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The Second Half: Delusional about diet

February 2, 2011

By Kathleen D. Tresemer
Columnist

In my Second Half, I try to be reasonably informed about what constitutes a healthy diet and I’m always open to suggestion. On the other hand, I offer any number of excuses why my daily fix of coffee isn’t so bad, such as: “I love really good coffee!” or “I only drink one-half decaf,” or “Research says coffee is actually good for the brain!”

Typing with one hand while drinking coffee with the other is one of my finer skills—I’m doing it right now, in fact, and you can see my keyboard efficiency is somewhat ^0$ !^*L(&%# @$q% &*}; <~6*#, but otherwise readable. Don’t you agree?

We all have our soft spots when it comes to our diet. Some of my Second-Half pals demonstrate: Terri would never touch coffee, but craves Diet Pepsi; Gary eats so much cake he could be Marie Antoinette’s sidekick; and a popular medical professional I know eats plates of chocolate chip cookies. Even Hubby, who is the poster child for cowboy vigor when not being assaulted by falling trees and errant chainsaws, will spread the vegetables around his plate to avoid being hassled for refusing to eat the green buggers.

So what? The Center for Disease Control released this information about trends in fruit and vegetable consumption for the last decade:

“…in 2009, an estimated 32.5 percent of adults consumed fruit two or more times per day and 26.3 percent consumed vegetables three or more times per day, far short of the national targets. … These findings underscore the need…to improve fruit and vegetable access, availability, and affordability, as a means of increasing individual consumption. …” (Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report, Sept. 10, 2010, at www.cdc.gov/)

Sad statistics from the Land of Plenty. Of course, the CDC findings were self-reported, so we Americans may be overestimating just how many servings of the good stuff we actually eat.

“I eat at least five fruits and vegetables a day!” exclaimed one Second-Half guy. On close inspection, he classified the shredded carrots and two slices of cucumber in his salad as a serving each, and estimated the lettuce in his teeny restaurant dinner salad as, “at least two helpings of vegetables!” I would guess he had less than three-quarters of a cup of iceberg in the bowl, about one serving. So, when asked, Salad Guy’s single serving of vegetables grew to four servings. This is a good example of how some of us tend to exaggerate our wholesome diet.

Let’s think about this for a minute—how many fruits and how many vegetables do you honestly eat each day? I admit that, to fiscally survive a Midwestern winter, many of my vegetables are frozen or canned during the dark months. I was stunned the first time I entered a California grocery store in January—the mountains of fresh fruits and vegetables available were staggering. Of course, that was 35 years ago, when my Chicagoland Jewel Food Store offered only limited winter delicacies such as carrots, turnips, acorn squash, and baseball-sized heads of iceberg lettuce. If mom splurged on fresh tomatoes in winter when we were kids, they were the “hot-house” variety, pale in both color and flavor—our winter vegetables usually came in the form of homemade soup.

To entice Hubby to eat healthier, I had to circumvent his aversion to green things: “What would make a salad more enjoyable to you?” I asked. He limits himself to lettuce, tomato, cucumber and carrots…period. Anything else gets left in the bottom of the bowl.

I was impressed, at first, by his solemn consideration of accompaniments to greens, until he answered in complete seriousness, “Probably a steak and potatoes.” Well, a potato is sort of a vegetable…progress, not perfection.

The famous natural health care guru Dr. Joseph Mercola recently published an article in his online newsletter titled Most Americans are Delusional About Healthy Eating (Jan. 21, 2011). He states most people surveyed reported, “Top breakfast choices were fruit, fruit juice, juice drinks, cold cereal or whole-wheat bread, toast or muffin—all of which are nutritional disasters for breakfast.”

The dramatic misconception that whole grains are “health food” is scary. Yes, whole grains are better than refined flour, for example, in the same way that a scoop of ice cream is better than eating a giant banana split—both are detrimental to your health, but one is “less bad” than the other. Remember: when you choose “the cream of the crap,” you are still eating CRAP!

Dr. Mercola says, “…those ‘good’ carbs, including whole grains, very well may lead to weight gain, not to mention insulin resistance and related health problems like diabetes.”

What is a healthy breakfast? He suggests a protein-based meal such as organic eggs and fresh vegetable juice, but I take the easier route: cottage cheese with walnuts and stewed rhubarb (yes, it is actually a vegetable and I do sweeten it a little). Hubby goes even easier, with a low-carb chocolate protein drink. And, honestly, I am not inclined to give up my coffee—I have lowered my intake and drink green or herbal tea in the afternoons instead. Again…progress, not perfection.

So, let’s try this one thing in our Second Half: eat two fruits and three vegetables every day. Make the vegetables green, if possible, and don’t count potatoes, corn, peas or legumes as vegetables—they are starch, and starch turns into sugar.

Besides, if I’m going to eat sugar, it’s gonna be from chocolate!

In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an award-winning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at kdt-insights@hotmail.com.

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