The signature feature of Neverland, a hot commodity these days, is not, of course, the Hook. It’s not the crocodile, either, nor even Tinkerbell, pixie dust or Peter. The signature feature is the one great law of the land: You can never grow up. But one needn’t go nearly so far as Neverland to honor that statute; just sign up for breakfast, lunch or dinner in America.
Where people are grown up about food, they eat real food, not too much, mostly plants. They eat as they have eaten for generations, rather than waiting for new book or morning show segment to tell them everything they thought they knew until yesterday was wrong. But we don’t do that here.
Here, we are grown up about some things. Work, for instance, money for sure, and educating our children. I don’t know any responsible parents vulnerable to promises of magical alternatives to educating their children, whether whispered in shadow or shouted in infomercials. I have seen no such marketing efforts, presumably because there is no audience for them.
We accept that learning to be a fully modern Homo sapiens takes years of education, and whether in school or at home, we engage our kids in just that. But offer those same hard-working, clear-thinking parents some pixie-dust-du-jour for weight loss, beautifying, vitalizing themselves — a formula known only to the one, true diet messiah who knows what the rest of us don’t, or won’t admit — and their eyes glaze over and they start reaching for their credit cards.
This might be amusing if the results were not so calamitous, the costs not so high. But alas, they are — so dieting in Neverland is no laughing matter.
But it is big business, and business with a very specific cadence. Consider, for instance, an extremely provocative research paper just published in a prestigious, peer-reviewed journal, Diabetes Care.
The authors note that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, now a leading reason for liver transplants, is epidemic in tandem with obesity. They note that obesity does not cause the disease uniformly, and that diet composition might be a factor.
Accordingly, the researchers randomly assigned 38, overweight adults to a surplus of 1,000 calories daily for three weeks from three distinct sources — saturated fat, unsaturated fat or simple sugars. The particulars, spanning eight pages, traverse a great deal of biochemistry and cell biology — gluconeogenesis, ceramide synthesis — that most of you would not find all that entertaining, so we may cut to the chase. In the authors’ own words, simplified for clarity: saturated fat “induced the greatest increase in [liver fat], insulin resistance and harmful ceramides. Decreased intakes of [saturated fat] could be beneficial in reducing [liver fat] and the associated risk of diabetes.”
In dietary Neverland, we need decisive distinctions between heroes, like Peter, and villains, like Hook. The pop culture narrative requires that if sugar is now the one, true root of all dietary evil, then saturated fat must be exonerated. There are no moral or nutritional ambiguities in Neverland; silver bullets to the right, please, scapegoats to the left.
The truth, which of course is not a priority where puerile fantasy holds sway, is that bad diets are bad in many ways. They tend to have excesses of both sugar and saturated fat, and salt for that matter. They tend to depend on highly processed foods, willfully crafted to induce overeating. They are excessive in animal foods injurious to people, planet and of course — the animals, and deficient in more healthful, more sustainable plant foods.
Good diets — all variations on the theme of wholesome foods, mostly plants, in sensible, balanced combinations — are good in many ways, too. They are low in added sugar, refined carbohydrate and saturated fat. They are rich in fiber, many minerals and vitamins — while low in sodium. This was true last week; it will be true next week, too, no matter what diet is on the morning shows.
At the concession stand in nutritional Neverland, there is an endless parade of generally self-proclaimed gurus, peddling a cacophony of inconsistent and often even incoherent advice about scapegoats and silver bullets. False prophets, all; but the line is long, and the profits are high.
I have advice, too. Don’t get in that line. Grow up.