Science Experiments in the Kitchen: Better Living with Chemicals?

I’m usually in two minds about cooking.  I did most of the cooking when I was growing up.  My parents divorced when I was about 8 and once I was tall enough to reach the stove-top, cooking was my job!  I didn’t exactly hate it, mainly because I didn’t know anything else, but once I was an adult and living on my own, I cooked as little as possible! (I stopped dating one guy because he made it clear he expected me to be the ‘traditional housewife’- been there-DONE with that!)

The whole Not-Cooking mindset meant I ate mostly fast food and prepared/ processed foods, and in those days, there were not a lot of healthy options.  Fast food was burgers, fries, burritos, tacos, etc. and prepared processed foods meant a lot of quick carbs, and whenever possible, I ate as much bread as I could get down my throat.  ‘Eating healthy’ usually meant eating something low fat and low sodium with as many of those ‘healthy whole grains’ as I could get.  In short, it was a recipe for disaster.

Going back to cooking was probably one of the hardest things for me.  To be honest, I still don’t like it much and I really don’t have the patience for measuring out this and mixing up that and then letting it simmer for however many minutes. Sometimes when I happen to watch a cooking show, and they have something that needs to be heated or marinated or brined for hours, that is far too many steps for me. The same goes for something with a long list of ingredients: too much freaking trouble!

For me, food is simple.  I like something exotic or complex as much as the next person; I just don’t like it enough to make it myself! One of the podcasts I listen to is 2 Keto Dudes, and both hosts are true keto gourmands. Their recipes are pretty complex, but what I find more than a little off-putting for me is that they sometimes use ingredients that sound like part of a science experiment to me.  I really don’t want to add sodium citrate to my grated cheese so I can make a ‘melty creamy cheese sauce’ for a Philly type cheesesteak sandwich on some ‘keto friendly’ bread made with something else that sounds like it belongs in a lab.  While I do try keeping my carbs low (about 50 g daily), my goal isn’t to be keto or ‘zero carb.’  My goal is to eat healthy real food.  Recently, I heard an interview with Mark Sisson on the Primal Potential podcast, and I think he hit the nail on the head when he said (paraphrasing here) “most Americans want to eat as much as they can for the fewest calories they can.”  Basically, the attitude is ‘how much can I eat without gaining weight?’

I think this is what’s happened with a lot of the ‘keto craze’: how can I give the food I used to eat a keto makeover so I can still have donuts, waffles and bread? When you listen to the hosts of 2 Keto Dudes, their attitude toward bread, donuts, waffles, etc is that they are horrible foods that can make you sick if you eat them every day.  Whether that’s true or not isn’t the point here.  Their attitude towards the keto version of these foods is that they’re wonderful and not ‘carbage’ (their word) and they taste delicious.  Again, the truth of this statement isn’t the point, especially since I’ve never tasted them so I can’t voice an opinion.  The point I am trying to make is that much of our current health problems with processed foods came from scientists and food manufacturers trying to find ways of making food taste better, be ready faster, and more convenient and presentable to the public.  Reading the reviews for several Paleo friendly versions of foods, I find there are a lot of complaints about ‘texture’ and a ‘strange after taste’ and other ‘aesthetics.’  The Paleo cookie doesn’t taste like a ‘real’ cookie so “save your money!” This is why we have frozen pizza with ‘rising crust’ and deep dish in ‘its own pan’ and it ‘tastes as good as delivery!’  We keep trying to find cheaper, easier shortcuts to get fast flavorful food that tastes as good as the ‘old fashioned’ foods we want.  Why spend most of the day making lasagna at home when we can buy it in a box and have it done in an hour?  So what if it’s full of chemicals and preservatives? It tastes home-made!

For a lot of Paleo, keto and other ‘specialty diet’ followers, including vegetarians and vegans (not all but a lot), their attitude is simply ‘processed food is killing us’ and for the most part, I agree.  One of the reasons I chose Paleo is because it’s real food and it’s real simple.  That is pretty much my criteria when it comes to food and most things I use: the fewer chemicals in it, the better.  This is why I think it’s strange that some keto eaters, Paleo people, vegans and vegetarians will opt for some kind of chemical additive to make non-meat look or taste like meat, make non-wheat/ grain bread look or taste like ‘normal’ bread or make their cheese sauce creamy without adding flour as a binder.  They would rather add something like sodium citrate, guar gum or xanthan gum to make a cheese sauce that tastes like a ‘normal’ cheese sauce.  Reminder here: that cheese sauce wasn’t good for you to start with, so why do you want to eat something like it? These are usually the same people who will tell you that fake sugar sweeteners are as bad for you or worse than plain old sugar and honey, but they don’t see the difference when it comes to switching out flour for ground psyllium husks in bread or tortillas or other low carb swaps to make their favorite non-keto/ Paleo foods.

For me, a big part of eating healthier is eating real food with as few chemicals as possible.  I’m all for a swap when it doesn’t stretch my boundaries too far, so like all things, it’s about limits.  Breading chicken with crushed pork rinds instead of crackers is okay and I’ll even go as far as having a Paleo cookie made with almond flour.  In fact, I recently bought some ‘Paleo cookies’ and the deciding factor wasn’t the reviews about texture but rather the ingredient list: Almond Flour, Raw Unfiltered Honey, Maple Syrup, Pecans, Coconut Oil, Sea Salt, Cinnamon, Vanilla Extract. For me, the flour started as whole almonds that I can toss in a mixer and grind myself.  The same with the pork rind crumbs: I can throw them in a baggie and mash them up myself.  But xanthan gum? Psyllium husks? That’s up there with some of the long unpronounceable additives I find on the Doritos bag and those are big red stop signs to me.  If I have to start shopping in the science department for my dinner, I think I’ll go without.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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