Low carb diets grind my grain: journo’s rant

Disclaimer: I am a journalist and an advocate for food manufacturing. Please take this piece as the opinion of a consumer who has a passion for food and a penchant for accurate labelling.

Nothing irks me more than the concept of a low carbohydrate diet

There is such an abundance of vapid, obsessive chatter over why a bowl of pasta or a piece of bread is so threatening to our figures that it seems people have completely lost touch with what constitutes good nutrition.

Now don’t get me wrong, I know that not all carbohydrates are created equal. Bleached flours are essentially void of any nutritional value and white potatoes have extremely high GI values, but why people are so afraid of legumes and whole grains – which happen to be very protein dense – completely baffles me. 

It boggles the mind as to why someone could possibly think that a processed protein bar or a protein drink sachet – pretending to be a health product – is better than a piece of fruit or a serving of hummus.

The fact is we as humans have been eating bread and grain for centuries, long before protein bars were around. Archaeological geneticist, Christina Warinner from the Centre for Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zurich, researches the origins and evolution of human disease by extracting dental calculus, or tartar, from the remains of ancient peoples.

Through her research, her team has discovered that ancient peoples dating back even further than the Palaeolithic period, consumed grain. (Which is quite ironic considering the fad ‘Paleo diet’ prohibits the consumption of grain).

It has only been within the past 50 years or so that rises in obesity, heart disease and associated cancers have come up to alarming levels. And why do you think that is? It is because our food system, as food writer Michael Pollan says, has changed more in the past 50 years than it has in the previous 10,000? We have essentially divorced ourselves from the concept of good nutrition.

The Better Health Channel, a health initiative of the Victorian government, states that low-carbohydrate diets may be popular for weight loss, but they can also pose serious dangers.

The website states:

“Carbohydrates are the only fuel source for many vital organs such as the brain, central nervous system and kidneys. A diet high in protein and fats can lead to obesity and obesity-related disorders such as heart disease.”

Highly processed foods which hold minimal, if any, nutritional value, have filled supermarket shelves and bombarded consumers with messages such as ‘lite’ and ‘healthy’ along with other erroneous claims that are essentially meaningless.

Many members of the public honestly have no idea of how to read a nutritional label – one almost needs a dietetics degree to make any sense of it – which is not at all surprising considering how disconnected we have all become to what we put in our mouths.

Now, to the point of my rant. One of my favourite fad diets (can you detect my sarcasm?), the Atkins diet, has re-launched its low-carb weight management plan and products in Australia and New Zealand.

Coupled with an integrated marketing campaign including commercial radio personality Fifi Box, the new scientifically reformulated version of the original Atkins Diet promises to deliver a “sustainable eating plan for safe and effective weight loss, weight management and healthy living,” according to managing director for Atkins Nutritionals, Richard Sullivan.

 “New Atkins isn’t about a quick fix,” says Sullivan. “ It’s a four-phased diet which advocates eliminating ‘bad’ or ‘empty’ carbohydrates from the diet, such as those found in highly processed and refined foods including white flour and sugar; instead promoting consumption of ‘good’ carbs from leafy green vegetables, low-sugar fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds and dairy products as well as lean protein and  natural fats.”

So let me just make a few things clear. Obviously I am not exactly the most objective person when it comes to critiquing a low carbohydrate branded product, nor am I pretending to be a qualified dietician. The Atkins products are low in carbohydrates, but something to note here is that Atkins appears to be promoting something that they speak ill off in their newly reformulated plan -the Atkins branded bars and shakes are indeed highly processed, refined foods.

The Atkins Triple Chocolate protein bar contains in excess of 60 ingredients, many of which I can’t even pronounce with my favourite being fructooligosaccharides, which the US National Library of Medicine tells me is an alternative sweetener. 

Call me crazy, but if I want a treat, I want the real deal. I want a chocolate bar that contains ingredients that I am familiar with as once having grown on this planet, not some imitation chocolate-like creation that is pretending to be a health product.

If you eat a balanced diet, protein will be included naturally. If a product is covered in health claims, it should, in my humble opinion, contain far less than 60 ingredients.


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