“We are brainwashed against carbs. But it is the wrong message” — Frances Largeman-Roth, RD, coauthor of The Carb Lovers Diet and senior food and nutrition editor of Health Magazine, quoted in Diet Review: The Carb Lovers Diet and Resistant Starch Foods. WebMD.
Before I discuss this brainwashing claim, let me explain the context.
Most mornings, I get up early, brew coffee, eat breakfast and turn on the TV to catch the local news and weather. The best local TV news happens to be on an ABC affiliate, so I usually end up catching part of ABC’s Good Morning America, too. Mostly, GMA just plays in the background while I focus on other tasks: reading the newspaper, answering my email, or watching our year-old cats chase each other around the living room.
But when GMA runs a story about diets, which it often does, I pay attention. There might be a blog post in it.
All this explains why I am writing about the Carb Lovers Diet today. It was one of three “fad” diets reviewed on a segment of GMA this morning. (Baby Food, CarbLovers, HCG Diets and More: Which Fad Diets Work? Note that this text report covers more diets than today’s broadcast segment did.)
I didn’t need GMA or a panel of experts to point out flaws with the Baby Food Diet (you eat lots of baby food) or the HCG Diet (you get injected with a pregnancy hormone and eat only 500 calories a day).
The Carb Lovers Diet was another matter. From what I could tell, it encourages people to eat limited portions of higher-fiber carbohydrate-bearing foods, such as beans, legumes, and brown rice. OK, that may not be “low carb,” but it certainly sounds more promising than eating mashed peas out of jar or paying big bucks to be shot up with a pregnancy hormone.
After watching the GMA segment, I poked around online to learn more about the Carb Lovers Diet.
That’s when I found the quotation from Largeman-Roth, co-author with Ellen Kunes of The Carb Lovers Diet book, claiming that we are brainwashed against carbs. Largeman-Roth was quoted in a positive review of the book on WebMD.
So, are the American people “brainwashed against carbs” as Largeman-Roth suggests? If so, who has done the brainwashing?
It certainly hasn’t been the U.S. government or its agencies. The recently revealed USDA Food Plate encourages heavy consumption of fruits and grains, as did the Food Pyramid before it.
Big Medicine and Big Business also cannot be accused of brainwashing anyone against eating carbs. The Food Plate’s “balanced” approach (that is, a high carb/ low fat approach) has long been favored and pushed by the American medical establishment, which has consistently maligned low carb diets. And corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year promoting carb-laden packaged foods and drinks and restaurant meals built around buns, fries, pasta and soda-pop.
As I wrote about in an earlier post, the American public has embraced the high carb, low fat message, dramatically altering its food consumption patterns over the past 30 years toward grains and vegetable oil and away from red meat and butter. During that same period, obesity rates in the U.S. have risen equally dramatically. So has type-2 diabetes, a disease related to the body’s ability to process dietary carbohydrates.
In short, I see no evidence of Americans having been “brainwashed against carbs” and plenty of evidence to the contrary. The rich and powerful are promoting carbs, not bashing them.
To be sure, there have been voices crying in the wilderness against the high-carb insanity, but are we really to believe that some maverick doctors, dietitians, authors and bloggers can counteract the combined propaganda efforts of Big Government, Big Medicine and Big Business? It simply isn’t credible.
I might agree that some low-carb enthusiasts go too far in demonizing grains, starch and sugar — and by extension, demonizing people who eat or advocate eating such foods. But rhetorical excess is not the same thing as the effective brainwashing of the masses.
Perhaps in saying “we are brainwashed,” Largeman-Roth has in mind a much smaller group — say, just people who have tried a low-carb diet in the past and given up. I’d buy that explanation to an extent, but not the term “brainwashed,” which suggests Dr. Atkins ran forced “re-education camps” like those in Mao’s China or the old Soviet Union.
Brainwashing is more than simple persuasion. It is an exercise of power, and for several decades at least, the power has not been on the side of restricting dietary carbohydrates.
What we have in this “brainwashed” claim is a marketing ploy, as is confirmed by examining the book’s web site, which continues to pretend that low-carb is the prevailing dietary dogma.
In my opinion, it’s a sleazy and cynical marketing ploy. But that’s just me, speaking as one consumer — just another voice in the wilderness.
As for the Carb Lovers Diet itself, two of the three experts commissioned by GMA for the text report gave it a generally positive review. It easily beat out the Baby Food and HCG diets. No surprise there. But one of the approving experts, Dr. David Katz, co-founder and director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, had this caveat: “The diet makes a point of including foods such as potato chips as part of its marketing. By disguising the fact that the diet really is about eating well, it may invite its participants to do otherwise. If they really indulge in all ‘carbs’ without being devoted to wholesome foods, weight is apt to be regained.”
The disapproving expert — Joanne Ikeda, nutritionist emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley — ridicules the marketing approach: “There are lots of . . . success stories on the website, so if you believe in fairy tales you might want to read them. But if you are a nonbeliever, then don’t waste your time!”
At best, “brainwashed against carbs” is another fairy tale.