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Low Fat Substitutes: Poly-Unsaturated Imitations of Life
by Marjorie Dorfman

Why is everything we love to eat so fattening? Is there any hope at the end of the high caloric tunnel? Take a ride, have a chuckle and decide for yourself!

Low fat food substitutes are an imitation of life and whenever I think about them I am reminded of the beautiful girl who could not accept her bi-racial heritage in the old Lana Turner tearjerker of the same name. If this sounds like an odd comparison, that’s probably because it is, but please hear me out anyway. In the movie, the girl’s problem concerned the terrible scars of racial prejudice. In real life, my problem revolves around the never-ending quest for truth, justice and tasty low-fat substitutes for the foods I like best. Until maybe ten years ago I was slim enough to fit into a skirt that I had worn in Junior High School. It looked ridiculous with its childish design, but it fit. Then wham, bam, allakazam! God went zap! I went through hormonal changes, stopped smoking and put on thirty pounds before I could even think about a suitable hiding place for the Twinkies and potato chips.

Thirty pounds are unnerving and can affect different people in different ways. For the very obese it may not feel the same as to someone like me who had been the same size for so many years and never had a weight problem. I had to get rid of most of my clothes and I was suddenly forced to look at food in a different way. I had always been an eat to live rather than an live to eat soul, and now food, for all intents and purposes, had become THE ENEMY! Still, old habits die hard and I liked what I liked; half-and-half in my coffee, ice-cream once in a while, cheese, (creamed and otherwise), eggs, chicken-skin need I say more?

A sudden and painful attack of gout occurred about the same time I was going through so many body changes. The doctors couldn’t really tell me why, but it seems there is a genetic propensity to it and both my father and sister had suffered from it at different points in their lives. Still, I could never understand how I could catch what was once known as "the rich man’s disease" while living with the creditor wolves just a breath away from my door. (It’s just the luck of the non-Irish, I guess). I could hardly walk without help. It took about three months for me to get my foot back to normal as I couldn’t take the kind of time off from my job to "keep it elevated" that the doctor advised. I also had to alter my food patterns to insure the gout never returned. The doctor advised against cream, heavy sauces and chicken skin. I had never been one for heavy sauces and desserts, but chicken skin and half and half struck a fatal chord of sacrifice in my brain.

I stalked the supermarkets as soon as I could walk well enough to stalk. I tried to educate myself on low fat substitutes, poly-unsaturates, non-fats, reduced fats, trans-fats and last but not least, this and that fat. I found that some non-fat items worked well all the time and some didn’t work at all. Ever. For example, non-fat cheeses taste pretty much like cardboard all the time, no matter what the brand, while non-fat sour cream and whipped cream are effective as substitutes for the heavier varieties without feeling a thing (on one’s thighs or anywhere else). Low-fat cheeses aren’t bad, particularly the shredded variety made with skim milk . I use them often in omelets and other dishes. Low-fat cottage cheese and skim ricotta help in changing dishes usually considered no-nos into yes-yeses. For example, lasagna and macaroni and cheese can now be made in a much less fattening manner by substituting fat-free sour cream, skim ricotta, egg beaters or egg whites and cottage cheese for the more fattening ingredients.

Reduced fat and low fat are deceptive in meaning. Reduced fat Bisquick, for example, is a tricky little dicky and just means the product contains less fat per serving than the original. It could still contain five thousand calories as long as it’s less than the original (which could be five thousand and three calories). Bisquick is a wonderful product and I don’t mean to single it out. You will find this label is on many products; read it carefully. You still won’t understand, but at least you will feel like a literate consumer. As far as I know, low-fat means that the specific item is lower than the original in total fat content and calories by a significant degree. Low-fat ice cream, for example, contains significantly less fat and calories per serving. (This does not mean one should eat the whole container. Fat calories are still fat calories, you know.)

I put butter and margarine in a class all by themselves because I find them to be the most confusing of all. Non-fat and light butter taste okay, but you can’t use either of them for baking or frying (I know I said the dreaded word "fry" but every once in a while everyone should) I often use "I can’t believe it's you know what" because you can bake or fry with that. I both like and don’t like margarine, which puts me in the same category as the ambivalent people who put the labels on the product in the first place. It’s only a drop less fattening than butter, but it’s also an artificial product and there are many studies concerned about that.

Another butter substitute that I won’t touch is that alien container marked "trans-fat." I see trans-fat products, but they lurk with such uncertainty upon supermarket shelves that I feel I cannot trust them. I have heard they are no good for you, but I don’t know why. I heard the same thing about my ex-husband. I didn’t listen then; I try to now. In the long run, I feel I’m better off having the real thing in smaller quantities. (This axiom applies to butter, but not to jewelry or good times.) One tablespoon goes a long way in flavor and can only wreak a certain amount of havoc on thighs and buttocks.

Non-fat and fat-free are the same thing, as far as I can tell. It's like being free of pregnancy and non-pregnant. Redundant and confusing, n’est ce pas? Or do I feel this way only because I am a college graduate? These labels are driving me nuts! Total fat and total carbohydrate and fat per serving and on and on and on. Accept no substitute except this substitute! If I don’t buy their product I might as well vote for whoever made it. They make as much sense as most politicians do anyway.

So what to do, what to do? I have no idea. I just watch what I eat and eat what I watch. Sometimes I feel like a voyeur, checking out labels, smelling, feeling, weighing and evaluating. These days everything and everybody smells like a strawberry. I wonder how much fat is in one of them? Worse than that, I wonder if I will ever be able to eat anything without considering how fattening it is. Maybe I should go back to the old days, the way things were before the hormonal war raged through my body and I used to eat chicken pot pies. Maybe you should too. Life is no fun without some fun. By the way, has anyone seen my ex-husband?

Did you know . . .

Copyright 2004