Healthy fast food

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

January 2009

Most of what Stone-Agers ate was fast food and the healthiest kinds are still available to us today: fruits, berries, vegetables, nuts and raw shellfish. Some of their high-protein dishes would not go down well with most of us even if they were cooked since they included worms, grubs, and fertilized (of course!) eggs.

Today's fast food consists mostly of burgers, fries and soft drinks. Convenience comes with a price, as anyone who has seen the movie Supersize Me is uncomfortably aware. The hero of that film — and it did take some courage to survive for a month exclusively on McDonald's fare — became ill by the third day. His body chemistry was in need of major repair by the end of the ordeal. We hope that his film royalties will more than make up for the damage to his arteries.

Somewhere between the hunter-gatherer and the Wendy's/Burger King/Arby's/McDonald's lifestyles there are some healthy meals that don't take much time or effort, and not much clean-up. You can even enjoy them on the job, provided that the employee lounge has a freezer and a microwave oven.

I share most males' food preparation phobia; making a healthy sandwich pushes the envelope. What is there that takes less than 5 minutes to prepare, avoids lots of starch and fat, and doesn't leave a mess behind?

Half of the answer comes in the form of frozen mixed vegetables. Just spill a portion of the contents of the bag into a microwave-safe dish and cook for about 2 ½ minutes.

Available in several varieties, they are high in the best carbohydrate. That means unrefined, with a healthy content of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. A few brands include butter and oils but most do not. Considering that fewer than 20 percent of American adults (and even fewer children) eat the recommended 10 servings a day of fruits and vegetables, adding this to your meal routine is a big step.

The three most commonly consumed vegetables are tomatoes, lettuce and potatoes, the last usually stripped, salted and soaked in not-so-healthy fat. Frozen veggie packs contain none of these but they do include cancer-fighting crucifers such as broccoli and cauliflower. They rarely include Brussels sprouts, which should be an encouragement to most people.

Frozen vegetables usually maintain more of their vitamin content and antioxidants than those that are canned and even more than "fresh" produce, which is often several days distant from the farm.

Healthy, low-fat protein is the other component. My preference is canned salmon, tuna or chicken but most supermarkets stock strips or chunks of cooked chicken and turkey in re-closable bags. Flaked salmon and tuna now come in easy-to-store packets. Add as much as you like to the cooked vegetables. There is no need to re-heat.

There is such an abundance of variety among all these ingredients that these meals don't get boring.

And even guys can do it.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.