Monocolumn

A daily bulletin of news & opinion

2 June 2014

Watch the carbs or at least the gluten. You should probably stop eating dairy. If you can’t give up your morning yoghurt then at least go for non-fat plain Greek – it has less sugar and higher protein. As for milk, soya is better but almond is best. Coconut has too much fat. Eat nuts but no more than a handful – they’re packed with calories. Try not to even think about sugar. Maybe just try to act like a forager. Eat mostly plants (kale is really best), some fish is ok (but humanity is overfishing), fruit has sugar and carbs so just be cautious there. You know what? Just stick to the kale. It’s a safe bet.

The anxiety from these self-imposed health mandates is dizzying. As the feeling of summer arrived last week in New York and temperatures brought out bare legs and the urgency to flock to Brighton Beach, all of these rules felt pertinent. And after stepping off of a flight to London (on which I nibbled on lettuce sans dressing), I walked into Midori House midweek and chose an order in the coffee round-up for an Americano with a splash of soya (meaning mostly water, no dairy and a bit of soya to trick my palate). By day two, I was politely nudged towards the Monocle Café’s flat white and will likely never turn back.

Why worry to such extremes rather than enjoy the simple pleasure of milk in your coffee or freshly baked bread for breakfast? Enter the nocebo effect – meaning a strong belief that something is harmful can in fact render a harmless substance harmful. It doesn’t mean the symptom isn’t real – just that the cause might be in our heads.

According to the Mayo Clinic, 80 per cent of Americans who are following a gluten-free diet have never been diagnosed with celiac disease. And market research from the US based NPD Group shows that 30 per cent of people in the US say they want to cut back on gluten. Sales of gluten-free products are expected to total more than $15bn (€11bn) in annual sales by 2016.

And the agave-sweetened icing on the gluten-free cake? Stress increases the hormone cortisol in the body which can lead to weight gain. So the on-set of anxiety from the scent of that cardamom bun that I am trying not to think about eating might actually make me fat.

Megan Billings a researcher for Monocle's New York bureau.

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