Salt, Fat and Sugar: I’m officially overweight

I felt I had a mini stroke earlier—after close to two days of complete bed rest (I’ve been feverish the entire week), I decided to do a high intensity exercise. I managed to complete the seven-minute workout, but seconds later, my vision became blurry, I could hardly catch my breath, my heart was pounding like an earthquake, and my entire body felt numb. I got scared since it wasn’t like anything I’ve experienced before. I had to close my eyes, try to relax and ride it out (although I was on the brink of bringing myself to the hospital) but thankfully, I felt normal again.

About a month ago, results of my annual physical examination arrived in my office. I never took an APE in my life, and I wouldn’t have taken one again this year, if we weren’t forced by our company. (Supposedly, there’s a new Makati ordinance that requires all employees in the city to get one.) Early this year, I had done my best to bulk up since my goal is to weigh 180lbs or about 20lbs more than my current weight then. (I’m now about 170lbs, thanks to Chocolait and milk.)

Imagine my shock when I was diagnosed as overweight and a candidate for hypertension:

APE

Every one I’ve shared this with couldn’t believe it either: I am not fat. Even my BMI is within the normal range. Anyway, fine: I won’t contest the doctor’s assessment. Besides, what’s more alarming for me is my prehypertension.

Incidentally, I was in the middle of reading Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss. It’s about how processed food are created and why they essentially should not be eaten. Even the CEOs of these companies admitted that they don’t eat their own products because of the dangers they pose to their health!

My takeaways from that book are:

  • You can’t buy anything in the grocery, especially anything that’s packed and processed.
  • Processed cheese is the worst product you can buy. This include cheese found in sauces, chips, and other snacks.
  • Water is perhaps the only acceptable beverage you can drink.
  • McDonald’s used to sell burgers treated with ammonia, a normal industry practice, but still, no thanks. This was only stopped in 2011 in the US. I don’t know how it is here in the Philippines or with other fast food joints.

After watching Super Size Me, a documentary on the dangers of fast food restaurants, it had the opposite effect on me: the minute it ended, I called McDonald’s delivery and ordered McNuggets, lol. This time however, after having finished the book, I couldn’t bear to buy my usual grocery staples: Lay’s, Doritos, Pik-Nik, Chippy, Potato Chips, V-Cut, Ding Dong, and Magnum. Instead, I started buying merienda in our canteen (though who knows what they put in there, but at least, they aren’t processed and made with ingredients you can’t pronounce.) I haven’t been to a fast food joint in a while.

Salt Sugar Fat puts the blame on the food companies for having created enticing products either through marketing or through addicting chemical properties. I agree that they are partly responsible, but I would also agree with the food industry’s stand that it wouldn’t be churning out these unhealthy products if they were not selling. I admit it’s challenging—I’ve tried eating healthy before and I found it expensive (aside from time-consuming). There are also fewer options as far as flavor is concerned. However, I’m wiling to give it a shot again, especially after seeing my health assessment.

* * * *

prologue
“The Company Jewels”

Minneapolis was having a blustery spring evening on April 8, 1999, when a long line of town cars and taxis pulled up to the office complex on South 6th Street and discharged their well-dressed passengers. These eleven men were the heads of America’s largest food companies. Among them, they controlled seven hundred thousand employees and $280 billion in annual sales. And even before their sumptuous dinner was served, they would be charting a course for their industry for years to come.

There would be no reporters at this gathering. No minutes taken, no recordings made. Rivals any other day, the CEOs and company presidents had come together for a meeting that was as secretive as it was rare. On the agenda was one item: the emerging epidemic of obesity and how to deal with it.

Pillsbury was playing host at its corporate headquarters, two glass and steel towers perched on the eastern edge of downtown. The largest falls on the Mississippi River rumbled a few blocks away, near the historic brick and iron-roller mills that, generations before, had made this city the flour-grinding capital of the world. A noisy midwestern wind gusting to 45 miles an hour buffeted the towers as the executives boarded the elevators and made their way to the thirty-first floor.

A top official at Pillsbury, fifty-five-year-old James Behnke, greeted the men as they walked in. He was anxious but also confident about the plan that he and a few other food company executives had devised to engage the CEOs on America’s growing weight problem. “We were very concerned, and rightfully so, that obesity was becoming a major issue,” Behnke recalled. “People were starting to talk about sugar taxes, and there was a lot of pressure on food companies.” As the executives took their seats, Behnke particularly worried about how they would respond to the evening’s most delicate matter: the notion that they and their companies had played a central role in creating this health crisis. Getting the company chiefs in the same room to talk about anything, much less a sensitive issue like this, was a tricky business, so Behnke and his fellow organizers had scripted the meeting carefully, crafting a seating chart and honing the message to its barest essentials. “CEOs in the food industry are typically not technical guys, and they’re uncomfortable going to meetings where technical people talk in technical terms about technical things,” Behnke said. “They don’t want to be embarrassed. They don’t want to make commitments. They want to maintain their aloofness and autonomy.”

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