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When Bad Food Goes Good 

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It's not easy being good these days, especially when it comes to food. One day the staffs of life — coffee, chocolate and wine — are evil; the next day they're health foods. Packages proclaim their contents "heart healthy," "trans-fat-free" and "Lowers cholesterol when used in conjunction with an exercise program, a diet of no fats and Lipitor" — all the words after cholesterol being in tiny print, of course. Heck, even ketchup bottles brag that the stuff is full of lycopene. Whatever that is. I guess it means you can eat all the french fries you want without feeling guilty. Well, as long as you use plenty of ketchup. And calcium-enriched decaf fair-trade shade-grown salt.

Now comes the really good news — pi¤a coladas, daiquiris, mai tais and other fruity drinks are good for you, and not just because the little umbrellas they stick in them keep the sun off your nose if you hold them at the right angle and aren't concerned about why all those people are laughing at you. Don't worry, you won't be the one looking like a prune when you're 60. No, it turns out that drinks containing ethanol — the alcohol found in rum, vodka, tequila and other liquors — boost the antioxidant nutrients in strawberries and blackberries. There hasn't been news this good since the producers of "Manimal" refused to let the show be released on DVD.

According to a report in the "Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture" (motto: "Trying to keep the two things marginally related"), scientists at Kasetsart University in Thailand and the U.S. Department of Agriculture accidentally discovered this while experimenting at Tony's Tiki Lounge and Tchotchke Barn. Just kidding. Actually the Tchotchke Barn was bought by Google a few weeks ago. The truth is they were looking for ways to help keep strawberries fresh during storage and found that treating them with alcohol — the berries, not the scientists — increased the antioxidant capacity and free-radical activity. And you thought they just tasted good.

Antioxidants, for those who think they have something to do with the cleaning power of new Tide, are molecules that slow or prevent the oxidation of other chemicals, in particular free radicals. Free radicals, meanwhile, aren't uncaptured members of al-Qaida, but rather chemicals that attack molecules by capturing electrons and damaging cells, much like a game of molecular tag, only instead of it being your self-esteem that's destroyed when you lose, it's your life that can be destroyed.

This discovery is great news, ranking right alongside the revelation that Cheetos are dairy; potato chips count as a vegetable; CornNuts can be considered both a vegetable and a nut; and there's still no reason anyone would want to voluntarily eat soy crisps or rice cakes, which is why the USDA classifies them as useless.

This will all probably be documented in Food Pyramid 2.0, the upgrade that should be coming soon. You see, the USDA likes to mess with the Food Pyramid from time to time. The last change was in 2005 when, after four years and $2.4 million, it managed to convert a confusing food pyramid into a useless and incomprehensible one. To put this into perspective, the department spent $600,000 per year, $400,000 per food group, or enough money to buy 892,193 containers of soy milk and still have plenty left over to convince the public that it's both a vegetable and a dairy product.

The Food Pyramid, for those of you who've been too busy sucking the cream out of your Twinkies to pay attention, is like the good old four food groups bulked up on steroids. Before there were four groups, there were seven. Prior to that there were 12. In 1916 there were five, and a long, long time ago there was just one — pond scum. Luckily we've progressed in our eating habits since then. Well, except for vegans.

The current food groups are grains, vegetables, fruits, milk, oils, and meat and beans. The problem is, you'd never know it from looking at the new pyramid. That's because it's made up of a pyramid split into six vertical rainbow-colored bands with a stylized image of a person climbing a staircase. No words, no cute icons for the food groups, and no mention of the fact that it appears to be sending the message that if you want to be healthy, you should be gay and use a StairMaster.

Interestingly, frog juice doesn't appear anywhere in the Food Pyramid. This may account for why the Food Pyramid isn't very popular in the Andes of Peru, while frog juice is. This delicious beverage is made by killing the frog, peeling the skin off, then throwing it in a blender along with white bean broth, honey, raw aloe vera plant, and some maca, a local root. They say it cures asthma, bronchitis, low energy and a lagging sex drive. It's probably also a great diet aid because just thinking about it has killed my appetite. For the next week.

The answer to our healthy eating dilemma is moderation — eat and drink anything you want but be moderate in reading news articles that include the words food, healthy, free radicals, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants or President Bush. The last is important to remember because, face it, part of a healthy lifestyle is keeping your blood pressure down. And if all else fails, go for a few strawberry daiquiris. After all, they're a health food now. S

Mad Dog, whose mother calls him Barry Gottlieb, is a former Richmonder who lives and writes in San Francisco. Contact him at md@maddogproductions.com or read more of his columns at www.maddogproductions.com.

© 2007 Barry H. Gottlieb All Rights Reserved.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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