Thursday, April 29, 2010

Food Nazis?

When low-carbers begin following the low-carb lifestyle, they start to feel free. Free of the hunger that forces them to eat every few hours even though they are morbidly obese. Free of enslavement to particular foods that they have never been able to resist. And after a while, free of many, many pounds of fat that they have been hauling around everywhere, all the time.

Low-carbing is an odd way to eat, but the freedom makes it worth the trouble of figuring out a new way to shop and a new way to eat out in restaurants. There are many low-carb bulletin boards and blogs for support. There is more and more scientific evidence demonstrating the superiority of low-carbing in the control of diabetes and heart disease and its efficacy in weight loss as well. The recent appearance of the paleolithic approach to low-carbing has given a common-sense aspect to the low-carb lifestyle. When observers object to low-carb food choices, low-carbers can point out that this is the way humans have eaten for millennia. It's only recently that humans began to eat lots of refined carbohydrates, and with that change in diet, perhaps not coincidentally, humans also began to experience the diseases of Western civilization.

So far, so good. But as I look back on my recent blogposts and those of other bloggers, I have started to notice a more rigid, regimented (shall we say Nazi-like?) aspect to the world of low-carbing. Some examples:
  • It's good to eat fat, but be sure the fat has the right omega-3 to omega-6 ratio.
  • It's good to eat nonstarchy vegetables, but remember that broccoli has goitrogens and tomatoes are nightshades. And wheat, even whole wheat, contains many compounds that can damage the human digestive tract.
  • It's good to eat meat, but it should be grass fed, not grain fed.
  • It's good to eat eggs and chicken, but they need to be free range.
  • It's good to eat seafood, but watch out for the mercury.
  • It's good to avoid sugar, but it's better to avoid artificial sweeteners as well.
The list could go on and on.

In the last couple of days I've noticed one low-carber who seems to be on the edge of dropping out because of the difficulty of following all the extra rules all at once. Another works 60 hours a week and is not sure he has the time required to be sure all his food meets the higher standards for healthy low-carb eating. A third concern is that, although low-carb foods tend to cost more than the Standard American Diet, the more strict versions of low-carbing become prohibitively expensive for people on a limited budget.

Low-carbing is literally a lifesaver for people who are on their way to diabetes, heart disease, and morbid obesity. Some people have additional health issues, and it is fine to refine the low-carb lifestyle to help address those needs.

However, it's important for low-carbers to remember that we don't need to sacrifice the good for the sake of the perfect. For those who are new to the low-carb lifestyle, or for those who don't have the concentration, the time or the money to pursue all the ins and outs of healthy eating, can I make a plea for mercy?

Let's not become low-carb food Nazis. Low-carbing is a gift. Please let people enjoy the freedom it provides. If they want to add additional aspects to it, fine. If not, we can rejoice that they are at least doing something that will significantly improve the quality of their lives. With that knowledge, we can follow our own set of dietary rules while giving other low-carbers the freedom to choose what additional modifications they will or will not follow.


Anne H said...

Yay for the Free World of LoCarb!
People do tend to carry their regimented habits with them, even into the LoCarb arena.

primaljourney said...

Awesome post!!

Unknown said...

Wonderful post! I get so tired of people criticizing every bite you put into your mouth. It is not easy for some of us to find organic food and many cannot afford it. I think that fact that we are eating REAL food and not processed junk should be congratulated.

Anonymous said...

not sure what tomatoes being nightshades has to do with it?? Could you explain?
I agree about wheat though, its actually thought to cause schizophrenia in some people!!!

Stargazey said...

Thanks, anne h, dollface and Ladyred56!

Nancy, some people feel that, for them, eating plants like tomatoes and potatoes may cause symptoms like joint pain or digestive upset. Others eat plants from the nightshade family with no problems. While it's good to be aware of the possibility of nightshade-related reactions, my point was that it should not be necessary to advise all low-carbers to avoid the nightshades. They can evaluate and decide that issue for themselves.

Unknown said...

I have known ex-smokers, recovering alcoholics, etc. who became the most radical anti-whatever in the population. In the world of low carb, it is not just the choice to low carb, but building an individual eating style that fits within the challenge of the individual. Each of us has something we can eat that other low carbers would never put in their mouth, yet the carbohydrate count is substantially lower than the average diet, each individual is healthier than most of their combined acquaintances.

The food Nazi’s would enjoy watching the low carb community destroy itself. The internal low carb Nazi should not discourage even one person from beginning the adventure toward better health.

Thank you for reminding each of us that the low carb life style is as individual as a snow flake and just as fragile.

Stargazey said...

Well said, stormycatalyst. Thank you.

DHG said...

I really appreciate this post and intend to show it to a few of my relatives who have begun to throw up their hands in frustration. I've also been recommending that they read (or reread) Life Without Bread or Dr. Bernstein's books if they're diabetic. Many people can improve their health without needing to be so restrictive. I've found that misery and deprivation doesn't necessarily equal success.

Asclepius said...

You are definitely on to something here. I have noted it myself - the Balkanisation of paleo/LC. The whole 'movement' is turning on itself in places.

I much prefer to give people the nitrition basics 1) Eat animal - including organ meat (preferably not factory farmed) and, 2) Eat seasonal vegtables, 3) Eat until full and throw in one or two 24hr fasts each week.

These guidelines aren't definitive, but the way I see it, it drops them in to paleo ground-zero. From there, individuals should be able to play around with the concept and experiment with dairy, grass fed/organic, out of season fruit they see fit.

David Isaak said...

Yes indeed!

And I find that an increasing number of low-carbers are becoming anti-exercise and anti-fiber. Now, the role of both of these things in weight loss and health may have been exaggerated, but that doesn't mean they are evil.

I'm also a little disturbed at the Paleo paradigm. Estimates of what our ancestors actually ate are all over the board, but some people have settled on a limted set of studies and then treat them as if they are religious revelations.

For example, a friend of mine went low-carb, and the principal proteins in his diet were wheat gluten (seitan) and dairy (yogurt, cheese, etc.) He lost plenty of weight, and seems to be bursting with health, but there is no shortage of Paleo-believers who want to make it clear that what he is doing is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Anonymous said...

As I never get tired of pointing out, metabolic syndrome is healthier than fascism. And everyone gets to go to hell in their own handbasket. I prefer Kurt Harris' approach, which focuses on human metabolism in an evolutionary context rather than "paleo reenactment". Another phrase to remember: "Every little bit helps."

LeonRover said...

Hi Stargazey

Just now checking thro' many of the posts.

There is an old Chinese(?) saying:

The BEST is the enemy of the GOOD.


80/20 rule: if you've 80% benefit from a $20 outlay you do NOT need to spend another $80 for the marginal 20% benefit.

Y'all take care, now.