While everybody seems to be interested in eating healthy foods and achieving and staying at a healthy weight, opinions on how to do this keep changing. It is amusing to look back on the evolving definition of the healthiest way to achieve the ideal weight.
By the time Englishwoman Ella Kellog wrote “Science in the Kitchen” in 1893, the basics of nutrition concerning protein, carbohydrates and fats already were well-known. Fats were seen to be necessary but harmful in large quantity, and the current FDA recommendation of 3 ounces of protein daily already existed.
Still, some of Kellog’s opinions seem bizarre. She believed that condiments such as mustard, ginger and spices irritated the stomach and caused constant hunger, as well as chronic disorders of the internal organs. Their use, she said, “allows the enemy into the citadel of life.”
Kellog used heavy cream in nearly all her recipes; she claimed it is easier to digest than other fats such as butter or lard. Vegetable oils are not mentioned.
During Kellog’s time period, nutrition was deemed important, but no mention was made of people needing to lose weight in order to be healthy.
By the 1950s, women were looking to lose pounds and improve their figures. “Family Fare, Food Management and Recipes,” a 1950 publication of the Agricultural Research Administration Bureau of Human Nutrition and Home Economics, recommended dieters eat three small but healthy meals and no snacks.
Simple calorie reduction was the goal and dieters were told to cut the fat off their meat and avoid any oil, nuts, gravies, sauces, and sugary foods such as jam or jelly. Starches were to be eaten in small portions and lean meats, milk and eggs were highly recommended.
A good figure in the ’50s and ’60s was a curvy figure, however, and thin women wishing to look more like Jayne Mansfield or Marilyn Monroe often turned to weight-adding products such as Wate-on, which promised to add inches to cheeks, neck, bustline, hips and thighs.
In the 1990s, the diet slogan was “fat makes you fat.” Susan Powter of “Stop the Insanity” fame told us to insert the word “fat” wherever a recipe used the word cheese. Fatburger. Macaroni and fat.
That was the time of Olestra, the indigestible, scientifically modified fat that could be used for frying potato chips or churning into ice cream. We crunched pretzels by the bagful, ate hydrogenated, butter-flavored spreads and downed plates of pasta, with no cheese or olive oil.
How the wheel has turned. These days, many dieters would rather drink a cup of organic, extra-virgin, cold-pressed olive oil than touch a strand of spaghetti or dab of low-fat margarine.
The FDA continues to recommend a balanced daily intake of foods, based on high-fiber complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, filled out with meat, nuts, beans and dairy, and topped off with a dab of sugar and fat (very similar to what was recommend in 1893). But many people are turning to high-protein, low carbohydrate diets such as Atkins or the trendy Paleo diet to shed excess pounds.
According to the Atkins Diet, when a person eats carbohydrates in the form of starch or sugar, the body immediately converts it to blood sugar, which is burned for energy. Excess calories get stored away as fat. Atkins and other scientifically based low-carb diets operate on the body’s ability to go into ketosis, a state in which, in the absence of all carbohydrates, the body will burn stored fat for energy. The amount of fat consumed in the diet is unimportant, because it will be burned for energy, so healthy oils and fatty meats are not discouraged.
After a strict induction phase, Atkins eventually permits dairy (which contains more grams of carbohydrates than protein), a few beans and whole grains to re-enter the diet.
The Paleo diet cuts those foods out totally. It concentrates on meat and seafood, tree nuts, fruit and vegetables; it leaves out all grains, legumes, added salt, refined sugar, processed oils and dairy products, based on the fact that our current species evolved without them in our diet. We will be healthier, the diet maintains, if we stick to the foods we are “meant” to eat.
According to articles on pubmed.gov and the National Institute for health at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/, higher protein intakes are being more readily accepted as healthy, but the arguments continue to rage as to whether long-term carbohydrate restriction is dangerous.
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The accompanying recipes offer a compromise: They are healthy for anyone, high in protein and lower in fat, and contain carbohydrates in the form of dairy, fresh fruit, whole grains, beans and vegetables.
A higher-protein, lower-fat, healthy carb-based daily menu might include a boiled egg and fresh fruit with yogurt for breakfast, white bean and chicken salad with a cup of corn and shrimp chowder for lunch, and almond-crusted flounder with a grain and lentil pilaf and steamed leafy greens for dinner.