Wednesday, June 22, 2011

From Bologna to Broccoli

As a child I couldn't wait to eat my favorite food, an Oscar Mayer bologna and cheese sandwich between two pieces of WonderBread, with extra mayonnaise. I would swallow two of them whole for lunch, with a side of red juice drink. Yum! For dessert or a snack I would pick my favorite Hostess or Little Debbie and have two or three. Hamburger Helper was for dinner, and pizza flavor was the best. I was a happy camper in my pantry.

Little did I know, I was consuming things that would increase my risk of childhood obesity, diabetes mellitus (2), stroke, heart disease, and most of all, cancer. It wasn't a big deal to have a brownie for breakfast because I would soon be running it off at recess. But calories shouldn't have been my parents' concern at all; they were right with that. I was an active child, loved my trampoline, and was not a fan of video games (those were boys’ games back then). They should have been concerned with the embedded preservatives, colored dyes, and chemicals that kept the so-called food together for way too many years. Now I understand that food should spoil within a week or two, considering how it was prepared or frozen.

As I was reading The China Study on my Kindle last night, I read a study about nitrites. I learned about how these nitrogen based chemicals caused proteins to stay pretty and pink, like the infamous SPAM. This brought up my memory of loving bologna sandwiches, and their bright pink color. Next thing I did was google the ingredients, and there they were: sodium nitrates in my favorite childhood sandwich. Nitrites and nitrates form nitrosamines in the body, which are carcinogens that cause DNA damage and increased cellular degeneration. This basically increases your risk for cancer at a very high rate. Oscar Mayer bologna still has sodium nitrate in it. The cheese I ate was not even cheese; it was "American cheese food" with Yellow 5 and preservatives. Picking out a slice from the fridge, unwrapping its cute plastic folded wrapper, and eating it piece by piece was a pastime. Science has now made it a disgusting reminder of what food has turned into.

Everything I ate as a child was canned, packed, sealed, boxed, processed, or bottled. I wasn't overweight, but my body was definitely not healthy. I developed asthma around the age of ten, with no known allergies or physical disabilities. I have learned since then it was due to my diet of highly packed carcinogens that are not only positively correlated with cancer, but other diseases as well.

Through my teen years I spent late nights eating fast food and Dominoes pizza. I had no concern for healthy foods, and thought the tomato on my spicy chicken sandwich counted as my vegetable serving of the day. My fruit serving came in an iced pop that I thought had real fruit in it. High fructose corn syrup was my best friend and I didn't find any faults with it, because I did not know better. Nobody taught me that I was eating "bad" stuff. They just looked at my body, concluded I was normal size, so I must be healthy. Wrong! By the age of 15 I was lactose intolerant and had to start taking enzymes to be able to digest dairy.

Two years later I graduated high school early and went off to community college. The first class I chose was Nutrition 101. My life forever changed after that class. I learned the biology of the body, every enzyme that it needs, and what a vegetable serving truly looked like. I was obligated to memorize the systems in the body, from respiratory to digestive. My diet would never look the same again and fast food would become an enemy. I finally understood why I was fatigued, why I had asthma, and why vegetables could be a great thing. After that class, I began reforming my diet into lean poultry and fish, frozen fruit and vegetables, and a salad for lunch. I gave up all of my favorites and eventually said goodbye to high fructose corn syrup. One year later I had become a vegetarian. I already cut out dairy because my body could no longer handle the replacement enzymes, and started drinking soy milk. After a bloody incident with de-boning a chicken, I gave up poultry. I was never a big fan of fish, so I just said goodbye to meat altogether.

Since dairy and meat were already void from my daily living, I thought, "I might as well be vegan." The problem was that tofu was sincerely hard to find, and I really didn't know how to prepare it. I lived in a low socio-economic area, where most people relied on cheap processed foods to survive. A bushel of broccoli was more expensive than a bag of chips, and didn't have all those tasty flavors, so why would they reach for the green? It was a hard town to be vegan in and I couldn't wait to get out. I was only one year away from transferring to a university in Irvine, a vegetarian friendly community. So for a while I ate toast for breakfast and a variety of salads for lunch and dinner. Most people called me a health nut, crazy, and asked why I didn't eat "normal food." I tried to enlighten them with my education, but they just thought it was about animal rights. That wasn't even related to why I became a vegan. Although I loved animals with all my heart, it was about education. It was about health and avoiding disease.

Now I am 21, graduated from The University of California, Irvine, and living the life of a very healthy individual. I am no longer strictly vegan, but 100% organic. Most of my meals are centered around plant-based foods, with an occasional egg white or grilled salmon salad. I love to go on a run and come home to cook a delicious dinner. Last night I prepared a grilled red bell pepper and green zucchini salad, with a cherry tomato and cucumber side, along with grilled tofu and a sprouted tortilla with Daiya cheese on top. Now that’s what I call yummy for the taste buds and body!

My drive to healthy eating began in a very similar fashion to the author of The China Study- from childhood. We both grew up eating heart-disease inducing diets, and have switched over to plant-based ones all because of education. So if you think all vegans or health nuts are just tree-hugging, animal-loving, pot-smoking hippies, think again. Some are intellectuals who care about the environment and their health, just as much as they love eating food.  

No comments:

Post a Comment