Monday, August 19, 2013

Food Gives Life and Food Takes It Away

Perhaps the most undeniable fact about life is that food is needed to sustain it. Although some may argue what form that food may take, there can be no doubt that carbon based higher functioning organisms can not function without protein, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, water and air. At the same time, perhaps the most inscrutable fact that people do seem to struggle with accepting is the role that food plays in ending life.

I was at a wedding yesterday. Like most weddings, it was a replete with an avalanche of things to eat. The choices seemed endless. There was all types of appetizers including caviar and lamb chops, choices of entrees from Filet Mignon to sea bass, and unlimited desserts including wedding cake, pretzels, ice pops, sliders (yup more meat), and a variety of other delicacies.

When faced with such a plethora of choices, it really is hard to remember that food plays such a profound role in our health. It is easy to rationalize that one little dessert will not make a difference; that a few more hot-dogs or a 16 ounce piece of steak can't possibly do much harm. All one must do is look around as others similarly gorge themselves on the enticing cuisine in order to throw caution to the wind and dive in. Boy, was I tempted. It's lonesome being the one who is constantly calculating in my head what I already ate and what makes sense to still eat. My wife will tell you that it doesn't make for polite company if I share such concerns in public.

"For G-d's sake," my wife would say, "we are at a wedding." She's right. I know that the hosts paid a lot of money to make sure that their guests are fully sated. It's not the time or place to point out poor food choices and potential dietary mishaps; rather, it's a time of celebration and enjoyment. But still I glance around watching both friends, neighbors and total strangers indulge themselves with apparently not the slightest regard for the consequences to their health.  As if asked at a wedding ceremony "if anyone objects," I want to scream out that I do. I want to leap to their defense, the defense of their long term health and longevity.  But I hold back.

I know their struggles. After policing myself exceptionally well for most of the affair, I finally succumbed to consume a miniature soft-baked salted pretzel. My fallible will-power proved the old adage that when it comes to food, "will-power will fail you." Ever cognizant of my folly, I sprang to my feet to quickly work off my error (no, the pretzel will not in and of itself kill me, but the momentary pleasure really wasn't worth it) by dancing relentlessy with highly flailing movements, the type of frenetic activity that prompted more than one observer to ask my wife what I had been drinking. (For the curious among you, there was no alcohol, just club soda with a splash of cranberry.)

Nevertheless, even as I burned calories, I wondered about it all. What's a man to do who some may say is burdened with the knowledge of what happens when we eat too much or constantly eat the wrong foods. When is the right time and place to share such knowledge? Most it be solicited or can one offer insights without any prompts?

Last year, I was sitting on a bench outside a restaurant waiting for an associate in a less than desirable neighborhood when a rather obese young man, who appeared to be from the neighborhood, sat next to me. His girth was clearly unhealthy and I was challenged to refrain myself from sharing my thoughts. Fearing for my safety, I remained silent but saddened that maybe I could help. When a similar opportunity presented itself six months later when I found myself at a bus stop in New Orleans standing next to a teenager smoking a cigarette, I showed no such restraint and shared some thoughts. Did it make a difference? He seemed to be listening, perhaps from the mere shock that a total stranger would even address him on the topic. I honestly cannot say what benefit he received, but it was the right thing to do.

Although my family and friends may be weary of my constant musings about food and its affect on their health, I am on a crusade from which I will not be easily dissuaded.  If you share my passion for making the world healthier, please let me know. It's always nice to know that what I am trying to do matters to you. Either way, please remember that just as the right food in the right amount gives life, the wrong food also takes it away.

On that point, let me share a final anecdote. I was at a birthday celebration a few months ago, when I was seated next to an uncle of the host family. My friend introduced me to his uncle as someone who specialized in helping people live longer.

When they served chopped liver, the uncle jokingly turned to me to ask if eating the chopped liver would kill him. I shrugged my shoulders, but responded, "I know it won't help" and left it at that. He proceeded to eat the chopped liver; he died a few hours later. Heavy fat meals are known to constrict blood vessels by as much as twenty-six percent within six hours of a meal. Enough said. Food gives life and food takes it away.


  1. Dr. Charlap, as always I gained perspective from reading your blog. The one thing that stuck me the most was "Heavy fat meals are known to constrict blood vessels by as much as twenty-six percent within six hours of a meal." Thank you for your commitment to keeping it real!

  2. Dr. Charlap,
    I am grateful to have found your practice, along with now being a grateful food addict in recovery. Please keep sharing. It matters! Without having my eyes opened about using food as more than sustenance being potentially deadly,who knows where I might have been. Many thanks.

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