When is the last time you tasted a peach? Really experienced its velvety outer skin, inner succulence, and stringy pulp as it slid to the back of your mouth? Ever notice the notes of almond, honey, and vanilla in the fruit’s flavor? “Every bite should be like a wine tasting,” says food writer and chef Bruce Weinstein. “The more you take away from your food, the more pleasure you’ll feel eating it.” And the fuller you’ll feel afterward. That’s the premise behind Real Food Has Curves, a new book written by Weinstein and his partner, Mark Scarbrough. It provides a 7-step plan for weaning yourself off processed foods, which have been blamed for our nation’s rise in obesity and related conditions, like heart disease and diabetes. “We feel very strongly that deprivation doesn’t work,” says Weinstein, adding that they each lost about 25 pounds by incorporating more “real” and less “fake” foods into their meals. Here’s how:
Step 1: Seek true satisfaction. Grab that peach or strawberry, examine its color, sniff it, and take a bite. Give yourself a moment to enjoy the genuine flavors. For comparison, nibble a Starburst fruit candy or a strawberry fruit roll-up. Notice that you mainly taste sweet without a lot of complexity? That’s because fat, sugar, and salt are added to processed foods to mask the metallic taste of artificial preservatives, sweeteners, and other chemical additives, says Weinstein. He should know since he used to test recipes for packaged food companies and tinker with ingredients to get the appropriate taste and texture. Processed foods are also made to dissolve quickly in your mouth, he says, to get you to eat faster and in greater quantities—often leaving you full, but not satisfied. Now you know why that bag of Doritos disappears before you’ve really had a chance to taste them.
Step 2: Read labels wisely. You don’t need to spend an hour making your own marinara sauce (though the book provides a recipe using canned tomatoes, if you’re so inclined). You can also find “real” tomato sauce in the supermarket if you read labels carefully. Those containing ingredients you can buy on your own, like tomatoes, olive oil, salt, garlic, and parmesan cheese, meet Weinstein’s criteria for a real food; those that have preservatives, like BHT, thickeners like guar gum, or artificial flavors, don’t. Ditto for store-bought breads, breakfast cereals, and pasta.
Step 3: Relish what’s on your plate. This is all about devoting time to solely enjoying the pleasures of eating. Indulge in that piece of dark chocolate while sitting on a park bench, rather than while perched at your desk, catching up on E-mail. Sit down at your kitchen table for dinner, not parked in front of the TV. Eating without distractions will help you savor the tastes, textures, smells, and colors of the food on your plate.
Step 4: Wean yourself off excess salt, fat, and sugar. You’ll be doing this anyway if you’re eating fewer processed foods and restaurant meals, but you can also cook with smaller amounts of these ingredients by using natural substitutes. Strong spices like garlic, pepper, and oregano cut down on the need for salt. You can use less cooking oil if you broil instead of fry, and margarine in many baked recipes can often be replaced with smaller amounts of (yes) extra-virgin olive oil. In fact, the book contains a recipe for olive oil cookies that calls for just 2 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil.
Step 5: Give your palate time to change. While it may be tough at first to skip the afternoon candy bar or fast-food fries, you’ll gradually lose your taste for excessively sweet and salty foods as your palate adapts to a variety of new flavors. And you may even find yourself opening up to new foods. “With real food’s flavor overtones and textural range,” the authors write, “everything leads to something else. If you like coffee, soon enough you’ll like red wine or mushrooms or Chinese black bean sauce, all because you find a common, mellow earthiness among them.”
Step 6: Go for high-quality foods. You don’t need to opt for only organic or produce sold at local farmstands—though both are certainly preferable—but you should look for products that contain the least amount of processed ingredients to ensure better taste and better quality. You can’t, for example, experience the nutty chewiness of the whole grain if you go for white rice instead of brown. Look for breads and pastas with whole wheat or whole wheat flour as the first ingredient to enhance their taste and nutritional content. And, of course, choose fresh produce, when possible, over canned. Frozen fruits and vegetables are preferable when fresh ones aren’t available.
Step 7: Treat yourself well by not skipping meals. Part of the enjoyment of food is allowing yourself to get hungry enough to crave your meal, but not so hungry that you’re desperate to shovel anything and everything in your mouth. This can be accomplished by eating three meals a day at fairly regular times and having a mid-afternoon snack. Some of the interesting snack choices include apple wedges with natural peanut butter or honey mustard; a few dried apricots and a handful of salted pistachios; 1 ounce of feta on all-grain crackers like FinnCrisps. And the authors, being food lovers, advocate for a daily dessert, something truly indulgent that you save for once, rather than several times, a day. “Otherwise,” they write, “there’s a hideous taste-deadening that goes on with too much sugar.”