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Healthy choices, healthy lives

BY KATIE GADIENT | MARCH 27, 2009 7:30 AM

Eating well and making healthy choices, forget about it. It’s too complicated and too contradictory. The seemingly easier solution is to consume a little bit of everything occasionally. If only it were that simple, but taking a look around at a random sampling of people suggests that most Americans aren’t so skilled at controlling temptations as they should be. What’s an omnivore to do?

When a friend of mine decided to become a vegetarian, I showed my support by giving up red meat. I moved on to chicken sandwiches and never thought twice about abandoning cheeseburgers. When I moved out of the dorms, I became a vegetarian — well, one of those vegetarians who eats fish. It was fun and exciting to experiment with meat-free cooking, and there was no question that I was getting my recommended daily serving of fruits and vegetables. Life was good and I was happy with my choices. That is, until I had a run-in with my ex-nurse aunt. She didn’t even bother to hide her contempt for my vegetarianism. I listened patiently as she explained that I needed protein and iron. Being young and knowing everything, I ignored her.

Recently, I moved in with some meat eaters. It is easier and more cost effective to partake in their meals. Having grown up with a father who packed his lunch according to the food pyramid and reminded the rest of this often, I still eat plenty of produce. I am attempting to practice moderation, but everywhere I turn, I learn that my best attempt is not enough. By now, it seems safe to say that we are all familiar with the health benefits provided by wine. It supposedly helps prevent heart disease, cancer, and other medical conditions. My mother called the other day to relay an article she had recently read. The article linked alcohol consumption to cancer. I fought back with the benefits of wine to no avail. According to the study, she explained, even one glass of wine isn’t worth the risk.

That didn’t sound right. So I went out and did some investigating of my own. Sure enough, the American Cancer Society cites alcohol consumption as having a correlation to increased cancer. While I was poking around, I also saw studies that suggested hot tea may cause cancer of the esophagus, daily red meat could prove deadly because it increases risk of heart disease and cancer, and even children’s bath products may contain cancer-causing agents. All these studies are confusing and frustrating. One study promotes the health benefits of consuming some variety of food or drink, only to be discredited by a more thorough study that purports quite the opposite. I caught the end of “Oprah” the other day, and she was interviewing a man who participated in a calorie-restriction diet. I watched in horror as he prepared his breakfast: apple peels, walnuts, blueberries, and raspberries. It wasn’t the contents of the bowl that shocked me. It was the waste. The man threw whole, peeled apples in the garbage. Hadn’t he heard of the starving children, the ones my mother always mentioned when I refused to clear my plate. He was throwing away whole apples so that he could live to be 125 years old.

I don’t want to live to be 125 years old if that is how I’m living, but to each her or his own. As it is, I try to shop locally and live for the Farmers’ Market when it is in season. I don’t eat a lot of red meat and reasonable portions when I do. I typically eat fish once a week, enjoy several meatless meals, and I don’t drink soda. As for alcohol, I’m going to have to decide if the benefits are worth the risk. That is, until the next study comes out and reverses the evidence again.


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