Saturday, October 15, 2011

It's Not Butter

We try to do the right thing, we really do. We eat lots of salad, and throw in beans and fruit as kickers. We have cut down on our consumption of beef to almost nothing, and fish shows up on the table at least once a week. Our pasta is whole grain, our milk is 1% and our bread has so much fiber in it you could use it in place of wallboard.

Not that I'm complaining. I know it's all good for me, and assuming I don't get hit by a bus tomorrow, it will hopefully let me live longer with fewer problems. That's not to say I'm a nutritional saint. I still have a weakness for peanut butter cups and strawberry Twizzlers. If I'm working late, I'm likely to grab a chain store hamburger for the ride home. And especially when I go on the road, I have a tendency to eat stupider, partly as a reward to myself for the disruption to my routine, partly because I am likely to be eating alone and the only person to disapprove of my dietary choices is me, and I forgive myself very quickly.

However, in our home, even I've willingly made the turn. While my wife makes it a point to shop for healthier alternatives for us both, be it low fat yogurt or brown rice or egg white substitute, I've made major sacrifices in my own convoluted personal dietary world. I've all but given up on cookies. I'm happy with a piece of fresh fruit, especially if it's been chilled a bit in the refrigerator. And I have cut down on my ice cream consumption to once in a blue moon. It may not sound like much, but we're talking sea change here.

But I think we've gone a butter too far.

It's not like we eat a lot of it, either. We usually have a stick in the fridge and a pound or so in the freezer, but it's almost exclusively used for cooking and baking. For everyday consumption, like shmearing on a piece of whole grain, low carb, high fiber toast (yum!), we have tubs of spreadable stuff. I say stuff, because I couldn't actually tell you the brand we used. It's some well-known combination of processed oils enriched with a panoply of Greek lettered vitamins, minerals and acids that they tell me are not just good for me but "essential" to my health. What I can tell you is that it is vaguely butter-esque. That, and yellow.

But the latest product of modern food chemistry to show up on our fridge goes by the name of Smart Balance Light. On the outside, it's a variation of the usual sunny looking container that is de rigueur in the "buttery flavored spread" category. And the product itself it's a little less canary than some of the others, with a tone a bit closer to taupe, though not alarmingly so. But appearances aside, it all comes down to taste. Now, perhaps there are those of you reading this that swear by this delicacy, that find it creamy and delicious, that can't wait to pop open a container and slather your whole wheat bagel. Let the record show that I am not in your camp.

It begins with a consistency more akin to spackle: spreadable is not an adjective I'd use to describe it. Perhaps our fridge is too cold, but even when applied to bread fresh from the toaster, I have to use a disconcerting amount of elbow grease to move it around the surface. As to taste, there basically is none. No butter, no cream, nothing. The best that can be said of it is that it greases the bread, making it easier to swallow. And while there's something to be said for a slogan like "lubricates your food," it's not drawing me in.

I'm all for healthy living. I'm willing to make diet and lifestyle changes that in the aggregate will help me live longer and better. And I'm happy to try new products with an open mind towards improvement, whether they be consumable by the eyes, ears or mouth. But just as I have no desire to watch Star Wars on my smartphone, I have no desire to eat something healthy that has no taste appeal. My mom and a thousand scientists have said everything is fine in moderation. So at least for me and my light wheat, multigrain English muffin, the only smart balance is just a little bit of butter.


Marc Wollin of Bedford tries to eat healthy, most of the time. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, the Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

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