Ah! It’s Good for You! Ah! It’s Bad for You!

I am so very tired of trying to figure out what actually constitutes wholesome and healthy eating, and I suspect I’m not the only person to feel this way. I think of what I’ve learned over a lifetime, and, frankly, little of it makes any sense.  Everything we “knew”, definitively and absolutely, a decade ago is now wrong.  Everything we knew the decade before that is also wrong…or is it?  Perhaps it was right after all.

I grew up in the 1960s. We drank cola and Kool-Aid daily. At breakfast we drank full-fat milk or orange juice or Tang.  A “Dieters Plate” at the local restaurant consisted of a burger without a bun and cottage cheese scooped onto a curl of lettuce.  We cooked bacon for breakfast and poured the fat from the skillet into a canister that we stored in the refrigerator to use later in frying our pork chops or eggs. If we chose to avoid sugar, we used cyclamates, a type of artificial sweetener.

But then came the 1970s, and health food, once only the province of hippies, went mainstream. Health-conscious individuals everywhere began to turn away from white bread and white sugar and bacon fat.  They ate whole wheat bread and used wheat germ.  They chose honey and raw sugar over refined. Cyclamates were banned as cancer-causing.  Those in the know surrendered popsicles in favor of homemade juice pops.  They chowed down on granola. Some became vegetarians while others just dished bean and alfalfa sprouts onto their plates at the salad bars which sprang up everywhere.

In rolled the 1980s, and we “knew better”. Raw honey and sugar?  Are you completely crazy?  You  need to use aspartame.  Granola?  Do you know how much fat there is in a bowl of granola?  Full-fat milk?  Sheer madness.  Use 1% or skim milk only.  Sprouts?  Haven’t you heard of the people who got botulism from sprouts?  Butter?  Are you insane?  Only margarine is good for you, and reduced-fat margarine, at that.  Eat an egg?  Eggs are orbs of death! Oats now – oat bran will lower your cholesterol.  Uh, no, there is no oat bran fairy.  Wait a minute – yes, it does work.  Eat that bowl of oatmeal in the heart-healthy portion.

We ditched everything we had been eating in favor of aspartame and low-fat milk and margarine. We chowed down on oats, and shunned granola and eggs and avocados, for fat was the devil.  Fat intake, and fat intake alone, caused cancer.

Enter the 1990s, and the low-fat craze grew to the no-fat phase. Olive oil alone was permitted, and in the most minimal portions. Fat-free yogurts began to sprout on the grocery shelves; calcium, after all, was absolutely proven to help one lose weight.  But now articles about health were beginning to explore the evils of carbohydrates.  Never mind that the human race had subsisted for centuries upon wheat, corn, rice and potatoes and often little more; carbohydrates were Miniature Terminators, intent upon destroying the human body.  Additionally, we now knew that aspartame was not, as thought, a healthful substitute for sugar; no, no, we must use sucralose instead.  Some doubt was creeping in regarding the trans-fats present in margarine and other fat substitutes, though.  Might it just be that butter was, in fact, the wiser choice?

Then the century turned, and so did, right on its head, everything that we “knew” about healthful eating. Juice?  Juice is nothing but sugar in a bottle.  It isn’t fat that causes cancer – it’s sugar.  Refined sugar, raw sugar, honey, maple syrup – it doesn’t matter. In fact, fruit is nothing but sugar and to be avoided – put down that bunch of grapes! All sugar is sheer poison – with the possible exception of coconut sugar.  Wheat germ, whole wheat bread?  Don’t touch the stuff – virtually everyone is allergic to gluten and suffers from Bran Brain.  Sucralose is just as bad for the body as aspartame.  Multiple countries have, however, found cyclamates to be safe, after all.  Low-fat and skim milk are the worst possible choices; use organic full-fat milk, instead, and preferably raw milk, unpasteurized. And vegetarianism? Passé; only vegans are truly health-conscious.

After a lifetime of dealing with this nonsense, I’ve decided that all the experts, worldwide, have less nutritional knowledge in their brains than I have in my little finger.  Despite the fact that I don’t always do it, I know that I need to eat as wide a variety of vegetables and fruits as I like and are available.  I need to eat fewer processed and refined and fast foods, because they contain too many additives which I can barely pronounce, far less comprehend their effect upon my body.  An occasional small glass of juice is delicious.  I like pure maple syrup on my oatmeal and in my coffee.  Eggs are not orbs of death.  I eat less meat all the time, but I still enjoy a grilled pork chop or even a hamburger.  Whole wheat noodles are probably the better choice, but I just don’t like them, and the kindest thing I can call lentil-flour pasta is “chewy”,  so it’s best for me to rarely eat pasta.  I prefer butter to margarine simply because it tastes better.

My final conclusion is this: I might as well enjoy what I eat, because everyone is terminal.  Nobody is getting outta Dodge alive!  If eating nutritiously can help me live my life feeling stronger and healthier, then I’m all for it.  But I am the final authority on what to put in my own body.

I Really Hate Brussels Sprouts

I confess it: I do not like watermelon. I realize there is something almost un-American about this prejudice.  Tell this to my fellow citizens around the 4th of July, and I’ll probably be looking at a visit from Homeland Security.  But, there you have it: I simply can’t stand watermelon.  It isn’t just the flavor but the texture which repels me, for I don’t actually enjoy any type of melon: musk melon, honeydew, cantaloupe…you name it, I can’t bring myself to eat it, despite having tried each of them many times.  Just the smell of cantaloupe makes me want to yak.  I can’t even imagine eating one.

This continuing distaste flies in the face of my enduring belief that our tastes alter over a lifetime and that we should keep trying foods that we find unpalatable, since we may one day surprise ourselves by actually enjoying them. As a child, I wouldn’t have eaten a lima bean to save my soul, but as an adult, reintroduced to them in my Grandmother’s incredible vegetable soup, I found that I not only enjoyed them, but preferred them to most beans (which I also usually dislike solely due to texture.)  Nevertheless, decades after I first began doing so, I still pick the red beans out of my bowl of chili.  They disgust me.  They smush in my mouth.

And then there’s my arch nemesis: Brussels sprouts. My parents loved Brussels sprouts and they were constantly on our table as I grew up.  I vividly remember the absolute torture of trying to ingest just one single Brussels sprout so that I could be excused from the table.  “Think of the starving children in the world,” I was told anytime I disliked a food that I’d been served, and, trust me: I would gladly, joyously, generously have found a starving kid anywhere and handed over my whole plateful of food if it had meant that I didn’t have to eat that damned Brussels sprout.

As an adult, though, I found that (although I was never going to go out of my way to ingest one) I could endure the dreaded sprouts if I prepared them by halving them, basting the halves with olive oil, generously spreading them with garlic and pepper before finally broiling them until crispy. I still knew, overall, that this was a Brussels sprout, but I could eat them, if not enjoy them.  Some of their essential Brussels-sproutiness still crept through, nonetheless.

When cranberries became the latest entry in the healthful foods array, I was horrified. My only acquaintance with cranberries was that awful jell in a can, which was served by opening both ends of the tin and pushing the jell out, whole, to lie on a bed of lettuce and be sliced.  That was how it had been served at holidays throughout my childhood, and I don’t think I quite realized that cranberries were actually berries.  Reintroduced to them, dried or in muffins and as a side dish blended with other ingredients, I found them tangy and interesting.  If hardly my favorite berry (give me blackberry any day), cranberries made me realize that how a food was prepared made a great difference in whether I enjoyed it.  Don’t like it cooked?  Try it raw.  Don’t like it boiled?  Broil it instead.

I put my “your tastes change” philosophy fully into action when raising my own daughter. We followed the Three Bites rule.  If I served a food she did not like, she had to eat only three bites of it.  Of course, as she so often did, the kid outsmarted me at my own game.  Told to eat her green peas, and barred from sneaking them down to our cat, Rerun, who (god knows why) adored them, she would carefully place one pea on her tongue at a time and swig it down with her glass of milk, like a pill. She did the same thing with lima beans. I suspect that even now, as an adult, green peas and lima beans are never seen on the table in her household.

Nevertheless, she who once shared my own dislike of the red beans in chili now delights in them.

Case proven: Just keep on trying to eat the foods that you simply can’t stand. Our tastes do change.