Dieting aficionados, celebrate! There’s yet another food you can strike off your “allowed foods” list, and you’ll find yourself dropping pounds instantly!
… yeah, it’s just about as stupid as it sounds. There’s no “quick fix”, no instant cure, no real way to drop weight unless you be careful what you eat and get off your butt once in a while. So when I see or hear about these ads that accuse one food in particular as the culprit for our nation’s weight problems, my skin prickles a bit.
Not to say that cheese (and other dairy, for that matter) can’t be bad for your health; after all, your typical cheeses are 70% fat, mainly saturated, which increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes if eaten in excess. They also contain a whole helluva lot of cholesterol and sodium. When you take into account that the average American eats upwards of 33 pounds of cheese per year and consider what a single serving of cheese actually looks like (1.5 ounces, or about the size of a 9-volt battery, of natural, hard cheese like cheddar, Swiss, or Parmesan), you can only imagine the toll it’s having on our health.
We could all stand to eat a little less cheese, sure. But we can also stand to eat a little less food overall and to instead balance that shitty food with more healthy food. While many Americans have strange thoughts on what kind of eating and what kind of food is “healthy”, though — a question that grows more and more complicated as we “discover” new fad diets, designate new deadly foods, and convert foodstuffs (and sometimes non-foodstuffs…) into processed “food” products — I prefer the rather easy way Michael Pollan puts healthy eating:
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.“
It sounds simple, it really does. And in some way, it really is. And and… if you were to take that quote and apply it to the billboards above, sure! That means a lot less cheese as, after all, cheese isn’t a plant.
(… not always, at least.)
But to say that a particular food is what’s causing our nation’s obesity epidemic is myopic at best and reckless at worst. A study performed by the Women’s Health Initiative, which spanned a total of five years (the start of the trial in 1993 and its conclusion in 1998, with a mean follow-up analysis of 8.1 years), that proved a low-fat diet, even low in saturated fat, had very little effect on the reduction of diseases, including coronary heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. You’re still eating the crap, just the less-fatty versions of it!
Unfortunately, there was no study performed as to the low-fat diet’s effect on weight, but other studies that have been conducted reveal that low-fat diets simply don’t cut the mustard (or, erm… low-fat cottage cheese) and are difficult to maintain when compared to other diets.
So what does all of this mean? If cheese isn’t causing our obesity, what is?
Let’s break down Michael Pollan’s quote:
- “Eat food.” Simple enough; food is readily abundant in several parts of the United States and other countries. It typically isn’t difficult to obtain some sort of nourishment through food.
- “Not too much.” I should probably add here, “And not too much crap“, but that’s pretty much implied. Now this is where the rubber starts to meet the road. It’s been coined the Standard American Diet, or its appropriately-abbreviated “SAD”: A diet high in animal fats, unhealthy fats, and processed foods (and in excess of all three!) while low in dietary fiber, complex carbohydrates, and plant-based foods. It’s been noted that the typical American diet consists of 50% simple carbohydrates, 15% animal proteins, and 35% fats. And where are we getting all this terrible food? In 2004, the average American ate about 3/4 of its restaurant meals from fast-food joints, and those meals typically consisted of a hamburger, French fries, or poultry… with 1/3 of the meals complimented with a carbonated beverage. Caloric consumption has grown by nearly a quarter between 1970 and 2008, and about 10% of those calories are from high-fructose corn syrup! If one were to take away the bad stuff we were eating and cut down on what we ate overall (after all, “not too much“!), it would contribute greatly to a better lifestyle and better overall health.
- “Mostly plants.” This is where I think the billboard actually has it right. While it’s unfair to say that one food (in this case, cheese) is the cause of all our weight and health problems, there is something to be said about the source of those billboards: PCRM, or the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, advocates for a mainly plant-based diet in general and encourages vegan diets in specific as the sponsors of the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart diet. As a vegetarian, it’s obvious that I would be okay with and maybe even back an organization that is devoted to more healthy, plant-based diet, and studies have consistently shown that vegetarian and vegan diets are better for our overall health (provided those diets don’t subsist on processed veg*n foods). I’m not saying that everyone needs to go veg*n (despite how awesome it would be if everyone did, haha), but others should take a page out of a veg*n cookbook and give a lower animal-based diet a look and a try.
A more plant-based diet isn’t necessarily difficult, but it does involve a changed mindset. It means treating your steak as a side and your veggies as a main course, feeling the munchies come on and reaching for ants on a log instead of a Twinkie, and finding alternatives to your otherwise meat-laden dinners.
So go on and eat that cheese if you want… just be sure it’s sparingly, balanced with a bunch of veggies, and managed with exercise (like I said, get off that butt) to keep your body — and your waistline! — in check.