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Friday, April 15, 2016

A Few Thoughts on Health

I read another book about health called The Great Cholesterol Myth which tells how what we have been told for a generation about heart disease is basically a lie. I first read about this two years ago, about how there is no link between cholesterol and heart disease, that the whole low fat diet boom was not only unnecessary but supremely unhealthy. The low fat foods we consumed as a substitute for saturated fats were 100 times worse than the original items. Margarine instead of butter was probably the worst choice made by health-conscious people in America. I never bought into margarine thing but I used a lot less butter because of this scare. Trans fats were practically invented because of the low fat revolution.

I first started making my own mayonnaise after I moved to Spain. For perhaps a couple of decades mayonnaise was vilified by American doctors as some sort of heart attack contained in a glass jar. Some new Frankenstein versions of mayo were invented in the lab and unleashed on the trusting public. The low-fat or no-fat labels subbing for natural fats was sort of like how meth was seen as a substitute for marijuana. What is in mayonnaise that is so poisonous to human beings? As it turns out mayo is simply an egg and oil emulsified with a pinch of salt and lemon juice. It’s sort of like how we were made to fear the mighty Soviet Union for so long and it turns out it was a third world country that couldn’t even produce enough toilet paper for its citizens.

I suppose my point to all of this is that you’re kidding yourself if you expect the doctors to look out for your health. That would be like expecting bankers to look after your investment portfolio. I have developed my own strategies to manage my personal well-being and I’m adding new things constantly. I thought that I would share a few of these things with anyone who cares to listen.

First of all, about 99% of what I eat I prepare myself in my kitchen. I despise eating in restaurants as I have no idea of exactly what is on the plate in front of me. I know precisely the amount of sugar and salt I ingest because I am the one buying the sugar and salt I use in my cooking—and I use very little of both. I know what kind of fats used to cook my food. I have substituted butter for vegetable oils in most foods that require high heat for cooking as saturated fats handle high heat better than other fats, at least this is the current conventional wisdom. I could go on about my diet but suffice it to say that my eating reflects the Mediterranean diet.

I have been an avid cyclist my entire life. This has meant that I cycle for exercise but also that I have used a bicycle to effect the vast majority of my transportation requirements. I no longer own a car and even when I did I rarely used my internally-combusted vehicle in my day-to-day outings. So in addition to getting out 4-5 times a week for sport I ride a bike somewhere every single day, and when I say "ride" I mean standing up on the pedals and humping for all I’m worth. I would guess that I reach my heart’s maximum capacity—or close to it—at least 3 days a week, perhaps more. I also walk quite a bit and I’m not shy about walking up and down the four flights of stairs that separate my flat from the street below. Generally speaking, if I enter my building and the elevator isn’t there waiting for me I hump up the stairs. If there is another tenant waiting for the lift I will take the stairs. I almost always walk down the stairs unless I have a load of trash I’m taking out. I will also use the elevator if I am using one of my bikes, the one that actually fits in the elevator; with the other, bigger bike I carry it up and down the stairs—a huge pain in the ass after a 60 kilometer ride.

I think one mistake many Americans make is to think that going to the gym for an hour is enough in the exercise department. This could mean one hour of exercise surrounded by 23 hours of inactivity if you drive everywhere with little walking. I think the key is to be active throughout the entire day. I also have found that for me the sweet spot as far as my bike rides go is that a two hour ride is optimal. Anything longer and I think that I hit very diminishing marginal returns.

For my upper body maintenance I have relied on push-ups and pull-ups. Pull-ups seem to work best for me and I only wish that I would have discovered this earlier in life, back when I was lifting weights in the gym with not much in the way of visible results. I have better upper-body musculature now than at any time in my life, even at my rather advanced age of almost 58 years. Suck on that, younger version of me!


  1. I agree. I never got off the butter road, felt exonerated when it was found to be "just fine" and margarine along with other substitutes condemned. I could use more cardiovascular exercise, but working as a gardener, shoveling snow, hiking up and down mountains and through forests looking for mushrooms and working on my house keep me stronger than the average 59 year old woman. My spine is perfectly straight, perfectly spaced and I hope it stays that way. We never switched over to low fat dairy products. Kids who came to the house we blissful to find full fatted milk, ice cream and cheese. I may pay for all this one day, but the years of delicious, satisfying food will have been worth it.

  2. I can't believe people still put skim milk in their coffee (pretty much unheard of here in Spain, it's an American thing). Why bother? I feel vindicated in my food choices all these years.


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