Diets and dieting have been around forever. I started this series with a story about William Banting, a retired London undertaker who in 1863 published a pamphlet, “Letter on Corpulence,” after following a diet his doctor had heard about while attending a medical conference in Paris. Banting lost 50 pounds on the diet. It is not recorded if he gained it back.
These days, every few years we hear about a new diet that has caught the public’s imagination. Why is that? The answer seems to be that, for most people, we may lose weight on a temporary basis, but usually we gain is back before too long. So, we continue to look for “a diet that will work for us.”
A few years ago there was a flurry of interest in the Blood Type Diet, a “nutrigenomic” program based on your blood type (obviously) but that was also based on your ethnic-geographic origins and therefore presumably your ancestor’s primordial dietary. Other still-popular diets include the Mediterranean Diet and the South Beach Diet. However, it is the contrast between the establishment’s low-fat diet and the alternative low-carb diet that is of special interest to me.
Diets and dieting, of course, are for those who are overweight, obese or even morbidly obese. These days that includes about fifty percent of the US population. The incidence of morbidity as it relates to Type 2 diabetes and the lesser recognized Metabolic Syndrome is also increasing at an alarming rate. Associated co-morbidities include hypertension (high-blood pressure) and CVD (cardio-vascular disease). Other Diseases of Civilization, including Alzheimer’s dementia, many cancers and numerous lesser known diseases are also frequently associated and are increasing dramatically.
Paradoxically, at a time of plenty in the food supply for most of the developed world, especially the US, the relatively “poorer” classes demographically are fatter as a population than the economically “better off.” Although some of that can be attributed to poor education about food choices, it seems to me that it is simply the economics of the food choice dilemma that is causative. The less expensive foods (carbohydrates) are more fattening; the more expensive foods (protein and fat) are, well, more expensive. Sadly, the choice is simply, what can I afford to buy for my family?
Thus, the poor get fat because they can’t afford to “eat healthy.” Hence the recommendation in the latest “Dietary Guidelines” to eat a vegan diet to get your protein and fat from less expensive plant sources: “beans and peas, nuts and seeds,” as well as “fortified soy beverages.” It’s a clever device to promote both a meat-free diet and the vegan agenda. Our government has been snookered and swallowed it whole. They want you to as well, especially if you’re in the “poorer” demographic. That’s what Public Health does: prescribe a regimen for all that will accrue a benefit to a few. For my take on the “Dietary Guidelines,” see installment #14 archived at http://danbrown-thenutritiondebate.blogspot.com.
But not everyone today is overweight and obese. Some of my readers, especially those who haven’t developed the damaged glucose regulatory mechanism about which Gary Taubes hypothesizes, will ask, “How have I managed to avoid getting fat?” Are these folks so precisely attuned to their metabolism that they eat exactly the amount of food their body requires, not a calorie more? Or do they attribute their metabolic balance to the amount of exercise they do, increasing the amount each year as they age? Or do they “eat right?” If you think it is the latter, I think you’re right.
If you need to lose weight, and keep it off, you would be well advised to change what you eat permanently, for life, (double entendre intended). If you are not overweight, you may already “eat right,” but would benefit from avoiding foods that may harm you in ways other than making you fat. The Diseases of Civilization, attributed to the Western Diet, are frequently independent of a tendency toward overweight. They are multifarious, and more are being identified by association and/or by causative agent in the literature with each issue of almost every medical journal. A search on any disorder will produce a vast amount of (often conflicting) research attempting to attribute association or even causality.
This suggests to me it is time for everyone to assess their own diet and consider what makes sense for them. I personally have “an interest in eating,” as the publisher wryly noted in an early introduction to this column. But I also have a special interest in eating well, both for my pleasure and for my health. I have lost a great deal of weight by adopting a Way of Eating that works for me. More importantly, my health is much better by all the metrics that my doctor uses: my lipid panel is now “to die for” (oops!) and my blood sugar is now under control, practically without meds. I have the fasting blood glucose and HbA1c of a non-diabetic! I feel great and am never hungry. My diet is very high fat, moderate protein and very low carbs. Your mileage may vary, but gradually eating fewer calories from carbohydrates is a good start.
© Dan Brown 4/3/11