Friday, March 4, 2011

A culture of baking

I was reading an article about "good carbs" on the Harvard School of Public Health website, which made an interesting observation about a study of the effectiveness of various popular dieting strategies.   In this one, overweight, premenopausal women went on one of four diets: Atkins, Zone, Ornish, or a standard low-fat, moderately high-carbohydrate diet.  Although all four resulted in weightloss, and the low carbohydrate Atkins dieters had the most success, that's not what I want to focus on today.  This is what I found so interesting:

It turns out that few of the women actually stuck with their assigned diets. Those on the Atkins diet were supposed to limit their carbohydrate intake to 50 grams a day, but they took in almost triple that amount. The Ornish dieters were supposed to limit their fat intake to under 10 percent of their daily calories, but they got about 30 percent from fat. There were similar deviations for the Zone and [low fat, high carb] groups.
It occurred to me that if there is so much "cheating" going on when it comes to these studies, the obesity epidemic in our society is most likely and literally being fueled by the consumption of excess carbohydrates that people are not even consciously aware of. 

What all dieting strategies seem to have in common is a mantra of avoiding processed food, sugar and white flour.  I don't know of any nutritional expert that doesn't say this.

Look at the Canada Food Guide, for example.  It points out that limiting foods and beverages high in calories, fat, sugar or salt are some of the steps people can take towards better health and a healthy body weight.  In my opinion, the operative word here is limiting.

Have you considered the extent to which we live in a culture of baking?  Muffins, cookies, school bake sales, birthday cake, doughnuts.... even if you avoid fast food, it takes some thinking to overcome the onslaught of baked goods most of us face every single day.  Even the "healthy" options seldom taste good unless they are made with at least some white flour and a high glycemic sweetener,whether it be sugar, honey, maple syrup.  Even wholewheat flour is usually little more than white flour with some bran thrown back in. 

This is why going off the grain ride is more of a mindset change than an actual diet.  It doesn't tell you to limit flour and sugar.  You avoid it completely.

The experts will be arguing for some time about good carbs, bad carbs and the desired daily counts.  But nobody recommends consumption of sugar or white flour.  Let's get that out of the way and let's face the fact that we live in a culture of baking.  What we need to spend time on is developing effective strategies and recipes to overcome this challenge while still living in the real world.  And while we're about it, maybe it's time to ponder why so few people challenge this culture of baking head on. 

For me, it's not a big problem.  After overcoming the initial carbohydrate withdrawal, I was able to concentrate on the flavours and colours I was gaining, by filling my plate with more of the yummy stuff, and less of the beige starches.  After another little while, I even developed a bit of an aversion to the idea of breads and cakes - it's difficult to describe without sounding like a goody-two-shoes, but I seldom find them tempting any more.

And finally, when low-carb skeptics question the healthfulness of the Grain Ride approach, it's helpful to remember there is no expert anywhere in the nutritional field who recommends eating sugar or refined flour.  Not only will you still eat carbohydrates in the other foods you enjoy, but chances are (unless you are fanatical about every item you put in your mouth), your reality is similar to that of the dieters in the study quoted above who were consuming quite a few more of them than they realized.

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