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MailTribune.com
  • Small steps now can pay health dividends later

  • We all have them: food weaknesses.
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  • We all have them: food weaknesses.
    Certain foods detour willpower. For women, it's most likely to be chocolate in almost any form. For men, it's red meat, preferably hot off the grill. There's absolutely no research I'm aware of to support my thinking. But it seems like common sense. You tell me.
    I do like chocolate (a lot) and red meat (occasionally), but my over-arching food weakness is butter ... perched atop a baked potato and smeared on toast. Until three weeks and six days ago, I was eating a lot of butter. After all, it satiates. If I slathered it on one piece of toast, I was less inclined to eat a second piece of toast — the butter made me feel full more quickly. Plus, I grew up in a dairy-farming area, and it seemed like I "should eat butter." It felt, well "… American.
    And then I had an epiphany. My husband, eager to go into retirement more fit — and having a bit more time to think about what being healthy entails — found a website (www.myfitnesspal.com) and arranged for us to have their "app" on our smartphones. It has absolutely changed our lives.
    Here's an illustration: Every day you have the opportunity to plug in what you've eaten and how much exercise you've engaged in, and it calculates the calories you need to maintain your current weight (or lose a little) and the nutritional value of the foods you eat. It told me that I was eating way too much saturated fat and not getting enough vitamin C. It confirmed my calcium intake and helped me decide how much to supplement. It's a little bit of genius.
    I concluded that if I kept eating butter on toast, "enhanced" baked potatoes and all those other buttery indulgences, I would weigh 300 pounds in less than five years. Slight exaggeration, but you get the idea.
    So now in our household we log in the food we have eaten and the exercise we have completed (walking, housework, a trip to the gym) that day, and the site/app calculates everything for us. Once I saw, in graphic detail, how many calories and how much saturated fat my butter addiction offered me, I simply stopped eating it. Sometimes a piece of information is life-changing.
    There are loads of reasons to make these kinds of informed choices, including health care costs. If you're an AARP member, you were sent their recent publication (www.aarp.org/bulletin) and may have read the article "Have You Saved Enough for Health Care?" reminding us of health care's huge and often unexpected cost after retirement. Fidelity Investments has been tracking this for decades and estimates "a 65-year-old couple, retiring this year, will need $240,000 to cover future medical costs."
    The article did not spend enough time on how we can reduce that cost through preventative health care approaches? This I know: reducing my saturated fat intake will ensure I am more heart healthy — reducing red meat intake would do the same.
    Chocolate, however, will get continuing indulgence — one well-chosen piece at a time.
    Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at 541-261-2037 or Sharon@hmj.com
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