Death by 1,000 bites
I first learned about killer foods on the Fourth of July in our backyard as I sweated over a sun-soaked grill cooking hot dogs and hamburgers for hungry party guests.
“You know that charring on the hot dogs causes cancer, right?” asked a helpful attendee, smiling as he twisted his verbal knife.
“No, I didn’t know that,” I said, parsing my words as carefully as James Comey, just in case some of the guests were recording my response for their class-action lawsuit.
He yammered on, explaining in detail about how a chemical reaction during the grilling process somehow turned a normal hot dog into a deadly tube of poison. Or something like that.
I have to be honest here: My consumption of grilled hot dogs and hamburgers diminished decisively as I pondered whether any hot dog (even an all-beef one hand-fed in its formative years by Nolan Ryan) was worth expediting my personal expiration date.
Eventually, I concluded that if eating an occasional charred hot dog was going to shorten my life by 15 minutes, I would accept that penalty.
And over time, that decision has led me to pull out my calculator any time I consider consuming one of the many foods on the “death” list.
Diet soda, for example: A new study determined it accelerates dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. I learned this only after consuming literal tanker-trucks full of Diet Dr Pepper over the years, so what to do? Was I so far gone already that continuing to slurp diet drinks was inconsequential to my future? Or like quitting smoking, would my body attempt to heal itself if I gave it better hydration?
One or two diet sodas a week, I figured, probably wouldn’t cause much more damage.
Burgers: I don’t eat that many, anymore, and if the meat stays away from the grill, maybe each patty only knocks 10 minutes from my life. Adding cheese, though — that’s another 10-minute subtraction, since my doctor says I’m one of those people who absorbs cholesterol from the atmosphere.
Same with cheesecake and key-lime pie — who knew each slice bursting with cholesterol and calories is probably costing me 30 minutes of life?
I started eating quinoa before I knew how to pronounce it because I heard it was good for us; I’m hoping every helping adds 10 minutes to my life.
I mentally weigh the pluses and minuses of substituting tater tots for french fries (minus 15 minutes) at every opportunity, and I’ve concluded that skinny fries are less deadly than the fat ones (skinny fries have less surface area to absorb grease) but that tater tots are probably 10 minutes more deadly still because their tasty protective batter seems even more absorbent.
Add in some milk (five minutes of fat), orange juice (10 minutes of brain shrinkage), red meat (20-30 minutes less life, depending on the cut), as well as the occasional salad (20 minutes to the good), fruit (I can’t decide if the sugar negatively outweighs the antioxidants) and the occasional alcoholic beverage (five minutes of good blood-thinning versus 10 minutes of worthless calories).
Time for a tally, I guess: One hotdog (-10), two beers (-10), a double-order of tater tots (-50 minutes) and some cheesecake (-30), and a meal I can consume in about 20 minutes may be shortening my life by 100 minutes.
Multiply that by 52, assuming I only step out of line once a week, and it turns out I’m only hastening my demise by about four days a year.
By my calculations, I can live with that.
Rick Wamre is president of Advocate Media. Let him know how we are doing by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.