DEAR DR. BLONZ: I am hoping you will weigh in on a discussion regarding eating habits in our house. My concerns relate to my husband's reliance on nutrition bars. The brand he favors contains protein, along with a bunch of vitamins and minerals. Just about every work day, he will have one for breakfast and another for lunch, sometimes with a piece of fruit such as a banana or an apple. Dinners are more normal: We have a variety of dishes, most balanced and healthful, some less so. We often have meat, poultry or fish for dinner.
We are in our mid-40s. My husband takes supplements and works out about three times a week, though his favorite snacks are cookies and chips. He is not overweight and has no health problems.
His reasoning is that the nutrition bars are a reasonable option since he doesn't have the time or energy to make breakfast or bring "real" food to work, and he does not have time to go out to eat. They are also a way to control his overindulgence tendencies during the day so he can give in to his cravings at night. My argument is that he needs more variety, and also he could be harming his colon because of the lack of roughage. There could also be other deficiencies I don't know about. Would you please enlighten us? I have my husband's best interests at heart. -- I.P., Berkeley, California
DEAR I.P.: No question that your husband is doing many good things with his active lifestyle. Nutrition bars have a place, but they are not a balanced, whole meal to be relied on day after day. Those bars are made with recipes designed to accomplish a specific flavor and texture -- and, ultimately, a certain marketing goal. Whole foods, by contrast, provide a working symphony of healthful compounds, honed through millennia of trial-and-error "rough drafts." Everything works together with health and survival as the goal.
We continue to research which components, in what quantity, are best for us in given situations. At present, the whole-food model provided by nature is associated with the best health outcomes for us. Granted, we are not plants, but it seems foolhardy to grab a processed food from column A and another from column B and think we've got it covered. We may feel fine doing so, but chronic disease sneaks up on us like a thief in the night.
A more thoughtful approach is to rely on real, whole foods as the core of the diet. There are many healthful, flavorful alternatives to a daily reliance on nutrition bars, but they require some advance preparation. Suggestions include cereals with fresh fruit for breakfast; lunchtime can include salads or sandwiches with whole-grain breads, sprouts, greens and a rotating menu of stuff in between. Then there is plain yogurt, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and cut-up veggies.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to email@example.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.