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DROP DEAD CULINARY

Eating poorly ends up costing more in health

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See Laura Wilson's demonstrations at bit.ly/DropDeadCulinary.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013 - 12:09 pm

Q.: I am a student in college, and the food at school that is cheap is really fattening, but the healthy food is expensive. I tend to eat the bad stuff to save money and am gaining weight.

A.: Fresh fruits and vegetables are more expensive than packaged food that can stay on the shelf longer than you will be alive; it is true. They must be refrigerated, which takes space and electricity. They must be bought every couple of days, which takes shopping, or with businesses, a delivery comprising of a truck, gas, and a human to carry it. They spoil and must be thrown out. And if you want organic, you already know how pricey that is!

Consider this — those chips you buy will last decades. Do you really want to put that in your body?

Many Americans use the excuse that fast food is cheaper and so it is more affordable. They are on a budget or they have a low income.

In France, for instance, people spend 33 percent of their disposable income buying food. We spend about 5 percent. We are fatter. It is the same in most countries, as well. So in the long run, eating poorly is going to cost you way more in bad health. We really know this but chose to ignore it.

I am not proposing we spend 33 percent of our income on food, but we should spend at least some more to get better food. As a student, yes, your funds are limited. But they never seem too limited on Thirsty Thursdays or when you are dying for spring break. Keep what is really important in perspective.

I know from experience, once you put those pounds on, it gets harder to take them off as you age. Any doctor will tell you don't let those pounds creep on, and then they really get you with what horrors those processed foods do to your arteries.

On a happier note, there are “healthier” fast foods than others. Qdoba is one of these. They use better chicken and fresher ingredients. Do a little research on your computer and you will find ways to make anywhere you eat with your friends as healthy as you can.

At breakfast, get fat-free unsweetened Greek yogurt, then sweeten it with a little orange juice, or cut up an apple and put it in the yogurt. Use your inner foodie to figure out ways to make the food more palatable and healthier. Think carefully, but don't get weird about it. No one wants to eat next to the “food Nazi.” You know the one. The person who tells you everything you are about to put in your mouth is unhealthy. Or the person who talks the whole meal about how much he has worked out, his body fat ratio and what he eats all the time, yet seems to be sick all the time. Nothing makes me want to stuff a box of Twinkies — sorry, am I bringing a tear to your eye with that word? — down my throat faster than that guy.

If you are at work, the cafeteria is probably stocked by one of a couple of companies I can think of. (Please remember that every cake, muffin, etc you eat is not homemade as it was in the olden days, but comes from a packaged mix, filled with preservatives. They may actually come prepared and the cafeteria just warms them, as in the case of Starbucks.

The same goes for the bakery at the grocery. Years ago, the grocery did its own baking, but now there are companies that can provide mixes cheaper than paying staff to make it homemade.) Pretend it is your kitchen and be creative with what is there.

When I had my knees replaced, the hospital had just signed with a new food purveyor. They were so proud, yet I was not loving it the same way. After a few days, I realized that the chicken breast was fresh, but the salad with grilled chicken was made with those awful pressed chicken breasts. So, being a smart little foodie, I ordered the regular chicken, pulled it apart, spread it over my salad, hoarded the lemons from tea, had my husband bring a little extra-virgin olive oil from home and viola! — a pretty great salad.

Q.: I heard that eating bee pollen is good for your allergies.

A.: I sure would not want to shake the pollen off those little furry legs, right next to those sharp little stingers! At some health food stores, you can buy bee pollen. Ronald Reagan used to eat it to help his allergies.

I have to wonder if companies are using pollen actually gathered by bees, hence the name bee pollen, or are just gathering pollen off plants, because once those buzzing guys get that pollen into the hive, they turn it around pretty quickly into bee baby food and honey. You would have to be in their space every day to gather bee pollen, and they would probably die.

Now that I am a super expert on the honeybee, since I have had my hive a total of one month, I will say that I have read several books, listened to bee webinars and feel that someone ought to write a book called “What to Expect When you're Expecting your First Hive.” The life of bees is very organized and interesting. Eating local honey is a great way to cut down on your allergies.

I think the jury is out on consuming pure pollen, but it is not dangerous, so if you want to try it, go for it. I know some places sells “Bee Facial,” which they say is taken from the venom in the stingers. Really? Do you believe that? I sure don't! (They say it is good because when you get stung, you swell up at the site, so putting the venom on your face will make it fuller and more youthful.) But there is no way to harvest the venom of millions of tiny bees without breaking some law. They are endangered anyway, for gosh sake!

Last year, the U.S. lost about 33 percent of its hives. No one is sure why, because we have had harsher winters than 2012. Bees are delicate. Some countries in Europe — Holland for one — are putting a two-year moratorium on pesticides that kill bees. I hope one day the U.S. will do that as well.

Bees are not only good locally for the flora, but big beekeepers actually truck thousands of hives to California and other states to pollinate the almond trees, grapevines and other large crops. Pretty groovy, huh? So when you open your Pinot Noir tonight, thank a honeybee.

Laura Wilson, owner of La Dolce Vita in Roanoke, is a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef. She answers questions in The News-Sentinel every other Tuesday. Have a question for Laura? Submit it to clarson@news-sentinel.com or call 461-8284. We'll pass on questions to Laura. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.