Fad Diets

(This started out as a comment on the last post, but it got way too long, so I’m spinning it off into a new post.)

Well, Dave and Grandma, what I’m going to say is that I think it’s possible to become too jaded. It’s pretty understandable, looking back on what’s happened during your lives, that you’d be skeptical of pretty much anything. Practically the entire time you’ve both been alive, the food system has been defined by chaos, uncertainty, extremely unhealthy food, and extremely unhealthy people.

Before World War II, there were hardly any industrial foods that made up any significant amount of diet. Then with the wartime butter shortage, margarine got popular, and it was profitable too, and big food processors started realizing how much money they could make by turning cheap, low-quality ingredients into something technically edible. And things snowballed from there into Fruity Pebbles, Hungry Man, donuts, textured vegetable protein, and everything else that comes out of a factory. And of course a big result was that people got fat.

So suddenly there was also a huge market for solutions to that problem. Seems to me that people were still under the Jetsons “gee-whiz” spell of thinking there was an industrial solution to everything, and so the solutions that got popular all involved new processed foods. Anything low-fat, for instance, is probably from a factory. The FDA helped the chaos, because it gave the new industrial foods a big stamp of approval (being firmly partnered with the big food corporations). And one solution after another failed, because it was a whole era of wrongheadedness about the solutions, thinking that better living was surely through food chemistry. So yeah, what you two have seen is: “Eat margarine instead of saturated fats! …Wait, margarine was the problem. Okay, eat low-fat! …Wait, fat wasn’t the problem. Okay, eat low cholesterol! …What, you’re still having heart attacks? Okay, avoid, uh… eggs.” And so on. But it hasn’t always been a cyclical bunch of contradictory information like that. That only goes back to the beginning of the industrial food system… you just both have the misfortune of having been born at a time where that’s been playing out over the whole course of your lifetime.

On the other hand, I can look back on all that as just so much history, and I have the good fortune to have been born at a time when there’s a growing movement of people who want to erase all that nonsense and go back to before the whole industrial thing even started. “Whole foods” is the key here. Some people want to go back farther than others, but really, there’s not that big of a gap between those going paleo and those who cook their own sourdough. It’s a return to making stuff from scratch, and to tradition. Tradition is pretty well proven. Much better than the pretty dismal record of industrial food.

I do happen to think that pre-agricultural tradition is better proven than 1800s-era tradition, just based on the fossil record, but obviously we don’t have any cookbooks from the Paleolithic Era, so it’s easy to call the paleo stuff new and a fad when there’s not much to compare it to, and it’s also harder to know you’re cooking what would’ve been eaten back then. But you can make good guesses. The thing I like about paleo is that there’s a lot of actual study that backs it up, and it makes sense. One of the books I just read (The Perfect Health Diet) compares industrial-style nutritionists to the blind men trying to describe an elephant by feeling its parts. Paleo steps back and looks at the whole elephant and it just makes so much more sense than the back-and-forth confusion about which ingredient is the devil now and which “superfood” will save your life. Instead of looking at the latest “new study”, the paleo books I’ve looked at cite meta-analyses of all the studies that have been done on whatever issue. Instead of treating each nutrient as though it were eaten in a vacuum, it looks at the body as a whole. The way paleo and the related diets approach the study just makes so much sense and is so in keeping with proper scientific method and sensible ways to think.

And by the way, Dave, that same book ends by taking a look at the health habits of the oldest people to have lived, and one thing they all seem to have in common is that they love to cook from scratch. They weren’t eating strict paleo, but a lot of them got pretty close. There were a couple stories about people refusing to eat cake on their 110th birthday or so because they hadn’t eaten sugar for the last 80 years. You may not need to follow all the guidelines, but you don’t make it to 115 years old eating donuts and French fries.

File under: food


Anonymous

History

Well at the risk of sounding fatalistic, I don't really care. That's not really it though. I see it more along the lines of John MacArthur; ie, it's a spiritual problem manifesting itself in the western world's obsession with anything that lengthens your life. Can you lengthen life by ten years? Perhaps. The never ending chase for the 'correct' formula for living life is a futile one.

Dave

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Anonymous

History

The length of life is only one aspect of living. One's personal take on quality of life is, in my opinion, much more important. A long miserable life without anti Paleo foods would indeed be long and miserable. My father ate anything he wanted, including lard and he lived a long life on his terms. And that's the point, live life on your own terms and let others do the same.

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Anonymous

History

I would much rather live an imperfect life and die younger–who needs to be very old, anyway. Old age is tough, and highly overrated.

So I'll eat my occasional doughnut, drink my glass of wine, stay addicted to sweets, and die happy but younger. It's no one's business but my own.
But if it makes your life better to go paleo, I support you 100% and will cook paleo for you whenever you are here. I love learning new cooking styles, anyway.

If you come to Crow Duck, though, bring your own paleo things so we don't have another experience of running out of paleo foods.

Grandma

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Chuck

History

Wine's paleo, and lard is extremely paleo. Most versions of paleo also allow for occasional cheat foods, the idea being that so long as you're generally adhering, you can go ahead and live it up now and then with minimal ill effects. Mostly, though, people report that it doesn't feel nearly as much like a deprivation as you might think, because you actually end up feeling freed of a lot of foods that tend to make you hungrier or awaken bad cravings. Sweets make you want more sweets, but if you don't eat any, you end up not even thinking about them.

But I see what you're saying, and everyone's got to find their own balance between healthy eating and what-I-really-want eating. For me, since I like to cook and since I think healthy food tastes awesome, I'm sliding it over far to the healthy end. I think most people could slide it that way too with a lot less inconvenience than they imagine, but I can't make that decision, and I can't determine what anyone else's quality of life really is for them.

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Anonymous

History

Processed foods happened like everything else – because people are always looking to get ahead of the competition and make money so they can stay alive, and it's a constant battle in an economy that is always competitive and usually increasingly so. Watch as people scramble to make the bucks off the paleo diet too.

Doughnuts, or the equivalent, have been around for a long time, including before the industrial revolution.

If I don't eat any sweets, I DO think about them. It's too late for me. If you don't eat anything at all, you DO feel hungry, and you do have to eat something.

I know a woman who gave up sugar for quite a while, and she never lost a pound. Your body converts other foods into sugar anyway. It just takes a little longer to digest them, so maybe you don't feel as hungry as quickly afterwards.

And I fully agree that common sense should rule.

Irene

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Chuck

History

For what it's worth, paleo also aims to take out those other foods that your body converts into sugar, like potatoes and bread.

There are people making money off paleo, but they're mostly pretty benign. They're selling information (books where they comb the scientific journals so you don't have to), and in the worst cases supplements (to replace, they argue, the nutrients that would be in our vegetables and meat if we were still able to get them from the wild). There are some companies selling paleo snacks but they're still tiny mail-order things. Paleo is more about cooking for yourself than most other diets, so it's not too well suited to commercialization.

And I'm sure you're aware, but not eating sugar isn't the same as not eating anything. There's actually been research that's found that, of the three macronutrients in the human diet (fat, protein, carbs), carbs are the only one where there's no necessary minimum intake. You can thrive indefinitely on zero carbs (or as close to zero as practically possible), and people do.

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Chuck

History

You're right, I shouldn't underestimate people's ability to commercialize stuff. But it does have an undercurrent of independence to it that I don't see in diets like low-fat or even vegan. (Vegans cook their own food plenty, but they're also, in my experience, suckers for vegan baked goods.) I feel like that's likely to stick around and make commercializing the diet somewhat tougher even if it does get popular enough for it to be worthwhile.

It's sort of like pot, actually. Everyone gets pot from their local supplier or grower or whoever because you can't get it commercially. Except now you can in some places, but the existing dealers are still doing plenty of business, not just the weed shops. It's still connected to the rebel spirit, even if the connection might weaken.

Far be it from me to contradict anything you know about gout after living with someone who had it, but I am going to copy in what I found in that same Perfect Health Diet book about it:

“The first step in fructose detoxification is its conversion to fructose-1-phosphate. The phosphate is drawn from the energy molecule ATP (adenosine triphosphate), creating a shortage of phosphate and excess of adenosine. The adenosine is disposed of by conversion to uric acid, which is released to the blood. High levels of fructose consumption beget high levels of uric acid.

“This is problematic because humans, along with dogs and apes, are the only species lacking the enzyme uricase, which breaks down uric acid. High fructose intake therefore leads to an accumulation of uric acid crystals in the joints, causing intense pain, a condition called gout. People with impaired fructose metabolism get gout at a high rate.”

I have no idea if that process sounds familiar, and perhaps there are other pathways for gout to develop.

Inuits, incidentally, traditionally ate basically nothing but red meat and fish, though no red wine, and they had negligible rates of chronic diseases like gout and cancer and such.

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Anonymous

History

I'm going back to my genetically pre-programmed diet. The German diet. Red meat, sausage, a smattering of vinegary vegetables, and beer! It's proven and probably close to being Paleo.

I'm fighting back! We live in a world where trashing liberty and the constitution are celebrated but littering brands you a pariah. So grab some brats, sauerkraut, beer, and leave a big mess behind ;-)

Dave

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Anonymous

History

I suspect it's more what you ate as a growing child and adolescent that determines your dietary needs than what your distant ancestors ate regularly, however healthy. Just don't ask me to eat Schwartzsour, however you spell it.

I still maintain that it's true what my dietician friends said, which was that for the best health, "eat a variety of foods." That was their best advice.

Irene

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Anonymous

History

Schwartzsauer is our family heritage. Cooked blood and dumplings. My mom made this nasty stuff once in a while and she actually liked it. It was black and stinky and I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole. Then or today, for that matter. I once asked one of my students who was from Germany (exchange student) if she'd heard of it and she had not. Apparently they're in the 21st century in Germany, too. Ha. Grandma

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Anonymous

History

I'd eat it! Wimps!

[URL=http://s1263.photobucket.com/user/dtroxel10/media/imagejpg1-15.jpg.html][IMG]http://i1263.photobucket.com/albums/ii633/dtroxel10/imagejpg1-15.jpg[/IMG][/URL]
Dave

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Anonymous

History

Let's see what sounds good today. Fried cinnamon rolls and eggs for breakfast, Bacon, lettuce and tomato on toasted whole wheat bread, with a side of tater salad for lunch and chicken fried round steak, mashed potatoes and whole milk gravy, with green Beas for dinner. Screw it, I'm 77 and will do what I want. I call it living.

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Anonymous

History

All of that but the green Beas, please. Are they jealous or seasick?
Mom didn't make the schwartzsauer herself, she got it from the butcher. He used to make it every now and then and he'd tell her about it so she could buy some. He was a real butcher in a real 'butcher shop' and you sure don't see that around any more. Mom's family ate it on the farm, apparently, but I don't know who made it for them. She used to tell how embarrassed they were one night when somebody important, like the minister, showed up just as they were finishing off dinner and their mouths were all black.
I might be willing to try it now, I'm a little less fastidious than I was. What put me off was that black color, which was visibly contrasted against those big white dumplings, as much as the vinegary smell and the liquid consistency.
Irene

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