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The villianization of foods is not new, and when one evil temptress is not in the spotlight, it is surely because another has captured the media's attention and America's heart.

The most successful attack strategies involve a victim, a villain and a hero. Sometimes the villain is quite real, and there is good science used to justify the attack. But often the attack is misdirected or simply baseless. I often wonder why, when a food is innocent of all charges, supporters take so long to come to its defense? And why so many are willing to join an attack on a food or category?

More often than not, restaurants fall victim to the food fights, having to change recipes or menu items to keep fad dieters as customers.

Carbohydrates have long been the poster child for such attacks. In fact, entire diets have been created to expel carbs from one's daily meal routine. Promises range from weight loss to increased energy. Many a restaurant jumped on the no-carb bandwagon around 2004 when the Atkins Diet, birthed by Dr. Atkins himself, became popular. Remember all those bunless burgers? 

How does it work?

The Atkins diet is a broad-based, low-carb approach that actually has weight loss efficacy; however, it's essentially a starvation diet. The brain functions on simples sugars – they are the fuel for the brain. Whether you consume carbs they are metabolized to simple sugars to act as fuel for the brain. Eaten in excess, the body converts carbs in the liver to fat and puts them into storage for later use. The Atkins diet cuts out carbs thereby starving the brain and reversing the metabolic process causing fat to change back to simple sugar to feed the deprived brain. And poof, weight loss occurs.

The downside of the diet however, is that the kidneys don't like high protein diets; therefore kidney failure is a risk. Also cholesterol levels rise which contributes to heart disease, and since you are starving the brain, cognitive function issues arise. The diet has also been linked to higher intestinal cancer and the ketones produced when the fat is converted back to sugar causes brain damage in fetuses.

The adversaries to Atkins included the American Dietetic Association and American Heart Association among others. Their voices simply weren't heard right away – eat steak and bacon and lose weight – who wants to rain on that parade? The Atkins crash was due in part to the efforts of the health experts and because the diet isn't sustainable. Rebound weight gain occurs and secondary health issues arise.

The next cousin to try to steal the spotlight was low-glyceamic index (low GI) which was being touted as the new miracle weight loss diet.

How does it work?

Low GI, however, is a medical diet for diabetics and research showed they were the only population to see weight loss benefit. No blood sugar problems equals no weight loss. Also, the low GI diet is so complicated that dietitians themselves don't teach it to their patients. In the case of the low GI diet the same set of adversaries that aided the crash of Atkins were responsible for low GI's failure.

Now here comes the Gluten Free diet. Gluten Free is essentially another low-carb diet except it only villianizes three carbs – wheat, rye and barley.

How does it work?

Gluten free is also a medically indicated diet specifically for Celiac Sprue patients and has no weight loss or health benefits for the general public. In fact, patients have to be monitored closely because the diet creates a hostile environment for probiotics thereby impacting gut health long term. According to the Celiac Sprue Association, 1 percent of the U.S. population carries the genetic marker for Celiac Sprue. Of that 1 percent, about 30 perdcent have a genetic predisposition , so only one third of the 1 percent will actually manifest the disease. So the popular quote of "1 in 133 people suffer from Celiac Sprue is simply not true. According to the Celiac Foundation, there are only about 300,000 afflicted with Celiac disease in this country, and only another 150,000 are estimated to be undiagnosed.

Since the CDC does not require its tracking by hospitals or doctors there is no way to measure the actual number. Consumer survey research from groups such as Hartman, Mintel and Datamonitor have reported that many people are mistakenly on the diet due to ignorance of its purpose. Some 80 percent of people following the diet don't medically need to.

The three most recent cousins in the spotlight now are the Dukan Diet, the Paleo Diet and the Wheat Belly Diet book.

Dukan, a protein-based diet designed by French nutritionist and dietician, Pierre Dukan, gained brief media attention in the United States after the royal family used it prior to the royal wedding. However, it hasn't gained much traction here due to the many adversarial groups who were successfully able to broadcast the unhealthy nature of the diet.

The Paleo Diet, also known as the Caveman Diet, is even more limiting and unsustainable then Atkins. It bans most carbs and dairy and encourages people to eat only lean proteins, veggies and fruits. Cavemen only lived to about 25 years old; think about that. And finally there is the Wheat Belly diet book. This is a book by Dr. William Davis, who claims that wheat is the cause of diabetes, heart disease, obesity and in general, the lack of world peace apparently. None of the claims are supported by health research. The diet also attacks the Gluten Free diet, calling it an unhealthful diet riddled with processed flours, starches and gums. This book narrows the carb witch hunt to wheat alone.

So Americans have moved from avoiding all carbs, to avoiding specific carbs, to avoiding just wheat, rye, and barley and now to just avoiding wheat. The good news is we have run out of attack angles on carbs. And guess what? Americans are still obese. Shocker.

User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Jeanne Shepard
    I hate to have to say this, but your simplification of this issue and your ignorance is sadly typical of RDs.
  • Lawrence Louis
    The level of ignorance this dietician demonstrates is outstanding. Its like she hasn't read any science on diet and nutrition, outside of what the USDA spoon feeds her, since the mid 1990s.

    Her take on saturated fat's supposed connection with heart disease has been proven wrong. Her knowledge of the biochemistry involved in energy regulation seems very outdated. Her notion of the mechanics behind how low carb diets induce weight loss is ostensibly oversimplified, and the fact that she did not bring up insulin's role in fat metabolism, and how low carb diets effect insulin is telling of how little she knows. To claim that the glycemic index is only effective for people who are diabetic is just idiotic. And the fact that she dismisses Paleo by pointing to the average mortality rate of cavemen, tells me she knows nothing of how anthropology, statistics or evolution works. Finally, her claim that Dr. Williams Davis' superb book "Wheat Belly" is not supported by science has to mean that she hasn't even read it, because his book is inundated with references to research substantiating his claims.

    If this dietician's knowledge is representative of the comprehension that most dieticians have about low carb diets, then people seeking dietary advice from these professionals are in big trouble. The reason why "Americans are still obese", as this misguided and misinformed dietician laments, is NOT because low carb diets lack efficacy, but because health "authorities" like her are spreading their ignorance as if it were infallible dogma.
  • Suz Stapler
    Not everyone doing a gluten free diet has celiac. I do gluten free and just have an intolerance. I do it for headaches and it works great for me.

    The problem is that too many people eat too many processed and packaged foods, bad fats and sugars and not enough traditional foods like good fats (coconut and palm oils, butter and ghee), grass fed meat, raw (unpasteurized dairy) and organic produce. Fat is not now and never has been the problem, but always the scapegoat.

    I'm a holistic nutritionist and a member of
  • Jeanne Shepard
    Suz, I have a friend who is a RDd, but has a working brain, and is also associated with Weston Price. She did a fabulous plan for me, and I can only pray that she and you are the wave of the future. But, for now, most RDs follow their corporate party lines.
  • Paleo Huntress
    Archeologists and anthropologists refer to an evolutionary adaptation called "seasonal resistance" (of both insulin and leptin). This was an adaptation that caused the body to slow the metabolism of the massive influx of carbohydrate by causing resistance. The benefit is quick storage of fat during "harvest" time giving us larger energy stores for the winter that followed. Once the glut had passed, the body returned to it's normal ketogenic state where animal foods were the primary source of nutrition and the stored fat was used more efficiently as energy. Today we have access to starchy carbohydrate and sweet fruit year 'round, and because of this, most of us suffer from some degree of chronic insulin/leptin resistance. These foods (not grains of course, they are toxic) are not demons or the enemy if you eat them when our ancestors ate them (for a few weeks a year) and then you deal with the pudge until the body uses it all up again. How wonderful it would be to have those giving advice in the nutrition field be truly educated.

  • Paleo Huntress
    I would add too, that when those "cavemen" started farming, they LOST 1/4 of their life expectancy (In other words, those starches SHORTENED their lives) and several inches in height as well as showing the very first signs of protein deficiency disease and tooth decay- (all of which are very evident in skeletal remains)
  • Paleo Huntress
    The author has no training in nutrition- her background is in forensics and her role now is in predicting the the direction food is going to take. It's a little creepy to see her promoting a direction while simultaneously claiming to predict that direction. Conflict of interest?
  • Lisa G
    Was this REALLY written by a RD???? I have Celiac. According to my Celiac specialist there are an ESTIMATED 40 - 50% of people with the genetic markers for Celiac.

    "According to the Celiac Sprue Association, 1 percent of the U.S. population carries the genetic marker for Celiac Sprue. Of that 1 percent, about 30 perdcent have a genetic predisposition , so only one third of the 1 percent will actually manifest the disease."

    Wow that is a long song and dance to say WHAT??? The genetic marker IS THE GENETIC PREDISPOSITION!!!!! I get stupid comments from doctors all the time. RD's SHOULD know better. BTW a gluten free diet is far FAR from a low carb diet.

    "In fact, patients have to be monitored closely because the diet creates a hostile environment for probiotics thereby impacting gut health long term."

    No, just not true. Just so it is clear the GLUTEN causes the gut problems not removing the gluten. The GI dr I saw, the Celiac specialist and the pediatric GI dr my daughter saw along with ALL the many RD's we saw said that taking a probiotic for 6 months or so after diagnosis would be good to help return our gut to a healthy state. Then we should be good as long as we stayed gluten free. So gluten is bad. Gluten free is good.
  • Johnny Shelly
    It is simple to maintain your weight, you just have to have the right mindset and knowledge of what you are eating.
    Anybody struggling with their weight should give this blog a look. He has an inspirational story of how he changed his life for the better, and ended up meeting the love of his life. I always read his first post whenever I am a bit frustrated with my dieting, Josh is a lucky man.
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Latest posts by Suzy Badaracco
Suzy Badaracco
Suzy Badaracco is a toxicologist, chef, and registered dietitian. She holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Criminalistics, an Associates degree in Culinary Arts, and a Masters of Science degree in Human Nutrition.
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