|Volume 1: No. 35|
60 Minutes broadcast a piece on French cuisine Sunday night. It seems that the French eat enormous amounts of fat, especially around Lyon, yet do not suffer heart and circulatory problems. Four reasons were proposed. One was that the French eat only three meals and do not snack in between. [Perhaps foods taken together are different from foods eaten at separate times, especially fat with wine. Or perhaps timing, stress, and social factors are at work.]
Another is that French shoppers are very choosy, buying only fresh produce. [The U.S. system may involve pesticides and growth hormones, early harvest and chemical ripening; manufacturing that hides defective produce; addition of supplements and preservatives; freezing, canning, irradiation, or waxing; several stages of distribution; storage at home; thawing (which promotes bacterial growth); and overcooking. It's as if we were afraid to eat anything less than two weeks old. Japanese 7-11's get fresh sushi deliveries several times each day; Americans buy Twinkies with a rumored shelf life of 13 years. How many Americans know or care that mushrooms lose half their nutrition after four days of refrigeration? I read recently of a cookie business finding it hard to get baked goods into stores in less than five days -- approximately the shelf life of the cookie, until preservatives were added.]
Two other factors were given more emphasis in the broadcast. One was heavy consumption of cheese by the French. It seems that calcium in cheese binds with the fat and blocks its absorption. The same fat in milk will be absorbed and will clog your arteries. Dr. David Reuben, in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Nutrition, blamed homogenization, which breaks fat into small globs that digestive enzymes can attack. Either way, milk is a major danger for people of European descent. [Adults from other races do not drink milk, as they generally lose the enzyme that breaks down lactose. U.S. shipments of milk powder to Africa caused severe gastrointestinal distress, so the powder was used to whitewash houses.]
The other factor is consumption of red wine, which is known to keep platelets from attaching to artery walls. The broadcast came very close to recommending one or two glasses of red wine with every meal, although they couldn't get a doctor to explicitly advocate alcohol consumption. Half a bottle per day, with meals, without driving, was said to be OK. [If you prefer milk, stick to nonfat -- although young children in the U.S. supposedly need the calories in regular milk.]
I doubt that I could get a doctor to recommend Twinkies and Jolt, either. I avoid the munchies by sipping half-decaf coffee all day, with full coffee or tea if I've been up late. [I've got a little cup warmer on my desk that's really great.] When I do binge on snacks, I probably burn them off because of the caffeine. (It's sure not exercise that keeps me thin. I do eat sensibly, though, with a lot of Chinese cuisine.) A glass of wine sipped over an hour or so makes a nice change from coffee, but don't expect your organization to encourage it. Only famous authors get to sit on the veranda and sip sherry.
While I'm on the subject of coronaries, I'll put in a plug for aspirin. I haven't heard any research results lately, but there's a good chance that half an aspirin every day can reduce the risk of heart attack. Aspirin has also been used to treat senility, as it thins the blood and increases oxygen transport to the brain. (I suppose it makes brain hemorrhage more likely, but I'd be willing to take that risk.) Aspirin at the time of a heart attack definitely increases survival rates, and continued treatment with aspirin reduces the risk of a second attack. Doctors won't recommend aspirin prior to a heart attack, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone in danger of gastrointestinal ulcers -- but if you're over 40, you should give it some thought. I've heard that heart attacks are most frequent in the early morning hours, but I don't know if an evening dose is best.