DEAR DR. BLONZ: My workdays last until the early evening and I don't really have time to cook. This has been my schedule for more years than I want to think about, but as a result, I have never taken the time to learn how to cook. I usually eat out, or rely on single-serving entrees to make at home. My diet is not bad, but it is certainly not where it should be. I haven't really suffered for it yet, as I am in good health. How much will I be helping things by adding a dietary supplement or a vitamin-fortified drink to my daily regimen? -- A.M., San Jose, California
DEAR A.M.: Your question goes to the heart of what nutrition and good eating are all about. The short answer is that it's unrealistic to think that supplements or a vitamin-fortified drink can capture all the goodness that healthful whole foods have to offer. They can't transform a marginal diet into a good one. However, it is not unreasonable to take multivitamin/mineral supplements along with a whole-food fruit/vegetable juice drink.
You will still need to make good choices with the foods you eat. The healthfulness of eating fresh fruits, vegetables and grains has been verified by epidemiology, the science that investigates the connection between people's lifestyles and their health.
The fact that good eating leads to good health is certainly not news. What's relatively new is the technical ability to discover the identity of the beneficial compounds. The essential nature of a nutrient gets discovered when its absence from the diet gives rise to a deficiency disease.
I like to think of whole foods as a symphony of healthful compounds that work together like the instruments in an orchestra. If you rely on supplements, the music gets written by the supplement company and you only get the ingredients that tickle the fancy of the supplement makers. Contrast this with a whole food, where nature has written the musical score: The combination of components has been perfected over millennia to give the plant its best chance for survival and reproduction amidst the various environmental insults that might come its way.
This being said, there are many excellent single-serving entrees in stores, and you can find restaurants that serve healthful foods on a takeout basis. Keeping a supply of healthful snacks in your desk can also be helpful. Juicing can provide a way to include whole foods in a more convenient form. But you should at least consider making the time to take a basic cooking class. It is not that difficult, and it will open up a world of possibilities, such as learning how to prepare and store multiple portions of a meal. You state that you haven't, as yet, suffered because of your dietary habits. Life, however, is a cumulative affair, so why not take this opportunity to make a few positive adjustments?
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