By Rob Archangel, 180DegreeHealth.com staff writer
Still listening to the Real Food Summit, and today caught two talks, Zoe Harcombe and Barry Groves. I wanted to bang my head against the wall for some of the wacky stuff I was hearing, especially from Groves. I won’t give a point by point breakdown, but some quick and dirty thoughts.
Groves repeatedly misrepresents facts to fit his preferred low or no-carb diet. He says traditional human diets were heavy on animal fat and featured few or no carbs, ignoring the many, many human cultures that did eat starch-heavy diets (probably in fact, the majority did). And even those groups which ate lots of fat valued plant foods. As Melissa McEwen points out, it’s a myth that Inuit ate zero carbs. (As an aside, even meat contains muscle glycogen and isn’t zero carb.) He creates a false dichotomy between a hard-line vegan diet and a carnivorous diet, as if these were the only two options for humans, and then, having built his strawman, rightly dismisses vegan diets and wrongly concludes that we shouldn’t eat carbs. At the end of his talk, he even equivocates on whether we’re omnivores, and says we don’t really need plant foods. Just because we can get by without them doesn’t make it optimal, and the fact that humans everywhere have eaten lots of carbs when they have the chance suggests to me that there are benefits. Coupled with our stress response when we go too low on carbs, my recommendation is to eat the food and don’t let highfalutin’ arguments incite extreme behavior.
Zoe Harcombe was a little more interesting; she pointed out the stark figure that anorexia has the highest death rate among all mental illness, which is yet one more danger to dieting and valorizing the long-term losers. The addictive personalities that keep weight off put themselves at much greater risk for eating disorders like anorexia. You don’t want that. She also rightly points out the flawed science demonizing saturated fats and animal foods, and emphasizes
Still, she seemed caught up in carbohydrate hating too. Both she and Groves said that the government recommendations to eat less fat and more unrefined starch precipitated the boom in obesity, diabetes and related illness. Much as I don’t jive with his vegan conclusions, years ago Tim Robbins pointed out in The Food Revolution that Americans (and probably Brits too in Harcombe’s case) didn’t actually start eating this way when the government made its recommendations. More processed food, yeah, but a diet based around nutritious, mainly unrefined starchy foods? Hardly. That doesn’t a prove starch-based diet is best, but that it is just dumb to indict a diet that people by and large aren’t eating for the health problems they face.
That’s it for today. Catch you next time.