Like many people falling headlong into their 50s, I have occasionally glanced down at the landscape where my abs used to be and seriously wondered whether middle-aged spread = prematurely dead. I started exercising (a lot) and watching my diet (a little), but those last few pounds -- five? 10? -- linger on, a subconscious, subcutaneous reminder of my own mortality.
Imagine the spike in my insulin, then, when a book landed on my desk promising that I could "melt away flab without setting foot in a gym" (now they tell me) "or eating less" (hooray!). Not some freaky fad diet, or one of those runners' magazines full of skinny people fueling themselves with those awful gloopy gels, but the 2011 edition of the "Eat This, Not That!" guide.
For anyone unfamiliar with the concept, authors David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding reckon you can cut hundreds of unnecessary calories out of your normal diet -- and, therefore, lose weight -- simply by swapping one popular food choice for another. No, they don't lecture you to choose the salad with dressing on the side; this is dietary advice for real people who will go to McDonald's every now and then, and might care to know that choosing the Big Mac over the Angus Deluxe will save them 210 calories (enough for dessert! Oh, wait, I think I just missed the point).
So for seniors on the go, here are a few sample food swaps for breakfast, lunch and dinner, picked from a fast food joint, a restaurant and the supermarket. Of course, if your daily diet really looks like this, no food swap will save you; but if (like most human beings) you do eat out every now and then, and have the occasional convenience meal for dinner when you haven't got the time or motivation to cook your own, making these choices will save you a total of 1,350 calories -- enough to keep a certain slightly paunchy middle-aged man jogging along the Mississippi River Boulevard for miles.
Paul Duncan • 612-673-4410
Eat this: Two fried eggs with honey ham and hash browns (560 calories). The authors wrote: "A good approach to any breakfast diner: Ignore the house specialties and piece together your own meal from the a la carte menu. Focus primarily on lean proteins like eggs and ham and you'll end up with a meal that will defend you from hunger pangs until well past lunch time."
Not that: Grand Slamwich (1,320 calories). "Bacon, sausage, ham, eggs, cheese and mayo conspire to create the worst breakfast sandwich in America. Start your day with this and you'll need to wait 48 hours before consuming another gram of saturated fat [the Grand Slamwich has 42 grams of it]. And that's before you get to the hash browns that come on the side."
Eat this: Fresco Crunchy Tacos (two tacos, 460 calories). "No question about it, this meal trumps any burger-and-fries pairing in the country. Protein accounts for 20 percent of the calories and, thanks in large part to the pinto beans, it contains fully half your day's recommended fiber."
Not that: Volcano Burrito (800 calories). "Want to know the primary ingredient in this burrito's signature 'Lava Sauce'? It's soybean oil. Also on the list of offending ingredients: corn syrup, sugar, and phosphoric acid, the same chemical that gives soda its signature bite."
Eat this: Bertolli Mediterranean Style Rosemary Chicken, Linguine & Cherry Tomatoes (380 calories). "Bertolli's Mediterranean Style line relies on grilled meats and vegetables in olive-oil based sauces to build some of the leanest skillet entrees in the cooler."
Not that: Bertolli Complete Skillet Meal for Two Chicken Alfredo & Fettucine (630 calories). "The glut of oil and cream in this package is massive enough to earn this meal a much-deserved spot on our list of Worst Foods in the Supermarket."