A recent conversation with a nutritionist yielded the following dietary conundrum. According to her I was eating too much starch, equal to a cup of sugar a day, and thus could hire myself out as a Japanese beetle trap. I was eating too much starch on the recommendation of another nutritionist, to curb my craving for sweets.
Sometimes I think more contradictory blarney has been written about food than any other area of human experience, including whether or not Eleanor Roosevelt was gay. Anyone who knows cholesterol from carbs puts a spin on it. The current state of nutritional mores resembles the Russian economy after Communism collapsed, except that instead of Arkady’s henchmen we have to worry about stuffing ourselves with junk food wisdom.
We need to remind ourselves of a few basics about nutrition. (These apply only in America. The rest of the world either has trouble finding food to begin with or more affordable health care. You don’t think the French would be stubbing out Gitanes in their bearnaise if they had private pay, do you?)
FIBER– Cleanses the system of toxins, such as the urge to voluntarily help pay down the national debt. Recommendation: consume a minimum of three nutritional guidebooks a week (preferably printed in soy-based ink). They’re as tasty as rice cakes and, being paper, may eventually serve a dual purpose.
FAT— Also doubly useful, storing energy and cushioning vital organs in punchups after football games. Found in nuts, legumes, dairy products, red meat, and the crania of headbangers. Should be overindulged only by Elvis lookalikes and people who work in buildings with elevators.
SUGAR– A form of carbohydrates, needed for energy and staying awake to watch Conan O’Brien. Too much sugar can be life-endangering. I once pulled a chocolate bar from my pocket while shopping at a natural foods store, where carob—the nearest thing to edible charcoal—was the drug of choice. I soon learned this was like a Muslim munching a pork chop in the vicinity of the k’aaba. I escaped with all appendages intact, but only after prostrating myself before a block of tofu.
SALT– Nowhere has the prevailing wisdom about nutrition pivoted more than with sodium. At one time it was on every table, in every recipe, even for fruit cocktail. Now you practically have to go out in a field with livestock to get it. Adding salt to anything you might as well, in the eyes of nutritionists, be sprinkling tobacco over it. If you have a real craving for salt, bear in mind that gardeners use it to kill slugs. (They also use beer, but who wants their taste for that ruined?)
PROTEIN– Absolutely essential to health, a true cornerstone of the nutritional Giza pyramid. Consumed properly, it builds strong teeth, bones, nails, and hair to die for. Too much of it, however, leaches calcium from your system and could result in looking like a dromedary camel in old age. To determine if you’re eating the right amount, book a package tour to Egypt at the first opportunity.
FOOD COMBINING– Ideally, this should extend beyond tequila and limes. Combining foods correctly, such as complementary proteins (beans and rice), enhances digestion and brings out their optimum flavor and nutritive value. Eating protein with sugar (peanuts with lemonade), on the other hand, will give you the grumblies and possibly lead to ejection from the cineplex. The Hay Diet (not the one for horses) maintains that protein and carbs are best eaten separately. So start peeling your sushi.
YOUR IDEAL WEIGHT— A touchy subject, not within the scope of food parsing per se, but crucial to its portioning. Dependent to a degree on body type. If you’re ectomorphic—tending toward leanness—you’ll be able to eat more chocolate cheesecake than if you’re endomorphic—built like a rutabaga. Also affected by self-esteem. If you’re skinny but weight-obsessed, you’re more apt to eat things that plump you up and make you feel worse. Whereas if you’re sweet on size 16, you’re not only heavy but happy. Even nutritionists won’t contest that.