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Carbohydrates: A Love Letter


Of the many troubling things to come out of last week’s GOP Presidential debates—Donald Trump, Donald Trump, and Donald Trump come immediately to mind—Jeb Bush might top them all. No, really. In the midst of all the yelling about Rosie O’Donnell and buying politicians and America not being able to do anything right, did you get a good look at Jeb? He looked drained. He looked wan. He looked, in fact, like he was about to topple over at any minute.

This is because he has stopped eating carbs.

“Is there a blander, more boring personality in American politics?” Camille Paglia asked in her debate recap for the Hollywood Reporter. “The guy looks like the runny yolk of a fried egg.”

I love you, Camille, but you’re incorrect: He looks like someone who hasn’t touched a hamburger bun, a blueberry muffin, or a baked potato in six months. Since December, Jeb has lost 40 pounds on the “Paleo Diet,” which instructs its devoted followers to eat like ancient cave people, because ancient cave people clearly had long lifespans, really fun lives, and all the best ideas.

Real Americans Eat Bread

If you’re not familiar with the paleo diet, congratulations! You are a Real American™, and you’re probably enjoying some sort of delicious, carb-laden treat at this very moment. Those simple carbohydrate sugars are likely spiking in your bloodstream; you are probably happy, perhaps even enjoying a slight moment of inner peace. The paleo way of life largely eschews those glorious, life-giving carbs you just ate, in favor of protein, vegetables, some fruit if you’re lucky, and maybe a seed or two.

The low-carb trick—of which paleo is an elaborate derivation—is one of the oldest in the book. It is also its own prison.

Now, look: I was in a sorority in college. If there’s an unhealthy way to lose weight, trust me, I’m familiar with it. The low-carb trick—of which paleo is an elaborate derivation—is one of the oldest in the book. It is also its own prison. Sure, you might lose weight fast without carbs. However, if you ever backslide, you might go crazy out of deprivation, eat nothing but waffle fries and chocolate cake for six days, and then promptly blow up like a house. This is because your body needs those carbs. Friends, I like you. I want you to have fun. Clearly, this is no way to live.

“I am always hungry,” Jeb told the New York Times in April. “I’m starving to death,” he told CNN last week. In one particularly poignant little detail, Jeb has also told the press that his family has “Sunday Funday,” where he “cheats” on his diet, maybe eats a few chips with his guacamole, and brings a little light into his cold, bleak, empty culinary world. Jeb! Come back! There is a better way!

“Some paleo enthusiasts refer to the dietary regimen as a ‘template,’” Vanity Fair reported last week, “to avoid the connotation that it’s merely a tool for weight loss. It is, they say, a lifestyle, one modeled off of the eating habits of early humans unencumbered by agricultural technology.”

Unencumbered by agricultural technology? Excuse me, Vanity Fair, but I think you mean “back then, everyone was starving.” But, then again, that seems to be the whole point of the paleo way of life. Jeb Bush, after all, is starving. He’s so starving that he’s telling anyone who will listen, perhaps in the hope that they’ll slip him a raw potato or some peanut butter—yes, those are two things you can’t eat on the paleo diet, because cave people weren’t smart enough to cultivate potatoes, peanuts have some sort of mysterious “acid” that “nullifies” other nutrients, and the paleo diet is the Donald Trump of diets—under the table.

“But Heather,” you might say. “Jeb has lost forty pounds. Aside from giving the general impression that he’s about to keel over, he looks great!” Well, of course. That’s what happens when you starve yourself, carbohydrates or no.

If We Don’t Eat, We Die

Here is an actual line that appears on the website of a well-known paleo guru, Loren Cordain, Ph.D:  “In one of my most popular articles,” a guest writer and “nutrition specialist” muses, “I dove deep into the mire of just why so many of us are addicted to food.” When I read this, I laughed and laughed. Of course we’re “addicted to food,” you weirdo! If we don’t eat food, we die!

Some bread, some butter, some wine—the key qualifier, of course, is “not too much”—and everyone’s happy and not very fat!

Here’s the worst news for paleo supporters, if it can possibly get any worse after having to give up glorious, carb-laden life forces like pasta, tacos, PB & J and pizza (which, by the way, is a double paleo no-no, because it has carbs and dairy): Carbohydrates, the latest scientific studies argue, are key to feeding your brain, which uses 25 percent of your energy and almost 60 percent of the blood glucose in your system.

“Our research suggests that dietary carbohydrates, along with meat, were essential for the evolution of modern big-brained humans,” said Jennie Brand-Miller, a professor at the University of Sydney. “The evidence suggests that Paleolithic humans would not have evolved on today’s “Paleo’ diet.” In other words, if cavemen had stuck to eating like Jeb Bush does now, they never would have gotten out of their caves. Yikes. No wonder Scientific American called the paleo approach “half-baked” last year.

Sure, there are some decent aspects to the paleo diet: The avoidance of soda, over-the top sweets, and hyper-processed foods all seem to make sense. But seriously, whatever happened to the slow, daily cutting of calories, or even “French Women Don’t Get Fat?” Remember that? Some bread, some butter, some wine—the key qualifier, of course, is “not too much”—and everyone’s happy and not very fat!

Alas, this is America, and in the end, the paleo diet craze tells us more about ourselves than about nutrition. Let’s face it: We’re just not that good at moderation. Sometimes, we also get confused. Never fear, fellow citizens: As science has shown, it’s nothing a few carbs to the brain can’t fix. Delicious.