It all started because my morning newspaper was missing. Either my local carrier had screwed up or a passerby had “borrowed” it. People may not subscribe to newspapers much these days, but I've noticed they still like to pick one up from my driveway every so often (especially after a major sporting event; hell, you can have the damned sports page—just leave me the rest of the paper).
The absence of a newspaper at breakfast is a major crisis. Sure, there are heaps of magazines all over the place, but a newspaper is what I want. In its absence, I absentmindedly started perusing the cereal box. That's how I discovered that General Mills was promising me that I could lower my cholesterol: “You can lower your cholesterol 4% in 6 weeks.”
This concerned me. In fact, I was in a near panic. Could this be true? If so, I must be doomed! It's a simple matter of doing the math. If six weeks suffices to lower one's cholesterol by four percent, then what prodigies might be accomplished by a more lengthy regimen? I did the math:
I have been eating Cheerios for over fifty years, give or take a few months to account for irresponsible (but short-lived) dalliances with Frosted Flakes, Sugar Smacks, and Kellogg's Corn Flakes. Every time, though, I returned to my one true love. In round numbers, fifty years contains over 400 six-week periods. At the end of each six-week period, General Mills says one's cholesterol drops to 96% of what it once was. With 400 applications of this factor, we obtain
(0.96)400 = 8.1 × 10−8.
In other words, my cholesterol is down to approximately a twelve-millionth of what it once was, back when I was a chubby-cheeked youngster. How can my body even function under such impoverished circumstances? That's how I know I must be doomed. Surely General Mills would not lie to me!
But then I remembered that my doctor would certainly have commented on such an usual cholesterol level during my routine lab tests, which occur annually. My physician is not entirely delighted with my sedentary lifestyle, but he's always been quite complimentary about my exceedingly good cholesterol numbers. I told him it must be the luck of the genetic draw. High cholesterol has never been a family trait. We metabolize it well.
I went back to the cereal box and read the fine print: “A clinical study showed that eating two 1½ cups servings daily of Cheerios cereal reduced bad cholesterol when eaten as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol.” Ah, yes—“as part of a diet”—the old escape clause.
Perhaps I'll read the cereal box's back panel again on Sunday, as a reminder, when my weekday breakfast of cold cereal is usually supplanted by a three-egg omelet containing two kinds of cheese, ham, olives, and avocado. That should keep me safe from wasting away to nothing.