DEAR DR. BLONZ: I am a computer engineer and I was fortunate to get a job just out of college. It's a great job, but I spend most of my time working in a cramped space. My concern is that I always eat high-calorie convenience food when I am working, such as pizza, hot dogs and hamburgers. I do like the stuff, but I don't want to be headed down a bad road. What should I add to help prevent chronic diseases? -- I.F., San Jose, Calif.
DEAR I.F.: When young, we have a resilience that allows us to feel that we can eat just about anything and not suffer ill effects. Unfortunately, continued imbalances and abuses over the decades do add up, and by the time we reach our later years, we have to live with the cumulative effects.
There is often a covert aspect to chronic disease. A perfect example of this is hypertension (high blood pressure) where, with the exception of elevated numbers on a blood pressure reading, there can often be no signs or symptoms until the disease's damage is done.
Everything we eat does not have to be a paragon of healthfulness. My approach has always been that you can eat most things as long as the rest of your diet fills in gaps and makes things "whole." Add to this a healthful lifestyle and you can have it all.
But now let's pose a few questions. When building or working on a computer, would you choose substandard components? Would you run a computer in an environment where vibration, dust or power glitches could interfere with the operation of the unit? And finally, would you rely on an operating system that was full of buggy subroutines?
The computer programmer adage "garbage in, garbage out" is akin to dietary dogma "you are what you eat," both reflecting that we are only as good as what we put into our systems.
I encourage you to take a close look at the totality of what you eat, as well as what you are not eating. If your workday is limited in its food options, help your situation by starting the day with a high-fiber breakfast cereal with fresh fruit. Try to have a big salad or fresh vegetables with your lunch, but if that's not feasible, be sure to have those greens with dinner. Keep some nuts and dried fruit at your desk for a snack. Stash some yogurt in the office fridge. If possible, go for a brisk walk during a break -- up and down the stairs or around the block, if that's all that's available. Tweaks such as these could turn those workday fast foods into a minor player in your overall diet and provide greater distance between yourself and the risk of chronic disease.
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.