Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Bad and the Good, Part 2

I believe my propensity for sugar is a genetic trait. I take after my dad and have inherited many characteristics from his Sicilian/Italian parents. Along with our similar faces, builds, temperaments, and tempers, my grandfather, my dad, and I are the only family members who have never been overweight, despite eating and drinking whatever the heck we wanted.

And that was always, always, plenty of sugar.

I called my dad last night. He told me his current habit is to eat three doughnuts at a time, prepared in a manner he described in case I want to try it. I figure he's having sugar-glazed doughnuts from the local supermarket. I know he'd prefer chocolate frosted or, ideally, chocolate-frosted-sugar-glazed, but he isn't fussy. If I ask, I'll get a detailed answer. He might read me the ingredients on the box; he's that kind of guy.

Anyway, he says he takes his three doughnuts and divides each into eight bite-size pieces on a plate. Then, as he reads the paper for a couple of hours, he dunks each of his 24 pieces into his coffee before eating. To me, on my sugar-restricted diet, 1/8th of any old doughnut sounds marvelous. (I didn't tell him anything about my health problem. He still assumes I think nothing of eating three doughnuts at a time; indeed, as a teenager I could eat a box of chocolate-frosted Entenmann's in a day.)

His coffee is a story in itself. I always enjoy watching him prepare a cup; he uses his parents' method, and I felt they put the proper emphasis on the various components. I grew up thinking everyone drank it their way and was taken aback when I discovered no one actually did. Whenever I taste other people's coffee, I'm horrified. It is vile; there's no point in arguing with me. It just is. But my grandparents and dad figured out how to make it tolerable.

First, they never paid any attention to the coffee itself. As I said, coffee tastes awful no matter how esoteric your beans, how blonde your roast, or how fancy your coffeemaker. Coffee connoisseurship is a hipster affectation, if you ask me (and most certainly you didn't; I have my own set of affectations, and you are welcome to have yours). My dad buys any old instant coffee, the cheaper the better. It just has to dissolve into a coffee-colored, coffee-scented hot beverage. He microwaves a big mug of water and stirs in Folger's, Sanka, or whatever. Then he pours in a great deal of sweetened, condensed milk. He buys it by the case.

I just did a little research and, wow — 2 tablespoons of Eagle Condensed Milk contain 23 grams of sugar, or just about my daily allotment, according to the liver specialist. But I'd say that's maybe half the amount my dad puts in his coffee.

But the raison d'ĂȘtre of dad's coffee is the five or six teaspoons of sugar he dumps in on top of the milk. Now, these are level teaspoons, not heaping, added in rapid succession in case anyone is looking. But I calculate that each cup of dad's coffee has about 70 grams of sugar — three times the allotment I'm allowed each day. (That's the recommended allotment for all women, by the way. Men can have 36. Dammit.) That's more sugar than there is in a 20-ounce bottle of Coke.

It's a good thing I don't drink coffee, although it's supposed to be beneficial for your liver. My dad has two or three cups a day. It's his favorite beverage — and why not? He likes it with his doughnut breakfast, with his ring bologna sandwich and Tastykake* lunch, and with his Dinty Moore canned stew or Hungry Man frozen dinner. He will have a glass of (whole) milk and a bowl of ice cream, and probably a piece of cake or pie before he goes to bed. Did I mention he also drinks a lot of cheap, generic cola? And he loves candy.

I'm going home later this month and look forward to secretly calculating my dad's sugar intake to compare it with mine. I can't tell him, though; he'll roar with derisive laughter if he finds out I am counting sugar grams.

If you imagined I began lecturing my dad on the evils of sugar after I learned about them from my liver specialist three months ago, you'd be wrong. I do not fear for my dad's health: He is going to turn 100 this month. He just received a lovely signed letter from President and Mrs. Obama, and even though he's a birther, he was pleased and proud to read it to me.

Despite what the nutritionists tell us, my dad has clearly done it right — for his particular body and genetic makeup, anyway. He was trim, fit, and healthy for 95 years; he only slowed down and began having balance and strength problems about five years ago, after a bad fall. He just started taking his first prescribed, daily medication — an aspirin. He went to the hospital last month because he was having problems with his feet, and the doctors gave him what they called his "100-year tune-up," since he generally refuses to have anything at all to do with doctors from one decade to the next. (All of his test results were great, although they found he has an irregular heartbeat. They said nothing about changing his diet beyond limiting salt. That went nowhere. After sugar, my dad loves salt.)

I hope I've inherited his excellent genes along with his appalling eating habits. It does seem that sugar by the bowlful is one of the secrets to his longevity... and I hope mine, too.

* TastyKakes are a staple in my family and throughout our region of Pennsylvania. My dad had to go home for lunch when he was in school 90 years ago. As he tells it, kids who lived less than a mile from the one-room schoolhouse were forbidden to bring lunches; they had to eat at home. My dad lived 9/10 of a mile away, so almost all of his lunch period was spent walking back and forth. He says my grandmother solved this problem by handing him a TastyKake and sending him right back out the door. I have some difficulty believing this, since TastyKakes aren't that big; I had them in MY school lunch every day, too, but I also ate a sandwich and maybe some fruit. He says they were a lot bigger when he was a kid. I can't argue with that. Lucky him.

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