Friday, June 27, 2008

When They Invent a Rice Cake That Tastes Like a Whopper, I'll Probably Be First in Line

I just got back from my physical, which went pretty well with a couple of exceptions. One was the nurse practitioner making quite a production of putting some KY and a pair of surgical gloves out for the doctor, and the other was my cholesterol being a little high.

I first got my cholesterol checked a couple of years ago, and was pretty upset to learn that it was 222. This put me squarely in the "borderline-high risk" category. Compounded with my dad's history of heart problems that eventually led to his early death, I was a little freaked out.

I'm pretty physically active and I don't smoke, so the area where I could most effect a positive change was clearly diet. And there was an easy target within my regular diet -- fast food. I went cold turkey with it and got my cholesterol down into the "desirable" zone at 191 just a few months later.

I've definitely backslid in the ensuing two years to the point where I probably have a fast-food meal two or three times a week, and now my cholesterol is back up to 209. My LDL or "bad" cholesterol level is 136, another "borderline high" number and "a better gauge of risk than total blood cholesterol" according to the American Heart Association.

My doctor said she'd like to see me try and correct this on my own over the next couple of years, then consider medication once I turn 40 if my numbers aren't where they should be. There are probably genetic factors involved that may make this something I can't do on my own. But the real question now is how much am I willing to try?

I know fast food is horrible for you. I saw Super Size Me, which probably would have been more effective if Spurlock hadn't taken his fast-food eating to unrealistically excessive levels. His point became dangerously easy to dismiss when he was doing things like eating multiple entrees at one sitting. But even setting portion control aside, I don't think anyone would argue that a McGriddle and a Coke is as healthy a breakfast as a bowl of high-fiber cereal in fat-free milk with a glass of pomegranate juice.

It comes down to a classic struggle -- sacrificing short-term and direct benefits for long-term, indirect ones. Fast food is convenient, cheap and generally tasty (curse you, MSG!). The benefits of eating healthy are things you may or may not end up getting, and that will also be influenced by a lot of other factors -- better overall health, higher quality of life, longer life and so on. And your stereotypical "healthy" food like a salad can't easily be eaten while driving, is likely to be more expensive than a burger and doesn't excite basic taste sensations like salty, sweet and umami (don't feel bad clicking the link; I had to look that last one up, too).

We face these kind of questions all the time in our lives. Should I play outside and get some fresh air and exercise or just watch another music video? Should I study for that exam that might help me raise my overall GPA to where I get that interview for that great job in a few years, or should I just go to that frat party and get tanked? Should I stay late to finish up that project at work that might help me get a raise and promotion someday, or should I just go home and watch the big game?

Long-term benefits may be harder to quantify, harder to get and feel a lot less in my control. But when I take the time to really think about them, I generally realize they're much more worth having. Is eating that BK Stacker worth the risk of not being around to bounce my grandchildren on my knee? No contest. I just don't often take the time to think about things in those terms, and I don't think I'm unique in that regard.

So I'll try to say good-bye again to Guacamole Bacon Burgers and Spicy Chicken Sandwiches. Sure, I could get hit by a bus and all the sound diet and exercise choices won't matter. But however I eventually go out, I'd like to believe I was mature enough to make sensible choices and set a good example for my kids along the way.

Besides, if I didn't believe in doing things with no direct short-term benefits I probably wouldn't be blogging.


JoLynn Braley said...

Hi Steve,

Very cool you pointed out Umami - in my post about MSG you linked to (thanks!) one of the things I learned in that book I wrote from (Excitotoxins by Dr. Russell L. Blaylock), is that the Japanese have been using an ingredient made from sea weed known as "sea tangle" or kombu to enhance the taste of their food for 1,000's of years.

It's only been in this century that the active chemical of that sea weed was isolated a surprise surprise - it's MSG (Mono Sodium Glutamate).

My best results in my life have been from staying off the processed gunk and sticking to whole foods. Yes, I lose weight by eating only whole, clean foods (with portion control) but I sure do eat a TON of food - you can do that when you're eating clean. And to me the biggest benefit is my high energy and state of well-being.

And you're right, you could get hit by a bus tomorrow, but in the meantime why not live the highest quality of life you can? Fast foods and processed foods aren't gonna give that to ya.

And for myself, I've always spent way more when I've been eating that stuff than I ever do when I'm eating clean. All of that gunky stuff really adds up ($$) if you keep tabs on it.

Keep on going with your healthy regime, it will pay you back 10-fold.

SteveHarbula said...

Thanks for the encouraging words, Jolynn. Great point that over the long haul processed foods probably do end up costing a lot more than whole foods. You just don't think about them that way when they come in dollar-menu-burger-sized amounts. :)