So I spent the weekend pondering the pros and cons of substituting a “healthier” food for a similar “unhealthy” food. For example:
- Tofurkey instead of real turkey.
- Gluten-free bread or pasta instead of “regular” bread or pasta.
- Organic potato chips (or baked potato chips) instead of regular potato chips.
- “Natural” soda with sugar instead of soda with high-fructose corn syrup.
It’s no secret that change can be a difficult thing, and that’s no different when you’re changing your diet, either by choice or necessity. So I think there is a natural tendency when giving up a familiar (and perhaps favorite) food in the name of health to try to swap it out for a healthier version. If that sounds familiar, I would ask yourself this question: “Is that the best I can do?”
There are way, way healthier foods than tofurky, gluten-free bread, “healthy” potato chips and sugary beverages. Yes, if you are used to meat-centric meals, sandwiches and vending-machine type snacks, it can be hard to give those up. But when you do, you open yourself up to a whole wide world of healthy eating that is virtually limitless in its potential for delicious meals.
I eat very little bread. Not because I don’t like good, quality bread, but rather, because I like it too much! That, plus the fact that when it comes to foods made from grains, there are healthier options than bread. For example, I love the occasional slice of toast, French toast or homemade pancakes or muffins, but oatmeal is superior, healthwise (and just as tasty, in my book).
Little bread means few sandwiches, which I know are a lunch mainstay for many. These days, I eat lunch at home every day, which gives me lots of options. But you won’t find me toting sandwiches this fall when I start brown-bagging it again. I expect my mainstays will be grain-bean-veggie salads, veggies with hummus or green salads with some kind of protein (beans, leftover meat, etc.). All of those are very portable and packable. Hardboiled eggs, fresh fruit and homemade trail mix (dried fruit, nuts and coconut) will round things out. To drink? Water. Always.
I eat many meatless meals, but you won’t find a slab of soy on my plate, surrounded by side dishes. When I do eat soy (usually in the form of tempeh), it’s one component of a veggie-rich dish.
I see nothing wrong with reaching for a healthier substitute food while transitioning to a healthier way of eating. It can be a way of elevating the quality of your food that gives you a sense of familiarity and continuity. But if you are aspiring to move toward a diet that will help you be optimally healthy, then those transition foods are not going to get you there. Why? One reason is that while they are healthier, they are still heavily processed and often end up taking the place of even healthier foods. The other is that it can hold you in an outdated mindset about what meals and snacks are supposed to look like. Exploring the world of healthier eating can be a fantastic, delicious adventure. Don’t limit yourself.