Eating Healthy

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As I approach my one hundred and tenth (give or take a few decades) birthday, I think it about time I give some thought to my diet.

It’s not that I’m unhappy with my present regimen: half a dozen glazed donuts for breakfast, a bacon sandwich on peanut buttered toast for lunch, and mashed potatoes and pot roast for dinner, washed down with Jack Daniels, followed by coconut cream pie for dessert — it’s just that perhaps a healthier diet might prevent me from being snatched away in the bloom of my antiquity.

Thoughtful friends have told me I should be taking some sort of herb, or something — saw palmetto — for my prostate. Well, I sure want to keep my prostate healthy and happy, so I started taking it. I didn’t expect any dramatic changes in my life, and there weren’t any. Maybe that’s because a recent study that I stumbled across on the Internet found that there’s no benefit in taking the stuff. Out of curiosity, I checked a little further, and easily found lots of Internet sites claiming great benefit from taking it. So since I’ve already got a half-full bottle, and it doesn’t seem to bother me, I’ll keep it up.

"You’ve got to take Vitamin C," at least a dozen people told me. Sure enough, there are many web sites extolling the merits of this vitamin, while pointing out that there are virtually no drawbacks to taking large amounts. So I started swallowing a few grams of it at breakfast, and again at dinner. I felt great — until someone directed me to a government study indicating that there was nothing to be gained by taking large doses of it, and it wasn’t the cancer-fighter it’s been touted to be, and supplements in general are a waste of money. Shucks.

If I wanted my antique heart to keep pumping, I needed to take some Omega-3 fatty acid. (Isn’t it strange how you can live to be so old without ever having heard of any of these things that you’ve just got to have?) Anyway, I checked it out, and sure enough, Omega-3 fatty acids are an absolute must for a healthy heart. And it was only a few more pills to pop each day. But then along came a new study that showed that in some cases, people taking the stuff INCREASED their risk of having a heart attack. Hmm.

Well, I could still take care of the old ticker with Vitamin E. So I bought a lifetime supply of it — at my age, about one bottle. But look out! Turns out if you take too much of the stuff — as I was doing — you could actually run the risk of harming your heart! Doesn’t that just beat all?

Well, there’s always exercise. Someone recommended cycling, towing a trailer full of bowling balls behind me. Smart alec! But some form of exercise is so obviously desirable that there’s no debate about it, right? Everybody knows exercise is good for you. Well, everybody knows that in the same way that everybody knew the earth was flat. I’d no sooner stuffed myself into my stylish new Dacron trunks and lowered myself slowly into the pool, when some joker referred me to an article citing numerous research studies showing no significant benefit, in terms of longevity, from exercise. Damn! And those trunks aren’t returnable. And this morning’s paper carried a story about a local long-distance runner who dropped dead while jogging.

Well, maybe my original diet and sessile lifestyle weren’t so bad after all. Or maybe they were. My point is that nobody seems able to say, for sure. Whatever glowing report you read about this or that food, or supplement, or exercise program, will almost surely be contradicted, if you wait long enough. What we knew for sure about human nutrition ten years ago we don’t know at all today. Fatty foods could lead to colon cancer, and lots of roughage could prevent it, except it turns out that both of those beliefs may not be true. Or maybe they are. Stick around and see what next month brings.

So this is the regimen I’ve adopted: I eat whatever I want, but in moderation. On the theory that natural is better, I avoid foods that are man-made in favor of those that are nature-made. And I don’t worry about it. So far, no one seems to have contradicted the claim that stress is harmful to your body — and mind, and soul, too! — so it seems silly to stress yourself out about what to eat, when, in thousands of years of human history, no one has been able to point to any particular sort of diet or food that’s going to make much difference in how long, or how well, you live. And logically, there are so many variables in human existence, including the enormous one of heredity, that to single out a single food, or group of foods, as significant in prolonging life or health, seems slightly silly.

So eat, drink, and be merry; just don’t overdo. Pass the donuts, please.

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.

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