Happy Monday. In my On Nutrition column in yesterday’s Seattle Times, “Cut fat or carbs? The way to shed pounds may be neither,” I wrote about Always Hungry?: Conquer Cravings, Retrain Your Fat Cells, and Lose Weight Permanently, the new book by David Ludwig, MD, PhD. I met Dr. Ludwig last November at the Oldways Finding Common Ground conference in Boston, where he spoke on “Which Comes First, Overeating or Obesity? The Effects of Glycemic Index on Metabolism.”
I admit, I am a little leery of the “diet book du jour,” but Always Hungry is not that kind of book. Admittedly, if I had not just listened to Dr. Ludwig’s grounded, insightful talk when I happened to sit next to him over a lunch of amazing African and Latin heritage foods (collard greens, black-eyed pea salad, jicama with chili and lime, cashew quinoa, roasted fish with chimichurri), I would initially have thought, “Oh, here we go again.”
The fact is that Always Hungry is grounded in science, science that will (hopefully) put to rest the mistakes and misinformation of the low-fat era, which made people think it was OK to eat boxes of Snackwells cookies and piles of pasta with fat-free marinara, and then wonder why they were never really satisfied with their food. I see the ramifications of this every day with my patients, many of whom are extremely wary about allowing healthy fats like nuts and avocados back into their diets and are equally reluctant to wean off sugar-sweetened fat-free yogurt.
In his book, Dr. Ludwig clearly explains the science behind the evolved understanding of how cutting calories is not the answer to lasting weight loss or lasting health when most of those calories come from refined, highly processed foods, then further explains why the quality of the foods you choose absolutely counts.
In the book, he suggests completely ignoring calories. Drawing from a eating plan that includes high-quality, whole or minimally refined low-glycemic carbohydrates along with ample amounts of healthy fats and adequate amounts of quality protein (from both plant and animal sources), he recommends that we eat as much as we want until satisfied (but not over-full) and snack when and if we become hungry between meals.
This is ultimately a satisfying way to eat, in terms of both taste and how the food makes you feel, but it can be quite an adjustment for someone who enjoys, and even craves, sugar and refined carbohydrates. Dr. Ludwig says the adjustment will happen. “You don’t miss it, because when your fat cells are calming down and there’s more calories in your blood stream, you stop craving sugar,” he says. “You also retune your taste buds.”
Of course, there are many vocal, highly visible proponents of food quality, perhaps none more visible than Michael Pollan, who has frequently been criticized as being elitist. This criticism is based on the notion that quality food (especially quality food prepared at home, as Always Hungry advocates for) is something attainable only to those of a certain income status, while everyone else needs to make do with the uber-processed foodstuffs that bear no resemblance to actual food. To which I say, BS.
Gourmet Ingredients Not Required
Something I noticed very quickly when perusing the recipes that make up about 100 pages of the book was that most of the ingredients were, well, basic. Other than miso, tempeh, garbanzo (chickpea) flour and fennel, I didn’t see anything that couldn’t be found in a typical grocery store, even in non-urban areas (I am quite conscious that when it comes to availability of ingredients, living in Seattle or other large cities offers a certain advantage).
“That was one of the challenges that I was given in coming up with recipes,” said Chef Dawn Ludwig (Dr. Ludwig’s wife), who lead the Always Hungry pilot study and developed recipes and menus to align with the program’s nutritional parameters. “You have to make them quick, you have to make them easy and you have to make them accessible. There are a few exceptions, but those are the recipes that are just so good that I’m asking people to stretch a little bit.” (A resource list is available online that includes sources for the few harder-to-find ingredients).
For example, the garbanzo flour in the Grain-Free Waffles or Pancakes with Fruit Sauce and in the fruit crisp recipes. She said she tested the recipes with a number of other flours but they just weren’t as good as they were with the garbanzo flour. “I think it’s worth it to search it out.”
On the other hand, the infinitely popular Shepherd’s Pie with Cauliflower Topping recipe calls for fennel but suggests carrots as an alternative. Kale is a frequent ingredient in the book, but as Chef Ludwig points out,“Kale is such a buzz food now that’s it’s become accessible.”
As for cost, some ingredients cost more than others, but Chef Ludwig says “There are a lot of things in her for people on a budget.”
Quick and Easy
It’s not just the simplicity of the ingredients that makes the recipes accessible, it’s the fact that for a minimal time investment (aided by some weekend prep), they payoff with big flavor. Even though she’s a culinary professional, Chef Ludwig is also a working mother. “When my daughter was born I owned a culinary school where I was training chefs. I had to learn how to make it quick, make it easy and make it delicious.”
Part of making it quick and easy means taking shortcuts in her home kitchen like using a food processor to chop vegetables rather than doing it by hand. “I won’t sacrifice the flavor or taste of the food, but I will take the shortcuts that work.”
With her recipes, she strives to be in and out in a half-hour. She teaches clients how to prep and freeze meals ahead of time for those nights when they only have five minutes to heat things up. But what about those nights when you get home late and forgot to defrost one of those lovely freezer meals? “Sometimes I’ll keep frozen portions of the shredded Mexican chicken, which defrosts quickly.”
Her other secret weapon? Amazingly simple and delicious sauces (recipes in the book). “If I come home and it’s late and the kids are hungry, I’ve got several sauces that are always in my fridge.” All she has to do is heat up leftover protein and veggies and add the sauce, and the result is a tasty, satisfying dinner.
Beyond Health: The Benefit of Cooking at Home
Chef Ludwig says that the ability to prepare a meal at home from quality ingredients, even when time is tight, is critical for health, but also for much more. “We hear from people, ‘I’m actually sitting down for my husband/wife/kids and eating meal together,’ or ‘I’m getting my kids to help me in the kitchen.’”
She gives the example of one of the participants in the Always Hungry pilot study, who did not have support from their family–at first. “One of the first things that happened was their family started seeing this food and smelling it and looking at it, and they were confused. They said, ‘You can’t call this a diet, there’s no deprivation here.’ ”
She mentioned another participant in the pilot study who said she felt like she was in the Wizard of Oz, because her relationship with food had always been in black and white, then “‘Suddenly it was like I landed in Oz, and there are all these colors and textures and flavors.’”
“It’s been really satisfying to see people turn this into a lifestyle,” she says.
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