If You Eat at McDonald’s, You’re Not Even Trying

ZoesQuinoaSaladYesterday at lunchtime I was sitting on the patio of my favorite fast casual Mediterranean restaurant enjoying a quinoa salad (no feta) with a little grilled chicken and a Greek-style dressing. It’s my go-to lunch and it’s delicious, filling, and healthy.

As it happens, the patio at this particular Zoe’s Kitchen is adjacent to a McDonald’s drive through. As I sat there soaking in this gorgeous Phoenix afternoon, I watched as car after car came through the drive through picking up their Big Macs, fries and sodas. The line never slowed during the 30 minutes or so I sat there eating my salad.

I know it’s not politically correct to fat shame people, but maybe it’s time we held some people accountable for their lifestyle choices when it comes to food. It wasn’t lost on me as I sat there that just a few days earlier the headlines across America announced that American adults are getting fatter. Here’s an excerpt:

New data shows that nearly 40 percent of them were obese in 2015 and 2016, a sharp increase from a decade earlier, federal health officials reported Friday. — New York Times

40 percent of American adults are now obese. Let that sink in for a second. More than one in three of us! How can this be the case given everything we now know about diet and health? What kind of person says to themselves it’s lunchtime, I think I’ll go to McDonald’s for a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and a shake?

There’s no logical reason for a grown adult to eat at McDonald’s. I realize there are some extenuating circumstances that have led us to become among the fattest people in the history of the world. Yes, food is addictive. Yes, some people have low metabolism and are susceptible to gaining weight. Yes, there are socioeconomic determinants of health.

But W-T-F America, stay the hell out of McDonald’s. There are so many better choices, several right there in the same shopping center. Time is not an excuse — you can get in and out of a fast casual restaurant like Zoe’s with a to-go order in 10 minutes.

I guess it bothered me so much because I’m trying so friggin’ hard to stay healthy. I have never had a weight problem, and I never smoked, yet I had a heart attack at 45. I try to limit the pity parties in my head, but when I see people eating at McDonald’s I get angry. The same thing happens to me when I see a morbidly obese person. I know it’s not right, but when I see huge people I think to myself how is it possible I had a heart attack and they haven’t?

I also get pissed when the local baseball team promotes their newest “food” item and they seem so proud of themselves for offering fans a Funnel Cake Chicken Sandwich or a Churro Dog, which is a cinnamon churro inside a chocolate-glazed doughnut, topped with frozen yogurt, caramel, and chocolate sauce. A few years back they offered a $25 18-inch cheese filled corn dog that came in at a whopping 3,000 calories. That’s 500 more calories than a healthy man is supposed to eat in a day. And I’d go to the games and see otherwise normal looking people eating this disgusting display.

I’m not suggesting you don’t binge once in while. Have a dog and a beer at the ballpark. But for fuck’s sake don’t eat a deep fried chicken sandwich with funnel cake in place of bread. Have some restraint.

The New York Times story about obesity immediately brought to mind the Pixar film Wall-e in which the human race has gotten so fat they can’t walk anymore so they ride around in movable chairs and the food comes to them. They drink cupcakes in a cup (coming soon to a Diamondbacks game near you no doubt). I thought this film was supposed to represent a dystopia, not a glimpse into the not-too-distant future.

Am I bitter? Yes. Yes, I am. Maybe you’re thinking to yourself Len, chillax, have a Double Double once in a while, it won’t kill you. Easy for you to say — you probably don’t have three stents holding open your left anterior descending artery.

But beyond bitterness, I’m flabbergasted. I honestly can’t understand what would make someone walk into a McDonald’s. And don’t give me the “McDonald’s has healthy options” diatribe. I call B.S. on that. The fruit and yogurt parfait has 22 grams of sugar. The Low-Fat Sesame Ginger Dressing has 9 grams of sugar and 400 mg of sodium. And seriously, who eats a salad at McDonald’s? Maybe as a side dish for your Sweet BBQ Bacon with Buttermilk Crispy Chicken sandwich (1,760 mg of sodium, 18 grams of sugar, and 79 grams of carbs). Don’t forget your large Dr. Pepper (73 grams of sugar).

Why are 40% of Americans obese, according to the New York Times article?

While the latest survey data doesn’t explain why Americans continue to get heavier, nutritionists and other experts cite lifestyle, genetics, and, most importantly, a poor diet as factors. Fast food sales in the United States rose 22.7 percent from 2012 to 2017, according to Euromonitor, while packaged food sales rose 8.8 percent.

To paraphrase political pundit James Carville — It’s the food, stupid!

The Fish Oil Conundrum

It’s hard enough to know what to eat to lower your risk of heart disease, but it’s even more complicated to know what, if any, supplements to take. If I had a nickel for every claim I’ve seen on the Internet about herbs, essential oils, vitamins, and other supplements that help your heart, well, I’d have a shit ton of nickels. I’m a skeptic by nature, but beyond that I prefer to act based on fact versus hyperbole.

But one thing we know for sure is that fish oil is good for your heart. Right? Well, the real answer is — it depends on what you mean by “good for your heart.” Despite all the studies done over the last few years, there is no proof that taking omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) will decrease your risk of having a heart attack. OK, well, fish oil lowers cholesterol at least, right?

“If you’re taking supplements like fish oil or a multi-vitamin in the hopes of improving your cholesterol counts, save your money.” — Cleveland Clinic

It turns out that fish oil has been proven to lower your triglycerides, which is a significant risk factor for heart disease. But it does not lower your cholesterol. Which I think would be a surprise to most people. It certainly was to me.

I had very high triglycerides, which I believe was one of the main factors that led to my heart attack at age 45. So in the years following my heart attack I started taking fish oil supplements and that, along with significantly decreasing my consumption of bread and other processed carbs, lowered my triglycerides dramatically. How dramatically? Prior to my heart attack and before drug therapy to lower it, once or twice my trigs were measured well north of 500. The medical consensus on triglycerides suggest they should be below 150. These days my trigs have been consistently around 100.

But then about a year ago a blood test showed they had crept back up to around 175. I had been slacking on my diet, eating a bit more carbs and sugar than I should have been, so I redoubled my efforts to stay away from processed carbs and sugar and doubled down on my fish oil, going from 2,000 mg a day to 4,000 mg a day. My trigs immediately nosedived back down under 100.

All’s well, yes? As college football commentator Lee Corso says — not so fast my friend. In the months following my increased fish oil consumption, my LDL cholesterol started creeping up. From 35, to 42, to 48 to my most recent results in which my LDLs came in at 59. Still lower than the recommendations, but over about a one year period that’s a 70 percent increase!

Was I doing something else differently that could cause my LDL levels to skyrocket? I hadn’t changed any of my medications. I was eating more unsaturated fat, but that is good fat (avocado, olive oil, nuts, etc.). Could it be the fish oil? Can fish oil actually raise LDL levels? If so, how come I didn’t know this before upping my daily dose by 2,000 mg a day?

Off to the Internet I went and sure as shit, there is evidence that high doses of fish oil can increase LDL levels.

“Despite their excellent ability to reduce triglycerides naturally, EPA and DHA actually increase LDL cholesterol, concerning some doctors and medical researchers.” — University Health News

Sometimes no matter what you do you can’t win! Something I was doing successfully to lower my triglycerides may be raising my bad cholesterol. While I’m not 100 percent sure fish oil is the culprit of my increased LDLs, there’s one way to find out — take less fish oil and retest my blood. I have an appointment with my doctor this week to discuss just that and I’ll report back on his take on the matter. In the meantime, if you are one of the nearly 20 million Americans taking fish oil be sure to keep an eye on your LDL levels.

My Love/Hate Relationship With Breakfast

Today is National Cereal Day, and it comes at a time when I have been having a crisis of confidence regarding my breakfast choices. I’m not talking about whether to eat Lucky Charms or Cheerios (you might as well be pouring your milk over a bowl of cookies), rather my Sophie’s Choice involves grain in general. Because the more I look into it, even oatmeal or whole grain toast spikes your blood sugar which leads to diabetes and heart disease. Sorry Wilford Brimley, but oatmeal is actually NOT the right thing to do.

For years I’ve been eating plain steel cut oats with some berries or a banana and some sliced almonds for breakfast thinking this was a smart choice. It turns out this has been a better choice than cereal, pancakes or waffles but still inflammatory and a bad way to start the day.

“The major problem with oatmeal is the same problem with every other grain: It spikes your blood sugar and makes you hungrier.” — Dr. Mark Hyman, author of Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?

So if cereal is bad, and oatmeal is bad, what the heck should I eat for breakfast? That, my friends, is the question of the day.

In America, breakfast has really just become an excuse to pour sugar down your gullet. Breakfast has always been my favorite meal of the day. But as I’ve gotten older, and after having a heart attack, I’ve been obsessed with food and nutrition. I’ve talked to my doctors, read all the studies and looked into all the diets (Mediterranean, paleo, Engine 2, juicing, etc.) All the “expert advice” on the Interwebs is enough to drive you to drink. The web is a cacophony of conflicting advice. Who are we supposed to trust?

I’ve written about this before, but the best person to trust is yourself. My blood work has improved tremendously as I’ve eliminated grains and added sugar. My weight is down as well, though I’ve always been relatively thin by American standards. Late last year, six years post heart attack, I had another coronary catheterization and my arteries are clear. Whatever I’m doing seems to be working. So why change anything?

The biggest improvement in my blood work came after I started reading the advice of Dr. Mark Hyman. Yes, I’m skeptical of any “celebrity” doctor and I certainly don’t agree with everything he says — but he always links to research and that research is peer-reviewed and published in legitimate journals. When I started incorporating his paleo-vegan or “pegan” style of eating into my life, that’s when my blood work went from good to great.

After a year or so of eating a mostly pegan diet (I admit I didn’t always follow the rules, morning oatmeal being a perfect example. A little too much beer being another.) I was feeling pretty good about myself.

So recently when my wife picked up his new book Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?, I opened it first and started to read. And it reinforced what I’d been doing. And then starting on Sunday I doubled down on eating pegan. But then I woke up on Monday morning and with oatmeal off the table as it were I had no idea what to eat for breakfast! So I scrambled a couple of eggs with onions, avocado, and tomatoes using avocado oil in the pan and ate it with a serving of fresh blueberries. Then on Tuesday morning I fried a couple of eggs and ate them over a bed of sauteed spinach. And then this morning I woke up and couldn’t imagine eating eggs once again so I turned to the web to see what Dr. Hyman has for breakfast and basically it boils down to some kind of eggs with veggies or a smoothie.

So I poured some almond milk into the blender, added a half cup of frozen berries and a half cup of frozen mango, a tablespoon of ground flax seeds, two tablespoons of almond butter, half an avocado, and a tablespoon of coconut oil. And it was tasty. And it filled me up (in fact, as I write this it has been four hours since I drank my smoothie and I have not been hungry at all).

Still, there has to be more than eggs and smoothies, so I’ll continue to research. But it isn’t lost on me that what I’ve been eating for breakfast the past few days flies in the face of conventional wisdom about breakfast in America.

After all the controversy last year about saturated fat and in particular coconut oil, I’ve done more research. I think the medical establishment is wrong on fat and Dr. Hyman has helped to convince me. But I’m not just taking his word for it, I’m looking at the studies and ultimately my own body.

I’ll be getting some new blood work done soon so I’ll report out the results. In the meantime, just say no to National Cereal Day today and every day.