Saturday, October 9, 2010

Whine and Cheese

So, you try to eat right.

Your mother probably taught you based on the beloved Four Food Groups model -- a guideline issued by the United States Department of Agriculture in the mid fifties -- with each meal emphasizing meat, whole fat dairy products, breads and a few vegetables or fruits. In the nineties, the government's suggestion morphed from a square of equal food categories into a triangle of dietary regulation: the official food pyramid. Fat was out. Carbs were in. So we eschewed our steaks, buttered potatoes and homemade pie for heaping plates of pasta with drizzled olive oil and Entenmann's fat-free cookies. But that didn't prove to be a recipe for health, and by end of the 20th century more Americans had obesity, heart disease and diabetes than back in the sixties when everyone was asking for seconds of Mom's meatloaf and gravy.

Dean Ornish says to give up all fats and you'll stave off or even reverse heart disease. That is, unless you end up with fatty acid deficiency and insulin resistance. Vegetarian experts say to eliminate all animal products and you'll give your body the perfect human diet. Until you find yourself deficient in protein, vitamin B12, iron, iodine and omega 3 fatty acids. Proponents of a Stone Age diet insist that we should avoid agricultural products and eat like our prehistoric hunter/gatherer ancestors ate -- lots of meat, fish, fowl, nuts, berries, fruits and veggies. Sounds good, except that when we hunt at the local grocery store we also gather genetically modified produce with pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls and recombinant bovine growth hormone.

Fish is good, right? Oops, there's the methylmercury contamination. Then how about soy? Natural health experts tell us it can wreck your thyroid and cause pancreatic dysfunction. Okay, then what about beans? Aren't beans an ideal food? Sure, except for that bisphenol-A lining the cans. Stir fried vegetables are healthy, aren't they? Nope, not if you consider the trans fats and cancer-causing acrylamide -- a by product of all fried food. Milk? Anti-dairy experts warn of dioxins, hormones and herbicides. Bottled juice? Nutritionists tell us to stay away from high fructose corn syrup.

Water. We can just drink water. But not if you listen to scientists who say that fluoride is more toxic than lead and only slightly less poisonous than arsenic. (Bottled water? Oncologists remind us that those plastic bottles might cause cancer. Oh, and the scientists chime in that a lot of bottled water is fluoridated.)

Sigh. I'm really getting tired of all this advice from all these health experts. In fact, all these health experts are making meal time a fairly large bummer, which can't be good for anyone's mental health.

So, I have some advice of my own: have the chili cheese fries from Hi-Life Burgers. They're filled with enough animal fat, cholesterol and glutamate to make Sanjay Gupta break out in hives, But I can play the statistics game too. Am I an expert? Well, yes, actually. I'm quite the expert on chili cheese fries. So here goes:

The potatoes have heart-healthy potassium and magnesium, not to mention vitamin C, phosphorous and zinc. Cheese offers bone protection with much-needed calcium. Plus, there's a little-known Danish study which found that men who ate 1 ounce of full fat cheese every day for three weeks had no increase in their LDL cholesterol. Now, for the chili. Well... that beef is loaded with iron and something called conjugated linoleic acid which numerous studies have shown reduces incidences of cancer and suppresses growth of existing cancer.

Most important, the chili cheese fries are delicious. They're the kind of ooey-gooey tasty that just makes you happy. And happiness causes a cascade of positive body responses from hormone balance to endorphin release. In fact, a substantial Mexican study has shown that happy people are more likely to have better immune systems and live longer than unhappy people, regardless of other medical factors.

Chili cheese fries as a health food? Maybe not. But I sure felt better after eating them.


Judy Williams said...

I plan on having German chocolate cake after a plate of pork chops, mashed potatoes and creamed spinach. Wait. Maybe I'll have chicken fried steak, cream gravy, sweet potatoe fries, mixed salad with ranch and key lime pie. Wait... maybe I'll have...

You do know more about the food we eat than most nutritionists. I think it's a matter of balance and what works for you. I'm eating at Hyde Park Grill today, one of Austin's home grown finest. Their breaded french fries with seasoned mayo are to die for. If it makes me die a week earlier, it's worth it. It makes me happy just thinking about it.

Mike said...


Anonymous said...

What a great essay! You brought back some fun high school memories with that picture. I had many, many meals at Hi Life.


-K- said...

So what we have here is an article about happiness being good for you which not coincidenlty, make you happy when you read it.

("Most important, the chili cheese fries are delicious." I was wondering when you were going raise this.)

Mister Earl said...

It's really interesting how horrible everything in our environment and food is so bad for us, and gets worse every day, and yet we live longer than ever before.

Vanda said...

In my opinion, humankind can eat pretty much anything as long as it's in moderation, and if we have a fair amount of physical activity in our lives.

The Hungarian food pyramid consists of bacon, sour cream, potatoes, onions, green pepper and tomatoes, and whatever else you can shove between them.

Anonymous said...

How do you make this stuff interesting? Excellent post.

Cafe Observer said...

Another cheeze blog post today?
Well, I don't mean to whine but as I said before: Thank God I don't care much for cheeze xcept on my pizza or when taking fotographs.

Petrea Burchard said...

Michael Pollan says, "Eat Food, not too much, mostly plants." Chili cheese fries are mostly plants (potatoes and beans, right?) so they come under this heading.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

What ever happened to that food guru; a big guy with a full beard and bald? I liked him until he started proscribing vitamins in massive doses. Oh and remember the MD on public television recommending we eat salmon 24 / 7? kill me first or better yet, leave me in peace to embrace my wrinkles

Excellent break down Laurie. This is as good as that post you did on string theory

Mister Earl said...

I was in Sierra Madre from 2-8 playing at the Sierra Madre Wine and Jazz walk. Guess what I had for dinner on the way home?

Laurie Allee said...

THanks so much, everyone!

Vanda, I like the Hungarian food pyramid!

Petrea, I see you share my love of rationalization. :-)

Mister E, I hope you enjoyed your meal as much as I did.

Until tomorrow, gang... Happy eating!

dbdubya said...

Here's my theory - chili cheese fries are all good for you.

Chili - chili is made with beans, meat, and spices. Beans are a legume which is almost a vegetable, therefor beans are vegetables. Meat is protein. Protein is good. Spices are all natural and organic, also good.

Cheese - a dairy product and also one of the basic food groups and good for protein.

Fries come from potatoes, another vegetable.

Chili-Cheese-Fries=health food.

Now, if you really want to top it off with a balanced meal, add a chocolate milk shake.

Chocolate comes from the cocoa bean. I've already explained the nutritional benefits of beans.

Milk - more dairy product. Mother always made you drink your milk for healthy teeth and bones.

Milk shakes also have sugar. Now surgar comes from one of two sources, either sugar beets are sugar cane. Beets are a vegetable, and it's another food your mother made you eat when you were young, and mom would never do anything to harm you. If sugar comes from cane, it's also good for you. Were supposed to consume more roughage in our diets. Can you think of anything that would be a better example of roughage than cane? Have you ever seen sugar cane? It puts bran to shame.

There you have it - the ultimate healthy meal - chili cheese fries and a chocolate shake.

Petrea Burchard said...

Laurie, somebody's got you and me beat on the ol' rationalization.

dbdubya said...

You name the food, and I'll explain how it's healthy.

Laurie Allee said...

dbdubya, I had a feeling we were kindred spirits. Now I know!

Petrea, the three of us should open up a consulting firm: Rationalizations R Us.


Mary Halloway said...

I spend entirely too much time researching the toxicity of our environment. The food industry is one major arena, but there's also air pollution, water contamination, etcetera and so forth. While I think it's very important to be mindful of these issues, at some point you have to live your life without over-analyzing every move in your daily routine. It is easy to become neurotic and fearful, but staying happy and positive is much more pleasant (and healthy)!

Laurie Allee said...

I agree, Mary! (And welcome to the blog!) In all my years as a freelance writer I have researched and written about just about every danger known to man. My take on it? Life is dangerous to your health. So enjoy it while you can!