Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Confessions of a new food nazi

My family recently had an eye-opening experience which has led to my becoming a convert to a form of totalitarianism: I’m a food nazi, now. At least, that’s what one of my family members has called me, of late.

What happened was, somebody near and very dear to me had a sudden and severe bout of dizziness and a sense of having had far too much to drink. As this occurred to somebody who has had all of one alcoholic beverage since childhood, we all took it to be a very bad thing, and this person was rushed to the hospital.

It is an act we recommend heartily. Sudden or increasing light-headedness is nothing to take lightly. For all we knew -- for all anybody knew -- what was happening was a stroke. It was time for this one to have her head examined.

Fortunately for all of us, the tests showed no signs of a stroke. What further tests did show, however, was a potassium deficiency.

Now, it had never occurred to me that a little drop in a body’s mineral content could have so dramatic an effect. Sure, I knew about diabetes, I knew that swings in sugar and its processors can make a person get tipsy or comatose, but what does that have to do with the rising price of tea in China? You can have a safe level of blood sugars and still pass out -- or pass on -- from some other imbalance.

But more of a surprise than that this sort of thing can happen to anybody was the surprise I got when I started trying to research the causes and recommended treatments for this problem. There is a whole lot of conflicting information out there.

I must have dug up two or three dozen different websites on the topic of potassium deficiencies, and half supported the use of little potassium tablets, while the other half said the pills were either ineffective or dangerous. Half the diet sites listed recommended foods and recipes the other half said were wrong.

Finally, I started digging deeper into the histories and agendas of each of the websites I had found. You’d be amazed how many were promoting their own lines of products!

It’s funny, I used to take what I read by people with M.D. or Ph.D. after their names as the final word on any given topic. They are the high priests, the ultimate authority in the field, are they not? But when the well-being of a loved one is at stake, my instinct is for extreme skepticism. I simply can not rush out to buy the latest big thing by the latest big brain. I need to sit and study all the options, see more results, examine the motives and motivations of the players... in short, I’m learning to use my analytical skills for a real, immediate purpose.

When I was in school, nobody told me I’d need to think for myself in this fashion. You know how it is -- they train you to trust the authority on a given subject... and while you’re at it, simply trust their authority on who’s an authority. Certainly Al Gore must know what he’s talking about, in the hyperbolic An Inconvenient Truth. So many experts agree with him, especially the ones with no actual experience studying climatology or comparative extraterrestrial environments. So, too, must we take the word of some fellow who has published in some highly touted magazine of health and/or diet. Leave the critical thinking to the experts, you’re not smart enough to figure it out for yourself.

But I am smart enough, and I am figuring it out for myself. Most people really are, if they’re willing to give it a try. And, (I’m not simply bragging, here)partly as a result of my willingness to do my homework, the much-loved one is on the road to a full, rapid recovery, with the help of friends and family and the bullying of somebody who spent an indecent amount of time studying what foods, and how prepared, are best for increasing a body’s potassium without adding fat, sugar or sodium. And if we don’t like the meal -- we’ll figure out another recipe, but we won’t quit watching what we eat. I won’t let it happen again.

I am, after all, a food nazi.

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