Where’s the worst place to be if you’re trying to faithfully follow a low-carb diet in hopes of shedding a few pounds? Any American airport, basically. Airport concourses are probably the most carbohydrate-rich environment on Earth. You can’t navigate your roller bag even a few feet without encountering a Dunkin Donuts or a Pinkberry or something similar, and virtually every food option is served on a bun with a side of fries.
If you’re lucky, you might find something suitable in one of those “to-go” shops connected to restaurants, or in the refrigerated stands in a concourse. The other day I was in Salt Lake City, half-heartedly looked at the options offered in one of those places, and found a small packet of just prosciutto and cheese slices that was perfect for my stand-at-the-gate dinner. I felt like a prospector who found a few nuggets of gold in his pan.
Recently I ran across an interesting article dealing with governmental diet instructions. It noted that much of the nutrition advice that Americans have received from their government over recent decades has turned out to be dead wrong — and in fact may have contributed to the obesity epidemic that you see whenever you go out in public.
The article focuses on the national dietary guidelines released in 1980 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the forerunner to the current Department of Health and Human Services. The guidelines targeted fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol as villainous substances to be avoided and drummed into American heads that low-cholesterol, low-fat foods were better for your heart and your health generally. As a result, the article posits, food manufacturers started churning out “low-fat” and low-calorie offerings that Americans bought, thinking they were eating healthy.
But the government’s conclusions about our eating habits and their effect on health turned out to be erroneous. Research has determined that fat and cholesterol are not, in fact, harmful, and the “low-fat,” high in carbohydrates foods that Americans have been munching on may instead have helped to produce vast problems with obesity and diabetes — problems that did not exist in 1980, when the government report that triggered it all was released. One British cardiologist contends: “The change in dietary advice to promote low-fat foods is perhaps the biggest mistake in modern medical history.” And other results have indicated that diets that go in the opposite direction from the government’s instruction, with dieters looking to eat meats and eggs and limit carbs instead, are effective in reducing weight.
How did the government turn out to be so wrong? Some researchers believe that it was because, back in the ’60s, sugar industry lobbyists funded dubious research that linked fat and cholesterol to heart disease and downplayed the adverse health effects of sugar and carbohydrates. With the nudging from the lobbyists, the government bought the sketchy results, issued its report, and started the country on the road to flabbiness. In short, politics helped to put us on the wrong dietary road.
If you’ve lived long enough, you begin to reach a critical mass of alarming governmental declarations that have turned out to be wrong. It’s one of the reasons why the credibility of our governmental institutions among the American public has dropped to an all-time low. The conclusion that modern America’s obesity epidemic is a self-inflicted problem caused in part by really bad governmental advice isn’t going to help.
Last night I had one of those vivid dreams where every element and action seems to be etched in exceptional clarity. It was so realistic that I woke up feeling guilty and shaken about my dreamland activities.
In the dream, I was eating a gigantic, heaping bowl of Froot Loops. I was relishing each sweet, crunchy mouthful of the multicolored morsels, but was wracked with regret at the same time. I recognized with horror that, on a low-carb diet, a colossal serving of Froot Loops and milk was absolutely verboten. And yet, confronted with a bowlful of diet-destroying deliciousness, my dream self could not resist temptation and dug in anyway.
So, I’ve reached the point where my anxiety dreams no longer are about the young me being chased by monsters, or the teenage me being exposed to terrible humiliation, or the young adult me forgetting about a crucial law school test until the very day of the exam. Now my subconscious has exposed a new vein of concerns that, having lost some weight, I’ll promptly backslide and end up right back where I started.
It’s kind of pathetic that Froot Loops would be my forbidden fruit, but I think my subconscious got this one right. Ever since my grandparents took UJ and me to Battle Creek, Michigan for a tour of the Kellogg’s factory that ended with a Froot Loops sundae, I’ve been a fan of Toucan Sam. We haven’t had a box of any breakfast cereal — much less Froot Loops or, even worse, Frosted Flakes — in our house since I started a low-carb regimen in August precisely because I don’t think I can trust myself around it.
I have to say, though — that big bowl of Froot Loops sure looked good.
The Friendly Doc Next Door, who knows I’ve been following a low-carb regimen, sent along an email that he received from the American Medical Association this week. It was a news summary called AMA Morning Rounds, and the lead story was about a new study that showed that low-carb diets are better than low-fat diets for reducing the risk of heart disease.
Whoo-hoo! I win! Of course, not really. What this new study really tells us is that there is an awful lot we don’t know — but we don’t really want to acknowledge that fact. For decades doctors were confidently telling patients that the low-fat diet was the way to go, and the patients accepted that. Now a new study says something different. What’s a dutiful patient supposed to do?
I like the low-carb approach because it’s easy to remember when mealtime comes and I like meat and cheeses, anyway. I feel like it’s working for me. But I also can see that people who don’t really like eating meat will groan if low-carb now becomes the new low-fat and is prescribed for everyone who wants to lose weight.
My guess is that there are many ways to lose weight, provided you reduce your intake and make sure you get exercise. What this latest study really tells us is that confident conclusions about health — like the decades of focus on low-fat diets — are often wrong. That is useful information to remember.
I’m trying to stick to an eating regimen where I avoid bread, noodles, and starches like potatoes. I can do it for dinner, because Kish has been good about preparing low-carb options for the evening meal. The real challenge is lunch — where sandwiches rule the day and french fries are the side dish for an overwhelming number of options.
Today Dr. Science, the Purple Raider and I went out to lunch, and trying to figure out a venue that would work took some time. We settled on Skillet, a really good local sourcing eatery on the edge of German Village. There I ordered their farmstead cheese omelet with two kinds of cheese, covered in Green Edge Garden sunflower sprouts. I added a little hot sauce — homemade by Skillet, of course — and the result was quite good. The omelet was light but cheesy, and the sprouts added a nice crunch. I ate it all, and left satisfied and happy that I stuck to my limitations.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t look longingly at the Purple Raider’s toasted cheese sandwich and tomato bisque (which included bread, of course) and Dr. Science’s smoked pork and apple hash (with fingerling potatoes mixed in), both of which looked extremely tasty. Just because I’m restricting my intact doesn’t mean I’ve lost my taste buds.