I crave "fats and sweets." That is what the ice cream I wanted to snack on is called by the Food Guide Pyramid, a diagram the federal government has come up with to guide eaters to a more healthful diet. According to the pyramid, I should kill my craving by eating vegetables or fruits.
The food pyramid pushes folks to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. The idea is that if we fill up on such stuff instead of ice cream or chips, our innards will run smoother, our middles will be thinner and we will dance the limbo better. Something like that.
The pyramid arranges food groups in layers. You chow down on the foods at the bottom of the pyramid, like rice, bread and cereal. As you work your way up the pyramid, the food gets more exciting, but the servings get less frequent. For instance, it is OK to eat five servings of rutabaga or similarly enticing vegetables. But ice cream, as a member of the fats and oils club, is supposed to appear only a couple times a week.
The food pyramid is a difficult climb, especially for us guys. Research shows most guys are not on intimate terms with fruits and vegetables. In the presence of produce, many of us become shy.
While the average American woman eats 3.7 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, the average American guy eats a smaller amount -- three servings -- according to a 1991 telephone survey of 2,837 adults conducted by the National Cancer Institute. No one knows for sure why women eat more fruits and vegetables than men, but some researchers suspect that women worry more about their weight than men, and therefore are bigger salad eaters.
In the past two years the cancer institute and the Produce for Better Health Foundation, a group set up by the produce industry, have looked at ways to get guys to grab more fruits and vegetables.
One approach is what I call Put the Hay Where the Goats Can Get It: If you put bowls of fruit in the line of sight of hungry guys, not hidden in the bottom drawer of the fridge, the guys are likely to eat the fruit.
In a telephone conversation from Sacramento, Calif., John Segale, a spokesman for the foundation, told me about another approach. I call this one the Eat Like a Football Hero tactic. It consists of publicizing what National Football League teams feed their players during training. It turned out that football players, who are bigger than your average house, also eat more fruits and vegetables than your average male head of a household. Football players in training camps wolf down an average of six servings of fruits and vegetables a day, or double the piddlin' amount an average guy eats.
Moreover, the survey found that most of the football teams were limiting foods high in protein, like red meat, and were serving foods that were high in carbohydrates, like fruits and vegetables, pasta, bread and pancakes.
No one was claiming that football players had renounced fried chicken, thick steaks or slabs of ribs. But it appears that when these big fellas sit down at their team's training table, they get friendly with fruit. Especially bananas.
Bananas were the favorite fruit of football players, according to a survey of the trainers of 23 of the 28 NFL teams. Oranges were second, and apples finished third. Potatoes and green beans led the popularity contest in vegetables.
What I found intriguing was the list of the favorite fruits and vegetables of some of the teams. I tried to figure out if there was any connection between what the guys ate and whether their teams won.
If there was a connection, it was pretty shaky. The New York Giants, for instance, a team that eats a lot of bananas and broccoli, won 12 games and lost six. But the Washington Redskins, another team of banana and broccoli eaters, won only four games and lost 12. The Houston Oilers, who prefer bananas and corn, were favored in the playoffs to beat the Kansas City Chiefs, who eat bananas and potatoes. But the Chiefs, led by quarterback Joe Montana, defeated the Oilers. Maybe it was the spuds in the Chiefs' diet, not just the stud in the backfield.
The Dallas Cowboys, Super Bowl champs, said their favorite vegetable was green beans and their favorite fruit was melons. No other team favored melons. Which means, I guess, that if I want to eat like a champion, I'll have to dodge the fats and oils, and cuddle up to a watermelon.