First off, I’d like to wish everyone a Happy New Year. Obviously, a common tradition is for folks to make New Years Resolutions. And, easily one of the most common resolutions is to lose weight. Alas, I’m no stranger to this wish, including at the present time (too much exotic/disgusting foods and beverages, evidently). Clearly, there’s a lot of debate on the best ways to lose weight—some people maintain you should focus on cutting out fat, others say carbs, and some people tout diet pills, or so called miracle fat-burning foods, etc., etc., and I don’t have the time, or inclination, to explore this in more depth. Personally, I’ve found that the best method is to eat less and exercise more.
But that’s the trick, isn’t it? Hunger is a powerful urge. And I think most people would agree that the foods that taste the best are often the ones that are the worst for our waistlines. The foods I’ll discuss today are quite strange, in that they have no, zero, nada calories. Which, when you think about it, is pretty amazing. Plenty of foods (mostly fruits and vegetables) have relatively few calories—but to have none is kind of incredible. To fill your belly, and help satisfy that appetite, for nothing, seems almost like magic. By the way, in case you’re wondering, some foods are rumored to have negative calories—that is, the assertion is that the energy expended in chewing up and digesting the food is greater than what the food gives you. Unfortunately, this is a myth. Sorry.
We’ll start with pickles. Picked cucumbers, of course, are very low in calories. The type I’m discussing here,
brand Bread and Butter Chips, go this one better. Mostly because they contain an artificial
sweetener, Splenda (a trade name for sucralose). I’m kind of a pickle aficionado, so I like
pretty much all its forms. Regular
sour-ish pickles are nice, flavored with dill is cool, too, and sweet pickles
are also a tasty treat. These Mt. Olive
ones aren’t as good as regular sweet pickles, but they’re a decent
approximation. They’re a nice weapon in
the dieters’ arsenal—filling yet absent in calories and fat. Mt. Olive
I’ve already gone on quite a bit about my love of sushi in general, and one of its garnishes is on this list, too. Pickled ginger is an excellent mix of the sour taste of vinegar, mixed with the spicy tang of the ginger itself. Like with the pickles, I eat this in an unusual way—I consume the entire jar, by itself, usually in one sitting (it’s another of my eating eccentricities). But be careful—some sushi pickled ginger does have calories (usually not that many, but still). The brand I like comes from JFC International, Inc., and is called WEL-PAC sushi ginger. One of the reasons it’s calorie-free is that it contains the sugar substitute aspartame. Additionally, while there’s no fat or calories, there is a lot of sodium (300 mg. per ounce), so you kind of have to pay the piper in that way.
The final food products are a collection of sweet dips from Walden Farms. The dips are intended for fruit, mostly, and come in chocolate, marshmallow, and caramel flavors. But here’s the weird ingredient. They contain cellulose, or, in other words, processed wood pulp. Yes, you read that correctly, processed wood pulp. And in case you readers are smiling smugly, and thinking to yourselves that eating wood (albeit highly processed wood chunks) is weird, and you’d never do that—well you might have already, too. Quite a few large companies use cellulose as an additive or thickener. Aunt Jemima (in their frozen blueberry pancakes), General Mills (in their Log Cabin syrup), Kellogg’s (in some of their waffles), and KFC (in their popcorn chicken), to name just a few examples. Not surprisingly, a lot of people are put off by this, and also wonder if this is safe. Thus far the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) hasn’t found any reasons to ban the use of cellulose. But anyway, I tried all three of the dips. Remaining consistent, I didn’t really use it as a dip, but dug in with a spoon, like it was pudding. It’s okay—I finished several of each without problems, and I’ve heard that used as a dip it tastes better. It does have an odd texture, though, as it’s thinner than a regular pudding, or dip. It’s okay, but far from great. The taste is chocolate-y, or caramel-y, or marshmallow-y, but it falls a tad short. Let’s put it this way—I doubt many non-dieters consume it, and I don’t expect to see it utilized in any fondue pots any time soon.
All the items I mentioned contain sugar substitutes (the Walden Farms dips also had sucralose), so I read up on these a little. The most popular current one, sucralose (popular trade name Splenda), is fairly noncontroversial. It’s sweeter than most other substitutes, and holds up better when cooked. And no probable health problems have been linked to it that I could find. Aspartame (trade name NutraSweet) is another story—there are many claims of it being bad for human use. Although, to date, lab studies haven’t found any proven health problems with it, as long as the appropriate daily intake levels aren’t exceeded. Then there’s saccharin. This is one of the oldest sugar substitutes (trade name Sweet N’Low) and had a cigarette-like warning pasted on when I was younger, about how it had been linked to a rise in bladder cancer in rats. Happily, as of 2000/2001 this warning has been rescinded. Further studies indicated that rat urine contains certain proteins that react with saccharin to cause the increased chance of bladder tumors. Since humans don’t have these proteins in theirs, saccharin doesn’t have this negative effect on us (or in any other way).
The expression “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” (sometimes rendered in the grammatically risky way “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”) sort of relates to most weight loss strategies. This expression is applied to science (the second law of thermodynamics), economics, and life in general. I’m familiar with this expression, but I didn’t realize its popularity, or that it’s even abbreviated to TNSTAAFL (or TANSTAAFL). Apparently it dates from the early 20th century, when taverns would advertise, and give out free food to patrons. The expression came into play as people had to buy drinks as well, and the food itself was often salty, meaning thirsty customers would then buy more drinks, and the bar would make its money in this sneaky way.
Well, in these examples, and probably others, the expression is bent a little, but not really broken Calorie wise, the pickles, ginger, and Walden Farms dips do give you something for nothing. But, to be blunt, these are side dishes at best, and in the dips’ case, mediocre. It’s not like you’re eating an awesome meal, with no calorie intake. For some, they will be a pleasant change of pace, in addition to the moderate meals and added exercise. Just don’t let the Walden Farms dips confuse you, and cause you to start chewing on your dinner table.