Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Pour Some Sugar On Me: My Rant on the Low-Carb Revolution

There are some things you should know about dieting. First of all, diet means a prescribed selection of foods. It also means the usual food and drink consumed by an organism (person or animal). In Japan, it’s a legislative assembly, but that’s not the popular meaning, at least not in America. The definition includes the synonyms: starvation, regime, and abstinence. Given how our current government, or regime, reveres abstinence, and how I personally feel about starvation, I am inclined to stick to the antonyms of binge and overindulgence.

If you Google diet, the top Sponsored Links are The South Beach Diet, Ediets, and Weight Watchers, the last of which is the only one to garner long-term praise from nutritionists. If you believe that the high-protein, low-carb diet touted by South Beach and Atkins is new, it’s not. Most diets aren’t new, they are trends. William Banting, an undertaker, began his popular low-carb diet in 1863. By the time of his death in 1878, he’d sold more than 60,000 copies of his Letter on Corpulence. You can find a more complete version of Banting’s diet history, at, or on the slew of other pro low-carb diet websites out there. Just Google William Banting.

When it comes to nutrition, there are some basic building blocks that every body needs to be fit and maintain a moderate level of activity throughout the day. One of the key building blocks is the carbohydrate. Carb is the pejorative. Carbohydrates are our storage lockers of chemical energy. This is why it scares me to think about how prevalent low- or no-carb diets are these days. In the low-carb world, the most “evil” of the carbohydrates is the simple carb, otherwise known as sugar. According to Harold McGee’s brilliant book, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, “There are many different kinds of sugar molecules, each distinguished by the number of carbon atoms it contains, and then by the particular arrangement it assumes. Five-carbon sugars are especially important to all life because two of them, ribose and deoxyribose, form the backbones of ribonucleic acid (RNA) and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the carriers of genetic code. And the 6-carbon sugar glucose is the molecule from which most living things obtain the energy to run the biomechanical machinery of their cells.” Now, I am in no way suggesting that we should have a diet consisting solely, or even primarily, of simple carbohydrates, or sugar, but I am advocating them as a delicious part of our well-balanced diets, as they play a crucial role in our survival as a species. When we eat high-protein meals and concentrate on complex carbohydrates instead of their simpleton brothers, we are simply making our bodies work harder to break the food down into the simple carbohydrates we use as energy. I understand the why, all I’m saying is a warm French baguette is damn delicious and I’m going to eat it with butter proudly and NOT feel guilty about giving my body a little easy energy. I’ll even make yummy noises while eating it if you talk smack about it to me.

As I am writing this, a commercial for just came on the TV. Yes, I’m watching Ellen on daytime television, but seriously. The TV audience for Ellen is largely women, no pun intended. Should I be insulted? This commercial is the symptom of a bigger problem. We, as a country, are completely obsessed with our weight. I am guilty of it, too. Living in LA, I see women every day who seem to have perfected the art of deprivation, all to achieve our unattainable body ideal. Every magazine, every commercial, every TV show, everywhere I go I am faced with this constant barrage of ridiculously thin women coupled with weight loss soliciations. Last year, I stood in line behind a malnourished, balding woman at the grocery store. She was buying, I kid you not, ten tubs of nonfat cottage cheese and eight boxes of chocolate-flavored Ex-Lax. That’s it. I can only assume that she was trying to turn her digestive tract into a nutrition-proof Slip’n’Slide. If the black bags under her eyes and premature hair loss is any indication, this clearly isn’t the answer, no more than eliminating simple carbohydrates is either. So where’s the middle ground? What happened to the realists? Why are we all so obsessed with closing down our body’s access to good food when all we have to do is open our minds?

I vote to let a little sanity back into our lives. Accept your thighs. Celebrate your stomach. Shake your booty. Or at least try. And please eat from all the food groups. Please? Because there’s too much good food out there to be enjoyed, and it’s such a shame to think that we’re skipping so much of the good stuff, all so we can fit into an overpriced pair of jeans that no one will ever notice because they’re too busy worrying about what they look like to care. Ask yourself this: Do you remember the meals that you did eat, or the meals that you didn’t? Which would you rather remember?


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