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Week 5: Changing a lifetime of bad food choices, eating habits

February 7, 2012

I was a picky eater as child. I remember my mother making various chicken dishes and red beans and rice (since I know my mother will eventually read this, let me go on record as saying I’m sure there are plenty of other things she cooked, lest I make it seem as though I was raised by wolves) but I wouldn’t eat them. I didn’t like vegetables. I didn’t like meat. In fact, I specifically remember liking three things and eating them in rotation until I was practically in college: Cheerios, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Little Ceasar’s bread sticks. Oh, and I drank about six Cokes a day. Even at my senior prom, my date took me to his uncle’s steak restaurant in Jackson, and I had no idea how to order –– I honestly believe it was the first time I ever had steak. I would only touch chicken or fish if it was fried to a crisp. I never met a piece of bacon I didn’t like, but wanted nothing to do with my grandmother’s ham on Sundays when we went to visit.
In college, I added the traditional broke college student staple of Ramen noodles, Kraft macaroni and cheese (an entire pot in one sitting, usually) and plain noodles with butter. My torrid affair with all things loaded with carbs and drowning in butter haunts me still. Some women would give their right arm for a cheesecake or a piece of chocolate in a crisis; I, on the other hand, find myself wanting to devour loaves of garlic bread every time I get my feelings hurt.
I have always loved salt. My friend Holly McBride Alexander and I were in her car at a fast-food drive-thru once, years ago. As she handed me my bag of grease, carbs and sodium I asked her to ask the lady at the window for salt. She looked at me like I was insane, seeing as how it was practically impossible that the fries weren’t salty enough, and turned back to the woman at the drive-thru and said, “Can we get more salt? I have a deer in the car.”
Now that I’m older and realizing what years of unhealthy food choices will do to your body when your high school metabolism has flown the coop, I find myself wandering around the store, looking at the produce section like it’s an undiscovered island of new flavors. I have become unnaturally addicted to kale, as I’ve stated previously in this column, but now I find myself craving sweet potatoes, butternut squash, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, artichokes, avocados and salads. Before I make myself sound like a new woman, it is still incredibly hard to resist the urge to drown half of it in butter and salt. I’ve tried salt substitute, but so far it’s not catching on. On the good side, some of my new favorite treats are good for me too.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest has ranked sweet potatoes as number one in nutrition, which is no surprise considering they are loaded with fiber and vitamins. Sweet potatoes have more than twice the recommended dietary allowance of vitamin A, more than 40 percent of the recommended dietary allowance of vitamin C and four times the recommended dietary allowance for beta carotene. As a bonus, a sweet potato contains only about 130 calories. Can’t beat that with a stick.
Another change made at the Carnathan household is we cook with olive oil pretty much all the time now. Olive oil is great for sauteing vegetables, making homemade salad dressing and my husband loves to use it for marinades. Extra-virgin olive oil is made from the first pressing of olives, without heat, so it’s high in vitamin E and phenols, both of which are powerful antioxidants.
I recently saw a Twitter post talking about getting enough cruciferous vegetables, which begs the question, what on earth are those? Google gave me a list of veggies including broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, Kohl-rabi, cabbage, kale and bok choy. Apparently these cruciferous side-items contain phytochemicals, including sulforaphane, indole-3-carbinol and crambene, oh my! Those little crazy-sounding words help the enzymes in your body that destroy carcinogens before they can damage your cells. As an added bonus, these veggies are high in antioxidants, which help prevent oxidation and damage from free radicals. Don’t overcook them, though. One kitchen appliance I have never regretted was buying a steamer –– they’re perfect for cooking veggies without cooking all the cruciferous goodness right out of there.
Avocados are so good to me I felt sure they was no way they were healthy, but as it turns out, they’re very good for you. These fruits are high in vitamins E, C and K, potassium, oleic acid, folate, antioxidants and phytochemicals. The fat in avocados is monounsaturated, which means it lowers blood cholesterol levels. They can be used in the place of mayonnaise on sandwiches, but I usually just like to cut them in half and eat them right out of their skin with a spoon.
So yes, I still have a lot to change and learn about my eating habits, but I feel like I’m on the right track. Now if I can just learn to pass the salt, I think things will start looking up again –– with the exception of my blood pressure.

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