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Weird Diets & Crazy Thoughts

February 9, 2012

Nobody knows anything about food and health. If you don’t believe me, check out the wild swinging pendulum that is the health community’s thoughts on butter. We only got transfats in everything because cholesterol was demonized. Then as it turns out, in the end, the “healthier” cholesterol-free alternative wasn’t.

It’s not that I’m antiscience.

I love my iPhone and I think antibiotics are pretty groovy. I’m also really excited that I don’t have to worry about my kids getting polio or measles. Science is great. But for some reason, science seems to keep failing when it comes to improving food, farming and nutrition. And often in the service of trying to make things better, they get worse.

What I’m about to unleash is a massive amount of speculation. And really, it’s speculation I would not have engaged in had I not been recently asked a rather thought provoking question, that I’m both totally qualified and ill equipped to answer. The question went like this:

What are your thoughts on the gluten and dairy-free diet trend?

Someone recently told me there is gluten in everything, and we are eating more if it than ever, which is why people are starting to get sick. My father is tossing away carbs entirely and is going back on Atkins, despite my protestations.

There is a lot of stuff people buy into that doesn’t convince me for a moment.

My understanding of the paleo diet thing, is that they believe human beings are not evolved enough to metabolize wheat. Well, color me tickled pink.

But one does have to wonder why gluten is so reviled recently.

Sure, there is the easy answer: It’s the popular fad diet craze. Part of the problem with nutrition in America is that we tend to think of food as good or bad. Good foods are blessed, and their consumption is encouraged. Bad foods are reviled and are all but banned from diets.

When fat was “bad” America got fat on SnackWells.

Now gluten is on the shit-list and people are turning to gluten-free diets like they turned to carbohydrate-free diets or fat-free diets in the past. They say they feel healthier. And maybe they do. But the mind is a very funny thing, and cognitive dissonance can play a much stronger role than most people imagine.

But that’s the easy answer. The hard answer is to consider the fact that something in our food supply is actually making people feel bad. However, to say there isn’t a lot of transparency in our food system is a laughable understatement.

We have no idea what is in our food. There are herbicides and fungicides and pesticides. Seeds are coated with chemicals so these adulterations become part of the food itself and can’t be washed off. Recently I was told by an eight-year-old via YouTube about budnip, which prevents sweet potatoes from sprouting. Man, that’s creepy.

And biodiversity has gone to hell too. Instead of lots of strains of wheat, we are now growing fewer and fewer, so there is greater consistency across the factory farming supply and distribution chain.

Could some or all of that be having an effect on us? And could cutting back on it actually make people feel better? These are notions that I could believe.

Dairy is another one of those foods that has drastically changed over time. Cream isn’t cream. Whole milk isn’t whole. Cows are treated like machines and most are fed a steady stream of antibiotics.

Cows were meant to eat grass, but our dairy cows do no such thing. How much genetically modified corn and soy do you think make it into dairy cattle feed? I have no idea, but I suspect it’s a lot. Surely you’ve heard the old saying, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

Then there are all of the shenanigans that go on with pasteurization, processing and packaging.

The milk industry spends millions upon millions of dollars every year to convince consumers that theirs is a wholesome product, and remind them to keep it on hand. I know, because once upon a time that was actually my job.

Not that these are bad people, because they aren’t. They believe in what they are doing. This is just what dairy farming has become, and if they don’t stay competitive they could lose the farm. It’s a horrible life being a dairy farmer.

Could people feel better by getting some of this stuff out of their system? Sure.

Do I think most people need to go dairy free? Heavens no. Food isn’t medicine. And food isn’t just sustenance ether. I firmly believe that food should be a source of pleasure. That’s not to say this pleasure should come at the expense of one’s good health. But farmstead cheeses, and small batch yogurt, and extra rich well-salted butter are things nobody should have to do without.

If you have a verified medical condition, you have my condolences. For the rest of you, I suggest that despite all the problems with our food, a little bit of moderation is a prudent path.

28 Comments leave one →
  1. February 9, 2012 11:23 am

    Rut Ro~

  2. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    February 9, 2012 11:39 am

    About 2% of people are actually gluten-intolerant, i.e., they have celiac disease. The rest are following a health trend or “fad.” Dairy is more complicated: most East Asians and many Africans are lactose intolerant, for example. And of course we humans have only been eating wheat and dairy for a little over 10,000 years. But unless you are a full-time hunter and forager, you cannot replicate a Paleo diet because of the huge difference in saturated fat content between domestic meat and wild game. So what to do? Try to avoid refined carbs and minimize saturated fats.

    • February 9, 2012 12:55 pm

      You bring up a really great point about the limited number of people who actually have Celiac disease. There’s a certain degree of hypochondria associated with it. For instance, there was a professional fighter a couple years ago who found out that he had Celiac disease and it had gone undiagnosed his entire life. Unfortunately, that meant you had coverage of it, then suddenly all these fighters were going gluten-free and suspecting that they weren’t physically better or stronger because they might have Celiac’s disease. All, of course, without going to a doctor.

  3. February 9, 2012 11:43 am

    I noticed a year ago at the Fancy Food Show that foods were trumpeting “gluten free” that had no reason for gluten in the first place–hard candy, for example. Like Adine, my reaction was “rut ro”. And I am one who likes to INCREASE the gluten in my diet by stretching and folding my bread dough.

    I know people who are certifiable celiacs and those who may be so only mentally and emotionally. I’m not going to say any more… shitting where you live, and all that. But wheat and dairy are two of god’s greatest gifts and if you are foregoing them for any but the direst medical or religious reasons, then you need a good whack on the side of the head with a hayfork.

  4. February 9, 2012 11:50 am

    I’m a firm believer in moderation. And buyring my head in the sand about certain things. But this gluten thing really does have me curious. Now, I know a woman who has a daughter that has Celiac Disease. Going gluten-free has made her healthier little girl who no longer has awful pains in her tummy. No-gluten = good for Anna! But I’ve also seen a grown woman change her entire lifestyle to go gluten-free for no reason other than somebody told her it would help her feel better and lose weight. At the same time she went dairy-free and night-shade free as well. She’s basically eating nothing buy boiled organic chicken. She’s miserable. Hard to say if she feels better or not. I love my gluten and have no intention of giving it up. I have never been a fad follower – even when my husband lost a bunch of weight giving up carbs and I was jealous. With a capital J. These fads will fade and others will come into fashion. Now, when they tell me that chocolate will make me slim, trim and healthy, as well as give me 5 more inches of height and a better bustline, I promise to jump right on that train.

  5. Crystal permalink
    February 9, 2012 12:16 pm

    I agree. These diets are meant for those with Celiac or a milk protein allergy. I think it’s funny, but I should’ve seen it coming, that they would turn into fad diets for mainstream America. Moderation is key, but there’s no money in moderation. “Buy my product occasionally” just doesn’t cut it. But really, there’s no money in being healthy. Do you know how much money the healthcare industry would loose of people were actually healthy?

  6. Tonia permalink
    February 9, 2012 12:25 pm

    Great post. Great comments. Totally agree. Haha. You said Snackwells. Those are so ‘out.’

    • February 9, 2012 12:55 pm

      As someone who has celiac and hasn’t intentionally eaten a real slice of pizza or drank a real beer in nearly nine years, I cannot fathom giving up wheat voluntarily. I’d kill for a bagel with lox!

      That said, the whole gluten-free trend is ultimately good for me because it means more awareness and more importantly, better labeling.

      Regarding the comments about the fancy food show: part of the whole problem is that gluten is put in places it shouldn’t be. I have to check the labels of things like yogurt, cottage cheese, bouillon and about a million other things that gluten shouldn’t be in but is. I legitimately do think that can’t be good for us. Eating bread or pasta is, in my mind, fine, but even if I didn’t have celiac, I’d be concerned about there being wheat in my yogurt or my spaghetti sauce.

      • February 9, 2012 3:45 pm

        Better labeling is a good thing! I enjoy the adventure of hunting for HFCS-free foods. Wheat in the pasta sauce, corn syrup in the sandwich bread…

        There’s a lot out there that doesn’t make sense, as you note. And a lot that’s misleading…buying organic milk makes me feel good, but feeding cows organic corn is not *really* solving the problem, now is it?

  7. Chris permalink
    February 9, 2012 12:38 pm

    I’d have to disagree with Paleo being a fad. Maybe the word “paleo” is a fad, but I’m not sure how focusing on a real-foods based diet is faddish. Emphasizing food quality should be first and foremost – no, the gluten-free cookies, pancakes, or pizza are probably not any better for you than the real ones… but we probably shouldn’t be eating those foods in any form on a routine basis anyway.

    The funny thing is if you told someone to eat lean meats, fish, foul, eggs, unprocessed potatoes and rice, fruits, vegetables, and nuts, and avoid anything processed, white, in-a-box, deep-fried, etc. (as you have many times on this blog), they would say “Hey, that sounds like a pretty healthy diet”. But the minute you refer to that same diet as “Paleo” or “Atkins”, it all of a sudden becomes dangerous.

    • February 9, 2012 7:20 pm

      but we probably shouldn’t be eating those foods in any form on a routine basis anyway.
      The problem with the diet, though, as with many of these “fad” diets, is that they prescribe an “all or nothing” approach. If you have a slice of pizza when you’re on paleo, for example, that’s “cheating” and that’s bad. Come on, now – no, we shouldn’t be eating pizza every night (trust me – from experience, I know, it makes you feel awful), but a slice of pizza once in a while? What’s wrong with that?

      Gluten, like most things, in moderation is fine. Pizza isn’t considered health food, but since when is eating a turkey sandwich considered unhealthy? What about black bean soup? Greek yogurt? You see what I’m getting at.

      As an example, my mother is doing the Zone diet, which is essentially the Paleo diet but allows for carbs and dairy, however you have to follow a very strict regimen of how you balance your diet. Overall, it’s been successful for her and she’s eating whole foods that are healthy. But there’s so little flexibility for when you are out for wing night with your friends (for example), and I feel like a lot of these diets are structured to make you feel terrible about yourself if you have even one slip up. We’re not robots.

      In other words, the diets are constructed around the concept of eat to live, and as we all know, Daniel (and many of the readers of this blog) are more about live to eat.

  8. February 9, 2012 12:41 pm

    My understanding of the paleo diet thing, is that they believe human beings are not evolved enough to metabolize wheat. Well, color me tickled pink.

    I’ve read some of the reasoning behind the Paleo Diet and it’s very odd and seems to be based on a fundamental ignorance (or omission) of evolutionary biology and anthropology. We know our bodies can eat and process wheat because…well, we eat and process wheat. That sounds overly simplistic and dismissive and of course it’s a bit more complicated than that, but bottom line is that we didn’t stumble on these grains by accident. It’s thousands of years of trial, error, and development (biologically and agriculturally). In short, like pretty much every other restrictive diet of its kind, it’s bunk.

    That said, I just went dairy free a few weeks ago and I feel so much better after doing so. And really it’s because while I’m not lactose intolerant, I have found that cutting out dairy has made me feel lighter without sacrificing strength and improved my workouts. I would never say there’s an over-arching reason for it, nor would I write a book saying “the whole world should do this because our bodies aren’t meant to take milk!” Just that for me, it works out better now. And that’s only because I make sure that I’m still getting Vitamin D and calcium through other sources (eg. supplements) to compensate.

    Okay, this got longer and more anecdotal than I intended. The long and the short of it is that people need to be wary of bad science and self-professed dietitians masquerading as doctors.

  9. Kerosena permalink
    February 9, 2012 2:41 pm

    Fun Fact: I know of at least two people who have gluten-free dogs. This makes me think that some people have too much time on their hands. And maybe too much money.

    • February 9, 2012 7:24 pm

      In fairness, there has been substantial research done that suggests a much larger percentage of dogs have wheat intolerance than do humans (my understanding is, more do than do not). In dogs, it more commonly manifests as a skin allergy, and often when dogs present with skin allergies one of the first suggestions of vets is to put their dogs on a grain free diet. Some people have elected to just feed completely grain free as a result. For me, I prefer to have my dog’s diet cut with rice or potatoes, which are considered grains but are better for digestion than other grain sources.

      • February 10, 2012 2:18 am

        Hahah yeah, my dog’s gluten-free, but that’s partially because of me. I just don’t want to be handling gluten-filled food or having it in my dishes if I can at all avoid it. Really though, like with people food, what I object to is wheat being used as a filler, which is often the case in cheap, crummy dog food. Every ingredient in the food I feed my pup is something I recognize as food. Her favorite treat? A few bits of raw veggies when I’m chopping some for my own dinner.

      • February 10, 2012 3:08 am

        Carrots are serious business around here with my Rotties. You’d think they were getting raw beef the way the go bonkers for them.

  10. February 9, 2012 3:24 pm

    I have allergies, the old-fashioned kind that are actually diagnosed with skin tests, blood tests and food challenges by someone with an MD and board certification in allergy medicine. My big three are wheat, corn and soy, so having more awareness of wheat in food is great for me. Unfortunately, many “gluten free” baked goods utilize corn, so I still have to read labels and ask bunches of questions. Much easier to just avoid it all and bake stuff at home.

    Sometimes I do feel like I need to carry some sort of ID to show I’m not a garden-variety hypochondriac or someone with an eating disorder, both to repel the judgy-McJudgertons who scoff at all things allergy or intolerance as “attention seeking”, and the eating disordered who want to only talk about all the things they don’t eat. Ad nauseum.

    Celiac is more than an intolerance, it’s an autoimmune disorder that can seriously shorten your life – I’m happy that I don’t have it. Allergies at my level are a PITA, but not so severe that I risk my life if I don’t manage to completely avoid the allergens.

  11. techcommdood permalink
    February 9, 2012 6:22 pm

    Fad diets are laughable. I know people who are lactose intolerant and people who have celiac disease, and I feel sorry for them. I’d hate to go without cheeses and ice cream, and I’d probably shoot myself if I couldn’t enjoy beer anymore. But to avoid them for no reason? I really question the practice. Then again I question vegan and vegetarian choices as well. Don’t get me wrong, you’re free to eat or not eat whatever you’d like. I just don’t get it, myself.

    What gets me isn’t the choice to not eat things though, but the misunderstanding. There are people out there (one of whom was preaching in my neighborhood grocery store the other day) who honestly believe that gluten is toxic on its own. Of course, this nutjob thought it was an added chemical – and I couldn’t convince her otherwise within my annoyance threshold – so there you go.

    There’s something afoul though, and I think it stems not from natural foods but from processed ones. I think there’s something genetic going on stemming from a pregnant mother’s diet. It’s just a hunch, but I’m seeing more and more kids in my daughters’ classes with food related allergies than ever before. I mean, when I was in school we had the occasional nut allergy, but when a quarter of the kids are allergic to some kind of food, it tends to get my attention and get me thinking.

    Or maybe it’s just that we ARE evolving, but PAST the need for dairy, wheat, and other foods. Maybe we’ve evolved into Coke swilling, Twinkie chomping creatures by nature.

    • Chris permalink
      February 9, 2012 8:47 pm

      For two of my four pregnancies (the first two) I enjoyed as much Pepsi and Hershey’s chocolate bars as I liked. I think I ate that s**t every day. I could not get enough of either! Baby one (now 26) is allergic to two things- shrimp and Christmas Trees. Baby two (now 24) is allergic to nothing. LOL!!!

  12. February 9, 2012 10:00 pm

    Here’s my loose theory: Genetically Modified Organisms present in mass produced foods (say, bread), consumed daily, impacts body functions that allow us to process them properly.

  13. Weenie girl permalink
    February 9, 2012 10:24 pm

    As it turns out, my question is completely relevant (I was going to ask it even if it wasn’t). Have you seen this article – http://www.timesunion.com/default/article/Know-your-olive-oil-source-3154125.php? Will you please read through (it’s not too long…I promise)? I’ll look forward to your thoughts on the next Ask the Profusser.

    Thank you.

    • February 9, 2012 11:21 pm

      Mine comes from a friend’s Father’s trees just outside Athens, Greece. :)

  14. Chris permalink
    February 10, 2012 10:21 am

    This is a good discussion. I commented in an earlier post about the nasty food I ate as a kid… back in the times when every kid ate peanut butter and lived to tell about it. What has happened? Did something happen to our food or have people gotten super paranoid? Don’t take offense, as I truely believe that there are more food allergies now than in past years. For instance, my husband is deathly allergic to bananas- always has been- always will be. Daughter one- allergic to shrimp (and Christmas trees, which is certainly not a food). But, I see so many strange diets and have watched firsthand a woman pay for advice about her diet that takes her to a place I would never go… brown rice, eggs and some vegetables primarily.

    Bottom line, a steady diet of soda and chocolate is no good. The foods I ate as a kid aren’t good either- bologna, cocoa puffs and spaghettios. I just can’t imagine a diet that didn’t include beef, milk or cheese. A good mix of all foods in moderation seems to me the best diet to follow. For me, you only live once and if you love food, you will follow a good healthy diet most of the time, break out for a slice or a prime rib once in awhile and every so often indulge in a ridiculous desssert!

  15. February 10, 2012 12:13 pm

    I gave up milk years ago because I knew it wasn’t good for me. I didn’t go to a doctor, I simply listened to my body. You can think that’s bunk but I think it’s ridiculous to go to a doctor to get confirmation for something that I witness happen to myself every time I drink milk. I don’t tell other people not to drink milk and I don’t preach that it’s evil but when people close to me have struggled with allergies, I have suggested giving up milk and those who did saw an improvement.

    That being said, all dairy products are not the same. I still mostly tolerate yogurt and small amounts of cheese. Although, cheese being my weakness, I frequently overindulge and get sick. My choice. My stupid choice, but still mine to make. Same for ice cream. It kills me but I give in a few times a year. Ice cream I don’t tolerate at all.

    I’m not going to say anything about gluten because ultimately, I do believe less carbs are better for us and most people have super carb heavy diets, IMO.

    I’ve done Atkins. My whole family has with varying amounts of success. It’s one of the few weight loss diets I’ve done that I have easily been able to follow. I was healthy before Atkins and healthy after. Fad or not.

    Mostly, reading this post and comments has made me very grateful for the way I was fed as a child. My nana was a health nut so everything in our house was unprocessed with the exception of cereal and then it was only Corn Flakes, Wheaties and Rice Krispies. Sugar was for special occasions and soda just didn’t happen. Meals were cooked and the only convenience foods eaten were frozen vegetables. I think my childhood diet has made me a sensible adult. (Food wise.)

  16. Heather F. permalink
    February 11, 2012 2:19 am

    I’m one of those with “a verified medical condition” :)
    I’m paleo because I am really allergic to grains, grass, and milk. I’m no longer suffering arthritis, inflammation, and a host of other medical issues like I once was during my 20’s.
    However, there is some more “evidenced base medicine” information that is coming out from the g.i. docs on this subject that might surprise you. I attended an event hosted by the Celiac Disease Resource, Inc. with a talk given by Dr. Cary Qualia of Albany Med. in December. I really suggest hearing what the current thoughts of physicians are in regard to both gluten and milk b/c it is evolving.
    Without getting into to much of a discussion here, most people who have a problem with milk and gluten have a problem with gluten that milk protein makes even worse on their digestive system.
    Daniel, come on out to a swap and chat about it some more :)

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