Feasting On Asphalt

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As luck would have it, just a few days before we hit the road for a two week road trip, the New York Times has a long feature about eating out and eating healthy at the same time. I can tell you, from experience, that their idea of healthy and mine will not mesh one hundred percent, but lets look at what they have to say, and see what to make of it all.

On the road there are two basic challenges. The first challenge is to get food that is not predominately carbohydrates and this one you can usually get around by buying a meal and just not eating the starchy sweet parts. Second is not eating foods that are mostly artificial. This one is actually the more challenging of the two, because artificial flavorings and meats that are tainted with hormones, antibiotics and omega6 essential oils are the majority of meats in the USA.

Most meals at American restaurants aren’t healthy. They’re packed with processed food and enough calories to cover two or three sensible meals.

This is a very good start, the article calls out road food for being overloaded with calories and ‘processed food’ is a dog-whistle for artificial ingredients. I am intrigued.

Every lunch or dinner here stays under 750 calories — about one-third the number many adults should eat in a day — and many meals are well under; the breakfasts are under 500 calories. We’ll start with some good news: The restaurant scene has never been better.

To me, this paragraph is troubling. I don’t believe in counting calories. I am much more interested in what I eat, the kinds of macronutrients (Carbohydrate, Protein, Fat) are more important than the catch all calorie.

After reviewing a ‘healthy’ sandwich from an upstart chain called ‘Pret A Manger’ in which they found a sandwich that contains just the right combination of everything, they make this summary assessment:

The result is not just low in calories, added sugar and saturated fat, but also relatively high in things you need, like fiber and vitamins. The meal has 13 grams of fiber, about half of what nutritionists say people should eat in a day, and just 3 grams of saturated fat. Over all for these meals, we aimed to avoid added sugars where possible and to keep saturated fat well under 8 grams (nutritionists recommend eating fewer than 16 grams daily), with a bonus for meals that provided fiber and nutrients from a variety of foods.

I can almost stop reading this article right here. “We aimed to avoid added sugars where possible and to keep saturated fat well under 8 grams” is a show-stopper. Any regular meal plan that aims to keep saturated fat below 8 grams will contain too high a percentage of carbohydrate for healthy eating.

There are only three macronutrients, and your entire energy supply must come from a combination of them–carbohydrate, protein, and fat. There is only one of these macronutrients that can we can safely cut to zero per day and still live–carbohydrate. Cutting fat to 16 grams per day is going to meat the balance of energy would be in the form of carbohydrate. Eating carbohydrate means insulin, insulin means fat storage and hunger. My road diet will go the exact opposite direction. The bulk of my calories will be in the form of fat, the balance in protein, the number of carbohydrates will be very low and unavoidable. I would not eat the sandwich that they describe above.

Hack the menu
The most valuable trick: Don’t eat an entire portion

Actually this is advice I would give, in these exact words. You have to start with a hackable meal, though. If you order a pizza, it has to have enough meat and cheese on it that when you don’t eat the crust and just eat the topping you still get enough food to take you to your next meal without hunger. I would like to add here that if you eat a great pepperoni pizza this way, and eat none of the bread, crust or drink a sweet drink or beer with it, you will not get heartburn. The heartburn you would normally get is caused by the carbohydrates in the meal. You might think it is the pepperoni or spicy parts of the dish that are causing it, but that is just because what you burp up because of the foaming carbohydrates in your stomach will taste like the tastiest thing you ate.

Sweetened drinks add calories without filling you up.

This will be my huckleberry for our trip. I will be tempted every single meal to get a Coke with dinner. I love Coke. I know that it is the single biggest villain in making me gain weight, once I quit drinking beer at every meal. If I have a Coke at lunch I will have a Coke (or two) at dinner, because “today is already shot.” That is what the little voice in my head tells me to get me to have another one. Quitting sugar is a lot like quitting alcohol, complete with all the same devils on the shoulder. The best strategy here is to just get a glass of water at mealtime. Coffee is okay at breakfast, no juice, but at lunch and dinner a glass of water will go mostly untouched, while a glass of soda will get refilled at least once.

Choose mustard instead of mayo on a sandwich, or olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice instead of creamy salad dressing. It’s easy to undercut a salad or sandwich with dollops of ranch or Caesar dressing.

Nope. Real mayonnaise is one cup of olive oil and one egg yolk, and a dash of mustard and vinegar. Why avoid mayonnaise? Elsewhere in this article, even in this same paragraph, they crow about the benefit of olive oil, yet call it mayonnaise and now it’s a source of fat to be avoided. Then they call out ranch dressing. Guess how you make home made ranch dressing. One half mayonnaise, one half buttermilk. Mix. I am not kidding. Ranch dressing is just buttermilk and mayonnaise. There is nothing unhealthy about either thing, and given a choice you should always pick ranch dressing, because it will contain no sugar. This is hilarious to me that they would say eat olive oil but don’t eat mayonnaise. THEY DONT KNOW WHAT IS IN THE FOODS THEY RECOMMEND OR CAUTION AGAINST. Therein lies the entire problem with food reporting (and maybe reporting in general). You don’t have to know anything at all about a topic to write about it.

The addition of oatmeal to the Starbucks menu makes a truly healthful breakfast far easier to find on the road. We prefer the plain over the blueberry-flavored, and don’t automatically add an entire packet of brown sugar. The dried fruit that comes with the oatmeal already supplies sugar.

Why do you think they think that oatmeal is healthier than any other breakfast food found at Starbucks? Because their mom’s fixed them oatmeal as a kid. Guess what, that doesn’t make oatmeal a health food. Adding sugar to oatmeal is like adding more oatmeal to oatmeal. Processed oats, especially the quick oats you would find at Starbucks are exactly one increment more healthy than the sugar they warn against. All of the calories in oatmeal are carbohydrate. Adding sugar or fruit is like frosting on a cake. Might as well add frosting, because you can’t make it any less a health food than it already is.

My own road breakfast will be the easiest meal of the day. I will order two eggs and sausage or bacon. I will not eat any toast, drink any fruit juice. It will just be eggs and meat, and it will last me all the way to lunch time without hunger. Try that with a big double stack of pancakes. You will be hungry before you are out of the parking lot.

A calorie is not always a calorie:

If you prefer a fattier cut, try splitting a steak with a friend. Or eat light in the morning so you can splurge on a high-calorie steak dinner. “I would take more of the tack, if I’m going to Ruth’s Chris, it’s going to be a thousand calories,” says Dr. Aaron E. Carroll, an Upshot contributor. “And I’d try to budget for that.”

A thousand calories of protein and fat on a Ruth’s Chris ribeye steak is not the same as a thousand calories of ice cream and cake. If you eat the steak you will not be hungry again for a very long time, and your body will produce ZERO insulin to deal with those thousand calories. The cake will produce a massive insulin response, you will get an sugar crash within an hour afterwards, followed by hunger–even though you just ate a thousand calories. I can eat a thousand calorie steak at every meal an not gain weight. I have done it. I can eat 1500 calories of meat a day and not be perpetually hungry. You cannot say anything close to that about carbohydrates. It’s why people on diets are miserable all the time.

And volume can be your ally. “One of the things you want to think about when you to go a restaurant is calories, but you also want to make sure you get enough volume of food so you feel satisfied when you leave,” says Marlene Schwartz, the director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut. Eating a large volume of food will make you less likely to binge later.

Want to know how it works for me? It has nothing to do with volume. In the morning, after having ate no food for about twelve hours since dinner the night before I cook two eggs, and three strips of bacon. The bacon cooks down to shriveled bits of its former volume, the eggs swell up just a bit. There is very little volume here. I eat that tiny breakfast, sometimes I share it with the grandkids or my pet. I am not hungry again until lunch six hours later. Nothing to do with volume. If you think your stomach has to be full before you get the signal to push back from the table try eating bacon and eggs (only). It really works.

If I go to a fast food restaurant I can eat healthy. This is how. Order a double cheeseburger with the works. Take the sandwich apart and just eat the lettuce and meat and cheese. You will get all the energy you need from the fat in the meat and cheese. It’s how nature intended for you to live.

About dcarmack

I am an instrument technician at the electric utility servicing the Kansas City Missouri metropolitan area. I am in the IBEW, Local 412. I was trained to be a nuclear power plant operator in the USN and served on submarines. I am a Democrat, even more so than those serving in Congress or the White House.
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