on a napkin? Bring ’em on! Hamburgers that drip juice to my elbows? Yum! And dessert? Gotta have dessert!
When they came out with the fat-free foods, I thought that might be a solution, a miracle that would let me give up the bad stuff without giving up the food. It didn’t take me long to figure out that nine times out of ten, artificially de-fatted foods also had no taste. And, according to my nutritionist, when they take out fat, they often add sugar. Both fat and sugar are flavor enhancers, so if you subtract one, you have to add the other, according to those who are trying to addict us to their products.
Adding to the whole evil dilemma are the television commercials that first show ads for artery-hardening meals and decadent foods one minute, followed by ads for pills to lower cholesterol or lose weight. Common sense should tell us that that you can’t have it all AND a healthy old age, unless you’re a biological phenomenon.
I thought of my old doctor fairly recently when I was told my cholesterol is too high. Oh whoopee, I thought. Here it goes. Get ready for the can’t-eat-anything lifestyle. The first thing that was suggested was one of the staten drugs that more and more people are recognizing are not good for us. I decided that a donut diet wasn’t worth the possible side effects of those things.
“It’s almost impossible to totally control this by diet,” my new doctor said. Wrong thing to say. Don’t ever tell me “can’t.”
I saw my first glimmer of hope when I realized that it isn’t just what you don’t eat that counts; it’s what you do eat. And how much, and how often.
So, here’s what I’ve done. Maybe you’ll shudder, maybe you’ll decide there has to be a better way. But for me, slowly but surely, it’s working. One of my secrets: I haven’t given everything up entirely.
I still love that ice cream. But now I have two reasonable-sized scoops, once a week, on Sunday night, a treat I look forward to. I still love dessert, but now it’s sugar-free gelatin, or sugar-free pudding made with skim milk. Layer the pudding with a few Cheerios, and you get crunch and good taste without clogging anything vital.
Breakfast is usually cottage cheese, sometimes with raisins, sometimes with a little banana, always with flax seeds. Oh yes, those are such a delightful secret weapon! They have next to no taste, as far as I’m concerned, but they’re great for stripping that cholesterol right out of your system. So, into the cottage cheese they go, and into salads, and into my homemade bread. I also add them to oatmeal, which is another of those cholesterol-fighting foods.
Now, here’s where you and I will probably part company. But if my husband can learn to appreciate this little trick, there might be hope for you, too: we often have oatmeal for our lighter meal of the day–which, for us, is in the evening. We eat our main meal at noon.
Important point here–none of those packets of instant oatmeal that become instant paste as soon as you add water. I start with the old-fashioned oats that take five minutes to cook. Into the water I add a little maple flavoring, and as many raisins as suit me. George gets half a graham cracker in the bottom of his bowl, over which I pour his oatmeal. (The “surprise” at the bottom that my mother added when we were kids to entice us to eat it.) I do without the cracker, but I add flax seeds and walnuts. A little brown sugar for George, but for me, Stevia in the Raw. It’s a natural product, no calories, no aspertame. I get a bit of skim milk on mine, George prefers none.
Oatmeal is so filling that I often make only half a serving for myself. The point is, it tastes great, it’s doing good things, there’s no fat, no sugar–and I don’t have to spit it out.
Sometimes, though, I don’t want oatmeal for supper. That’s when I eye the avocados, the no-no food not too long ago, but the darling of the no-cholesterol set now. Avocados contain good fat. I can eat them! Dice one up, add pear chunks, maybe some banana, walnuts, poppy seed, flax seed, and just a bit of fat-free raspberry vinaigrette dressing. Heaven. They’re good
in a wrap, too, if I feel like a bit more substance. But I like the flavored wraps–tomato basil, roasted garlic, chipotle.
There’s still the main meal to deal with. I’ll save that for another time. But for now, I’d like to look up my old doctor. I don’t always have to spit it out, I’d tell him. There are ways around this.