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(1) I, for the most part, don't eat vegetables. This is a deeply ingrained food issue for me, and it's unlikely to change just because Atkins would like it to. :) Someday I'd like to work on that, but realistically, it isn't likely to happen now. Is it even remotely possible for me to be "healthy" if I'm not eating many veggies and low-carb requires me to stay away from fruit, too?

Not all low-carb plans require you to stay away from fruit. I'd strongly recommend the "Protein Power" book if you have not already read it. The Protein Power plan is extremely similar to Atkins but it is much less militant about excluding fruit. You have to be mindful of what *kinds* of fruit you eat and pick the ones that are higher in fiber and (relatively) lower in sugar. Bananas, no. Berries, absolutely,

Other than that I'm not sure what to say as I don't know from whence your veggie issues arise. Tastes often do change over time, or when you change your eating habits, and I would allow for that. I would also bear in mind that on a low-carb diet it is not necessary to restrict fat, and some nice dressings/dips/whatnot can make a lot of difference in how palatable you find vegetables. Is there really no vegetable you can even tolerate? Raw, cooked, slathered in onion dip?

I'm really reluctant to give up what feel like healthier habits in favor of protein bars and shakes and Splenda. What gives with all the processed protein junk? I thought processed stuff was supposed to be bad?

You absolutely, positively, do NOT have to eat any processed foods to do a low-carb diet. In fact, I firmly believe that it is better to minimize them whenever possible. Those bars are, in my view, truly disgusting anyway.

Unfortunately, our society being what it is, there is a huge demand for processed/convenience foods of various kinds, and so as low-carb diets become more popular, you will see more of this kind of stuff proliferating. On the one hand, the market demands it: on the other hand, the processed food industry is always looking for a new niche to exploit (and this is a tempting one since you can get away with charging premium prices for this stuff.)

The wide availability of low-carb processed foods should not under any circumstances be taken as a message that you have to eat any of this stuff. Of course we all have times when we fall back upon convenience foods, but there are foods that are convenient without necessarily being highly processed - I can grill some gourmet sausages and toss together a salad in less time than it takes to microwave something.

3) Speaking of that, what's up with Splenda? I can sort of understand why NutraSweet could fool your body into thinking it's getting sugar, and cause a sugar-type reaction. But then why is Splenda somehow magically different?

Splenda is sugar molecules that have been chemically altered so that your body does not recognize them as sugar. No calories and no effect on the blood sugar. There are rather rigorous tests a sweetener has to pass before it is approved for diabetics, and Splenda has passed those tests. So don't worry that it's somehow a specious claim by the manufacturer - there really is an objective standard of truth that is being applied.

The overall safety of artificial sweeteners is a controversial issues. Plenty of alterna-health types won't have anything to do with any of them (except possibly stevia, which is an herb that imparts a sweet taste. Complication there is that it is not legal to market stevia as a sweetener, so you can't buy foods sweetened with it, and you can only buy it labeled as a 'dietary supplement.' Of course near-anarchy reigns when it comes to dietary supplements. Truth be told there is no real reason to think of stevia as less or more dangerous than artificial sweeteners just because it's 'natural.)

When it comes to artificial sweeteners the only one I really worry about is aspartame. I think there is sufficient evidence to believe it's not a particularly good thing to take into one's body. Splenda is so popular because it's believed not to have the same health issues as aspartame, but also because it is aesthetically superior to every other artificial sweetener on the market - it tastes more like sugar than they do. Of course, it also costs more than the others, being still under patent. Saccharin is actually a good alternative if you can get past the aftertaste issue. At normal intakes there is really no reason to fear the saccharin cancer scares of the 70's.

There is really nothing particularly natural about sugar either. It's a refined plant extract - so is cocaine, so is arsenic, so are many other things that aren't too healthy for a person to eat. "Unrefined" sugar really isn't any better from a biochemical standpoint. We have all been bombarded with so much sugar throughout our lives that I don't think it even makes sense to talk about 'moderation' any more. Official health bodies have recommended 'no more' than 10% to 25% of calories come from added sugar. I think there is absolutely no justification for any of our calories being delivered in the form of refined sugar, and that we should keep a weather eye on the natural sugars in the foods we eat. We did not evolve to handle high sugar intakes and I don't believe they are harmless for anyone.

(5) I recently read a description of a low-carb diet as being high in protein, fat and fiber. Isn't fiber pretty much all carbs? Where does the fiber come from if you can't have grains, fruit, or beans?

Well, it usually comes from veggies, sorry to say. Again, I have no magic solution for your veggie resistance. Fiber is technically a carbohydrate but is a carbohydrate that human stomachs cannot break down into its component sugars (cows can do it, but they have four stomachs and a really elaborate procedure, aided by friendly microorganisms.) Therefore it does not 'count' on a low-carb diet because it does not raise the blood sugar. You just have to be kinda careful about the carbs that it *does* tend to be attached to.

Some kinds of high-fiber crackers are considered 'low carb' because there is so much fiber and so little starch in them. Wasa Fiber Rye and Bran-A-Crisp are two brands that I buy often. Some people find they do better if they eliminate grains altogether, particuarly those with specific health issues like autoimmune diseases (which are thought to be aggravated by grain consumption.) But I haven't found it necessary to do without high-fiber crackers.

If you just can't get enough fiber from veggies and/or fiber crackers then of course fiber supplements are always an option, if you get a brand without added sugar. They are widely available.

The net effect of adding fiber to the diet is that it slows down digestion and thus slows down the rate at which your blood sugar goes up after a meal. Reducing carbs to a very low level has this effect, much more strongly. So many people have trouble with the concept of a low carb diet being healthy because they have always been told whole grains are the healthiest possible thing to eat. Well, whole grains are definitely *better* than the refined junk of the typical American diet, but that does not mean there isn't a better option still - at least when actively trying to lose weight. Atkins does allow whole grains in moderation at the Maintenance phase of the diet, for those who find they don't have a problem with them.

I'm not looking for a religion, and it really seems to me that the whole low-carb thing has almost a religious zeal to it. I apologize if that offends anybody, but ask around - I bet I'm not the only one that thinks that. Are there people that just quietly do their low-carb thing in private?

Well, the thing is that low-carbing, for many people, is so dramatically *better* than other forms of dieting. It works better, it's not painful, it feels good, it's healthy. So I think it's a natural reaction for people to get rather indignant about the way it's been so scornfully treated in the popular press and in the scientific community (although that is changing more rapidly and dramatically than you might realize.)

But I am sure you are not seriously asking whether it will *work* without going out and evangelizing. You really want to know *why* so many people seem to do that. Trust me, there are a lot more people who are doing it perfectly quietly and never try to evangelize anyone. You just don't know about them because they aren't making the noise.

As a picky eater you probably know this already, but a lot of people feel very free to comment on what you eat. Low-carbing is more socially acceptable than it used to be, but it's still a major problem for a lot of people - getting attacked and criticized by family, friends, yes, even complete strangers in restaurants and grocery lines. I think in this particular atmosphere, those who have found low-carbing to work really well for them get rather riled up and defensive. It's hard to stay silent when you see/hear people repeating things that you *know* are myths, misconceptions, half-truths. It's also hard to stay quiet - *really* hard - when you see people complaining about problems they are having that you *know* would be well addressed by a low-carb diet of some kind.

Speaking for myself personally, I have a desire to help people, but even more than that, I find the whole subject to be intellectually very interesting. On one level, the basic biochemistry of the whole thing is interesting - I've enjoyed learning about insulin and the other hormones of the endocrine system, and the whole ball of wax that you need to know if you want to explain to anyone why low-carb works. And then I find the social aspects of it even more interesting - how various scientific theories get ingrained as 'the truth,' how they shape policy, how they get understood in the popular imagination, and then how they get disseminated in the media...when all the time they are really only theories and not very strongly supported by the facts. It's been endlessly fascinating to me, over the past year or so, to watch how the press coverage of low-carb has been subtly shifting. The climate, as I said, is very different now.

But you don't need to get into all that to do a low-carb diet and be successful at it. It does help, though, to have resources like this board to help out with questions and support.

7) I can't imagine never having another sweet thing. I'm not even the last of the big-time sweet-eaters, either. But still. Or is this part of the beauty of the whole plan ... to turn it into a simpler game with only one rule: no carbs (a la quitting smoking, which has only one rule: no cigarettes)?

Well, in my view, low-carbing is really pretty simple, but it's not THAT simple. It's not "no carbs" at all. It's choosing only certain kinds of carbs, and holding the level of digestible carbs as low as you can manage. Beyond that, I think it's important to emphasize whole, fresh, unprocessed foods as much as possible, not be afraid of fats (except trans fats) and protein, and of course, get exercise. I absolutely haven't given up sweet things, but I do rely on artificial sweeteners to some extent, also eat moderate amounts of berries and melon, and have also found that my sensitivity to natural sweetness is a lot better than it was. Now, it seems pretty horrifying that people dip strawberries in sugar - what overkill! (of course, they'd better be GOOD strawberries.)

When it comes to choosing a low-carb plan, I think you would be better off looking somewhere other than Atkins. He can be awfully "my way or the highway" and it sounds like you already have some issues with his approach. For a very reasonable, sane approach to low-carbing that is not quite so rigid (and which explains all the scientific background much better than Atkins ever bothers to) I cannot recommend the book "Protein Power" too highly. You can get it on for 75 cents.

This post is already way too long and I know I didn't address all your questions. But I hope you hang around a little longer so the conversation can continue.

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