Lentils for breakfast- welcome

Here is your invitation to sample beautiful recipes that are good for you, good for the planet and good to eat. They mainly feature plants, because that's what I try to eat the most. I am not a fancy cook, but I believe that food is one of our greatest pleasures and deserves to be celebrated. Real food, whole food, kind food. Welcome to the feast!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

The quest for truth in 1 single nutrient

I regularly read several blogs on nutrition and weight loss by well-informed non-experts like myself. A couple of them are actually highly well-informed experts whose understanding far outstrips mine (Gary Taubes, I'm thinking about you and your bracing posts).

I'm curious about the points of view these blogs expound, and it fascinates me how divergent their views are. The great thing about blogs is that bloggers write from the heart. You don't necessarily receive a balanced perspective, but you do hear from a true believer.

My readings have led me to start musing on what I'm calling my 1 single nutrient theory. Well, it's a half-baked theory at present, but here is a start at figuring it out.

No fat, pure fructose heaven

The lipophobes
On the one hand you have the lipophobes. This means those who eschew the fat. And I don't mean avoiding full-fat dairy. I mean no added dietary fat whatsoever.

For 20 years or so, the official, government-endorsed prescription has been to avoid saturated fat and to select low-fat options, particularly dairy, where possible. Now you have to hunt with the persistence of the righteous to find full fat cottage cheese or yoghurt in the supermarket.

The greatest exponent of this view is Caldwell Esselstyn, as I have written about before. The blog I read that is devoted (DEVOTED) to his philosophy and theories is the Healthy Librarian. I love reading her, but she is a convert with a world view that seems to have narrowed in the time I've been a follower, although her sense of mission and fulfilment has undoubtedly increased.

I'll write about the fascinating Deborah later, but for now the point is that the Esselstyn model is
  • wholly plant-based
  • allows no meat or dairy at all
  • allows no added fat or oil, not even avocado or walnuts
Doesn't that sound like fun? But Deborah has finally found a diet that allays her anxieties about her health in old age. She has lost weight, her bloodwork is healthier than it's ever been, she is energetic and lively and feels wonderful. She will never go back to eating fat or oil. Ever.

Hope that green stuff sprinkled on top is carb-free

The lipophilics
These are the fat lovers. They are resolutely not 'plant-strong' as the Esselstyn brigade increasingly refer to themselves. They are meat-eaters and proud of it. Their particular beef (hahaha) is with carbs. Their position maintains that the official low-fat prescription requires a greater reliance on sugar and grains. Because of the highly complex operation of insulin in carbohydrate metabolism this has been a wholescale, if unforeseen, dietary disaster that has led to obesity and diabetes and the full panoply of suffering that accompanies them.

My favourite lipophilic is Michael Eades. I just wished he posted more often that once in a blue moon. He wrote a hugely successful title, Protein Power, in the 90s and the name says it all. He reckons that significantly beneficial changes occur in metabolism when carbohydrate consumption drops below 100 g per day.

He is Atkins old-school and I relish his contempt for vegetarians, dietitians who follow conventional practice and official guidelines and the Esselstyn brigade. He is the one from whom I have pinched the phrase 'lipophobes'.

He has met Esselstyn and makes the point that both of them are in remarkable health as a result of their eating habits - even though those habits are polar opposites.

Sugar, sugar . . . ah, honey, honey . . . you are my candy, girl

The sugar-shunners
The adherents of this school of thought are more closely aligned to the lipophilics than the lipophobes. In fact, as we have seen in Sarah Wilson, sugar-shunning is one step away from full-blown paleo syndrome.

The sugar-shunners have always been with us, at least since a book called Pure, White and Deadly in the 70s, but the movement has gained new force recently in Australia with David Gillespie and his successful title Sweet Poison.

He is an ex-lawyer, so he has little credibility in the professional dietary community here, but he has some high-profile admirers, such as Sarah. His essential position turns on fructose metabolism. He outlines several mechanisms by which the body cannot metabolise fructose, concluding that 'Every gram of the fructose we eat is directly converted to fat.'

I enjoyed his book and learned a great deal, although none of the biochemistry he outlined was confirmed in the post-graduate nutrition course I started last year (although Gillespie was working from a serious biochemistry text). Naturally enough he has lost a ton of weight since he gave up sugar and is the healthiest he has ever been. And his adherents, like Sarah, are likewise happier, less bloated, less inflamed with better skin. They would never go back to eating sugar. Ever.

The 1 single nutrient conclusion
What I have just written is necessarily somewhat trite. I don't want to do a disservice to any of the people I have mentioned as I do really respect and enjoy their points of view.

But it seems to me that these dietary prescriptions are based on giving up 1 nutrient: fat or carbs or sugar (another carb, I know, I know). And it also seems to me that should you do so, then you divest your diet of an energy-producing macronutrient and that you do indeed lose weight. And that if the general diet is healthy enough (and these people are all devoted to high principles of good health), then you will still thrive.

The amazing human body can thrive under various nutritional regimens, lucky old us. What I find fascinating about the blogs that I read is the profound sense of mission that emanates from some of the writing. A sense of having discovered an essential truth, and that everyone else is direly mistaken.

No, not grazing cattle, the literary movement. The periodic yearning we undergo as a culture for a more simple time when we were not profoundly alienated from nature. Marie Antoinette at Le Petit Trianon. And as food production becomes ever more industrialised and populations become sicker and fatter, it's natural that we should be revolted by what is happening to our bodies, our animals, the planet.

I think that this quest for dietary purity, for a way of eating that is somehow how we are 'supposed' to eat, is an expression of latter-day pastoralism. It reveals a cultural malaise and forms a protest against the prevailing conditions over which we have limited power to circumvent. I do it too with my organic ingredients, making everything from scratch, never eating fast food or red meat - it's a protest as much as a quest to eat well, a desire to assert a point of view.

Does this make sense to anybody else? Would love to hear if my argument is persuasive! And if you were to abandon 1 single nutrient, would you be more likely to go fat or carbs?

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