You are what you eat, depending on where you are

I am bemused by the fact that the same load of groceries that would qualify me as a health nut most everywhere I’ve lived makes me a nutritional pariah among my associates in Boulder.

My usual purchases include some combination of the following: pasta; tuna fish in water (solid white if I’m feeling flush, chunk light otherwise); whole-wheat bread or bagels; low-fat or nonfat cheese slices; fat-free or low-fat salad dressings of various kinds; fresh, frozen (usually) or canned (vegetables), the latter typically including chick peas; cole slaw or lettuce; some kind of pretzel-based snack food; skinless boneless chicken breasts; a two-liter of diet soda (not lately, though); and sometimes, Sour Patch Kids or lemon drops. Now and again I’ll get Egg Beaters and I don’t get skim milk as often as I should, but I’m dealing with a very small fridge at the moment.

The reason this tends to earn me scorn — and I didn’t escape it during a recent trip to a faraway state, either — is because the scope of nominally verboten ingredients has expanded in recent years. A long time ago I started making a conscious effort to consume very few fats. I figured that if I was going to be running 100 miles a week, I needed to place a strong focus on carbs and protein. A pleasant side effect, I reckoned, would be avoiding the high cholesterol levels that both of my parents have endured. (I usually run about a 185 with a solid LDL:HDL ratio, not that I really care.)

None of this, however, is nearly enough to constitute a healthful diet by the standards of this high-altitude circus of pseudo-perfection. A lot of my salad dressings and other sauces contain high-fructose corn syrup. I have yet to determine exactly what is so bad about the stuff, but in all honesty I don’t give a fuck and wouldn’t give up my favorite HFCS-containing foods unless you could convince me that HFCS is a potent carcinogen or induces irreversible impotence, and the way things are going I’m not so concerned about the second issue. And it’s not just that; around these parts, a long ingredients list is itself cause for rejection and ridicule, even more so if chemicals with long names are on the slate.

I realize that the “it could be worse” or “at least I’m not living on Vodka and Pringles” defense is a weak defense and I’m not into that kind of relativism, but really, my diet is the least likely thing to cause me problems in life at this point. I make a conscious effort to take in a proper amount of protein for my size and activity level (about 1.5 g/kg or 0.7 kg/lb each day, not difficult to reach), stay away from butter and mayonnaise and egg yolks and other cholesterol and triglyceride bombs, and consume a reasonable amount of fiber. That’s as good as it’s ever going to get.

Truth be told, I think my interlocutors over the years have been secretly distressed because I don’t fart nearly as prodigiously as they do. If so, I’m just as secretly jealous of their unremitting trumpetry, so I’ve tried to live vicariously through their ano-acoustic glory.

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  1. #1 by jim on June 21, 2011 - 6:40 am

    Side note: solid white (albacore) tuna tends to have much higher levels of mercury than chunk light.

    I stay away from HFCS but that’s largely for political reasons (agri-subsidies). I never eat anything labelled “sugar free” as I simply do not trust sugar replacements. Plain old sugar is something that I know our bodies evolved to deal with.

    I used to have a very low fat diet but nowadays it’s a bit higher as I include more nuts and plant oils (like olive oil), and I try to eat more fish (like wild salmon and trout). It seems to work better.

  2. #2 by kemibe on June 21, 2011 - 10:59 am

    Jim — I didn’t know that about tuna fish. I guess that’s a relief, in a sense, since the chunk light is so much cheaper anyway.

    As far as HFCS goes, your reasons for eschewing it are more of a motivator for me when it comes to such decisions than nutritional factors per se, at least when the evidence of physiological harm seems equivocal. I know a lot of people have an unfounded, reflex aversion to the scary-sounding term “genetically modified foods,” but after the whole mess with Monsanto — which didn’t establish anything armful about its products, only that the USDA was lazy — public perception is even more piss-poor.

    One of my Boulder friends avoids canola oil for similar reasons, and loathes artificial sweeteners for both political reasons (going back to the Reagan FDA) and suspicions of the sort you harbor. Lately I’ve gotten away from Splenda and such myself, more because it’s subtly more difficult to find around here than it is everywhere else (convenience stores and Starbucks carry it, but I try to avoid patronizing such places).

  3. #3 by Andrew A. on June 21, 2011 - 6:13 pm

    Counterpoint (though he does live in California, land of the fruits and nuts): http://enduranceandsustainability.blogspot.com/2011/06/junk-food-endurance-and-longevity.html

  4. #4 by kemibe on June 22, 2011 - 10:29 am

    I have heard of Ed and I actually see his ideas and mine as being largely convergent, at least compared to how either of our beliefs and practices compare to those of the general population. I have long been well aware that athletic success has little to do with eating “right” and that people who prioritize the latter are, or should be, looking to bolster their chances of being healthy down the line, not expecting to drop minutes from their 10K times (although there are nuances there as well). Where Ed and I probably differ is in the area of processed foods. I don’t take special care to avoid them, although admittedly the fatter my bank account is, the more fresh foods I buy. I am not sold on the idea that products with “organic” on the label are categorically superior to other fresh foods — I grew up eating veggies straight from the garden of my grandparents and any number of neighbors and wish I still had this luxury.

    Dude’s right about ultras — when I ran the 50K National Road Champs in 2004, the aid table, which we passed seven times including the start and finish, was laden with gummy bears, mass-produced chocolates and other confections, and these disappeared much more rapidly than did the more wholesome comestibles on hand. I had five bottles of specially prepared carbohydrate drink stashed there and some bastard stole one of them, leaving me without on the sixth and final loop. I wouldn’t have beaten Dudley anyway, try though he did to hand me the win by running off the course a number of times late in the race.

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