Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Oh, The Wonders of Those High-Protein Diets!

Everywhere I turn these days I'm reading about people eating more meat. Meat prices are soaring, and the "meat packers" (a euphemism if ever there was one) can scarcely keep up with demand.

Part of this, I think, has to do with the "millennium bug" (which, as we all know, turned out to be nothing more than an entomological hoax cooked up by former KGB agents now in the flashlight-battery business in New Jersey). I can just hear people all across America in mock despair the day after New Years: "Oh gosh, I bought 300 pounds of sirloin steak to get me through the Y2k crisis. Guess I'd better eat it this weekend before it goes bad!"

Of course the current trend towards flesh foods goes way beyond purchases made by America's 250 million militant survivalists the last 2 weeks of December. Indeed, if you look at the numbers you'll find that meat consumption in the US has been way up for some time. (It's a "bull" market, you might say.) The #1 reason for all of this is no secret: Everybody and his brother are on high-protein diets.

I first realized something was up when people started to react to my vegetarianism a little differently. Instead of the usual excuses ("Of course I'd be a vegetarian [sigh]—if only my Bohemian husband and sumo-wrestler son didn't have me chained to the stove boiling hot dogs…"), I started getting aggressive responses ("Vegetarian, huh? [sneer] That's fine for you, but a finely-tuned body like mine needs extra protein [more sneers]."). And my friends changed too. Suddenly, all they wanted to talk about was protein, and how they'd reached dietary Nirvana.

I decided I'd better learn more about these high-protein diets before I got left behind. Here's what I found out:

1. High-Protein Diets are the Latest Thing. Whereas vegetarianism is old news (Adam & Eve, and all that dusty stuff), eating protein is a new and exciting cutting-edge idea. It's the subject of dozens of new self-help books, so you know it must be the right thing to do for the new century. Funny though, I could swear I was on one of these diets myself when I was a fat little kid back in the 1960s. (I was still a fat little kid when I went off that diet, too.) And weren't high-protein diets fashionable in the 1970s and 1980s? (Do the names "Stillman" and "Scarsdale" ring any bells?) Whatever happened to all the folks on those diets?

2. High-Protein Diets are High-Tech Weight Reduction Programs. For years we all thought it was calorie intake vs. calories burned that determined whether we'd be overweight. Now we know better. As long as we don't eat those evil carbohydrates our bodies will burn fat. Isn't it great to discover that those stuffy old laws of thermodynamics don't apply anymore? (It sure makes me feel better about not paying attention in science class!) Of course, there are vegetarian doctors who claim to be able to prove that people on high-protein diets only lose weight because they (1) become dehydrated, (2) go into an abnormal and dangerous state called "ketosis", and/or (3) starve themselves. But what do those doctors know? The algebra they base their calculations on is hopelessly old-fashioned too.

3. High-Protein Diets Cure Diseases. In a recent interview with CNN, protein diet guru Dr. Robert Atkins said his diet, which includes rib-eye steak, roast beef, lobster and butter, cures diabetes and high blood pressure, and reverses heart disease. (With news like this it's no wonder he's sold 9-1/2 million books!) And to think—for so many years everyone (with the possible exception of Woody Allen in Sleeper) believed it was just the opposite. Thank goodness we've finally learned the truth! Thank goodness all those silly health organizations (the American Heart Association, the American Dietetic Association, the National Cholesterol Education Program, the American Cancer Society) that have been endorsing high-fiber, low-fat diets, have finally been put in their place.

4. High-Protein Diets Get People More In Touch With Their Bodies. This has happened to many people I know personally. My friend John, for example, found out from a "doctor" that his blood chemistry was practically screaming at him, demanding that he eat high-protein foods. (This isn't to be confused with the blood-type diet—my friend Sandy is on that one!) My old college buddy Lee, who's never been healthy a day in his life, has been on a hundred different diets over the years and swears high-protein is finally "it". His body is at peace now that he's given up fruit and grains entirely and eats 3 eggs with bacon every morning for breakfast.

And several of my friends claim to have "protein meters" in their bodies that tell them when they are running low. (Are these the same things "Morris the cat" has? How come I didn't get one???) My friend Patty went into virtual "protein shock" one day when she was visiting my house. She ran to my refrigerator for a protein fix and flung open the door with the highest of expectations, only to be hugely disappointed. ("Isn't there anything dead in here?")

5. People Love to Eat High-Protein Foods. Who can argue with this? Wouldn't everyone rather eat a high-protein meal (e.g., a hamburger—plain) instead of something they'd get on a stupid vegetarian diet (e.g., a veggie burger on a Kaiser bun with pickles, lettuce, tomato, onions, roasted red peppers, and a pile of fries on the side)? A while back I had dinner in a Chinese restaurant with a couple of high-protein dieters. After they carefully picked all the green peppers out of their beef stir fry (vegetarians in reverse!) they liked their food so much that they decided to take 90% of it home in a Styrofoam box so they could savor it later. Now that's enjoying a meal!

It's great that the news about the benefits of high-protein diets has gotten out to the masses. The meat industry is happy, the lobster folks are raking in the money, and I guess no one has to feel guilty about anything anymore.

I do feel kind of sorry, though, for all the older vegetarians out there who have already lived, say, 95 or 100 years outside "the Zone" on their outdated high-carbohydrate, low-cholesterol diets. The great news about protein may be coming too late to do them much good. As for the rest of us, though, thank goodness we've been enlightened. If we can just get our protein meters adjusted, we're fixed for life.

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