Saturday, February 11, 2012

Is this blog healthy?

I am constantly amazed at how many different people - and companies - think that my blog is about healthy eating. I don't really target that market, and I don't try to write healthy recipe, I simply post about what I cook and what I serve  and what I eat.

I suppose there are a lot of vegetables and salads and soups and lean meats on this blog - but there are also cookies and cakes and pies and breads. And ice cream. And adult beverages.

What you won't see are a lot of canned or convenience products, and when I do write about them, it's usually in the form of a review. Or something that I indulge in occasionally.

Because a lot of companies see this blog in a "healthy" niche, occasionally I get offers to review healthy or diet-related products. Sometimes I say yes, but more often I say no. Most of those products don't interest me, but once in a while I see one that sounds intriguing.

Recently, I reviewed some granola as part of the Build a Better Me project with Virtual Potluck. That's something that many people would consider a healthy product, right?

As far as I'm concerned, healthy eating is all about eating a wide variety of foods, and not overdoing anything. An all-granola diet would be as bad as living on nothing but sirloin steak and coffee. Not saying there's anything wrong with beef and beans - just that overdoing anything can be bad. Moderation in all things, including moderation.

So I do indulge in desserts and white bread and adult beverages. At the same time, I limit the amount of  junk food that comes into the house. I do indulge, when the mood strikes, and I don't deprive myself if I want a treat. But I guess I'm lucky that I prefer real home-cooked food to fast food and packaged products.

To me, healthy food really isn't about short-term dieting, it's about a lifestyle - eating good food that's good for you in quantities that make sense.

On the other hand, I know that a lot of people don't have the time to make all their meals from scratch, and I know that some folks really love the idea of prepared diet foods with calorie counts on the labels. There's a big market for that. However, that market isn't me, so I'm not sure why I agreed to review muffins and bars from a company called ThinSlim Foods. I must have been hungry - or in a particularly good mood - when the email came in.

What was I thinking? I like to bake. When would I buy muffins? But the email was friendly and the product sounded interesting, and novel. Really low carb and low calorie. Even if I would never buy them for myself, maybe some of my readers would be interested. So I said, sure, okay, send in the muffins.

When the box arrived, there were two packages of four muffins each, and three single-serve bars. Forty calories, no sugar, two net carbs in the muffins, and they weren't ridiculously small ... they sounded, uh ... "lite." But what would they taste like?

I started with the blueberry muffins. When I broke one open, it seemed moist, but the texture and color were a little odd. They smelled very blueberry-like, but there didn't seem to be bits of berries.

The flavor was ... okay. Not spectacular, but not awful. There was a bit of that fake-sugar aftertaste, though. I know some people don't notice it, but I do. Maybe it wasn't the sweetener, but there was a definite aftertaste that reminded me of the days when I drank diet sodas.

The vanilla muffins were pretty much the same, but without the blueberry flavor.

I also tried the chocolate brownie-like bar. It had decent chocolate flavor, but has a sort of chalky flavor as well. Again not spectacular, but not horrendous, either.

The verdict? If I want muffins, I'm going to bake them. These were no match for what I make at home - at least not the flavor.

But I can pretty much guarantee that my muffins have more carbs, more sugar, and more calories than these. If someone wanted super-low carb, low calorie muffins, I have no idea if it's even possible to make them this light at home. I can't imagine how. There must be sorcery involved. Or more likely, they're not using the same sugar and flour I would use.

While these aren't the best muffins I've ever had, they'd be fine as a quick snack or something to eat on-the-go, particularly if the eater doesn't mind the flavor of the artificial sweeteners. I could see stashing a package of these in a desk drawer for something to eat when a craving hits and the only other alternative is a vending machine full of high calorie snacks.

I'm pretty sure I'll continue baking my own muffins and brownies and bars and breads. But what about you? Are you interested in these kinds of super-low calorie snacks for those craving-filled moments? Would you buy these to have at home? Would you buy them if you were out somewhere and wanted a quick snack? Or would you rather have a carrot or an apple or a really small cookie?

Since a few people asked, I pulled the ingredient list for the blueberry muffins off of the manufacturer's site. Here it is: purified water, erythritol, oat fiber, inulin, egg whites, almond meal, modified corn starch, olive oil, xanthan gum, guar gum, leavening (monocalcium phosphate, baking soda), natural flavors, blueberry skin.

Let me know. I'm curious.

What Do Chefs Eat?

For another perspective on healthy eating, I got an email about a new book coming out called Smart Chefs Stay Slim: Lessons in Eating and Living from America’s Best Chefs. Okay, that sounds interesting. There are going to be recipes as well as personal stories from chefs like Thomas Keller, Cat Cora, Rick Bayless, Eric Ripert, Marcus Samuelsson, Wolfgang Puck, Alex Guarnaschelli, and Sue Torres. Nice lineup!

The teasers for the book mention things like the fact that 4-star seafood master Eric Ripert sometimes comes home and cooks chicken in the toaster oven, and it promises to explain why Rick Bayless says the heat of chilies does more than just taste good.

The recipes listed in the email sound pretty good, too: Rick Bayless’s Grilled Chicken Salad with Rustic Guacamole, Ming Tsai’s Pork Fried Rice, Andrea Reusing’s Warm Asparagus Salad with Soft-boiled Eggs, Simpson Wong’s Hangover Soup, and Karen Hatfield’s Apple Galette.

That doesn't sound like typical diet food, and I'm willing to bet there aren't a lot of artificial flavors, colors, and sweeteners in the recipes. Chefs should know how to coax great flavor from simple ingredients. And they should know when and how to make the most of the more indulgent foods.

I'm looking forward to this book. Stay tuned for a review when it comes out.

For the purposes of a review, I was provided with samples of the muffins and bars from SlimFit Foods at no cost. I have not received any compensation for mentioning the book, but I have requested a review copy.