Sunday, September 21, 2014

Eating Better

So I’m trying to eat better now.  Or at least I’m trying to “Eat Less Crap,” as I title my diet plan.  It’s been about six months now since my doctor did that little finger-waggle thing that doctors do with middle-aged men who eat like graduate students.  And so I’ve been trying to be good.

It seems to be working.  There is less of me now than there was then.  I have had no undue health crises in the last six month since my visit.  Not that I was having any at the time either, but the continued absence of such things is a good thing to have.  Rah team, and all that.

But there is a cost.  There is always a cost.  And in this case the cost is fairly clear – I am no longer eating a lot of things that I would much rather have continued to eat.  The doctor was quite clear on how this would be the path toward better health.

In particular, he was quite clear about how I should “cut down” on salt.

I took this to mean, “don’t eliminate it completely or do anything drastic, but do get down to a rather more civilized level of the stuff” and I have been fairly good at this, I think.  But there are things that no longer make the cut, and I miss them.

So here is a list of my current situation.

Things I No Longer Eat:

1. Salty snacks.
I had no idea how many of these things I ate until I stopped eating them.  Potato chips.  Pretzels.  Fluorescent orange concoctions with the word “cheez” in their names.  Salted nuts.  On and on.  The easiest way for me to cut down on salt was simply to eliminate these from my diet, and for the last six months I have done so.

This has been a real challenge for me, because not only do I really enjoy such things, but just in the past year or so American potato chip manufacturers have decided to branch out from the same six varieties that had served them so well since the 1980s and start offering interesting flavors like they do in Europe, although thankfully not quite the same flavors.

I don’t think “Sizzling King Prawn” would go over very well in the midwest.

There are two exceptions to this rule.

First, I allow myself one small snack-sized bag of something on a long road trip.  Last month when we went east I had a bag of fluorescent orange concoctions with the word “cheez” prominently displayed on the wrapper.  I bought it on the way out of Wisconsin and carried it all the way to the Jersey shore and back.  It was nice just knowing it was there, waiting for me when I wanted it.  And when I finally opened it up on the drive back?  It was heavenly.

Second, all bets are off on Super Bowl Sunday.  Because, MERCA!

2. French Fries

I know that you can eat french fries without too much salt, but what would be the point of that?  Take away the salt and all you are left with is grease and the outward shape of a potato slice.  I’m probably better off just avoiding them entirely.

If I get to the O in Pittsburgh, however, I will have their fries, because O-fries are just the greatest french fries in the western world and if you haven’t had them then you need to make a pilgrimage to the O right now.  It’s a student hangout on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh, and it looks like it.  At one point back in the early 90s I knew a fair number of people who worked at the O.  None of them would use the bathrooms there but they all continued to eat the food, which I took as a good sign about the food at least.  I ate there a lot when I was in graduate school, because an order of fries the size of your head – fresh cut from the potatoes while you watched and then deep fried to golden brown – cost about a buck and a half.  Two bucks if you wanted extra ketchup or cheese.  That’s about what graduate students can afford.  It’s gone up since then – a couple of years ago we stopped and the same order was now about three bucks, but still. 

That’s a Small, by the way.  They go all the way up to Extra Large, which is enough to feed four or five teenaged males comfortably.  I think I will stick with the Small, should I find myself at the O again.

Fortunately for my health, I get to the O about once every four or five years these days.

Things I Eat A Whole Lot Less Often Than I Used To Do:

1. Canned soups.

I used to eat a lot of these.  I was particularly partial to the chicken-and-rice varieties, but almost anything that didn’t have seafood or too many tomatoes would do.  They’re really, really good, and if you don’t think about them too much you can convince yourself that they’re healthy.
Except that when you read the ingredient list what you find is that those things are essentially salt water with noodles.  Last year I tried eating the low-sodium varieties and discovered that they were perfectly fine if you added more salt to them.

So it’s probably best if I just skip them.

2. Bacon

I find that I don’t miss this nearly as much as I thought I would.

Mostly I keep it as a condiment on my burgers now.  The best hamburgers in the world come topped with bleu cheese, bacon, and sliced pickled jalapenos.  And those too, I eat a whole lot less often than I used to do.

Things I Have Cut Back On Somewhat:

1. Pickles

Pickles are good.  Kim made some homemade spiced dill pickles this year, and they are just the most amazing things.  Also, real sour pickles – extremely hard to find, these days – are a thing of beauty and should never be taken lightly.

I can cut back a bit on these things, but so far that’s about my limit.

2. Sausages

This is a broad category that includes everything from hot dogs to summer sausage to smoked sausages to pepperoni.  I love sausages and I always have.  When I was a kid my parents would take me to the mall -  a relatively new invention in the 70s, as far as we were concerned – and invariably I would make a beeline for the Hickory Farms store (can you imagine an entire store devoted to meats and cheeses in a mall today?) and get a meat-sicle, an inch-thick slice of summer sausage on a popsicle stick.  That was high living.

I’ve been eating less of these things, but my guess is that next year the medical finger-waggle will expand to include them too.  I’m going to enjoy them while I can.

Which brings me to:

Things I Will Likely Continue To Eat Until Directly Ordered By A Physician To Stop:

1. Cheese

I love cheese.  I especially love hard aged cheeses – cheddars so sharp you can shave with them, parmesans, asiagos, and the like.  I also love soft strong cheeses – bleu, gorgonzola, and the like.  They’ve got protein though!  They must be good for me.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

2. Pickled peppers

Most things that combine vinegar, salt, and hot peppers count as a delicacies to me and I end up piling them onto just about everything from salads to sandwiches to meats.  Sometimes I just eat them plain.  Pepperoncini.  Pickled slices of jalapenos.  Also, I include hot sauces in this category.  I use hot sauces like most midwesterners use ketchup. 
 They make just about everything taste better.

So I’m doing better than I used to, as far as eating healthy things is concerned, but better is a relative term after all.


John the Scientist said...

Canned soup? Seriously? That's like drinking straight out of the Dead Sea. Once you re-acclimate yourself to normal levels of salt, you won't be able to stand them anymore. We only eat homemade soups, and you can actually taste the sweetness of chicken, celery, onions and carrots in the soup, as opposed to well, the taste of salt.

I, too, will only give up my cheese when they pry it form my cold, dead hands. The only chip type things to which I fall victim are Cheetos, and I do NOT keep them in the house.

I can send you a bag of prawn type corn twists (kinda like a cheez puff, but with prawn flavor) from Flushing if you'd like. In fact, I can find a whole lotta interesting flavors of salty junk food, in convenient 1 serving sizes so you can control the portions - if the taste doesn't do that for you already. :D

And stinky tofu in a jar. You haven't LIVED until you've snacked on stinky tofu in a jar. Just don't heat it in any microwave that you still want to use for anything els.

David said...

John, you say "like drinking straight out of the Dead Sea" like it's a bad thing. That's the point here - I like things salty. That's why I'm in the predicament I'm in!

I had the chance to buy Sizzling King Prawn chips (sorry, crisps) when I was in the UK a couple of years ago and declined. I tried almost every other flavor I could find, though. Everyone needs a hobby.

And there is no conceivable dietary situation that would entail me eating stinky tofu, a substance classified by the military as a form of chemical warfare, along with surstromming. If this means I haven't lived, then I suppose I'll remain a ghost, thanks.

Random Michelle K said...

When Grandmom was with us, she had a sodium restricted diet (very high blood pressure) which is how I discovered that many organic brands of soup and frozen lunches have a LOT less sodium. The soups I really like often have less sodium than the Campbells low salt soups. Which are kinda nasty anyway.

My general recommendation for anyone trying to be more healthy is to take a walk at lunch. 15-30 minutes, if it's nasty weather I'll walk the halls of my building, and if at first I get funny looks, pretty soon everyone just waves as I saunter by.

After losing my walking partner to my job change, I now listen to audio books, and it's a whole lot easier to walk a full 30 minutes listening to a good book than good music. :)

David said...

I do a lot of walking when I teach - Kim once described my lecture style as "duck in a shooting gallery" - and I'm hoping that will suffice. Because honestly? Almost nothing I enjoy doing counts as physical exercise.

I suppose that may be part of the problem.

Random Michelle K said...

Sorry to burst your bubble, but when I was doing training sessions / computer classes, even walking all over the classroom from computer to computer I'd get at most 500 steps for a 2+ hour class.

I generally get 10k steps a day, and a lunch walk is 2k to 3k steps.

So, active teaching isn't enough.

Have you tried thinking about walking as something besides exercise? My lunch walks started as a way to keep in touch with my friend when I changed jobs, and then they became a way to get away from my desk for at least 30 minutes so I didn't kill someone, and with Michael they're a way to talk about things, because I think better on my feet.