When Bad Food Goes Good

Life's become way too complicated. Not only do you have to choose which of the movies at the new 48-multiplex you'd rather fall asleep during, stare at the Prevue Guide so long waiting for all the channels to scroll by that you fall into a trance and never get to see an actual show, and try to decide which lame imitation of pizza you want to have delivered, but somehow you have to figure out which foods are safe to eat today and which ones aren't.It used to be simple -- you just ate whatever you wanted. Sure, you might end up overweight, undernourished, or in need of having Roto-Rooter come clean out your arteries, but at least you were happy. Then doctors and scientists got into the act. They methodically set up studies, analyzed the data, and before you knew it they accomplished what they set out to do -- take all the fun out of eating.The list of what's bad for you goes on and on: coffee, butter, fried food, fat, sugar, red meat, and anything that tastes real good. After you finish clearing your refrigerator of the offenders all you'll have left is a head of wilted lettuce, some half-eaten pickles, a bottle of Evian, and something in the back that you can't identify because of the furry green mold growing on it but you keep it anyway because it's still bound to be better for you than that other junk.These same scientists, trying not to be total cocktail party poopers, next sat down and decided that there are foods which are actually good for you. You know, things like oat bran, rice cakes, olive oil, any fish that has less mercury in it than a thermometer, red wine, and Hostess Snowballs, especially the holiday ones that come in bright green and red.Mind you, these weren't real scientists that made these discoveries, these were scientists who run around wearing lab coats poking, prodding, and eating long expense account lunches while getting big weekly pay checks from the food companies. Real scientists, on the other hand, run around wearing lab coats poking, prodding, and eating long expense account lunches too, but they get their big weekly pay checks from cushy government grants.The reason the food companies got behind all this research is that they're civic minded and have your best interests at heart. Right, and you go to Hooters for the chicken wings too. No, the real reason they did this is so they could put labels on products that say salt is "100 percent Fat Free!" and Oreo O's cereal "May not promote heart disease as much as a Crisco, bacon, and mayonnaise sandwich" in order to fool you into buying the products instead of something that's good for you. And, coincidentally, doesn't help pay their salary.Then things started to get real confusing. First they said eggs were good for you. Then they decided they were bad for your cholesterol and you shouldn't eat many of them. Now they claim they're not as bad as they thought, but only if you're a male over the age of 20 who graduated high school without cutting a finger off in shop class and scrambles them on the second Sunday of any month that ends in 'e'. Hell, even Santeria spells aren't this complicated.Now, however, we have word of the best discovery yet: chocolate may be the Fountain of Youth. This is true, at least according to scientists at Harvard University's School of Public Health (motto: "You'll listen to us if you know what's good for you."). After studying 7,841 male graduates they found that those who ate chocolate and candy lived almost a year longer than those who didn't. Of course, what they neglected to say was that they also had more cavities, more pimples, and more spare tires hanging over their belts, but the important point is they had an extra year in which to enjoy it all.Apparently it took as little as three chocolate bars a month to cause this increase in lifespan, which is pretty good when you figure you have to take a vitamin every day just to help the drug companies stay in business. Don't be surprised if you walk into the store any day now and see Hershey's bars with a banner across them reading: "A Bar a Day Keeps the Grim Reaper Away."As if that isn't enough good news to hold us until the Y2K bug sends us back to the ice age and only those who hoarded pencils with erasers survive, now it turns out that ketchup may help reduce your chance of getting cancer. This information comes to you courtesy of Heinz, the company which sells 48 percent of the ketchup in the world and is launching a public-minded ad campaign to promote the health benefits of ketchup.It seems that aside from tomato concentrate made from red ripe tomatoes, distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, salt, onion powder, spice, and natural flavoring, ketchup also contains lycopene, an antioxidant that not only causes the red color in tomatoes but also protects the body from free radicals. Contrary to what you might think, free radicals aren't the Mideast terrorists who blew up Pan Am flight 103, but rather sneaky little molecules that attack our DNA with teeny tiny bombs that somehow get through the body's security checkpoint system, proving that what our bodies really need are x-ray machines with sleepy guards at the helm. The fact that ketchup sales have been flat and salsa has become the number one condiment in the United States has nothing to do with this campaign. Okay, maybe a little. But since salsa is also made with lycopene-filled tomatoes, don't be surprised to see Taco Bell get into the act with a new ad campaign urging you to "Run for the border with a reduced risk of getting cancer."So the next time you're out having lunch and dumping ketchup on your carcinogenically grilled hamburger, nitrate-filled hot dog, and fat-soaked French fries, take heart in the fact that you're helping your body fight off cancer. Then go eat your month's supply of three candy bars and pat your stuffed stomach, safe in the knowledge that you're doing your bit to prolong your life. Staying healthy has never been so tasty.

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