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More diet delusions. March 14, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I receive health- and diet-related tips in my e-mail several times a week from the RealAge website (think Dr. Oz). The tips are free, and are usually food- or exercise-related; often they link to recipes from the EatingWell website. I encourage everyone to sign up. Can’t hurt, might help. But I digress.

The point of this post was brought on by one of the tips I received a few days ago, titled “Can Side Salads Make You Fat?” Seeing the title, I thought, well of course they can. Picture the typical salad bar, packed with creamy pasta and potato salads, Jell-o-and-mercy-knows-what so-called “fruit salad,” and high-fat dressings. Picture people loading up their bowls with all this gunk, plus tons of shredded orange “cheese,” pickled veggies, croutons, bacon bits, and maybe a tiny piece of iceberg lettuce because, hey, it’s salad. Picture a side salad with more calories and fewer health benefits than almost any entree.

Contrast this with a bowl packed with mixed greens (not to demonize iceberg, it’s fine for adding body, fiber, and crunch, but darker greens are the ones that pack the vitamin and mineral punch) and topped with fresh bell peppers, red cabbage, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, sliced onions, a little shredded carrot, a small spoon of sliced black olives, and some sunflower seeds (plus some hard-boiled egg slices and a little shredded white cheese if the salad is your entree), and dressed with a modest splash of olive oil and vinegar, plus a good shake of dried oregano, some red pepper flakes, and black pepper. This is all available at most salad bars, and adds up to a healthy side salad or meal in itself. And it will keep a cap on the calories, as long as you don’t overdo the eggs, cheese, olives, olive oil, and sunflower seeds.

Turns out, though, I was wrong about the point of the tip. Instead of a guide to wise salad selection, it addressed that old diet bugabear, the delusion that various foods erase or cancel out the calories in other foods. Yikes!

A faster metabolism is the magic bullet we all seek when trying to keep our weight down or shed pounds. You eat the same amount, the same foods you love, but magically, your superheated metabolism burns them all off, with no additional effort from you! Ah, would that it were. And don’t all of us know at least one person for whom that’s true, the super-skinny guy or gal who has to eat constantly, huge, deep-fried meals, just to keep from falling over? We all know, or at least know someone who knows, that person, right? And so it keeps our hope alive, that something, anything, could kick-start our own metabolisms into hyperdrive.

There are things that have proven to be effective at ramping up metabolism, nicotine being the best-known. Putting your kidneys into a toxic state called ketosis by loading up on protein and skipping carbs is another popular technique, and it does indeed produce rapid weight loss even as it destroys the body it’s supposed to be beautifying. Eating lots of hot mustard, hot pepper, and vinegar with one’s meals seems to be another, and far healthier, technique, as long as said meals don’t qualify for starring roles in “Supersize Me.”

But the best-proven way to boost metabolism is the one we all dread: exercise. The more you exercise, the more muscle mass you gain and fat you lose. The more muscle mass you gain, the more calories you need to sustain it, which translates to faster metabolism. All of which is to say, if you exercise more and keep eating what you’re eating, you’ll inevitably start looking better. And if you exercise more and eat less, you’ll eventually start to lose weight. 

Eat less and exercise more: the old, proven, painful formula. But I am once again straying from the point of Drs. Oz and Roisen’s tip, which is disturbing in the extreme, a real-life variant on the old joke that a broken cookie has no calories: A study has found that people believe they’re consuming fewer calories when eating an entree and side salad than when eating the same entree alone. And this finding is as true for the most health-conscious as for the Homer Simpsons of the world. Apparently, people across the board rated their meal on average 43 calories lighter when pairing, say, a meatball-pepperoni cheesesteak sandwich with a side salad than they did for the cheesesteak sandwich shown solo.

Could these folks really have thought that the effort of chewing and digesting all those high-fiber ingredients in the salad would somehow not just eliminate the salad’s calories, but burn off some of the mega-calories in the giant, high-fat entree? Yowie zowie. But if it encourages people to eat more salads, I guess this particular delusion isn’t all bad.

           ‘Til next time,

                     Silence

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