Low Carbing - Is the Low-Carb Craze Over? By April S. Fields
If you set your opinions by media hype, you will likely believe that Low-Carb, as a diet and lifestyle, is yesterday's news. Apparently, the ship has sailed. This conclusion is founded in the general statistics as formulated by the ever mysterious, all knowing, "they" who have tracked how many "band wagon" Low-Carb specialty food companies that are now defunct and grocers who have reduced shelf space to Low-Carb products because of steady decline in sales.
Interestingly, the primary reason sited for the deteriorating sales of Low-Carb food items is "Eating the same thing over and over is monotonous."
While I can't address the issue of Low-Carb product vendors going out of business, I can debate, with some authority, by virtue of experience, on the issue of monotonous eating. First of all, let me restate that the underlying concept of Low-Carb dieting is a means to eliminate food addictions. Low-Carb foods typically do not trigger food addiction responses. Sugar and high glycemic foods, such as potatoes, white bread and pastas made from white flour, fall into the category of habit-forming because these foods evoke cravings and create cyclic demand on glucose and insulin production, falling into both physical and psychological addiction categories.
What does this really mean? It means that I could eat a bowl of Frosted Flakes or a glazed donut or buttered toast slathered with jelly every morning or I could have a potato, in some configuration with lunch and dinner for the rest of my life and never be bored.
Why is this not monotonous? The short answer is that addictions of any kind are self-serving and enslaving. Regardless of the substance, human desire for it is based less on variety and more on chemical dependency. Sugar, second only to tobacco smoke, is the most dangerous legal substance, in terms of long-term health damage, we can ingest, and yet it is the most common ingredient, (often called high fructose corn syrup), in manufactured foods. Study after study reveals the inherent dangers in over consumption of sugar and yet, every single day, new, sucrose-laden products are introduced to the marketplace.
Not to put too fine a point on it but sugar sells well because sugar is addictive, not just because it tastes good. Recently I heard a report on WSB radio, by Clark Howard, an Atlanta-based consumer advocate, that detailed a four-year clinical study conducted with a group of nurses. The results were profound. The control group that consumed one sugared cola and/or one fruit juice drink per day were 80% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than the group that had abstained. 80% is not a small number. And yet we consume colas and sugary fruit juices every day, often in place of water.
Do you know someone who drinks one or more colas a day? Do you suppose that person will ever get bored with colas? Probably not, and the cola producing companies are counting on it. I would love to see a formal clinical study tracking the eating habits of successful dieters who have given up Low-Carb because of food boredom. Would it be a leap to assume these folks would return to sugar based breakfasts, fast foods for lunch, snacks and high-carb dinners. Let's consider the primary choices out there. Donuts? Bagels? Pop Tarts? Sugar coated cereal? Hamburgers? Tacos? Pizza? Pasta? Everything incased in or accompanied by some form of white bread or breading.
We delude ourselves by thinking easy-to-get food is tastier or that there is greater variety available. Easy-to-get food is just that - easy-to-get.
It isn't monotony that sends us back to empty carbs; it's convenience.
But once the cravings are back in place, addiction takes over and we do not recognize the difference or why we never tire of our three o'clock pick-me-up candy bar. Admittedly, eating Low-Carb takes more conscious effort and planning. In spite of all the restaurants and fast food chains that have added Low-Carb items to the menu, high-carb still reigns supreme. But if Low-Carb choices had the same chemical hook, as high glycemic foods, there would be more and more demand, not less, for Low-Carb.
Conclusion? Low-Carb foods are not addictive and therefore will always take a back seat to the foods that keep us dependent upon them. The real issue here is about human nature and not monotony. In addition, with the advent of modern food processing, we have been slowly conditioned to respect convenience over food value. We have been trained to regard speed of delivery over health. We never consider that fast foods save us time but are slowly killing us. This includes the "quick and easy" boxed and canned goods we stock in our pantries.
Why do we never tire of potato chips? You can't eat just one says it all. We are addicted to processed food and our preferences have little, if anything, to do with desire for variety. Given the way human nature responds so readily to the siren call of "easy" living, the ending of the most recent flurry of interest in Low-Carb eating comes as no great shock. But, at least, some irrefutable truths have been brought to light in the process.
For one thing, the Food Pyramid, that has been the basis for all food science for the past five decades, has been exposed not only as bad science but also fraud based on nothing more than economics. Secondly, "fat-free" has been revealed to be the empty, meaningless catch phrase that it is. And lastly, but not least, health professionals who focus and treat diabetes have finally recognized and admitted the role excess carbohydrates play in the maintenance of blood sugar. If nothing else, this most recent Low-Carb frenzy has forced the medical community to address issues like processed and junk food, trans-fatty acids, good carbs versus bad carbs and what these things are doing to us in the long term.
Let us also remember that Low-Carbing or Carb-Control isn't a new concept, having been introduced to American consumers in the early seventies by Dr. Atkins who had formed his dieting model from an even earlier study. Those opportunists, who have misrepresented and manipulated it into a fad diet and then grabbed all the attention, are certainly destined to fail.
In the realm of good health and well being, however, those who understand that monitoring empty carb intake requires some effort in this highly processed, convenience food and carb-laced world we live in, will not cave as the fickle spot-light moves on to refocus on the next new buzz word.
One other thing is true and worth pointing out. I was Low-Carbing successfully long before Low-Carb products were available. Why? Simply because Low-Carb eating is nothing more than eliminating zero value carbohydrates and consuming fresh, whole vegetables, fruit, (not fruit juice), lean meat and fish and thus controlling cravings and food addictions. As a side benefit, because Low-Carb foods are more satisfying and digest more slowly, portion control also becomes an automatic and significant factor in daily food consumption.
Low-Carb also means preparing meals at home more than eating out and, of course, this also takes advance prep work. But then sometimes convenience isn't all it's cracked up to be. I can whip up breakfast at home faster than I can go get an Egg McMuffin. Nothing is quicker than preparing a Low-Carb meal. The effort is expended beforehand in the planning, shopping for and stocking of the pantry, not in the final preparation.
In spite of the bad news that Low-Carb food companies are now falling away and the remaining choices will most certainly be reduced when the dust clears, I can continue to maintain Low-Carb and still eat a diverse range of good food. I have spent the past five years developing recipes, like Orange Cookies, that not only satisfy the psychological cravings of comfort food we have convinced ourselves we need, but at the same time do not contain the ingredients that keep us physically enslaved to them and are damaging to our health.
There are several new carb-controlled products that I personally hope do not leave the shelves. The pastas by Dreamfields are both Low-Carb and delicious. I can serve Linguini Alfredo to anyone with not a single complaint. My Steak'n Penne is another hearty meal that meets with approval from both Low-Carbers and non alike. But the casserole that I actually get requests for is my Baked Macaroni and Cheese, which proves to me that, while the Low-Carb craze may be waning, Low-Carbing is not a fad and can be done for life, properly and successfully, without monotony, and even without the attention or approval of the media.