DEAR DR. BLONZ: I work long hours as a programmer, and gravitate to high-calorie foods such as pizza and hamburgers. I don't have much time for lunch, and these foods are nearby, quick and reliable. I tend to do takeout for dinner. I am in my 30s and this type of eating has been working so far, but I'm wondering about my risks for chronic disease. -- T.T., Santa Clara, California
DEAR T.T.: While young, we have a resilience that allows us to feel that we can eat just about anything and not suffer ill effects. Unfortunately, continued abuses add up, and by the time we reach our later years, we have to live with the cumulative effects. The sneaky side of chronic diseases is that you often have no idea that things are headed in a bad direction until, decades later, the disease emerges to take over your life.
From that point on, it becomes about damage control. Some patients pick up the gauntlet and counter their new condition with radical changes in their diet and lifestyle, while others maintain their bad habits and rely on the medical establishment (drugs, surgery, etc) to mitigate the problems. Either way, it is a frustrating situation, which is precisely why healthful habits as a form of "health assurance" make such amazing sense. The sooner you start, the better off you will be.
Not everything you eat has to be a paragon of healthfulness. On the contrary, my attitude has always been that you can eat a wide variety of foods, as long as the overall healthful tone of your diet (and your lifestyle) remains intact. If the pizza, burgers and takeout you mention represent a big slice of what you eat every day, however, you've certainly got some gaps to fill.
Think about it this way: When doing a project at work, would you opt for substandard components? Would you use a programming language or buggy subroutines inappropriate to your needs? The programming adage "garbage in, garbage out" is akin to the dietary dogma "you are what you eat." Both reflect that what we put in -- into our bodies or our computers -- limits what we can expect back out.
I encourage you to take a close look at the totality of what you eat, as well as what you are not eating. You could help your case by starting the day with a high-fiber breakfast with fruit, then add a big salad or fresh vegetables with your lunch. Have some fruit and nuts as a snack during the day, and be sure to have a good-sized serving of greens with dinner.
Additions such as these can effectively limit the amount of fast foods you eat, as well as their impact on your immediate, and long-term, health.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.