March 8, 2013

Deli Dilemma

I scan a few science blogs most mornings. What can I say? I'm just trying to keep up. Anyway one of the lead articles in Science Daily reported on a big study in Europe that looked at the health affects of eating processed meats. Their conclusion? "Anyone who eats over 40 grams a day of sausage products or other kinds of processed meat is asking for trouble: the risk of mortality increases by 18 percent for every 50 grams of processed meat per day." Uh-oh. Houston, we could have a problem.

I eat a ham and turkey sandwich most days at work. Of course, I had no clue how much 40 grams was in ounces. I'm of a generation that never took the metric system to heart. What little I know, I learned in the military. But we were more interested in distances and munitions than luncheon meats.

So I opened up a metric converter on my browser and punched in 40 grams, which ends up being 1.4 ounces and change. Next question: how many ounces are in that slice or two of ham I put in my sandwich each day? Hmm, let's see. I buy a half a pound or 8 ounces. There's anywhere from ten to fifteen slices in a half pound, depending on who's doing the slicing. A pint's a pound the world around. Shit!

Anyway, after tying my brain in knots trying to do the math, I concluded that I was safely below the threshold of lethality. That said, the study, which was conducted in ten European countries and involved almost half a million people, did have some interesting conclusions.

What they seemed to be saying is that people eating a lot of processed meat products generally had the diet lowest in fruits and vegetables and they also tended to be smokers, and well, maybe they drank too much on top of that. Well hell, you put all that together and sure, you're asking for trouble. As we used to say when I was working in food safety, "There is no such thing as bad food, just bad diets."

This study seems to confirm that point. One bad dietary choice often leads to another. I'm not saying anything, but a couple of days ago I was at the deli loading up on sliced ham and turkey. There were four other people waiting along with me. To be charitable, let's just say that I was the only person there with a body/mass index anywhere close to being in the same zip code as a healthy level. Yes, Virginia, you are what you eat.

There was some positive news buried in the report. Meat is a source of important vitamins, especially B vitamins, and minerals such as iron. "Therefore, the moderate consumption of up to 40 grams a day doesn't increase the mortality risk." Phew! I'd hate to have to find something else as simple to prepare as a sandwich when I eat at work. Honestly, I'll stack up my ham and turkey sandwich on homemade wheat bread against anything you have to microwave.

This story brought to mind an incident from my year in Vietnam. Mail and packages from home were always a highlight. My mother would often send me cookies and other food items, none of which traveled well under the gentle ministrations of the military postal service, not to mention sitting around a week or two in the tropical heat.

This combination took an especially heavy toll on a roll of salami my mother sent me. When her package arrived, I eagerly opened it, only to find this semi-melted salami. The heat had pretty much emulsified the fat, leaving kind of a mess. I decided now was a good time to be a hero, so I offered it to everyone in the hooch. Problem solved. I never did have the heart to tell mother what happened to the salami. Some things are best left buried in the past.

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