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Thursday, March 29, 2012

"But they all ate organic rice!"

Woody Allen's Sleeper.

Haven't seen it in a LONG time, and if I saw it again now I would probably be shocked I liked it when I saw it last. On the other hand, there are some amazing jokes in it and one or two bits of prophecy. Like this:
Dr. Melik: [T]his morning for breakfast, uh, he requested something called wheat germ, organic honey, and tiger's milk.
Doctor: Oh yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life preserving properties.
Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak, or cream pies, or hot fudge?
Doctor: Those were thought to be unhealthy. Precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.
(Thanks to Dr. Sanity for pulling the quote a few years back on a related topic.)

OK, we're not quite there with deep fat frying, but depending on the fat you use, it is quite on the way to being rehabilitated. But FoxNews.com has a story on previously forbidden foods that are now considered good for you. Among them are eggs, nuts, chocolate, and potatoes. I am a fan of limiting carbohydrate intake -- not in an Atkins kind of way, but really downplaying carbs in meals. Meat and vegetables. Cheese. Eggs. Less pasta and bread (tough for me to admit, being of Italian descent) and rice (tough on my Asian wife and my kids). The article in question has rehabilitated pasta, but note, it is whole wheat pasta. Whole grains are way better as carb sources than refined grains for many reasons. And for potatoes, the assumption is that you're eating also the skins. And in any case, even if you include these in your diet, there is always the question of how much.

How and what we eat, and how much, are bioethical decisions. Very often, we wish to eat what we want and take a pill to treat the sicknesses we get from our eating. Overeat with the wrong things, too fast, too late at night, but that's ok, take a heartburn drug and feel fine. Eat tons of sweets and don't exercise, gain weight, and take a pill for diabetes, and another for blood pressure, and another for cholesterol.

Now, ok, sometimes these diseases occur also in people who eat right, control their weight, and exercise regularly. And they take medication. I'm not talking about them. And I know first-hand how hard it is to control weight and exercise consistently and to resist the left-over desserts from the big lunch meeting at the office. This isn't about judging anyone. It's about a propensity in our society to expect medication to cure the ills we create for ourselves.

I have been watching the news on what's been happening regarding Obamacare and the Supreme Court, and I have to say, a lot of people are talking about unnecessary drains on our health resources. On the one hand, as Wesley Smith points out, making everyone pay for everyone's health insurance means making healthy people resent those who actually use health resources and who got us into this mess, with lots of finger pointing as to who is a health parasite. On the other hand, our health system is inundated with avoidable diseases and their treatments. As Dr. McCoy will say in a few hundred years, "I can do more for you if you just eat right and exercise regularly."

My own cholesterol was well over 300 a few years back. What did I do? I exercised a lot -- did a lot of walking, used an elliptical machine a few days a week, lifted weights, took up fencing. I also cut WAY back on my carb intake, without restricting proteins and fats. I lost a little weight, mostly intra-abdominal fat (the bad kind). The subcutaneous protective padding to this day obscures my 6-pack abs, however. I also took supplements (fish oil, niacin, and red yeast rice, the latter having similar effects as statin drugs but much milder). My cholesterol went to 205. I slacked off and it went back up a bit, but it's back down again. My blood pressure is fine. My blood sugar is fine.

This is the way to fix our health system: For everyone to not need it as much as possible. Health care begins with people caring for themselves. Our dietary and other lifestyle choices are bioethical issues.

So back to Sleeper. I think the exchange above goes on to talk about how good cigarettes are for your health. That's not likely to pan out. But I think my favorite part was where Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are in the cave and find a 1970s VW Beetle fairly well preserved. They climb in and Allen turns the key and it starts right up. "Man, they really built these things," he said. Loved the original Beetle.

Is choice of car a bioethical issue? I dunno. Everything we choose to do reveals us to others and forms us as the kind of person to do that sort of thing. I drive a 13 year old Volvo station wagon. Geesh. I'm getting a Mustang in 2014 if I can afford it. (50th anniversary year for you non-pony fans.)

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