I want to expand a bit on the passing reference I made the other day to people taking food too seriously.
A lot of bloggers I read are trying to reduce carbs in their diet. Some have discussed the merits of the Paleolithic diet, which is supposed to replicate the food humans ate before the advent of agriculture. The reasoning is that humans have not physically adapted away from that diet, and that newer food such as grains, refined sugars, dairy, and processed oils are not digested or metabolized easily (or in some cases, properly), causing all manner of health problems. “Good” foods include meat, vegetables, fruit, roots, and nuts.
The paleo diet happens to be a very low carb diet, compared with the FDA recommended diet – you know, the old Food Pyramid, with grains being the foundation. (I can’t link to the FDA’s web site about the Food Pyramid – it seems to be down…hmmmmm.)
My position on the paleo diet is that it is a fad based on anti-man premises. The idea that man might not yet have adapted to grains and dairy is an intriguing hypothesis, but the champions of the paleo diet (not the bloggers I read, I want to emphasize) do not act as if this is something to be studied. They act morally righteous about their eating habits and seem to be on a quest to condemn particular foods because they are man made. I’ve done enough reading to convince me that there is no evidence or reason to follow the paleo diet, as such. The promoters of the diet lose all credibility with me when they start claiming that every single health problem can be solved by changing one’s diet.
However, I also believe, based on first-hand experience, observations of the eating habits in our culture, and a little bit of science, that there is a “grain” of truth in the paleo diet, in that that the Standard American Diet (the Food Pyramid) is way out of whack. I’ll just talk about my personal experience here. I have read much more about this subject than this post might indicate, but a lot less than some of the people I’m criticizing. I don’t think you need to judge every study about food to use common sense and to catch on to the fact that we still really don’t know much about proper diet.
To me, grains are not “real food.” First of all, they have almost no flavor. I’ve never understood why people love rice, bread, cereal, and pasta. Even pastries leave me cold. I’ll eat these things, but only as carriers for something that has flavor and substance. Bread is great for holding meat and mayonnaise, but the less of it, the better. Sweet, sugary deserts are nice sometimes, but again, I never used to crave them and I don’t think of them as real food. (I use the past tense because under my husband’s influence I’ve been eating more chocolate and sweets, and the more I eat them, the more I crave them.)
When I first started cooking (instead of eating frozen dinners or soup for almost every meal) I made a lot of pasta. I like making sauces, and it was an easy way to get started: add some meat, vegetables, and sauce to a bunch of pasta. Cooking steaks or fish was intimidating. Even though I had always been thin to normal weight and I was exercising, I gained a lot of weight on this diet.
I also seem to be sensitive to blood-sugar dips. My father calls it being hypoglycemic, but I’m not sure if that is really accurate. What I do know is that if I eat carbs with no protein, especially in the morning, I crash within an hour or so. I start to shake and sometimes come close to blacking out. I can go much longer eating nothing at all that eating something like a bagel first thing in the morning.
It takes effort to reduce the grains and carbs in your diet, especially at breakfast. We all were told to stop eating bacon and eggs because of cholesterol (which I think is a huge mistake) and told to eat cereal with skim milk or a whole grain muffin. I’m sorry, but those things just have no “meat” in them – they do nothing to sustain me. My body knows this. Some people don’t have the strong reaction I do to eating pure carbs, but I suspect they suffer in the long-term for it.
So I’m making a conscious effort to reduce carbs and add protein to my family’s diet, but it’s not always easy. Most convenience food is based on grains. If you want to make a quick, easy dinner, there is spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, etc., or you can order a pizza. Grains last much longer than meat and vegetables, so it’s easy to keep them handy on the shelf for emergencies. I still use these types of foods in a pinch, but I try to plan meals of meats and vegetables for most dinners, and I make enough so that we can eat some leftovers for breakfast and lunch.
But there is no way that I’m going to have steamed mussels without bread, or curry without rice. Those grains are great to sop up the yummy sauce. And that leads me to my original point, which is that I think a lot of people are way too uptight about carbs in the same way they used to be uptight about fat and cholesterol. I think moderation is the key, along with a healthy dash of skepticism about anything the government recommends. This article talks about how kids are being affected by this latest food fad. Whether you believe that “orthorexia” is a legitimate new diagnosis or not, it’s pretty easy to see that eating disorders can take many forms, one being obsession with “health” food. I think it’s a shame when adults are so consumed with eating the “right” foods that they give their kids a complex.
I also think it’s a shame to outlaw any particular food in your home, labelling it “unhealthy.” This includes cake, cookies, ice cream, and even candy. These foods are fun, and fun is good.
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