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A couple of stories seem to have dovetailed this week, causing a fair amount of reaction within the MNB community.

The first story was about how Canadian researchers have developed a “vegetarian combination diet” that may help consumers cut cholesterol levels by about a third in just a month. The diet combines vegetables, such as broccoli and red peppers; soy milk and soy sausages; oat bran; fruit, and nuts. The researchers say that consumption of this diet may be as effective as medicine in reducing cholesterol.

We noted that while this diet may help you live forever, it would probably feel like forever. “On the other hand, if taking one Lipitor means that we can eat risotto, drink red wine and finish up the meal with warm bread pudding, we’ll opt for the Lipitor…”

The second story came in yesterday’s Rodale Beat: “Americans are being led to believe that their ever-widening waistlines are the direct result of eating too many carbohydrates, and not enough protein or fat,” wrote Liz Applegate in “Carbohydrate-Gate,” an article in the January 2003 issue of Runner’s World. “In other words, Protein and fat – Good. Carbohydrates – Bad.

“Of course, this is nonsense,” she wrote. “Rather, carbohydrates, protein and fat are all good in the correct proportions.”

Okay, that’s the background. Where these stories coalesced was at the nexus of where and how people should take responsibility for their own physical condition.

For example, one MNB user wrote:

“I am writing in response to today's article on Carbohydrate-Gate. People like Liz Applegate seem to blow the latest carbohydrate news way out of proportion. Nutritional plans like the Atkins diet never say we eat 'too many carbohydrates, and not enough protein and fat'. In fact the message is pretty clear that as a society we eat way too many carbohydrates period.

There are many examples you talk about every day in your update......... enormous portions of dinners when you go out to eat (pasta, potatoes, fast food, etc.). I am an Atkins follower and the plan has always instructed me to eat very few carbs while working on loosing weight (Induction) and then
the balance for my body of carbs, protein and natural fats. This combination seems to work very well and I can say from experience that the Low Carb diet works much better than any other I have tried over the years. It has helped me to lose 50 pounds and my cholesterol has remained the same as before starting the diet. I just still can't believe we as a society have been misled over the years by manufacturers and doctors who promote low-fat items as good for you when they load them with sugar to make them taste good. Consumers should take a hard look the nutritional information on the items they buy and they would be very surprised.”

MNB user Richard Hunsaker added:

“Atkins works. As a lifelong opponent of the low carb diet I have tried to lose weight with little success. I have been on the Atkins diet since August and have lost about 35 lbs. More importantly, however, my system seems to function better...less heartburn and stomach problems. I just feel better, even without the weight loss. Too many people try to correlate body fat with dietary fat and that is not entirely the case. More importantly, there is a big retail opportunity in low carb foods. Check the sales on the low carb high protein supplement bars. Stores and manufacturers need to wake up to this. It’s not just a fad, and it is growing.

We actually think that people should do what works for them, whether it is lots of carbs, lots of protein, or lots of water…as long as they know what they’re doing and how it will affect their overall health. (We subscribe to the “whatever gets you through the night” philosophy.) But some people thought that we were endorsing medicine as a way of avoiding responsibility.

MNB user Richard Lowe wrote:

“Yes, I second the comment on taking drugs to eliminate personal responsibility. I was prescribed Lipitor after taking a prescribed diuretic which resulted in increased cholesterol. The Lipitor caused nose and hemorrhoid bleeding. A proper diet - fruit, veggies, whole grains, and seafood, with salt under 500 mg a day has eliminated the need for any drugs!”

Another MNB user really took us to task:

“This is really tough for me to just let go. Honestly, you’re denouncing a diet simply because you ignorant about it. This is not a crazy diet, and for many in this world eating a vegetarian or vegan diet is the correct thing to do. Not only are you endorsing a pill that has serious side effects, but you are trivializing a diet that many many people adhere to. Look at the growing vegetarian population in this country, or the millions of people around the world who not only endorse a this type of diet but actually find it satisfying and very enjoyable. For you to express that those who follow this diet are wasting their lives by simply trying to exist is ignorant.

“I wonder if major retailers are building out their natural food selections simply because people are trying to exists. Look at stores like Whole Foods or Wild Oats, as well as the growing trend in grocery to provide customers with a selection of products that support this type of diet and then think about how crazy this diet really is. I personally do not adhere to that diet but I do
not discount it or the people who do. Many people live life to the fullest and follow this type of diet. I appreciate and respect those who choose Lipitor as well as those who choose to eat a bowl of oatmeal with some soy sausage (which is very tasty by the way).”

Okay, let’s be clear about this…

While we certainly were flip about the vegetarian combination diet, our tongue was in our cheek to an extent…though there certainly was more than a germ of truth in our preference for risotto and red wine.

We don’t think the veggie diet is crazy. We think it sounds unappetizing. That’s not ignorant – just personal opinion.

We weren’t endorsing Lipitor (though we will if offered a fee). We tried diet modification, had limited success in reducing our cholesterol, and our doctor suggested medication (in small doses) to help. We’ve had no side effects that we’re aware of, and the cholesterol has gone down. So our experience has been good.

Ultimately, we think people do need to take personal responsibility for their own health, whether it is in choosing a diet, a medication, or some combination of the two.
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