Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Carbs are the new fat

Virtually any women's magazine you will ever read will have a feature or two on diets. Something that's really interesting is how the content of these features and the advice given has changed over time.

Ten years ago, fat was the antichrist. Women were advised to eat a diet rich in complex carbohydrates, lean protein, fruit and vegetables, but no fat! Don't eat fat - fat will make you fat. Fat must be banished from your diet. Fat is bad and evil and wrong. Men are allowed to eat fat, but any woman who eats fat will be punished by her hips expanding to grotesque proportions so that the whole world can see that she's eaten FAT.

Ooooh, I'm scared.

These days, carbs are the new fat. Now we're supposed to be eating lots of fruit and vegetables, lots of protein, and fat is allowed but no carbs at all. Pasta is evil. Bread is the antichrist. Potatoes? You've got to be kidding! They'll make you FAT.

I blame Dr Fatkins, sorry, Atkins. Ever since his bonkers diet came back into fashion and loads of Hollywood celebrities attributed their lean figures to it, the media has taken up the no-carbs mantle, trying to persuade us that eating even a small portion of the best wholegrain organic bread will turn you into the 400lb Angry Mom on Ricki Lake.

These magazines always manage to get quotes from "respected nutritionists" backing up what they have to say. Funny that the whole of nutritional science seemed to turn on its head as soon as Jennifer Aniston went on the Atkins. What's also interesting is that dieting is always linked with health. A "healthy" meal is one that won't make you fat. Even articles that have no specific weight-loss angle bang on about it. I read something in Cosmopolitan a couple of years ago that made me absolutely seethe. It was an article in which three women tried out different "healthy" diets without the explicit goal of weight loss at all. One of the women was very sporty and had previously eaten a carbohydrate-rich diet. The nutritionist put her on a low carb diet, chiding her that, "If Lucy didn't eat a carb-based snack after going to the gym, she wouldn't undo all her hard work." Right. So the only reason Lucy goes to the gym is to lose weight.

At least this U-turn from low-fat to low-carb a few years ago demonstrated just how fickle the media is when it comes to this sort of thing. What we're supposed to eat goes in and out of fashion almost with the same frequency as what we're supposed to wear. Low carb is in fashion just as skinny jeans are in fashion. Being on an 80s style, low fat, high carb diet is as unthinkable as being seen in shoulder pads with a frizzy perm.

All nutritionists always seem to have agreed on is the following:

  • Too much saturated fat is bad

  • Refined carbohydrates are bad

  • Vegetables are good (fruit is a bit controversial because is has - gasp! - CARBS in it)

  • If you want to lose weight, you need to get lots of exercise
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