Saturday, November 17, 2007

not an excess, but an absence

Gary Taubes was on Quirks & Quarks today, hawking his new book. It's all about how the conventional diet wisdome of "fat is bad" is not so much rooted in science as it is in politics, and how exercising doesn't really help you lose weight, nothing you know is true, blah blah blah.

I listened, I read the Science article and the New York Times article and then I went and read some criticism, which basically amounted to "but he didn't include this and that study". There were a couple of things that pretty much everyone seemed to agree on though:

- vegetables and fruits are good for you
- refined carbohydrates are bad for you

One thing that Taubes did say at some point was epidemiologically and historically, heart disease rates by country vary more by availability of year-round fresh produce than by fat intake or anything else. And he made the very good point that American culture is still caught up in some Puritanical ideas, such that we can't conceive of any other paradigm than if we're suffering, it must be because we are susceptible to one or more of the deadly sins. In this case, it'd be sloth (lack of exercise) and gluttony (too much food). Taubes says that just ain't so, and the problem might be more along the lines of too much of our food is sugar (snuck in, for the most part, into packaged and processed foods, much of it in the form of high-fructose corn syrup), and we don't eat enough vegetables. But more importantly, the whole "what's a healthy diet" is just a far, far FAR more complex question than we're willing to admit, and there probably isn't a one-size-fits-all answer.

This, combined with a recent study showing that organics really are better, makes me even more convinced that the "traditional foods" route is the way to go. All TF says is, if you couldn't grow it, then make it from the raw ingredients with the equipment you have in your kitchen (or could have, if your kitchen currently consists of a microwave and a sink) don't eat it. Pretty simple, but it rules out white flour, any refined sugar, white rice, artificial sweeteners, etc. It also rules out industrially grown vegetables, grains, and animal products - because I don't see anyone sane applying RoundUp to their back yards or keeping chickens stacked in boxes. So organic veggies, naturally raised animal products, minimal processing on everything. TF also plays pretty nicely with the local eating thing, too.

TF can be high-fat. It doesn't have to be extremely high-fat, you can adjust the balance between meat, grains and vegetables to suit yourself. But most TF authorities like to point out that the fat of meats raised naturally is quite different than industrially-raised animals, with a far better omega 6:3 ratio, and fat actually contains a whole lotta vitamins. Vitamins A & D, for example, in their most useable forms, occur ONLY in animal flesh, primarily in fats.

This is getting rambly and I think I've lost the point, so I'll end here. By all means listen to Gary Taubes - it's interesting, and I think it's immensely valuable for the scientific process for people like him to come and do reality checks every once in a while. I don't agree with everything he says - the whole exercise thing, for one - but it probably needs to be said. I did, however, find it funny, that in the whole discussion of diet and exercise and weight loss, the phrases "will power" and "hard work" were never used. I think Gary Taubes is still trapped in the American paradigm that there IS, somewhere, some magic formula that will let people get to normal weight without any pain, suffering, hardship, or annoyance. And that is just not the case. As he said "exercise makes you hungry". Um, yeah. And then, you just don't eat. It's called "will". Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don't. But like a muscle, it gets better the more you use it.

For the record, I've lost about 5 lbs. Nothing special, I made it to the gym 3 times this week and I'm eating smaller portions.


Blogger Rachel said...

I was given a "food" called a ding-dong this week. Apparently it is an American delicacy made of puffed sawdust, filled with white gooey stuff and with a chocolate wax coating. Somewhat reminicent of the waggon wheel. I suspect it wasn't a traditional food.

6:00 PM  
Blogger Susan said...

i would say th only magic formula of getting to normal weight is not to go past it in the first place. which is a little late for us poor slobs in middle age, but consider the potential for our children to grow up trusting their bodies' own signals of hunger and need to burn off energy with exercise.

won't SOMEBODY think of the CHILDREN?

ok enuff with the simpsons references. seriously though, we may have to work our tushies off with hard work and annoyance but what of a child raised to eat naturally in tune with their bodies instead of forced to eat everything on their (oversized) plate and shackled to a school desk!!

9:01 PM  
Blogger Mama Monica said...

thank you for your blog!
i was raised on traditional foods, i didn't understand.
when i was growing up i felt like my parent's were "mean" for never wanting to go out to eat or even ordered in. i just couln't understand,
when i moved out at 19 i ate in every restaurant in the city. and i still couldn't understand. tho very very fat and depressed.
then i got married and had children HELLO SLAP IN THE FACE... now this was my awakening! it just changed my whole life my whole way of thinking and being.
just think that i'd still be drinking from plastics and zapping my pizza pops in the microwave still in the wrapper BLAAH
anyhoo i think more people need to wake up and stop letting gerber and chef boyarde and like you said EEEVIL kraft ot feed and nourish our children.

6:13 PM  

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