Why I’m Not a Low-Carb Purist by Dana Carpender

Why I'm Not a Low-Carb Purist by Dana Carpender

I have been accused of not being a Low-Carb Purist

I have, over the past many years in general, and in the past few days in particular, taken some heat for not being a Low-Carb Purist – not pure enough or restrictive enough or something enough about the diet I eat and the ingredients I use in my recipes. I was accused of something very close to a major character flaw in a discussion about sucralose, by a woman who was infuriated that I would use such an evil, evil ingredient, and that I dared to suggest that perhaps stevia was not utterly safe beyond all question. I’ve been taken to task for using/eating polyols. I’ve been told that I should only use, and only recommend, organic, grass-fed meat, and that suggesting that it’s okay to eat battery eggs – factory farmed eggs – is just plain wrong.

Sorry to disappoint, folks, but I’m not a purist. I will readily admit that grass-fed meat is better both for one’s health and for the environment than meat from CAFOs (confined animal feedlot operations.) I keep my own chickens in my backyard, and therefore regularly eat eggs that are superior to grocery store eggs, especially in the summer, when the chickens can free-range. I have no problem with people using stevia if they prefer it to sucralose; that’s fine.

You Don’t Have to be a Low-Carb Purist at the Grocery Store

That said, I have grocery store meat in my freezer (and thawing in my kitchen.) Before we had chickens, I mostly bought local pastured eggs, but wasn’t above buying grocery store eggs if they were super-cheap. I buy pastuerized, non-organic half-and-half, cream, and blocks of standard cheddar, Monterey Jack, and Swiss, and even – gasp! – the grated Parmesan in the green shaker, generally the house brand.

Why? The same reason many people are buying stuff they consider somewhat south of optimal these days: Money. I quite frankly can’t afford to buy all $8/pound-and-up meat. I can’t afford $5/gallon for raw milk, and even more for raw cream. I can’t afford $12/pound raw milk, grass-fed cheese. I’d lose weight eating that stuff, all right – because I’d have to eat less than half of what I usually do now to call myself a Low-Carb Purist.

Similarly, I think well of the Steviva erythritol-and-stevia blend I tried recently, and I like Lakanto, too, but quite frankly I cannot afford $18/pound for sweetener.

If you can afford this stuff, and you want to buy it, go for it! I think it’s great. But my main concern has been, and remains, macronutrient balance – fat/protein/carb. Altering this has been, far and away, my most powerful tool to lose weight and improve my health and energy. I started by swapping out brown rice, whole wheat bread, whole grain cereal, and potatoes for, yes, grocery-store meat, eggs, and cheese, and that, right there, was the most important change. Everything else I have done falls into the category of “minor tweaks” in comparison. 80% or more of the improvement to my health came from whacking the carbs out of my diet.

Are You a Low-Carb Purist if You Use Splenda?

So, yeah, I use some sucralose. I have seen no credible evidence that it is a “neurotoxin,” though people often claim it is, apparently thinking it is chemically similar to aspartame (it is not). I have seen evidence that sucralose can cause thymus shrinkage and kidney swelling in rats – in enormous doses, far,far beyond anything I consume. ( I have also seen studies indicating that in similar ridiculous doses stevia may interfere with fertility in rats, and studies indicating it causes abdominal fat deposition in chickens. This latter may be because of the well-accepted fact that stevia increases insulin levels – oops.) Yes, I eat non-organic vegetables and fruits, though I try to keep an eye on the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen when making those choices. And I am willing to use Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and other condiments that contain some sugar, or even HFCS, because the total quantity is too tiny to screw up my blood sugar.

Shouldn’t You Only Eat Organic or Natural Ingredients?

I do not call for all organic or natural products in my recipes. You are, of course, more than welcome to use them! But there’s an old saying that the good is the enemy of the perfect. The reverse is also true: The perfect is the enemy of the good. My main message is “Cut out the damned carbs.” That’s pretty much it. If I confound that with “Oh, and you have to buy all organically raised, small-farm food,” I’m going to scare away more people than I help. Telling a family of five, with an obese mother and father and three kids who are growing overweight already, but who are living on $40K a year or less, that if they don’t buy all boutique food their diet isn’t good enough is worse than unhelpful, it is downright discouraging. Far, far better to tell them that those battery eggs are cheaper than cold cereal, and vastly more nutritious. Far better to give them a dozen things to do with 69c/pound chicken legs and thighs, $1.89/pound ground chuck, and 99c/pound pork shoulder that will feed their family without requiring that they sell the house.

Too, many people don’t have access to these things, even if they have the money. I live in a lefty-trendy university town in the Midwest. I can get pastured eggs, organic vegetables, local grass-fed meat, even a cow share so I can get raw milk, all without leaving town. But for many people obtaining this stuff would mean driving a long way; it’s frankly impractical. Should I tell them “Oh, sorry, too bad. Guess you’ll just have to lose your toes and eyesight to diabetes?” Or should I tell them how to get 80% or more of the improvement possible with food from their very own local grocery store?

I have hopes that as the popularity of grass-fed and pasture raised meat and eggs grows, as the public demand for raw, grass-fed milk increases, these foods will become more widely available, and will come down in price. That would be wonderful for everyone. But that day is not today.

In short, I have quite enough to do trying to convince people to quit scarfing Lucky Charms and swilling Coca-Cola, trying to explain to the already-health-oriented that they’ve been sold a bill of goods about meat and eggs, and help families make the low carb transition without too much dislocation of their lives and budget. If you are a purist, and can afford to be a purist, I laud you – but leave the details up to you.

© 2011 by Dana Carpender. Used by permission of the author. What do you think? Please send Dana your comments to Dana Carpender.

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