I sat across from my friend Mickey the other day at our favorite brewpub and watched him politely order a double cheeseburger from the waitress.
“I thought you were trying to eat healthier,” I said. He’s lost eight pounds since January.
“I am,” he replied. “Haven’t you heard? Cholesterol is back. The USDA said in February, and I quote, ‘Cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.’ ”
I remembered something from the news. “Animal fat isn’t only cholesterol. The food pyramid says go easy on red meat.”
“Food pyramid?” Incredulous, Mickey flashed his you-dummy grin. “The pyramid’s gone. Now it’s a dinner plate with little compartments so the lima beans don’t get friendly with the peaches.”
“Bummer.” I’d built an entire lifestyle around that pyramid.
Mickey leaned in on his elbows. “I’ve done my homework.”
“I bet you have.” He’d go to the ends of the earth to justify a life decision, however boneheaded.
“I was a kid when they announced cholesterol was unhealthy. No more steaks and burgers? I thought my dad was going to cry. Then he found out he could give up eggs and live a long life. Easy peasy, since he never liked eggs. Can’t beat that, self-improvement without changing anything.”
“That’s how I felt about the food pyramid when it showed up,” I said, wistful. “All of a sudden, I got permission from the government to eat six to eleven servings of pasta every day.”
Mickey leaned back and smiled, all-knowing. “And then disaster – carbohydrates became taboo.”
“Red meat also. That was a grim year.”
“Tell me about it!” Mickey said. “So somebody figured we needed a different food pyramid. They called it My Pyramid, and included a little dude climbing a flight of stairs. If you squinted at the food graphic, you could make out something like your pasta, but they labeled it grains and added a slogan: make half your grains whole.”
“But not clever enough. They pitched My Pyramid after only six years, replaced by My Plate.” Mickey produced a pen, drew a circle on a napkin and sliced it vertically and horizontally with crosshairs. “Couldn’t be easier. Four quadrants — fruits, proteins, veggies and grains. I’m holding out for My Sphere so we can eat everything again.” He chuckled and studied his drawing. “Oh, and I almost forgot. Off by the side is this other little circle for dairy. It looks to me like an aerial shot of a milkshake.”
“Isn’t that the problem?” I spun his sketch around. “Leaves a lot to the imagination. Where’s pasta?”
“Dunno. Veggies or grains, maybe. They color-code the official version. I love it. Veggies are green like iceberg lettuce, fruit is pink like watermelon, grains are amber like Fat Tire. Proteins are purple.”
Mickey scrunched up his nose in disgust until the waitress lowered a plate of French fries stacked beside a grease-shined burger bun.
I frowned. “You telling me those fries count for veggies?”
“Maybe they cooked them in canola oil, the good stuff.”
“Ask the waitress.”
Mickey chomped down on his burger, chewed and swallowed before answering. “When I’m done.”
Readers unwilling to trust my friend’s nutritional advice should visit www.ChooseMyPlate.com and Google “USDA cholesterol.”